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G20 protester seeks $100K in damages in rare civil trial against Toronto police services board

A man whose swimming goggles were confiscated by officers following a search of his backpack on the eve of the turbulent G20 summit in Toronto in 2010 is expected to testify Monday at the start of a hearing into his lawsuit against the city's police oversight board.

Luke Stewart, of Kitchener, Ont., claims police assaulted and wrongfully detained him

Luke Stewart argues with Toronto police officers in Allan Gardens during the G20 summit in Toronto in June 2010. Police searched his backpack and seized his swimming goggles. 'You have illegally detained my goggles,' he yells at officers after the search. (YouTube)

A man whose swimming goggles were confiscated by officers following a search of his backpack on the eve of the turbulent G20 summit in Toronto in 2010 is expected to testify Monday at the start of a hearing into his lawsuit against the city's police oversight board.

Numerous legal actions, officer disciplinary hearings and criminal proceedings have flowed from the summit that saw indiscriminate mass arrests and detentions, but this may be the only such civil suit to actually go to trial, according to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

In his statement of claim initially filed in 2011, Luke Stewart, of Kitchener, Ont., argues police officers assaulted and wrongfully detained him, violating several of his constitutional rights. He wants Superior Court to award him $100,000 in damages.

The defendant police services board denies any liability, claiming police were simply doing their jobs, and blames Stewart for any problems he encountered when he went to a downtown park carrying a backpack while planning to take part in a protest.  

In an incident captured on video, Stewart says he went to Allan Gardens on the Friday afternoon of the summit weekend in June 2010. He says several officers demanded to search his bag as a condition of entry into the park.

When he refused and tried to get to the protest, he alleges the officers "assaulted and battered him," illegally searched his bag, and confiscated his swimming goggles.

Claim alleges officers acted with 'malice'

"The plaintiff was unlawfully detained for 12 minutes," his claim asserts. "The officers acted with malice and bad faith."

The statement of claim also alleges police, under orders from superiors, were planning to form a perimeter around the park with the aim of searching "every person with a bag" trying to enter the area. The plan and orders, the claim alleges, violated the charter.

"Senior police officers ... gave orders they knew were unlawful," the claim asserts. 
A police car burns after G20 summit protesters set fire to it in downtown Toronto on Saturday, June 26, 2010. A man whose swimming goggles were confiscated by officers following what he claims was a violent search of his backpack on the eve of the turbulent G20 summit in Toronto in 2010 is expected to testify Monday at the start of a hearing into his lawsuit against the city's police oversight board. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

In response, the police services board says officers were doing their best to preserve the peace and defend public property under provincial trespassing law. What they were doing at Allan Gardens was legal, the board says in its statement of defence.

By its account, the board says officers told Stewart, who was in his mid-20s, that he could enter the park if he allowed them to inspect his bag or he could refuse and leave.

Board says search was 'necessary'

"Such examination was necessary to protect the safety of those persons within the park in the circumstances as they existed on that day," the statement of defence asserts. "He loudly and rudely yelled at the police officers, expressing his displeasure."

Police said they confiscated the goggles "noting that the park did not contain a pool" and that goggles had been used at violent protests in the past for illegitimate purposes. Stewart said he was carrying them in case officers used "chemical weapons," the board says. 

Any force used against him, the statement of defence says, was justified by the circumstances and did not amount to an assault or other breach of his rights.

The civil liberties association is intervening in the case. The group argues it is an abuse of police power to seize personal property as a condition of entry to a public space. It also maintains that awarding damages would help hold police accountable for allegedly violating civil rights.

Since the summit, a senior police officer has been found guilty of misconduct for ordering mass arrests that weekend. A lower ranking officer was convicted criminally, as were several protesters who smashed windows or otherwise ran amok.

One official report branded the mass detentions and arrests that weekend as one of Canada's worst violations of civil liberties.

According to one report, police action that weekend in Toronto marked one of Canada's worst violations of civil liberties. (YouTube)