A university professor testified that the police seizure of his swimming goggles during the 2010 G20 summit was “unfair and unjust”, as his $100,000 lawsuit against the Toronto Police Services Board finally went before a judge on Monday.
In a lawsuit launched more that six years ago, Luke Stewart, 32, alleged that he was illegally detained and searched by Toronto Police officers as he attempted to attend a peaceful protest at Allan Gardens on June 25, 2010.
It was the eve of what would become one of the most turbulent and controversial weekends in Toronto history, one that saw violent street protests and mass arrests as global leaders gathered in a fortified block of downtown.
Stewart’s lawsuit claims he was just trying to enter a public park.
“Toronto on that day was not ‘G20 Land’ or a Charter-free zone,” Stewart’s lawyer Davin Charney said in his opening statement. “This was Allan Gardens in Toronto, where there is still the rule of law.”
The hearing’s first witness, Stewart testified that when he arrived at Allan Gardens, Toronto Police officers had formed a “perimeter” around the park.
He said those wishing to enter needed to have their bags searched.
In a video recorded by a witness, which was played in court on Monday, Stewart is seen just after he approached a group of police officers.
“You can’t just search my bag. This is a public park,” Stewart says to the officers on the video.
“Sir, we’re here to ensure everyone’s safety,” an officer responds. “You don’t open your bag, you don’t get in.”
Stewart tells the police that he will not agree to the search since he is not under arrest or being detained.
After arguing for several minutes, he attempts to walk into the park, at which point the officers detain him.
After searching his backpack, officers remove Stewart’s swimming goggles, which he said he brought in case of tear gas.
“Why are you keeping my goggles? Is it illegal to have goggles?” Stewart says on the video.
Stewart testified that he was “distressed” by the confrontation with police.
“It seemed entirely unfair and unjust,” he told the court.
Stewart was a Wilfrid Laurier University student at the time. He currently works at a university in France.
Speaking outside of court, Charney said the actions of police violated several of Stewart’s Charter rights and freedoms, including the protection against unreasonable search and seizure and his freedom of expression.
But while the plaintiff is seeking to distill the case down to core issues of fundamental freedoms, the Toronto Police Services Board will attempt to show the incident through a wider lense.
In his opening statement, the lawyer for the board, Kevin McGivney, told the court that “context” is key to understanding the incident.
The G20 was “a difficult, challenging and frankly unprecedented weekend in the city,” McGivney said.
The search of Stewart and seizure of his property was “appropriate and justified”, he argued, since Toronto Police were responsible for public safety during the tumultuous weekend.
McGivney said that, given the context, the incident can’t be viewed just as a citizen exercising his Charter rights.
“It is not accurate to simply say anybody has the right to enter a public park”, McGivney said.
The hearing is scheduled for eight days. Multiple Toronto police officers are expected to testify.