Top Canada court slaps police over "pie conspiracy"

Fri Jul 23, 2010 1:30pm EDT
 

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canada's highest court ruled on Friday that police will have to pay damages to a civil rights lawyer they wrongly accused of conspiring to throw a pie at the prime minister.

The ruling capped an eight-year legal battle begun when Vancouver police -- acting on an anonymous tip that someone was preparing to pie then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien at a nearby event -- arrested Cameron Ward as he walked to work.

Ward, who did not have pie with him, was jailed for several hours, subjected to a partial strip search and had his car impounded.

He was released after Chretien's event was over, and the prime minister -- who had been pied at an East Coast event in 2000 -- never did suffer a pie attack.

Ward, who has represented people in lawsuits against the police, then sued and was awarded C$10,100 ($9,634) in damages. The city appealed the award to the Supreme Court of Canada, arguing the idea of paying damages for a wrongful arrest could have a chilling effect on law enforcement.

The justices unanimously sided with Ward, however, although they struck down the C$100 he got for having his car impounded.

"He had a constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, which was violated in an egregious fashion," wrote the court, ruling that the rights violation was great enough to warrant damages being paid.

Ward said he would never have sued if the police and prison officials had just apologized at the start.

(Reporting Allan Dowd; editing by Rob Wilson)