The security measures in place to protect the delegates at the G20 summit are substantial. While many criticize these security measures as excessive—the six-kilometre fence alone cost more than five million dollars—the most unsettling defence deployed for the summit is one which has received far less public attention.
Individuals who breach a five-metre zone around the security fence may be asked to provide identification and explain the intent of their visit to police. Those who fail to comply can be searched without a warrant, fined five hundred dollars and spend up to two months in jail. These powers are granted to police by the Public Works Act, a piece of provincial legislation passed June 2 by Queen’s Park. The Act also states that testimony given in court by security personnel will be treated as “conclusive evidence.” While many fear that their right to peaceful protest is trampled, the violent history of previous G20 summits makes the erection of the fence a valid safety measure; security staff must err on the side of excessive protection.
Some of the G20 security measures are harder to defend. Though the new police powers only apply for the duration of the G20 summit, the speed and subtlety with which they were enacted sets a troublesome precedent. What prevents the authorities from enacting these restrictions for lesser events, or even to shut down entire cities?
Furthermore, the secrecy with which the regulations were enacted has put the public in harm’s way. The rules aren’t clearly indicated around the G20 site; some individuals who were unaware of the Act have been arrested after attempting to invoke their rights. Police statements already carry more weight than public testimony in the legal system. Making the word of a security officer de facto evidence makes it nearly impossible for an accused individual to mount a defence in court. The Public Works Act allows on the spot conviction of the public by police and security officials.
Though the conclusion of the G20 summit will dictate which security measures were necessary, the evidence will likely condone their application in either case. As this paper goes to press, rioters have already broken the windows of banks and stores, and set two police cars ablaze. Security forces will be quick to use these events as evidence that the existing protective measures were justified. Even if the summit protests had remained peaceful, many would have claimed that this was due to the new security measures. In either case, it seems likely that protective measures like those enacted in Toronto will become more common, not less.
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