Charter Breaches Against G20 Protester Lead To $500 In Damages

In a recent decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal, one of the issues was the quantum of damages available to a plaintiff when there is a breach of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The decision shows that damages are usually minimal.

Background

In Stewart v. Toronto (Police Services Board), 2020 ONCA 255, the plaintiff attended a peaceful protest at a public park in Toronto that was held during the G20 summit in 2010.

As a condition of entering the park, police officers searched people's bags. The plaintiff objected to his backpack being searched.

The plaintiff forced his way by the police officers. The police officers stopped him and removed the backpack and inspected it. This lasted less than three minutes. During this time, the plaintiff was momentarily restrained. The police officers seized swimming goggles from the plaintiff's backpack.

The plaintiff sued the Toronto Police Services Board in tort and for breach of Charter rights. His action was dismissed at trial. The Court of Appeal allowed the plaintiff's appeal.

Breach of Charter

On appeal, the Toronto Police Services Board conceded that the plaintiff's right of freedom of expression under section 2(b) of the Charter was infringed, but argued that such infringement was justified by section 1 of the Charter. Under section 1, an individual's Charter rights are subject to "reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society".

The Court of Appeal held that the infringement of the plaintiff's right of freedom of expression was not justified because the police officers did not have legal authority to search people's bags and belongings as a condition of entry into the park.

In addition, the Court of Appeal held that the plaintiff's rights under sections 8 and 9 of the Charter were violated and were not justified. Section 8 provides that everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure. Section 9 indicates that everyone has the right to not be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.

Four Part Test for Damages

When there is a breach of Charter rights, section 24(1) of the Charter permits a court to grant "such remedy as the court considers appropriate and just in the circumstances".

Referring to the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Vancouver (City) v. Ward, [2010] 2 SCR 28, the Court of Appeal noted that the 4-step framework for considering claims for damages for the breach of Charter rights is as...

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