A Quebec court has ordered two Montreal police officers to pay $15,000 to a prominent Canadian activist they wrongfully arrested and detained for five days in 2007.
Superior Court Judge Micheline Perrault ruled partially in favor of Jaggi Singh in his civil suit against city police officers Frédéric Mercier and Georges Lamirande, finding that the officers had arrested Singh "without reasonable and probable grounds to believe an offense had been committed," and ordering them to pay punitive damages as well as interest and costs.
Singh, 43, is a self-described anarchist who lives in Montreal and has drawn attention from both the media and law enforcement for nearly two decades. He brought suit against the officers, the City of Montreal and crown prosecutor Paul Robillard for $25,000 CAD for five days of illegal detention, $12,000 in moral damages and $45,000 in exemplary damages. Perrault found that Robillard was not at fault and that the city was not responsible for the actions of the police.
Singh told VICE News that he was only partially satisfied with the ruling. "Learning that cops have to give you a specific amount of money is always a positive thing, but the part of the lawsuit that I felt was the most important is the accountability of the crown lawyers who denied me bail and were basically trying to leverage me to plead out to something I'd never done," he said.
On a frigid March day eight years ago, Singh was arrested during an International Women's Day demonstration. While walking with the group of protesters he was identified by Mercier and arrested, allegedly for violating the conditions of release for a previous arrest that barred the activist from being present at events deemed not to be peaceful.
He was not granted bail and spent the next five days in jail, only to have the charges against him dropped nearly a year later. The decision to fine Mercier and Lamirande, his commanding officer, turned largely on the question of whether the 2007 march was in fact non-peaceful. Testimony by other participants in the demonstration described the environment as safe — even cheerful or festive — and while the officers testified that they had been called pigs, and worse, by demonstrators, the judge found no grounds for the event to have been deemed anything other than peaceful.
"In the Tribunal's opinion … from the moment officer Mercier noted the presence of Mr. Singh, he decided to arrest him. The only way to legitimize its action was to declare the demonstration non-peaceful. This was intentional and deliberate, and only in order to justify the arrest of Mr. Singh," wrote Perrault in her ruling.
The decision for Singh came on the same day that a police disciplinary tribunal convicted Toronto police Superintendent David (Mark) Fenton on two counts of unlawful arrest and one count of discreditable conduct for his controversial orders to "kettle" demonstrators at the G20 Summit in Toronto in the summer of 2010.
Fenton ordered police to box in protesters in front of a downtown hotel on one night, and then the next day made a similar order that kept hundreds of people, including passersby, contained at a central intersection during a fierce rain storm.
"This decision to order mass arrests demonstrated a lack of understanding of the right to protest," said retired judge John Hamilton upon delivering his decision this week.
Fenton is one of only a few police officers to face any consequences for the highly controversial mass arrests of that June weekend, and the sole commanding officer charged for his actions during the summit. He apologized to innocent individuals affected by his decisions. His sentencing hearing will begin on Dec. 21.
Singh participated in the G20 protests and was among the group of 20 people charged with conspiracy for their role in the demonstrations. He spent nearly a year under house arrest for this charge, but it too was eventually dropped and he pled guilty to counseling mischief over $5,000 for a speech encouraging demonstrators to tear down a security fence.
Singh thought it unlikely that either decisions would do much to bring about the reforms he'd like to see in Canadian law enforcement. "These aren't really mechanisms of accountability," he said. "Whether it's the $15,000 that I'm going to get, whether its the senior level cop who's found in breach of certain ethics stuff, none of that is really going to make the fundamental changes [that are] necessary."
Singh said that he is not certain what he will do with the $15,000 beyond covering his costs, but said that he would like to give it to groups that fight police brutality.
The Montreal Fraternal Order of the Police could not be immediately reached for comment. The CBC reported that the city is considering whether or not to appeal the decision.
Follow Jake Bleiberg on Twitter: @JZBleiberg