By Jordan Press
The Ontario Common Front and the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) are preparing a file a class-action civil lawsuit against the Toronto Police for violating protesters’ civil rights during a rally last month.
The Common Front Legal Committee received about 50 replies to a memo sent out last week from people who felt police searched and seized property illegally, and arrested protesters without cause.
“There is definitely a political motive to this,” said a spokesperson for the committee who refused to give her name.
“We feel police were abusing their power.”
During the Oct. 16 protest against Mike Harris’ policies in Toronto, police arrested activists refusing to let police search their belongings. The protesters marched through the city’s financial district in an effort to interrupt businesses.
The demonstration was considered peaceful although police said about 40 people were arrested.
The Crown dropped the breaching the peace changes because it knew the charges would not hold up in court, the group claims.
“[The police] walked into a lawsuit. They should know the law,” said Krystalline Kraus, a Ryerson social work student who participated in the rally.
Responses to the memo were slow at first because activists feared they would be targeted by police.
“We’re trying to get people to know their rights in the activist community,” Kraus said.
The committee is collecting information from activists in order to begin the legal process. It hasn’t formally drafted the class-action suit.
Sgt. Jim Muscat of the Toronto Police said police are prepared to fight the lawsuit if it goes to court.
“Any lawsuit against the police initiated by OCAP will be defended vigorously,” he said.
RyeSAC lawyer Bill Reid said any lawsuit launched by the committee would be reference section eight of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to show police performed illegal search and seizures.
The committee is asking for stories from activists who were at the rally in Toronto, or the Nov. 17 protest in Ottawa.
Kraus said police beat a CBC reporter with batons in Ottawa even after he identified himself as a media representative.
A CTV cameraman had to use his boom mike to protect himself from a police dog.
The lawsuit must pass preliminary hearings before it can be argued in a court of law. The committee spokesperson said it is willing to go to small-claims court if the lawsuit dies in the hearings.