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Acquittal and Vindication for Michael Puddy in G20 Prosecution

On August 11, 2011, my client, Michael Puddy, was acquitted of the charge of possession of a prohibited weapon by Justice Melvyn Green at Old City Hall Courthouse.  Mr. Puddy was also facing charges of obstruct police and carry concealed weapon however these were both dismissed by His Honour on my non-suit motion following the Crown’s case.

I first came into contact with Michael Puddy while doing pro-bono work at the bail courts during the G20 weekend.  From the get-go he was a well-spoken and polite gentleman who was steadfast in his assertion that he got caught up in the fray of the G20 protests and did not commit any criminal acts.  Mr. Puddy happened to have a store-bought knife on his person, unconcealed on his belt, in a pouch with the name and insignia of the manufacturer, Gerber.

At Queen and Spadina around 11pm on Saturday, June 19, 2010, Mr. Puddy came into contact with police.  It is unclear who he originally came into contact with.  Three officers testified that their first contact with Mr. Puddy was when he was already detained and in plastic cuffs.  No officer could identify who cuffed Mr. Puddy.  Three officers testified about their interactions with Mr. Puddy on scene and none of them had any idea what Mr. Puddy did to gather the attention of the police and cause him to be cuffed and thrown to the ground.

The police procedure appeared to involve both riot police and plainclothes officers dealing with those arrested by the riot police.  The riot police (testimony in this case suggest they were RCMP officers) would take custody of an individual in the protest group, cuff them, and then place them behind the police line.  The plainclothes Toronto Police Service officers would then extract the individual and continue the arrest procedures.  This process made it impossible to identify which officers made the initial detention and the reasons for the detention.  The TPS officers would then fill out an arrest report (called a HOT sheet) which would follow the arrested person to the Prisoner Processing Centre.

Officer testimony about what was going at, at that particular time, at Queen and Spadina, did not suggest that the crowd was a violent one or one of great concern.  As Justice Green stated:

Some regard for the broader picture may be helpful.  Toronto witnessed unprecedented public demonstrations and occasional eruptions of violence during the G20 weekend.  Police resources were undoubtedly strained and the earlier burning of police vehicles and repeated provocations by some protestors had understandably adrenalized officers attending at the intersection of Queen and Spadina on the evening of June 26th.  That said, the testimony before me affords very little evidence of violent conduct by any of the hundreds of citizens constrained in that area.  While one officer, Stevenson, spoke of some persons throwing objects, the accounts of the other two were much more benign.  Clarke witnessed a single bottle being thrown (and that sometime well before his first contact with the defendant) and the second, Awad, saw no violent conduct at all in the 20 to 25 minutes preceding his involvement with the defendant.  Indeed, it appears – again based solely on the evidence led at this trial – that the only organized or collective physical aggresion at that location that evening was perpetrated by the police each time they advanced on the demonstrators.

Mr. Puddy was arrested and taken to the Prisoner Processing Centre and charged with obstruct police, possession of a prohibited weapon, and carry concealed weapon.  He remained at the PPC, until 5pm on Sunday, in deplorable conditions, was strip searched, and did not have easy access to counsel.  The next day he was taken to bail court and, in the evening, I was able to meet him.  Unfortunately we could not conduct a bail hearing that day and Mr. Puddy was transfered to Maplehurst to spend the night in custody.

On Monday we conducted a bail hearing.  I put forward one of the best plans of release I have ever presented to a court.  The Crown initially sought Mr. Puddy’s detention on all three grounds but, upon hearing the plan, conceded the primary and secondary grounds.  Essentially, the Crown agreed that Mr. Puddy would come to court and it was unlikely he would commit any criminal offences while on bail.  The Crown however continued to seek his detention on the tertiary ground which is where detention is justified in cases where the public would be outraged for an individual to be released.  Ultimately Mr. Puddy was released on a $25,000 house arrest bail.  The Crown rightfully consented to vary the bail to be less restrictive, but the amount stayed firm until I made a motion to have it varied before Justice Green after the evidence had been completed at trial.

