TORONTO - An Ontario court has cleared the way for two class-action lawsuits by hundreds of people detained during the G20 summit in Toronto four years ago, saying it's important their allegations of police mistreatment be heard in court.
A proposed class-action suit related to the summit was initially stalled last year when a judge ruled it couldn't proceed because its "broad, sweeping nature" was viewed as problematic.
But a Divisional Court panel hearing an appeal of that ruling determined this week that the proceedings could move forward in two separate, but related, class-action lawsuits.
One will deal with hundreds who were abruptly detained by police at five locations across Toronto, and another will deal with the treatment of those who were held at a "chaotic" detention centre set up during the summit.
"It is important to remember that the police cannot sweep up scores of people just in the hope that one of the persons captured is a person who they believe is engaged in criminal activity," Justice Ian Nordheimer wrote on behalf of the unanimous, three-member panel.
"In essence, in this case, we have a broad class of persons who were allegedly arbitrarily detained in each instance by the police through the use of a single sweeping order."
More than 1,000 people were detained by police during the G20 summit in June 2010 after protesters using so-called Black Bloc tactics broke away from a peaceful rally and ran through the downtown, smashing windows and burning police cruisers.
The vast majority of those detained were released without charge within 24 hours.
The class-action proceedings that will now proceed involve "a very serious issue of access of justice," noted Nordheimer, adding that many of those involved may not be willing to put in the time and expense required for individual legal proceedings.
"The damage was made to the liberty interests of these individuals where the harm is, perhaps, easier to ignore and easier to minimize," he wrote. "It is a harm, however, that is nonetheless real and it is harm, if proven, that should not go unremedied."
None of the allegations made in the class-action lawsuits have been proven in court.
Critics have denounced police actions in Toronto during the tumultuous G20 summit as one of the largest abuses of civil liberties in Canadian history.
The Divisional Court ruling, released Wednesday, noted that the allegations of mistreatment by police that would be brought forward by the class-action proceedings were significant.
"If the appellant's central allegation is proven, the conduct of the police violated a basic tenet of how police in a free and democratic society are expected to conduct themselves," Nordheimer wrote.
"If that view of the conduct in this instance is made out, an award of damages to the individual citizens affected may be the most telling and lasting expression that such conduct should never be tolerated."
Sherry Good, an office administrator in her 50s who spearheaded the original class action, said she was grateful for the Divisional Court ruling.
"When I was boxed-in by the police in the torrential rain at Queen and Spadina with hundreds of other ordinary citizens, I believed that what the police were doing was very wrong," she said in a statement. "The class action can now move forward and hopefully bring some measure of peace and comfort to the many people that suffered because of the police actions that weekend."
Thomas Taylor, who is now the representative plaintiff for the second separate class-action lawsuit dealing with those held in the summit's sprawling makeshift detention centre, also welcomed the ruling.
"During the G20 weekend hundreds of people were arrested and taken to the makeshift G20 detention centre, where many were held for 24 hours or more in overcrowded wire cages and in freezing temperatures without enough food or water," he said.
"All of this just because we exercised our right to speak freely. Most Canadians that I have spoken with cannot believe that this happened here. It should not be allowed to happen again."
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