York student plans charter challenge of G20 secret search law

As crews dismantle the G20 security fence, questions are piling up about a secret cabinet decision giving police immense power to search and arrest anyone within five metres of the barrier, reported the Toronto Star and The Hamilton Spectator June 29.

Legal experts say a regulation authorizing the searches could be attacked not just for potentially violating charter protections against unreasonable search and seizure; it could also be challenged on the grounds the public was not given adequate notice of the sweeping changes that required them to identify themselves to police officers or agree to be searched.

Dave Vasey, a York University student who was arrested and jailed last Thursday for refusing to produce identification outside the fence, plans a Charter challenge to the provincial cabinet’s decision to quietly pass a regulation under the Public Works Protection Act that extended police powers.

For something that had "such a dramatic impact on our civil liberties, it’s something that should not have occurred without a public announcement and a public debate to ensure the government is acting in a reasonable and measured way," said Bruce Ryder, a professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

Ryder said he’s surprised the province hadn’t learned, as did the federal government, from the fallout over the War Measures Act, invoked by former prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s cabinet in 1970 in response to the FLQ crisis in Quebec.

The War Measures Act was subsequently repealed and replaced by new federal emergency powers legislation, designed to deal with situations such as the recent summit, Ryder noted.

But the legislation requires a public debate in Parliament within seven days of the powers being proclaimed in force, along with a vote to confirm that the use of emergency powers is necessary, he said.

Police actions during G20 summit were justified, and legal

The lawlessness during the G20 summit in Toronto was deeply disturbing but was, by international standards at least, fairly tame, wrote James Morton, a Toronto lawyer and adjunct professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in an Ottawa Citizen opinion piece June 29. Injuries were limited, damage minimized and violence contained. Arrests numbered around 900, and in all likelihood most charges will be resolved without the need for a trial.

A large, peaceful and orderly demonstration took place without incident. The voices of legitimate dissent were heard and as Toronto Police Chief William Blair observed, the trouble came from "a small group of criminals whose only motivations are violence and destruction, who have appalled those who came to express their views in a peaceful manner."

While one could argue as to how prudent it was to hold the G20 summit, a magnet for civil unrest, in the heart of a major city during a summer weekend, overall the police response was measured and effective. And the police response was lawful, wrote Morton.

That last point is of great importance. Canada is a free and democratic country built on the rule of law. Protest is legitimate and proper; dissent is an integral part of the democratic process. Lawless behaviour, whether from protesters or police is never legitimate – peace officers have a monopoly on the use of force but that monopoly rests on lawful constraint of that force. At the G20 summit, despite provocation, the police acted within the law.

Resumé of alleged Russian spy says he graduated from York

The United States government says four alleged Russian spies posed as Canadians to hide their tracks on deep-cover assignments for Moscow, reported The Canadian Press June 29.

The Justice Department in Washington said Monday that three of them were among 10 who have been arrested as purported agents of Russia’s intelligence service.

Court papers filed in the case by the Federal Bureau of Investigation say Donald Howard Heathfield, Tracey Lee Ann Foley, Patricia Mills and Christopher R. Metsos all claimed to be Canadian.

Heathfield and Foley, a married couple who lived near Boston, claimed to be naturalized US citizens born in Canada, the court documents say.  

Corporate Web sites describe Heathfield as developer of Future Map, a software system, and as a principal with the Massachusetts office of Global Partners Inc. His resumé says he has a bachelor of arts in international economics from York University in Toronto. [A Donald Heathfield did graduate from York with a BA in economics in 1995.] 

London play was inspired by York sex assaults

Sometimes you have to leave home to make sense of things, which may be why Evan Placey’s play – based loosely on high-profile sex assaults committed in Toronto by a childhood friend – received its world premiere in London, wrote The Globe and Mail June 29.  

The play is Mother of Him, and every night at the Courtyard Theatre in east London, it reinforces certain well-established ideas about Canadian life (the crippling cold that drives us inside for months every year) and upends others (that we’re mild, softly spoken and law-abiding, for example).  

What audiences get instead is a story about a teenager, under house arrest and facing trial, who may or may not have committed a series of rapes, and the mother who may or may not love him any more.

Placey, 26, who grew up in Thornhill, Ont. but now lives in London, was inspired to write the play when he heard about a young family friend who’d been arrested for sexual assaults committed at York University, and by footage he saw of the man and his mother leaving court together. Then he learned that the accused man had been placed under house arrest.

"I thought, what the hell are you saying to your son in that house? He’s locked in the house with you. I couldn’t even begin to imagine – so I did begin to imagine."

A better way to battle mosquitoes

Protecting ourselves from backyard mosquito bites may come down to leaving the vacuuming for later, a study from York University shows, reported online science and medical news sites, including redOrbit, Medical News Today and MediLexicon June 28.

Rather than vacuuming the grass clippings out of catch basins before adding treatments to control mosquitoes, municipalities should leave the organic waste in place, the research found.

“Catch basins are a permanent source of mosquitoes on every street. By putting S-methoprene in cleaned catch basins we saw an average of 20 per cent of the mosquito larvae make it to the adult stage over the duration of the study. But that number was reduced to less than three per cent just by leaving the organic debris in the catch basins until the fall, when mosquito season is over,” says Norman Yan, a biology professor in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering.

Yan and former York master’s student Stacey Baker (MSc ’08) co-authored a study published in the current issue of the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association. They were surprised by the results of the research, conducted by Baker in 2005 on residential streets in the Greater Toronto Area.

Integrity, lobbying motions put off until fall

Two motions aimed at making the operation of the Town of Markham more open and transparent will have to wait until after the municipal elections in the fall, reported the Markham Economist & Sun June 28.

Deputy Mayor Jack Heath and Councillor Erin Shapero recently tabled a motion urging the town to ask the province to ban corporate and union contributions for municipal election campaigns.

Robert MacDermid, a professor of political science in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, said such a ban, which already exists in Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Quebec and the City of Toronto, will "remove unfair influence, which is perceived widely by the public."

However, Mayor Frank Scarpitti criticized the motion saying it shouldn’t be restricted to corporation and unions. Instead, it should include groups such as ratepayers, non-governmental organizations, community organizations and sports associations, he said. "If you really want to close the loop, let’s close the loop," he said.

On air

  • Luis Alberto Mata, who has a Certificate in Refugee & Forced Migration Issues from York, discussed helping refugees adapt to Canada, on Radio Canada International’s “The Link”, Montreal, June 28.
  • David McNally, a political science professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, talked about the Black Bloc, on “The Gary Doyle Show” on CKGL-AM, Kitchener, June 28.
  • York student and singer Amanda Morra’s video was featured on Global TV’s “ET Canada” June 28.