Readers of this blog may recall that earlier this year I won my civil case against the Province of British Columbia and City of Vancouver arising from my arrest back in August of 2002 on a ridiculous unfounded suspicion that I might throw a cream pie at Prime Minister Chretien. Following a six day trial, Justice Tysoe of the Supreme Court of British Columbia declared that my constitutional rights had been infringed when I was strip-searched, imprisoned in a one metre by two metre cell for a day and had my car taken off the street and impounded so that police might search it for the nonexistent pastry. I was awarded modest damages of $10,100 plus court costs, which have been settled at $32,000.

The province and city could have avoided all these costs, plus the costs incurred by their four lawyers at trial, by simply delivering me a written apology.

I had hoped that the trial judgment would be the end of the matter, but the province’s lawyers filed an appeal. They accept that my rights were violated by the strip search, but plan to argue that the judge was wrong to award me $5,000 damages for that humiliating event. I responded to the appeal by seeking a decision that I was wrongfully arrested by the police and an increase in the damages I was awarded. Not to be outdone, the City’s lawyers have filed a cross appeal seeking repayment of the $100 I was awarded for the wrongful seizure of my car.

Factums and related documents have been filed in the Court of Appeal, and it is expected that the appeal will be argued in the spring of 2008.

So, just how much is all this costing taxpayers? Chief Justice Brenner has estimated that the average cost of a five day civil trial is $100,000 to each litigant involved. On that basis, the province and city may have forked out some $240,000 plus the $42,100 in damages and costs, for some $282,100 for the trial alone. When one adds the cost of the appeals, including purchasing all the transcripts, taxpayers will likely have spent over $300,000 for their governments’ stubborn refusal to say “we’re sorry”. An unpalatable prospect indeed.

I take no pleasure whatsoever in reporting this, which I do simply to illustrate why civil litigation is out of reach of the average citizen. Few people can rely on the courts for vindication, even when their constitutional rights are egregiously violated, because the cost is prohibitive. Governments with deep pockets can and will expend vast sums of money rather than admit any wrongdoing.

Hopefully, somehow, some day, those responsible for making the decision to litigate rather than apologize will get their just desserts.

Postscript: Here’s the most disturbing thing about this odyssey…When the police confronted me on the street that day, I was calm and collected. I raised my voice in protest only after I was handcuffed and after the police refused to tell me why they had handcuffed me. At trial the three police officers said I was handcuffed because I was loud and causing a disturbance. Although this was not the case, the judge accepted their contrived version of events and said that I was “mistaken” in my testimony. I certainly wasn’t mistaken, and this demonstrates that the average citizen won’t win a credibility contest with police officers. The ramifications of this in the criminal justice system are obvious. I take some solace in the fact that I wasn’t convicted of some serious offence and jailed on the basis of police testimony.