Police investigators can be sued if they conduct an investigation negligently, the Supreme Court of Canada said Thursday in a ruling that will send shudders through police ranks.
”Police officers owe a duty of care to suspects,” Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin said for a 6-3 majority. ”Their conduct during an investigation should be measured against the standard of how a reasonable officer in like circumstances would have acted.
”Police officers may be accountable for harm resulting to a suspect if they fail to meet this standard,” she said, writing on behalf of Mr. Justice Ian Binnie, Mr. Justice Louis LeBel, Madam Justice Marie Deschamps, Mr. Justice Morris Fish and Madam Justice Rosalie Abella.
The court nonetheless dealt a personal loss to a Hamilton man – Jason George Hill – who had argued that he was negligently arrested, resulting in his spending 20 months in jail for a string of robberies that he did not commit.
Mr. Hill was ultimately exonerated when the real robber was found and convicted. He sued investigators, specifically citing an inept police lineup procedure, but the court ruled against his suit.
Mr. Hill’s lawyers – Sean Dewart and Louis Sokolov – were exultant about the legal implications of Thursday’s ruling but disappointed that Mr. Hill’s lawsuit was thrown out.
This is a bitter day for Jason Hill,” Mr. Sokolov said. “The court acknowledges that he was wronged by the justice system, and yet excused the police from liability because their conduct in this case met the very low standards that prevailed more than a decade ago.
“On a happier note, this is a very good day for police accountability in Canada. The Supreme Court stated in resounding language that police are no different from the rest of us, and can be sued if they do their jobs negligently.”