Ontario Court of Appeal Rules G20 Protester’s Rights Violated by Police

 

Ten years after Toronto hosted the G20 summit, a civil suit launched against the Toronto police has finally been resolved by the Ontario Court of Appeal. The decision—Stewart v. Toronto (Police Services Board)—represents a strong affirmation of the constitutional right to protest, especially in public spaces like parks.

The case arose out of the G20 summit held in Toronto in 2010. A group of activists had organized a public rally in Allan Gardens, a public park in downtown Toronto. Based on vague reports of potential violence by “Black Bloc” protesters, the police set up an indiscriminate perimeter around the park the day before the rally and required all those wishing to participate in the protest to submit to a search of their personal belongings. The police also seized items that they believed could be used to defeat the effects of tear gas and pepper spray, such as goggles, bandanas, and vinegar.

The police stopped the appellant, Luke Stewart, and told him they were searching all protesters under the authority of the Trespass to Property Act. Mr. Stewart refused to consent to the search, believing it to be unconstitutional. When he attempted to move past the police perimeter, he was forcibly detained. The police then searched his bag and confiscated a pair of swimming goggles.

Mr. Stewart brought a lawsuit against the police in 2011, seeking Charter damages for violation of his freedom of expression, right not to be arbitrarily detained, and right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure. The Superior Court dismissed his claim in 2018, ruling that the police had the requisite search powers and did not infringe any of his constitutional rights.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) intervened in this case at both the trial level and at the appeal, arguing for limits on the power of police to interfere with the rights of protesters.

Winston Gee headshot

Winston Gee

Winston Gee, an associate at Torys LLP and former Asper Centre Clinic student, presented the CCLA’s submissions at the hearing of the appeal.

In reasons written by Justice Brown, the Court of Appeal agreed with the CCLA that the police had no legal authority for their actions. It overturned each of the trial judge’s rulings and awarded Mr. Stewart $500 in Charter damages. The Court also affirmed the fundamental importance of free political expression, especially in public parks:

“Our civil liberties tradition recognizes that public parks, such as Allan Gardens, are civic spaces naturally compatible with the public expression of views, whether the content of those views support or dissent from the popular sentiments of the day… The freedom to engage in the peaceful public expression of political views is central to our conception of a free and democratic society. Freedom of expression requires zealous protection.”

Despite the low damages award, Gee was pleased that “the Court accepted one of our central submissions at the hearing—that the Trespass to Property Act does not create any substantive property rights but is merely a mechanism to enforce existing rights that come from other sources, such as the common law.” As a result, the Act could not be used by the police to impose “conditions of entry” of their choosing. That power properly belonged to the City as the common law owner and occupier of the park—and it is subject always to the Charter.

Gee said that his work on this case “benefitted immensely from my time at the Asper Centre. That’s where I first gained experience with appellate advocacy, including by learning from leading constitutional litigators like Mary Eberts and Marlys Edwardh. I also had the opportunity to assist with the Asper Centre’s intervention in Henry v. British Columbia (Attorney General), one of the Supreme Court’s leading cases on Charter damages. That experience was particularly relevant to this case.”

Gee also thanked his colleagues at Torys for providing excellent mentorship and for giving him the opportunity to argue such an important case.

by T. Schreier, with Winston Gee (JD/MPP UTLaw 2017)

Constitutional Litigator-in-Residence for 2020

Nader Hasan has been selected as the Asper Centre Constitutional-Litigator-in-Residence for Fall 2020.

Nader’s wealth of constitutional litigation experience in areas ranging from search and seizure law to digital privacy law to protecting civil liberties, as well as his vast teaching experience will greatly enrich the Asper Centre’s Clinic students next term.

Nader is a partner at Stockwood Barristers in Toronto. He practises criminal, regulatory and constitutional law at the trial and appellate levels. He has an expertise in digital privacy law and search and seizure law, and has appeared in many of the leading cases in this area.

Nader has been recognized by Best Lawyers magazine as one of Canada’s leading appellate lawyers.  He has appeared in 20 cases at the Supreme Court of Canada, including as lead counsel to the successful appellants in Clyde River v. Petroleum Geo‑Services Inc., 2017 SCC 40, a landmark Indigenous rights decision.

Nader is a veteran Adjunct Professor of law at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law, where he has taught the Law of Evidence and currently teaches a popular class on crime and punishment. He also serves on the Advisory Board of the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights. He is a co-author of Sentencing, 9th edition (LexisNexis, 2017), a co-author and co-editor of Digital Privacy: Criminal, Civil and Regulatory Litigation (LexisNexis, 2018), a co-author of a forthcoming book on Search and Seizure (Emond Publishing), and author of numerous articles on criminal and constitutional law.

Nader brings a cross-border perspective to his practice. He previously practised with a leading litigation firm in New York, appearing in both New York State and U.S. federal courts.  Today, he regularly advises Canadian citizens in relation to criminal and regulatory issues with a multi-jurisdictional dimension, and regularly advises Canadians detained abroad.

Nader acts regularly for clients seeking to vindicate their constitutional rights in high-profile cases.  He has acted for the wrongfully convicted and asylum seekers.  He acts for Indigenous groups and environmental NGOs in environmental and constitutional cases.  He also acts for civil liberties groups, including the Criminal Lawyers’ Association (CLA), the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), and the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights.

Nader is a graduate of Harvard University (B.A.), the University of Cambridge (M.Phil), and the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law (J.D.).  Upon graduation from law school, Nader clerked for the Honourable Marshall Rothstein of the Supreme Court of Canada.

View the Asper Centre’s past Constitutional Litigators-in-Residence HERE.