I have now had several days to digest the decision of the Supreme Court of British Columbia holding that my constitutional rights as a Canadian citizen were violated when the Vancouver police seized my car, strip searched me and held me in jail as result of an unfounded suspicion that I might throw a cream pie at the Prime Minister of Canada. Read the decision here.

The events of August 2, 2002, the day the incident happened, have changed my life and outlook forever. The entire odyssey has dramatically affected the way I perceive the justice system. Although I would not want anyone else to go through what I have endured in the last four and a half years, every police officer, lawyer and judge would benefit immeasurably from a similar experience.

I was a law-abiding citizen with no criminal record when the police confronted me and put handcuffs on my wrists, snatched me off the street, strip-searched me and put me in a 3’x6′ jail cell, with no furnishings whatsoever, for a day. They ignored my requests to call a lawyer and my questions as to why I had been arrested. Despite what the judge concluded, I categorically did not raise my voice before I was handcuffed, so I dispute that I “breached the peace”. After I was handcuffed, I shouted, not to attract media attention, but in the hope another citizen would intervene on my behalf and ask the police to explain themselves.

The day after the events occurred, I asked for an apology. When the VPD refused to apologize I lodged a formal complaint and then started a civil action. Following a police investigation, my formal complaint was dismissed as unsubstantiated. I tried to get the civil case dealt with in a summary one day proceeding (under our Rule 18A) and offered to abandon all issues other than the strip search, but the defendants argued that a full fourteen day trial was necessary. Their lawyers examined me for discovery over three days and the trial itself finally began in the fall of 2006.

Here are some of the fundamental things that have been driven home to me as a result of this experience:

Police can be arrogant and abusive towards citizens with relative impunity.

When an incident becomes the subject of a trial, what police officers testify happened and what actually happened can be very different indeed.

Given the propensity of judges to prefer the testimony of police officers over ordinary citizens, and given the powers police officers exert over suspects (refusing to let them call a lawyer, holding them for hours in a 3’x6′ concrete box), it’s very easy to see how false confessions can be extracted and how people can be wrongfully convicted.

The civil justice system is too slow and too expensive. It favours those with deep pockets and is out of reach for most ordinary people.

The police complaint system in British Columbia is utterly ineffective and needs to be reformed immediately.

What happened to me can happen to anyone unless all of us remain vigilant in demanding that our rights and dignity be respected by those who hold positions of power and authority.