Rare case sees Toronto police suing Crown prosecutors

Three Toronto Police Service officers are suing the Attorney General of Ontario after accusations made by two men accused of armed robbery they’d been beaten were allegedly unchallenged by the Crown.

The lawsuit by the three officers — Jamie Clark, Donald Belanger, and Steven Watts — happened after two suspects were arrested for an armed robbery in June 2009 that took place at a crane supply company.

If the officers win the case, one lawyer says it could be precedent-setting.

“This is, indeed, a rare kind of case,” says David Robins, a partner with Sutts Strosberg LLP.

The lawsuit relates to allegations made by two suspects arrested and charged in connection with an armed robbery at a crane supply company.

After police arrested Neil Singh and Randy Maharaj, both alleged police officers had beaten them during their interrogations.

Before his trial, Maharaj presented evidence alleging he’d suffered a serious rib injury and charges were stayed.

But they were not stayed against Singh, who testified he was beaten by police.

He was convicted of armed robbery and forcible confinement, before appealing the decision to the Ontario Court of Appeal, where he was successful in having the convictions stayed.

"The evidence of [Singh] and Maharaj with respect to the assaults was not contested. None of the police officers testified and the Crown called no other evidence to counter that tendered on behalf of the appellant. Nor does the Crown contest that evidence on appeal,” said the Ontario Court of Appeal judgment.

"Canadian society cannot tolerate – and the courts cannot permit – police officers to beat suspects in order to obtain confessions. Yet, sadly, that is precisely what happened in this case,” the ruling also said.

The lawsuit names three Crown attorneys, Sheila Cressman, Frank Armstrong, Amy Alyea, and other agents of the Crown as participating in a “negligent and unlawful act.”

A later investigation by the Special Investigations Unit concluded that allegations made by Maharaj were not substantiated by evidence like the video-taped statement he gave after his arrest.

The lawsuit alleges “had Ms. Cressman, Mr. Armstrong, Ms. Alyea, and other Crown law officers conducted a reasonable and lawful prosecution the resulting irreparable damage to the officers’ livelihood and reputation never would have occurred.

“Any careless, negligent and/or unlawful decisions made by a crown attorney, during the course of a prosecution, could result in irreparable harm to the livelihood and reputation of the investigating police officers. The prosecution is conducted under the sole discretion of the crown attorney, and a police officer is powerless to ensure that there is no injustice to themselves or to the administration of justice,” said the lawsuit, filed in the Ontario Superior Court June 22.

“As a result, this foreseeability and proximity established a prima facie duty of care that the crown attorney has to the investigating police officers.”

According to court documents, the officers are seeking $500,000 in general damages for “negligence and misfeasance in Public Office” and $250,000 each for “aggravated, exemplary and punitive damages.”

Robins says, the lawsuit asserts “the Crown owes a duty of care to investigating officers to ensure that there is no injustice in the prosecution of a case to those investigating officers or to the administration of justice.”

“I believe that there will be a real debate concerning whether the Crown owes a prima facie duty of care to investigating police officers,” he says.

He adds, he doesn’t believe there is “a wide body of jurisprudence in which the issue of whether the Crown owes a duty of care to investigating police officers has been thoroughly canvassed.”

“In the event that the Crown is imposed with a duty of care by the court to investigating police officers, I do believe it will set a new precedent,” says Robins.

Murray Klippenstein, founding principal of Klippensteins Barristers and Solicitors, says, “the facts as set out in the statement of claim do raise some significant questions about certain parts of the evidence about police brutality, and whether a rib injury allegedly due to police action was in fact that.

“However, the alleged rib injury was not the only evidence of mistreatment by police, so the claim by the police may itself be focusing on only a small part of the picture, and leaving some important things out. It’s hard to tell at this point,” he says.

This story has been corrected to reflect that charges against Maharaj were stayed, and to add detail about court proceedings involving Neil Singh.

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