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Defending the Charter: Encounter with TAVIS Officers Caught on Video

Stories like this one make me angry.  As reported in The Toronto Star here, a number of young people (none of whom can be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act) were arrested following a confrontation with TAVIS officers of the Toronto Police (TAVIS being a special unit called the Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy).  As it would turn out the arrest was recorded on security footage.  The footage can be seen by clicking on the link to the star article above.

The altercation appears to have begun with TAVIS officers investigating the young people for possible tresspassing at a housing complex.  At this point it does not appear any of the young people were under arrest nor did the police have any reason to detain them (they were not tresspassing).  One of the young people, who clearly knew his Charter rights, informed the police that he did not have to speak to them and refused to provide identification and refused to be searched.  The police clearly did not like what they heard.  The result was a scuffle and the drawing of a police handgun and the laying of charges which, it would turn out, were not supported by the video evidence.

The young people were then taken to the police station and held for bail.  Ultimately they were released with conditions preventing them from having contact with one another.

The matter would eventually resolve by way of withdrawals and peace bonds for three of the young people.

There are so many problems with this story.  First of all, I find it quite bothersome that people who rightfully know and assert their Charter rights may be doing themselves a disservice.  In our system Charter violations by police are generally dealt with in court, long after the events giving rise to the violation.  The Charter should be a document that is respected and adhered to by those in authority and not something that is debated in a courtroom setting.  Another issue is that these young people, who it would seem did nothing wrong, had to deal with the stress of the charge and adhere to strict bail conditions while the matter was making its way through the court systems.  Even if there is a civil suit against the police it will be difficult for make up for what they went through.  It is unlikely the officers involved will be disciplined internally.

As mentioned, three of these young people ended up signing peace bonds.  It would also appear that for at least one the Crown only agreed to this resolution after he had completed some community service hours.  In most cases the signing of a peace bond, in exchange for the withdrawal of charges, is the path of least resistance.  Had these young people taken their case to trial, which could be a number of months away, there is always the possibility they will be found guilty.  Trials can be unpredictable.  Although I am clearly not privy to all the facts in this case, I do agree with the decision to resolve this matter by way of a peace bond.

Situations like this do little for improving relations between citizens and the police.

This blog post was written by Toronto Criminal Lawyer Adam Goodman. Adam can be reached at 416-477-6793 or by email at adam@aglaw.ca.