* 18 Jan 2010

Top court to rule on cash for charter breaches
B.C. lawyer strip-searched after tip prime minister to be hit with pie

A legal battle that began with an alleged plot to throw a pie at former prime minister Jean Chrétien reaches the Supreme Court of Canada today as it considers whether litigants can be financially compensated when their charter rights are violated.

The City of Vancouver and the Province of British Columbia will warn the court against awarding damages to Alan Cameron Ward, a wrongly accused Vancouver lawyer.

They argue it would set an unjust precedent for claimants to secure cash for breaches of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms even if they suffered no financial loss.

“Availability of damages for every breach of the charter would create a new kind of liability,” lawyers for the city argue in a written brief to the Supreme Court.

The city contends awarding damages in cases in which the state acted in good faith when violating the charter would “have a chilling effect on public officials, especially in the law enforcement context.”

Ward comes to the Supreme Court armed with two victories in the B.C. courts, which ordered the city and the province to pay him $ 10,000 in damages for his August 2002 arrest, when he was jailed for about four hours and stripsearched.

Police, after receiving a tip from a Chrétien staffer that someone was planning a pie attack, arrested Ward as he was walking in the vicinity of a public ceremony attended by the prime minister.

The city and the province were also ordered to pay $100 for seizing Ward’s car, in which no pie was found. Ward sued the city for the police actions, and the province for the strip-search, carried out by provincial jail guards.

“I was handcuffed, thrown in a police wagon, stripsearched and jailed, and my car was seized from where it was lawfully parked, all because Vancouver police were apparently concerned that I matched the description of someone who had been overheard using the word “pie” in the same sentence as the phrase “prime minister,” Ward wrote on his website.

He was then hauled to jail, strip-searched and put in an empty, metre-wide cell for most of the afternoon, says his written legal brief to the Supreme Court. Finally, with no evidence against him, and no crime having even occurred, Ward was released.

“To add insult to injury, his simple request for an apology was denied,” Ward’s lawyer, Brian Samuels, said in the written submission.

Samuels contends judges hearing such cases should retain their discretion to award damages for charter breaches in appropriate cases.

The case, which could have high stakes, has drawn nine interveners, including the federal government, Ontario, Quebec, police groups, civil libertarians, criminal lawyers and the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted.