Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Lies upon lies

There's rightfully been plenty of outcry about Bill Blair's smug declaration that Toronto's police pulled a fast one on the public by conjuring up a "five-metre rule" which didn't actually exist. But the truth is a bit more complex than that - and Blair's admitted lies to the public only make the actual law all the more indefensible.

It's true that if one parses the wording of the regulation carefully enough, the "five-metre" language in Schedule 2 applies only to areas "within the area described in Schedule 1", referring to the fenced-in area.

But as I pointed out earlier, it's also true that the law involved declares that a court is required to take the word of a provincial official as to the boundaries of a "public work":
For the purposes of this Act, the statement under oath of an officer or employee of the government, board, commission, municipal or other corporation or other person owning, operating or having control of a public work, as to the boundaries of the public work is conclusive evidence thereof.
So under the law as written, it didn't much matter where the actual boundaries were. So long as a member of a police force was willing to testify that a protester (or any other person) was located within the boundaries of a public work, a court would have no choice but to accept that statement as fact. Or in other words: for all intents and purposes, Blair's lies (whether of omission or commission) became the law.

From there, Blair's statement today serves only to rub the public's face in the fact that the Public Works Protection Act puts civil liberties entirely at the mercy of a police department which has no compunction about misleading its citizens. And while it may be all too true that the law as drafted allows for civil liberties to be suspended on the whim of public officials, hopefully today's news will result both in severe discipline for the decision-makers responsible, and a closer look at whether such laws can possibly be justified.

Update: Vanessa Long makes the same point.

(Edit: fixed wording; added links.)

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