Who authorizes the authorities?

TRU law professor thinks RCMP need more specific rules

Karla Karcioglu, Roving Editor Ω

Police stand guard in Vancouver's West End during the 2010 Olympics. Carson Ting/Flickr Commons

Police stand guard in Vancouver’s West End during the 2010 Olympics. Carson Ting/Flickr Commons

Robert Diab is a law professor at TRU whose research focuses on police powers, civil liberties, counter-terror law and human rights. On March 5, Diab spoke to students at TRU during a lecture on “Abuses of Police Powers” presented by the TRUSU Human Rights Club.

Diab focused on issues surrounding police authority during major intergovernmental events in Canada, such as closing large portions of public space, wide scale surveillance, searches without probable cause and closing off access to residential areas. These issues have arisen at events such as the 2010 G20 Toronto summit and the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Diab said he became curious about which authority allowed the Canadian RCMP and police to conduct themselves this way and has found that there is no legitimate authority.

Diab was invited to work with W. Wesley Pue, a law professor and former provost at the University of British Columbia. The two published a paper in 2010 called “Security for the Olympics: British Columbia Needs a ‘Public Order Policing Act.’”

According to the 2010 paper, “Canadian police lack specific statutory authorization to take measures thought essential to good public order policing. The erection of security fences, creation of designated ‘protest areas,’ restriction of access to public space, surveillance, and search without a cause intrude massively into the ordinary freedoms of law-abiding subjects. Such measures may be helpful, perhaps necessary. But no Canadian legislature has ever expressly conferred such powers. They do not reside in the domain of common law.”

During the 2010 Olympics, Diab said Vancouver passed a temporary bylaw for the police, outlining their duties and responsibilities. Diab believes that it is necessary for either the provincial or federal government to pass specific statutes and guidelines for the police to follow during large events.

Robert Diab shows TRU students the map of the G20 Toronto summit during his talk at TRU March 5. Karla Karcioglu/The Omega

Robert Diab shows TRU students the map of the G20 Toronto summit during his talk at TRU March 5. Karla Karcioglu/The Omega

Diab and Pue are currently working on an article focusing on the G20 Summit and the implementation of the Public Works Protection Act, which expanded police powers allowing them to search and arrest people without probable cause if they attempted to enter the fenced zone. The Act, originally created in Second World War, was implemented secretly without the public’s knowledge. Diab said the police misinterpreted the act and began stopping people who were within five metres of the fencing. This resulted in the arrest of two civilians.

In July 2013, the Globe and Mail published an article stating that the act was still in place.

Diab thinks one good example of expanding police powers is the Australian government’s handling of the 2007 political meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. Diab said the government imposed legislation for the two weeks the event took place that included important restrictions to the amount of land that could be closed down, how access would be granted and the need to seek higher authority to hold a protest.

Diab also cited the 2012 Quebec student protests, when the provincial government passed an act detailing rules surrounding protesting and police presence.

It is important for Canadian citizens to be wary of the abuse of police powers as to avoid becoming a police state, Diab said.

“We’re responsible for maintaining that [and] not giving them broad powers.”

“We would all be better off if there were clear rules about this,” he said, adding that the right place to create laws is in the legislature.