A Wet’suwet’en woman who sued a Smithers RCMP constable and the Attorney General of Canada for false arrest and excessive force has been awarded $55,000 in damages plus undisclosed court costs.
In her judgment released Friday (May 22), B.C. Supreme Court Justice Brenda Brown wrote that most of the facts of the case were not in dispute.
On Dec. 6, 2014, Cst. Darrin Meier responded to a complaint from Mark’s Work Warehouse about two shoplifting suspects.
Outside the store, he attempted to question Joseph, who refused to cooperate. He then attempted to arrest her, but she resisted, so he took her to the ground with a leg sweep manoeuvre and tried to handcuff her, but she had pinned her hands underneath her own body to prevent it. After several moments of a struggle on the ground, he let her up as another officer arrived. He searched her purse and cell phone, but found no evidence of theft and they let her go.
At a trial last November and December Joseph sought damages for direct injuries she sustained as a result of being improperly detained and arrested (bruising to her knees and abrasions on her hands) and for aggravation the incident caused to pre-existing injuries and anxiety.
She alleged false arrest, false imprisonment, assault and battery and breaches of her Charter rights for the search of her belongings.
The defence argued Meier had reasonable grounds to believe Joseph had shoplifted, was justified to arrest her and used reasonable force.
“I am satisfied Ms. Joseph was false arrested, falsely imprisoned, assaulted and battered,” she wrote.
Meier also argued the suit was brought against the wrong parties saying only the B.C. Minister of Justice is liable for actions of provincial constables in the performance of their duties.
Brown said she was not persuaded that Meier had reasonable grounds to arrest Joseph. Even if there had been grounds for arrest, the judge also rejected the argument that the constable had used no more force than necessary.
“A younger, fit person may need to be taken to the ground and have cuffs applied, particularly where backup is not immediately available,” she wrote. “However, Ms. Joseph was 61 years old at the time of the incident. She walked with a walker.”
The judge said Meier had other options.
Joseph argued she should receive damages of $30,000 to $50,000 for her injuries, $10,000 for Charter damages, $20,000 for aggravated damages (for pain, anguish, grief, humiliation etc.) and $20,000 for punitive damages.
The defence said, if awarded, the general damages should be limited to the bruises and abrasions in the order of $5,500, but reduced by 90 per cent for Joseph’s “contributory negligence” (a failure to act prudently, thus contributing to her own injury).
The judge disagreed.
“I found Ms. Joseph to be a credible and reliable witness with respect to these complaints,” Brown wrote. “She did not exaggerate these injuries or the effect on her. I accept her evidence with respect to these complaints.”
The judge cited Joseph’s age, injuries, severity and duration of pain, emotional suffering and loss of lifestyle in awarding $50,000 in general damages.
On Charter damages, the defence argued they are not appropriate relief for compensation for violation of Charter rights. The judge agreed on that point, but said they are appropriate for vindication of the plaintiff’s rights and deterrence of future breaches.
Brown awarded $5,000 in Charter damages.
The defence also argued against aggravated and punitive damages, saying these are normally awarded to compensate for distress and humiliation caused by a defendant’s insulting behaviour. They said Meier’s actions did not rise to the level of insult and argued that her distress and humiliation was a result of her own refusal to cooperate.
The judge did not specifically address this issue, but made no award of aggravated or punitive damages.
Finally, Brown dismissed the argument that only the provincial justice minister can be held responsible saying she could not be satisfied the RCMP was a provincial force or that Meier was deemed a provincial constable.
She ruled Meier and the Crown are liable for the damages and court costs.