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Canada high court rules damages appropriate remedy for Charter rights violations

The Canadian Supreme Court [official website] ruled [judgment, PDF] Friday that damages are an appropriate remedy for violations of a citizen's rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text]. The case arose after Vancouver lawyer Cameron Ward was mistakenly arrested for making threats against then-prime minister Jean Chretien [CBC profile]. Ward was detained and eventually arrested for breach of the peace, and he and his car were searched based on the mistaken arrest. Ward filed a lawsuit alleging tort violations and violations of his Charter rights. The trial court found that the search and seizure conducted under the mistaken arrest were a violation of Ward's Charter rights and granted him monetary damages. The Supreme Court was asked to identify when and what types of damages were appropriate for Charter rights violations. The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's ruling, stating that the search violated Ward's rights and that monetary damages were the appropriate remedy for the violation. The court held that determining the appropriate remedy for a violation of Charter rights is a three-step process involving an inquiry into whether the rights were violated, a showing of why damages are an appropriate remedy and the opportunity for the government to refute the appropriateness of the damages. If there was a violation of rights, and if damages are an appropriate remedy for fulfilling the related functions of either compensation, vindication of the right or deterrence, then damages should be awarded by the court.

Friday's ruling is likely to have broad implications going forward and could play a role in lawsuits filed against the Canadian government following the recent Toronto Group of 20 (G-20) summit [official website]. Rights groups have called for an inquiry into possible rights violations [JURIST report] during the summit, condemning police conduct as "arbitrary and excessive" and criticizing the enactment of a local regulation [O Reg 233/10 text] under the Public Works Protection Act [text], which broadened the scope of police search and seizure powers during the summit. The Ontario Ombudsman [official website] launched an investigation [JURIST report] into the enactment of the regulation earlier this month. Some legal experts have indicated that implementation of the regulation may have been a violation [Toronto Star report] of Charter rights. In light of Friday's ruling, plaintiffs suing the government for a violation of their rights may now be entitled to damages.

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