British Columbia

RCMP officer 'falsely arrested, falsely imprisoned, assaulted and battered' elder with walker, judge rules

An elder in Smithers has been awarded $55,000 after she sued an RCMP constable and Canada's Attorney General for injuries she suffered in a take down over false shoplifting allegations.

Irene Joseph awarded $55K in lawsuit over incident involving Mountie in Smithers, B.C., in 2014

In this 2014 photo of what a judge now calls an improper arrest, a Smithers Mountie wrestles Irene Joseph to the ground during a shoplifting probe. Joseph's walker can be seen at the right. (Smithers Interior News)

The B.C. Supreme Court has awarded $55,000 in damages to an Indigenous elder the judge ruled was "falsely arrested, falsely imprisoned, assaulted, and battered" by an RCMP officer during an incident in northern B.C. in 2014.

Irene Joseph, then 61, was injured in a struggle with the officer, who suspected her of shoplifting. No stolen merchandise was found, and Joseph never faced charges. 

Joseph sued RCMP Const. Darrin Meier and the Attorney General of Canada, in a case a judge has now ruled on, more than five years later. 

On Dec. 6, 2014, Joseph, a Wet'suwet'en elder, was shopping at Mark's Work Warehouse in Smithers, B.C.

Because of chronic pain and a fused ankle, she was using her walker.

Outside the store, Joseph was approached by Meier, who'd been called by a store manager concerned about shoplifting.

Joseph declined to speak with the officer and didn't allow him to handcuff her, saying she'd done nothing wrong.

The court judgment states the RCMP constable then forced Joseph down on the ground on her stomach, and climbed on top of her, as he struggled to handcuff her.

Irene Joseph's lawsuit against an RCMP constable and the Attorney General of Canada was heard in the Smithers' court house. (Submitted by Jim Oud)

The court ruled Joseph was injured in the struggle.

No stolen merchandise was found. 

Lawyers for the defendant argued the RCMP constable had reasonable grounds to suspect that Joseph had shoplifted and that he had used reasonable force.

But Justice Brenda Brown stated that Meier, then a seven-year RCMP veteran, acted improperly though "he did not do so maliciously or high handedly." 

"Things rapidly escalated when Const. Meier decided to handcuff her," stated Brown. "It would have been obvious to all she had limited mobility and ... used a walker.

"It was simply not necessary to physically subdue a woman of Ms Joseph's age and limited mobility.... She was arrested and restrained in a very public manner and was humiliated."

The court backed Joseph's claim that she suffered bruises and scrapes, as well as a sore neck, ribs, and back. The judge noted that the police incident also aggravated pre-existing conditions, including chronic pain and anxiety.

"She still experiences anxiety when leaving her house, as she is afraid she might be attacked," said the judge.

Joseph was awarded $55,000 in damages. 

About the Author

Betsy Trumpener

Reporter-Editor, CBC News

Betsy Trumpener has won numerous national and provincial journalism awards, including a national network award for radio documentary. Based out of Prince George, B.C., Betsy has reported on everything from hip hop in Tanzania to B.C.'s energy industry and the Paralympics.

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