Security guards stand behind crowd control barriers outside City Hall, March 21, 2013.
Is City Hall security going too far in its efforts to control protesters?
One councillor thinks so.
Pam McConnell says she was "stunned" to see security personnel checking the bags of everyone who came into the building on Thursday morning, when a council meeting was scheduled for 9:30 am.
Crowd control barriers were erected at the front entrance, forcing people to enter one-by-one, and officers were also checking everyone entering the back doors. McConnell said that even members of her own staff were stopped on their way into work.
The Toronto Centre-Rosedale councillor says that over the past few months the heightened security has become the norm on days when council or Rob Ford's executive committee meets, and she wants it to stop. She believes it creates the perception that city government is not transparent.
"It makes it very uncomfortable, both for people who work here and people who are coming to do business here. It tells people who wish to come up to city council and observe the government that they are not welcome," McConnell said.
She rejects the idea that the beefed up security procedures are for council members' own good.
"It's all to protect people like Pam McConnell. I don't need that protection, thank you," she said. "If people want to get me, they'll get me on Parliament St., not in City Hall."
According to city spokesperson Natasha Hinds, security protocol has not changed.
Hinds says that the measures taken Thursday were in response to a planned protest organized by Kevin Clarke, the homeless man and frequent mayoral candidate who is notorious for his public - but non-violent - outbursts. The protest never materialized, however.
"The safety of the public and staff are always our key priority, so the increased security was a precautionary measure," Hinds said.
Every time security has stepped up its efforts in the past few months it has been because they've been alerted to specific protest activity, according to Hinds. On February 15 protesters with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty held a sit-in outside Mayor For's office, and five days later they disrupted a council meeting.
But McConnell says that it's not against the law to protest in a public building.
"I'm not interested in keeping OCAP or anybody else out of their City Hall. They have that right to protest," she said.
At Thursday's council meeting, McConnell raised the issue with speaker Frances Nunziata.
That prompted Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Don Valley East) to stand and defend the heightened security procedures, which he said "make us feel safe."
In an interview after council adjourned, Minnan-Wong said the measures were justified because there are "familiar faces" who "haunt our halls on a regular basis," some with the intention of "squatting outside the mayor's office."
"There's an opportunity to be heard within the legislative process. [Protesters] can use and take advantage of those opportunities," he said. "But to have these unnecessary disruptions... is, I think, unproductive."
"The rules need to be followed. We want an orderly meeting, and we had one today."