The synopsis prepared by the police for bail made mention of Mr. Puddy wearing black clothing and went on to explain about the violence conducted by the “black bloc” anarchist group.  At trial, however, the Crown conceded that there is no connection between Mr. Puddy and the “black bloc”.

The trial itself took three days – two days of evidence and one day of argument.  Justice Green allowed my non-suit motion after the Crown had completed its case and dismissed the charges of obstruct police and carry concealed weapon.  The charge of obstruct police was dismissed on consent of the Crown given the lack of evidence of any obstruction.  The charge of carry concealed weapon was dismissed following oral argument.  My position was that knife was not concealed as it was in a pouch (which contained the name and insignia of the manufacturer) on Mr. Puddy’s belt – it was exactly what one would have expected to find in that pouch.  The question of whether the knife would meet the definition of a weapon found in s. 2 of the criminal code was something I would have argued after trial had the Judge dismissed the non-suit application.

There was one further day of argument a few weeks after evidence was presented and then an adjournment of about two months for Justice Green to prepare his verdict.  Ultimately, Justice Green acquitted Mr. Puddy on the merits and went on to explain that had he not done so he would have excluded the evidence of the knife as a result of the breach of Mr. Puddy’s Charter rights.

The decision on the merits is relatively straightforward.   This knife was purchased at Wal-Mart and is something any adult should be able to purchase.  The legal question involved whether it could open with centrifugal force (essentially, gravity or the flick of a wrist) and whether Mr. Puddy had the requisite knowledge that it could open like that.  I argued that it also had to meet the legal definition of a weapon contained in s. 2 of the criminal code (which would involve the court exploring the purpose of its possession), however the court rejected this argument and found that the only relevant questions are how it could open and whether there was knowledge it could open in this manner.  Mr. Puddy testified that he carried this knife with him every day and brought it with him to Toronto without even thinking about it.  He explained that he had no idea it could open with a flick and was surprised when he first saw an officer do so.  I personally did some research with the manufacturer of the knife, Gerber, and was informed that they were not designed to be opened in such a manner (I was unable to get this information into evidence as it would require having a representative from Gerber present in court).  His Honour found that he had reasonable doubt as to whether Mr. Puddy had the requisite knowledge (mens rea) that the knife could open with centrifugal force and acquitted on that basis.  The court then went on to consider how it would have ruled on the Charter application had there not have been an acquittal on the merits of the case.

Justice Green’s decision on my Charter application found that the detention of Mr. Puddy by the Toronto police was arbitrary:

In the case before me, there is no evidence of any meaningful connection between whoever arrested the defendant and Awad or Clarke.  There was no “information received” by either of these officers respecting the circumstances (“apparent” or “otherwise”) of any breach of the peace by the defendant or any other reason for his arrest.  Their belief, while subjectively held, is simply not a reasonable one.  It appears founded on speculative inference rather than objective reason.  Accordingly, and for this reason as well, I find Awad’s and Clark’s detention of the defendant arbitrary and in violation of s. 9.

As a result of the arbitrariness of the arrest, the subsequent search was done in violation of Mr. Puddy’s Charter rights.  Following an analysis of whether exclusion of the evidence is the appropriate remedy, His Honour ruled that:

Had I not already rendered a verdict, I would find that the severity and impact of the breaches outweigh society’s interest in an adjudication of this relatively minor charge on its merits.  Reasonable persons fully informed of Charter values and norms and the circumstances of this case would, I find, agree that admission of the impugned evidence would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.  Accordingly, the evidence of the knife is excluded.  Absent this evidence the Crown’s case necessarily fails”.

To read Justice Green’s decision in R. v. Puddy in its entirety, click here.

This blog was written by Toronto Criminal Lawyer Adam Goodman, who was the trial counsel on this case.  Adam can be contacted at 416-477-6793 or by email at adam@aglaw.ca.  He can also be followed on Twitter @aglawoffice.