A. Cameron Ward Barristers and Solicitors » Cameron Ward
A. Cameron Ward
Vancouver BC
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The civil lawsuits against the Vancouver Police Department as a result of the so-called “Riot at the Hyatt” in December, 1998 are finally set for trial commencing September 22, 2003 at B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver. Five Vancouver residents, including a lawyer and a teacher, claim members of the VPD’s Crowd Control Unit assaulted them and are seeking general and punitive damages. The case is scheduled to be heard by judge and jury and is expected to last several weeks.

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The B.C. Supreme Court has rejected an application brought by a number of Vancouver police officers to have Mr. Ward’s allegations against them dismissed. Mr. Justice Romilly ruled that the allegations, if true, would constitute gross negligence or wilful misconduct on their part. A year ago, Mr. Ward was handcuffed, arrested, strip-searched jailed and his car was seized and impounded because police apparently thought he might throw a pie at the Prime Minister of Canada. Although the police acknowledged that all this occurred because of mistaken identity, they refused to apologize. Mr. Ward has sued for general and punitive damages. No trial date has yet been set.

A complete copy of the judgment is available here.

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Regional Crown Counsel has advised us that no criminal charges will be laid against two VPD officers who shot and killed Thomas Evon Stevenson on December 7, 2002. Cst. Foster and Sgt. Milligan fired six bullets at Mr. Stevenson, killing him, as he sat in a disabled car on East Pender Street in Vancouver. Mr. Stevenson’s family, including two young children, have commenced a civil action and are pressing for a Coroner’s inquest into the death.

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The Vancouver park board is apparently about to meet to decide whether to seek a court injunction to remove the squatters occupying the area near the cenotaph (“Veterans demand tenters end Victory Square protest”, July 17). City residents might well ask, “isn’t it against the law to camp in a city park; why get an injunction?” Of course it is against the law, pursuant to sections 3, 10 and 11 of the Parks Control By-Law, and the city doesn’t need an injunction to oust the protesters any more than a fish needs a bicycle.

The resort to the courts in a situation like this is a peculiar British Columbia phenomenon known as “government by injunction”. We’ve seen it time and time again. When environmentalists block logging roads to protest government forest use policy or when the homeless occupy abandoned buildings to draw attention to their plight, the response is inevitably the same; the government or corporate entity affected by the protest activity rushes into B.C. Supreme Court to seek an injunction against “John Doe, Jane Doe and persons unknown”. Once the injunction is obtained, usually after a cursory and one-sided court hearing, the police arrest people and bring them before the court on allegations that they are in contempt of the court’s order.

What’s wrong with this scenario? Many things. First, this process is completely unnecessary. There are already existing laws prohibiting such behaviour, which can be enforced by the police without a court injunction. Secondly, it is an imposition on the scarce resources of the B.C. Supreme Court. Most litigants wait years for their day in court, and may be shunted aside by “urgent” injunction applications. Thirdly, it unfairly raises the stakes for the protesters. In the absence of a court injunction, sitting on a logging road or a sidewalk might draw a small fine in the lower court, but when the same conduct has been restrained by a court order, stiff jail sentences are the norm. This leads to the spectacle whereby a peaceful, conscientious great-grandmother may be sentenced to a year in jail while someone else who kills an innocent person in a street race may not spend a single day in a cell. Finally, and most importantly, the process demeans the authority of the courts. The courts may be perceived to be acting as the servant of government or industry, by creating a special law binding on everyone, by inviting the police to arrest those with the temerity to disobey it, by trying alleged offenders and then by imposing swift and severe punishment on those it convicts. This should not be the court’s role. The court should be an impartial arbiter of disputes brought before it and should not appear to enter the fray to take sides with one of the litigants. When the court is asked to enter the arena in this way, it can only emerge with dust on its boots.

The reason that the courts are repeatedly asked to intervene is obvious. Politicians, whether provincial or civic, do not want to be seen as making the decision to use police action to clamp down on peaceful protest activity. They ignore their responsibility to ensure existing laws are enforced and pass the buck to the courts. In this way the politicians can deflect any criticism directed their way once the police move in, by saying, “don’t blame us, the court made the decision”. This is a most unhappy state of affairs which makes a complete mockery of the justice system and the rule of law.

While the foregoing opinions are in the minority among lawyers and judges of this province, they are not completely eccentric. Recently, in another case involving squatters on municipal land in the Kootenays, Mr. Justice McEwan of the B.C. Supreme Court refused to issue an injunction on the basis that it was the duty of the Nelson police, not the courts, to deal with the matter. He said that the use of an injunction to drive away squatters “amounts to a kind of officially induced abuse of process”. He is absolutely right, and this abuse should stop.

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Strip Search Class Action

June 22, 2003 in News

On June 18, 2003, Mr. Ward and co-counsel Marilyn Sandford commenced a class action in the Supreme Court of British Columbia on behalf of all persons who were strip-searched at the Vancouver Jail since December 6, 2001. The lawsuit alleges that the Jail, at 275 East Cordova Street in Vancouver, operates pursuant to an internal policy whereby everyone booked into the facility is strip-searched. According to decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada, a policy of routine strip searches contravenes the constitutional rights of people to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure. No trial date has yet been set.

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