A couple has filed a $1.2-million lawsuit against the RCMP and officials in an Alberta village alleging they were falsely arrested and handcuffed in a dispute that started when they planted flowers at their summer campsite two years ago.

"RCMP cruisers were literally surrounding our summer home," Sandra Martell said Thursday of the July 4, 2008, incident.

"This was over planting flowers, don't forget. And so, here we have 10 or 12 RCMP officers, nine cruisers, my husband and I standing there thinking, 'What is going on?'"

The Stony Plain RCMP, two RCMP officers, the village of Alberta Beach, the Alberta Beach Family RV Park and Campground and various Alberta Beach employees and politicians are named in the lawsuit, which was filed last year.

Dispute with campground management

The lawsuit is the result of a dispute between Martell, her husband Darrel Stang and the management of the campground where the couple had been permanent seasonal campers since 2007.

In June 2008, the couple planted three beds of flowers on their site at the campground to stop people from cutting across the edge of the site as well as improve the lot's appearance.

"We had like cement rings around them and we planted flowers in the centre," Martell said. "We got lots of compliments about them saying how good they looked."

There was precedent for this, the couple believed.

Previous management had allowed them to build a deck on their fifth-wheel trailer, and seasonal campers had been told at a recent meeting they could plant whatever they wanted. Other campers had planted gardens and installed gazebos and patio stones on their lots.

But a couple of days later, the manager of the campground called them and said her supervisor told her two of the three planters had to go.

The request was repeated in a letter sent to the couple by the village on June 18. The planters were to be removed by July 2.

Asked to leave

According to the couple's statement of claim, on the night of June 28, the campground manager and an Alberta Beach peace officer arrived at their campsite and served them with a letter asking them to leave.

The couple refused to comply — Martell didn't consider it to be an eviction notice because the document hadn't been filed with court. The couple said the two planters were removed on June 30.

But on July 4, the peace officer returned to the campsite with two RCMP officers to remove the couple from the site.

According to the statement of claim, the couple told the officers they had done nothing wrong and suggested the campground manager go through "proper channels" if they wanted the couple to leave.

The couple alleges the situation then escalated.

Additional RCMP officers and cruisers showed up and the pair was handcuffed, arrested, placed in separate police cruisers and taken to the Stony Plain RCMP detachment where, Martell alleges, they were searched and placed in cells.

They were released after being given trespassing tickets, which were later dismissed. 

The allegations contained in the couple's lawsuit have not been proven in court.

Couple confrontational: RCMP

The defendants and their lawyers refused to comment on the lawsuit but they have denied all the allegations in their statements of defence.

An RCMP review of the incident, written by the officer in charge of the Stony Plain detachment and sent to Martell on Aug. 20, dismisses the couple's complaints and says they were verbally abusive and confrontational that night, adding she taunted police to arrest her.

The letter suggests Martell gathered up campers until there was a group of about 10 to 12 other people at the site. The RCMP perceived this as a way to prevent them from removing the couple and was a "potential breach of the peace."

"Therefore, additional RCMP backup was called as a direct result of your actions," Insp. G.S. Graham wrote.

Martell, who lived in Whitecourt, Alta., at the time of the incident, now lives in southern Ontario. She has laid a complaint with the RCMP Public Complaints Commission.

Discovery hearings in the lawsuit is expected to take place this fall.

Corrections

  • Sandra Martell was incorrectly identified in previous versions of the story.
    Dec 19, 2013 1:20 PM MT
With files from the CBC's John Archer