Jim Bradley, minister of community safety, announced the changes Thursday morning, just as the province released a report into the Public Works Protection Act (PWPA) by former chief justice Roy McMurtry.
In his report, McMurtry calls the legislation "overly broad and vague" and says it fails to strike a balance between police powers and individual liberties. "The vagueness of the PWPA permits it to be used in situations when it is arguably not necessary and potentially abusive," McMurtry writes. "In my view, the PWPA has been used for purposes beyond its original intent."
The law allows any guard or peace officer to "search, without warrant, any person entering or attempting to enter a public work" and to demand the name, address and purpose of any such person.
In June, the provincial Liberal cabinet quietly signed an order labelling a large swath of downtown Toronto streets a "public work," thereby granting police those extraordinary powers in a limited geographical area.
Nathalie Des Rosiers, general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said that move created a general air of confusion among both the public and the police over just what rights existed.
"It gave them the wrong message they could search, stop, arrest, demand identification from anyone anywhere in the city of Toronto during that week," Des Rosiers said in an interview. "Police went way beyond the intent of the act in using it outside the perimeter that had been identified."
The PWPA was enacted by the province in 1939 after the federal government refused a request by the province to provide military personnel to guard its hydroelectric stations. The government of the day was concerned those generators would be targeted by Nazi saboteurs.
It is primarily used today to give courthouse security guards permission to conduct searches. Since 9/11 it has also been used by Ontario Power Generation to secure its power generating facilities. No other jurisdiction in Canada has similar legislation.
McMurtry recommended that the emergency legislation be replaced with "specific and direct" laws targeted at securing courts and generating stations.
Bradley said the government will not have time to draft the new legislation before this fall's provincial election. He also refused a request by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association for a full public inquiry on the issue.
Des Rosiers said the Canadian Civil Liberties Association was nevertheless pleased with the government's decision to scrap the legislation.
Her organization is proceeding with a class-action lawsuit stemming from the G20 weekend against the Toronto Police Services Board and the attorney general of Canada.
Read more: Ontario to repeal law used to stop and search people during G20 summit