RCMP Constable Ordered to Pay $55,000 Following Wrongful Detention

Reasons for judgement were published today by the BC Supreme Court, Smithers Registry, ordering an RCMP constable and the crown to pay $55,000 in damages to a Plaintiff who was injured during a wrongful detention.

In today’s case (Joseph v Meier) the Plaintiff was shopping at a retail store when another woman shopping in the same area of the store put a scarf into her bag and then, when confronted, threw the scarf to the floor and fled.  The plaintiff, who was elderly with limited mobility, continued shopping.  The store manager mistakenly believed the two women were together and had the police called.

When the Defendant RCMP constable confronted the plaintiff she “refused to stop or provide information to him. She repeatedly told him that she had done nothing wrong and did not need to talk to him” .  He took her to the ground and attempted to handcuff her while she resisted.  The Plaintiff was injured in the altercation.  In finding the Constable liable for false arrest, false imprisonment, assault and battery Madam Justice Brown provided the following reasons:

[29]       I do not accept that Cst. Meier turned his mind to whether there were reasonable grounds to arrest Ms. Joseph. In cross-examination Cst. Meier was asked “why not immediately arrest Ms. Joseph if there were grounds to believe she had committed theft. Why question her, or tell her that she was detained?” He said that he was hoping she’d be co-operative, that she’d give him her name and she’d permit him to search her bag and she’d be on her way. He said that he was just trying to conduct an investigation and that after he arrested her he thought she would recognize the seriousness and comply. He tried to handcuff her because he thought that if she were handcuffed he could safely search her and search her bag. These answers demonstrate Cst. Meier’s focus on searching the bag, not on reasonable grounds for arrest.

[30]       I am satisfied that Cst. Meier’s primary goal was to search Ms. Joseph’s bag for stolen property. Only once that was done would he be satisfied that she hadn’t taken anything. He anticipated that she would be compliant. Things escalated very quickly when she was not. In these circumstances, a quickly escalating confrontation which surprised him, he did not turn his mind to whether there were reasonable grounds for arrest.

[31]       In any event, Cst. Meier did not have reasonable grounds to arrest Ms. Joseph. Accordingly, I am not satisfied that Cst. Meier was authorized to arrest Ms. Joseph, or that he acted with reasonable grounds as contemplated by s. 25 of the Code.

The Plaintiff was awarded $50,000 for her non-pecuniary damages and a further $5,000 in Charter damages.  In arriving at the latter figure the court provided the following reasons:

[84]       I am satisfied that Cst Meier advised Ms. Joseph that she was under arrest for theft as he tried to handcuff her. I am not persuaded that her s. 10(a) rights were breached. I am satisfied that the wrongful arrest, detention and search were breaches of Ms. Joseph’s ss. 8 and 9 rights. Sections 8 and 9 address specific deprivations and it is not necessary to resort to s.7 of the Charter.

[85]       It is my view that damages are an appropriate remedy not for compensation (because compensatory damages have been awarded for all but the illegal search), but in vindication of her rights and in deterrence of future breaches. I am also satisfied that this would not constitute double recovery. The defence has not established countervailing factors to defeat a damage award and render damages inappropriate or unjust. A declaration would not be sufficient in these circumstances to vindicate her rights or to deter future breaches.

[86]       This leaves the assessment of the quantum of Charter damages.

[87]       In Ward the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed an award of $5,000 for Charter damages. That case involved an unlawful strip search. In Fong v. British Columbia (Minister of Justice), 2019 BCSC 263, the court awarded $2,000. That case also involved wrongful arrest, injuries and breach of ss. 8 and 9 of the Charter.

[88]       In my view, the circumstances in this case are more egregious than those in Fong: (i) Cst. Meier did not properly turn his mind to grounds for arrest; (ii) Ms. Joseph reiterated that she had done nothing wrong and that she did not need to comply with Cst. Meier’s demands. She was correct; (iii) Cst. Meier was intent on searching Ms. Joseph’s belongings and pursued that goal vigorously; (iv) Ms. Joseph was arrested and restrained in a very public manner and was humiliated by this activity.

[89]       Having considered the awarded damages in Fong and in Ward in my view $5,000 is an appropriate award of Charter damages.

 

 

Assault, Battery, bc injury law, Charter Damages, Madam Justice Brown, Wrongful Arrest

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ERIK
MAGRAKEN

Personal Injury Lawyer

When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

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