Monday, August 9, 2010

G20 class-action suit claims $45-million in damages

Anna Mehler Paperny

It will take $45-million, lawyers claim, to make amends for what they characterize as a series of unlawful arrests and detentions during the G20 summit weekend in Toronto.
That’s the amount being claimed in damages from the Toronto Police Services Board and the Attorney-General of Canada in a class-action suit launched Friday. Police forces under the watch of Toronto police and the RCMP breached the “fundamental civil rights” of hundreds of Torontonians and visitors during that weekend, the suit alleges.
“The vast majority of the arrests and detentions over the course of the G20 weekend were unlawful and unjustified, as well as unconstitutional,” the statement of claim says.
Sherry Good did not originally intend to launch a suit or pursue legal action, she said Friday; she just spread her story online wherever she could. And a couple of lawyers picked it up and got in touch.
But the 51-year-old office administrator is now the face of the lawsuit.
“I’m just an ordinary person. I’m not an organizer. I’m not an activist,” she said.
Ms. Good was among hundreds of people penned for hours in the rain at the corner of Queen Street and Spadina Avenue on the Sunday evening of the summit weekend.
Police have said they saw extremist protesters using Black Bloc tactics and donning face masks amid the crowd of people at the corner that evening. They argue that penning in the entire crowd was the only way to maintain safety.
“What happened to me and hundreds of others was very wrong,” Ms. Good told a cluster of reporters standing outside Queen’s Park on Friday morning, near the designated protest zone where police and activists clashed over the G20 weekend.
After the kettling, Ms. Good said, she had trouble sleeping and working, and she had panic attacks in the days immediately following.
“I have lost my trust in the police,” she said. “It will take a long time to regain that trust.”
More than 1,000 people were arrested over several days in what has been called the largest mass arrest in Canadian history; of those, 263 were charged with something other than breach of peace.
More than 700 were charged with breach of peace and released, while 100 were arrested but released from the makeshift detention centre in an Eastern Avenue film studio without being charged.
It is these 800-plus people, as well as anyone else detained by police but never arrested, that lawyers Murray Klippenstein and Eric Gillespie are aiming to represent in their class-action suit. They say they’ve had stories pour in from people alleging police misconduct and unlawful arrest.
Mr. Gillespie has headed numerous high-profile class-action cases, including a successful suit on behalf of Port Colborne property owners who alleged emissions from a nearby Inco refinery had contaminated their soil.
He says this is the best way to ensure justice for people affected by policing during the G20.
The suit is not without precedent: A similar case in Washington, D.C., wrapped up last month with a judge awarding $13.7-million to people rounded up in mass arrests arising from a 2000 protest near the World Bank and International Monetary Fund offices. Fallout from that protest resulted in changes to police conduct at similar protests and rallies; lawyers for the plaintiffs pointed to the case as a vital way to protect First Amendment rights.
Councillor Adam Vaughan, who sits on the Toronto Police Services Board and whose downtown ward was the site of many of the G20-related arrests and encounters with police, said he can’t comment on the allegations. But he noted it’s odd that the Ontario Provincial Police, one of the forces involved in policing that weekend, were not named as defendants.
“That may be because we don’t know yet the full extent of the command structure,” he said.
Spokespeople for the Toronto police and the Attorney-General’s office said it’s too early to comment on the allegations made in the statement of claim; both noted they have not yet been served.
“They’ve just made an announcement, Toronto Police Services Board chair Alok Mukherjee told The Globe. “At this time I wouldn’t comment until I’ve seen their claim and the whole details.”

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