TORONTO (CP) -- Ontario's nearly 30,000 private security guards and investigators will soon be subject to stringent new provincial standards and regulations to keep them on their side of the thin blue line.
The rules governing private guards haven't been updated in Ontario for nearly 40 years, Community Safety Minister Monte Kwinter said Thursday as he announced plans for new legislation at a downtown Toronto shopping mall.
"Ontario residents must be protected, and those offering that protection -- in any capacity -- must be properly licensed, trained and equipped,'' Kwinter told a news conference.
The proposed legislation, if passed, would require mandatory licensing for all security personnel and implement standards for training, uniforms, equipment and vehicles used by private security ``practitioners.''
Those standards would prevent private guards from wearing uniforms or driving vehicles that too closely resemble those of police officers, Kwinter said.
``What we want to make sure is that there is no confusion in the minds of the public when they see someone who is providing security, that they don't think this person is a policeman,'' Kwinter said. ``(Guards) won't be able to do the things that a police officer can do.''
Ontario had just 4,000 licensed private security workers in 1966, which was the last time the province's standards were updated. Today, that number has mushroomed to nearly 30,000, an increase of 725 per cent, Kwinter said.
"The new act, if passed, would create a more professional industry, and improve community safety.''
The legislation would set up a civilian oversight body -- a ``regulatory agency,'' Kwinter called it -- to issue reprimands, suspend licences and levy fines against those firms that don't comply with the new law.
It would also make in-house security personnel that are currently exempt from regulation, including department store guards, bouncers, hotel police and the Corps of Commissionnaires, subject to the act.
A working group will be formed in 2005 to help develop regulations that would follow passage of the legislation, Kwinter said.
Thursday's announcement comes less than a year after pointed questions about standards for guards were raised by the death of Patrick Shand, 31, who died after an altercation with security guards at a Toronto supermarket.
An inquest into the death of Shand, 31, who was held face down by two Loblaws employees and handcuffed by a security guard, made 22 recommendations on training, licensing and standards for security practitioners.
More than half of those recommendations are directly addressed by the new legislation, while others -- including training standards, rules for recertification, identification and reporting the use of force -- will be addressed during consultations on the legislation with stakeholders next year.
The legislation has little muscle as it now stands, complained Conservative police critic Garfield Dunlop, who called the measures ``toothless'' and subject to little political scrutiny.
"Too many of the most important recommendations from the inquest ... have been left up to regulations for implementation at a later date, if at all,'' Dunlop complained.
Regulations require only cabinet approval and get little scrutiny in the legislature, he added.
Stakeholders on hand for the announcement were full of praise for the measures, which they say will bring more credibility to their business, even if it will likely lead to higher training and salary costs.
John Carter, vice-president of the Association of Professional Security Industries, said he's not concerned private security firms will lose visibility without vehicles and uniforms that look similar to those of police officers.
"I think there's more danger in me as a private citizen looking for police help and thinking I'm going to get it via a car that looks very similar to a police car, and come to find out it's an alarm-response chap sitting in the vehicle,'' Carter said.