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Police in riot gear stand on University Avenue at College Street to block an anti-G20 summit march in downtown Toronto on June 25, 2010.

Fernando Morales/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

A few people have asked why I'm back on the McGuinty government's handling of the "five-metre" law around the G20, given that it factored into a tiny percentage of the arrests made that weekend.

This is a point provincial officials are fond of making as well, and I certainly don't dispute that their handling of the temporary amendment to the Public Works Protection Act was a small part of the story of that strange weekend back in June. But for several reasons, I think it's still worth paying attention to.

For one thing, relatively modest consequences doesn't excuse reckless behaviour. Because the province failed to properly communicate its own law, police thought - for a day or two, at least - they they were allowed to arrest people merely for passing by the security zone. If more of the action had been there, rather than spread through the city, the results could have been disastrous.

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Second, the Liberals' failure to publicly correct the police's interpretation - even after they knew it was flat-out wrong - seems indicative of a very strange relationship. This government has always taken a hands-off approach to the police file, providing much less oversight than previous ones. But the G20 suggested that it's become downright deferential, which is alarming.

Related to those two points is what this whole episode says about the government's seriousness. That's not something for which I'd often criticize McGuinty or most of his ministers; whatever their other flaws, they don't usually take their jobs lightly. Here, I think, they did. And, given the gamesmanship on display the past couple of days, perhaps they still do.

Of course, there's a final reason I've focused on the provincial angle to the G20 - that's what I'm paid to do. And I think I'd be taking my job lightly if I didn't try to hold the Liberals to account on this.

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Political Feature Writer

Adam Radwanski is The Globe and Mail's political feature writer. More

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