Thursday, June 28, 2018
By Samantha Beattie, Toronto Star
Visitors to Toronto’s city hall will soon experience heightened security with baggage checks at main entrances and metal detector screening at council chambers.
Council approved the enhanced security measures on Thursday night, and they will be put into place this summer, according to a staff report.
The glass wall that runs partially along the council chamber floor separating councillors from visitors will be extended all the way across, the report says. Ropes or barrier belts will be installed in two committee rooms to separate committee members from the public.
Mayor John Tory supported what he called “reasonable security measures” at city hall, an “iconic building with authority figures in it” that could be a target for violence.
Under questioning from Councillor Janet Davis, Tory acknowledged that since more security measures were implemented at Queen’s Park it feels more “tightened up” and “a little different walking in there.”
Right now, visitors undergo bag checks only when entering council chambers during meetings. Under the new security measures, visitors will have their items checked when entering city hall through main entrances, whether it be to get married, pay property taxes or meet with a councillor.
City staff and elected officials with access cards won’t have to go through these checkpoints.
Security guards will add walk-through metal detectors at the entrances of council chambers and use hand-held metal detector wands, the report says.
Some councillors, including Councillor Norm Kelly, pushed back on the recommendations, saying heightened security will deter people from visiting city hall and participating in democracy.
“You have to realize the ironic premise on which these recommendations are based,” Kelly said. “Here we are, a municipal government, the order of government closest to the people, saying through these recommendations we are suspicious of every single one of them.”
Councillor Paula Fletcher said it’s important for city hall to stay fully open to the public at a time when “people feel more distanced from government and communities. We want to make sure this remains a community place.”
City staff will also review reinstating three receptionists on the second floor councillor’s offices, as directed in a motion moved by Councillor Sarah Doucette. There is currently only one receptionist for all three blocks of councillors’ offices.
“Some councillors upset residents. Some residents threaten councillors. We have councillors in this chamber who have received death threats. We have to take that seriously,” Doucette said.
City staff’s recommendations are based on assessments by Toronto Police Service and Public Safety Canada, along with public consultations. They took into consideration Canada’s medium domestic terrorism threat level, threats made toward elected officials and staff, and instances of violent or terrorist-related incidents in recent years.