NEWS
07/28/2011 08:23 EDT | Updated 09/27/2011 05:12 EDT

Celebrity Bodyguards: Ontario To Exempt Paid Muscle From Out-Of-Province Ban In Time For TIFF

UPDATE: Organizers for the Toronto International Film Festival say they had nothing to do with a proposal to allow celebrities to import their bodyguards to the star-studded event.

Festival spokeswoman Genevieve Parent says TIFF wasn't involved in any discussions on the proposed regulation.

She says organizers work closely with studios and distributors to ensure that their talent's needs are met and all parties are comfortable.

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TORONTO - The Ontario government is quietly proposing bending the rules for Hollywood celebrities by allowing them to bring in their own bodyguards — rules that weren't stretched for Bollywood stars in Toronto last month.

The Canadian Press has learned the change is expected to take effect Sept. 2, just a few days before the star-studded Toronto International Film Festival begins.

The proposed regulation, posted last Friday on a government website, would exempt out-of-province bodyguards who are employed by "individuals in the recorded video and audio-visual production industry" from provincial regulation.

They still need a valid licence from another jurisdiction, but don't have to meet Ontario standards.

The same courtesy was not extended to Bollywood stars who attended the International Indian Film Academy awards in June, which Premier Dalton McGuinty — who is facing an election this fall — attended and promoted.

Ontario Provincial Police laid 142 charges earlier this month following an investigation into violations of provincial private security regulations at the IIFA awards.

Those charged included two British nationals, Youseff Khan and Arif Ali Khan, who were acting as bodyguards for a "Bollywood star" whom police would not identify.

The exemption will rob security firms who are accredited in Ontario of well-paying work, said Derrick Snowdy, a private investigator who runs a company called Diplomat Security International.

"I have had a 20 per cent reduction in the scheduled hours for my licensed security staff providing personal security to the entertainment industry as a result," he said in an email.

The government is giving preferential treatment to Hollywood stars, while holding others to the letter of the law, Snowdy said.

Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Jim Bradley has shown "complete disregard" for the integrity of the province's licensing rules, Snowdy added.

"I believe that the ombudsman should investigate this special conduct and the producers of IIFA may be curious to know why their event was heavily policed and Hollywood is granted ministerial intervention," he said.

Bradley defended the proposed change, saying it will only apply to a small group of people.

"Many celebrities have had the same bodyguards for a decade or more," he said in an emailed statement.

"If a star cannot travel with their personal security, or thinks there may be a problem, they won't come."

The minister denied being pressured by the festival's organizers to make the change, which will also allow celebrities who visit Ontario to shoot films and TV shows to import their own security teams.

The province has a billion-dollar film industry and the changes will help Ontario maintain its international competitiveness, Bradley added.

That's complete nonsense, said NDP justice critic Peter Kormos.

"These people are looking for broad audiences, they're here because they're part of a money-making scheme because that's what their industry is all about," he said.

"The celebrities like Toronto. Toronto is safe and indeed, is probably the one place in the world where high-profile celebrities can walk around without being mobbed."

The Liberals came under intense fire last summer from the public, civil liberties groups and the provincial ombudsman for secretly passing a regulation that extended extraordinary power to police during the G20.

They still haven't learned their lesson and are now trying to sneak another regulation through, said Kormos.

"We know nothing about these (bodyguards)," he said. "We don't know about their criminal records or lack of criminal records. We don't know about their history when it comes to public safety and history of violence."

The OPP also charged a private security firm with breaking provincial licensing laws for its work during the G8 and G20 summits last year.

The charges aren't criminal, but those convicted of working as unlicensed security guards can face fines of up to $25,000 and up to one year in custody, according to police.

Snowdy is the investigator who first approached the federal Conservatives with explosive allegations against ex-Tory politician Rahim Jaffer and his wife, former cabinet minister Helena Guergis.

By Maria Babbage, The Canadian Press