In an embarrassing climbdown, Peel Regional Police retracted its previous assertion its officers had done nothing wrong in arresting a lawyer in her robes, handcuffing her, and escorting her publicly through the courthouse to a marked police cruiser.
The arrest took place on Feb. 12 in the A. Grenville and William Davis Courthouse in Brampton, Ont. Laura Liscio, a criminal lawyer was in full court attire and bringing clothes to a client held in detention.
Drugs were found in the clothing, and Liscio was subsequently charged with possession of a controlled substance, possession for the purpose of trafficking, obstructing justice, and breach of trust. She was then escorted by uniformed officers through the hallways of the court in what lawyers call a humiliating incident.
Feeling the heat from the media reports and legal associations, police issued a statement on Feb. 13 defending the arrest:
“. . . the accused was escorted (without handcuffs) to a discreet location within the Court Bureau where she met with investigators. At this point she was offered the opportunity to change from her court attire to civilian clothing and she left the court in those civilian clothes. The accused was handcuffed and escorted to an unmarked police vehicle by plainclothes officers. At no time was the accused handcuffed while in her court attire.”
That information — civilian clothes, unmarked cruiser — was largely false, and Peel Regional Police had to issue another statement yesterday saying as much:
“It has subsequently been determined that the information that was originally relied upon was in fact incorrect. Peel Regional Police sincerely regrets publishing the misinformation and the impact that it has had on members of the community, members of the media and Ms. Liscio.”
The acknowledgement has done little to appease the province’s legal community. Toronto Lawyers Association president Joseph Neuberger issued a statement of outrage today, calling the manner of the arrest “completely unjustified and unnecessary.”
“The outrage in the bar — which includes the criminal bar — is not that Ms. Liscio was to be given special treatment because she is a lawyer, quite the contrary,” said Neuberger. “Civilians and police who are arrested for alleged crimes are given far better treatment upon arrest than Ms. Liscio.”
Neuberger said a police officer in a similar situation would not be arrested in uniform. Liscio should have been given the opportunity to meet with police officers discreetly at a later time. Instead, she was handcuffed in robes and paraded through the hallways in view of colleagues and the public.
“The humiliation that Ms. Liscio had to endure, which is also equally shared by the bar, can never be undone. It has also publicly promoted the impression that she is guilty when in fact it may be proven at the end of the day that any involvement of passing of any contraband in clothing was completely inadvertent and unintentional.”
Defence lawyer Leora Shemesh, quoted by Sun Media, said Liscio had likely passed on the clothes without checking for contraband:
“It’s easy for this to happen,” she said. “A family member [of the client] gives you clothing and you just give this item to the authorities without checking first.”
In his statement, Neuberger says the burden of inspecting clothing passed on to detained clients should not fall on the lawyer — who is merely delivering clothes prepared by family and friends — but rather by court security.
Neuberger called for an inquiry into the investigation and the manner of the arrest. He has also urged the courts to review the security procedures involved in passing clothes on to clients.
“While not commenting on this case directly, it must be said that lawyers should not be at risk when they are simply trying to ensure that their clients appear in appropriate attire before court,” said Neuberger.