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Police brutality results in staying of serious charges

Even where trial fairness is not affected, serious charges can be stayed in response to police misconduct.

In R. v. Singh, 2013 ONCA 750 the accused and another man were arrested for robbery several months after a copper wire heist. An employee of a business had been bound with zip ties and duct tape and threatened with a handgun. Copper piping worth $350,000 was loaded into a vehicle by forklift. After the robbers left, the employee freed himself and called 911.

Singh was arrested and taken to a police station, where he said he was been beaten on three separate occasions over an extended period of time before giving a statement.

He was first placed in an interrogation room, strip searched and left alone. About 15 minutes later officers returned and began questioning him. Singh denied any involvement or knowing his co-accused (which wasn't true). An officer responded violently to these denials, attacking Singh for up to two minutes. While pinned against the wall, Singh was struck on the back and kneed in the ribs.


January 2, 2014
By Mike Novakowski

Even where trial fairness is not affected, serious charges can be stayed in response to police misconduct.

In R. v. Singh, 2013 ONCA 750 the accused and another man were arrested for robbery several months after a copper wire heist. An employee of a business had been bound with zip ties and duct tape and threatened with a handgun. Copper piping worth $350,000 was loaded into a vehicle by forklift. After the robbers left, the employee freed himself and called 911.

Singh was arrested and taken to a police station, where he said he was been beaten on three separate occasions over an extended period of time before giving a statement.

He was first placed in an interrogation room, strip searched and left alone. About 15 minutes later officers returned and began questioning him. Singh denied any involvement or knowing his co-accused (which wasn’t true). An officer responded violently to these denials, attacking Singh for up to two minutes. While pinned against the wall, Singh was struck on the back and kneed in the ribs.

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The officers left but returned some time later and again responded with force after Singh denied knowledge about the robbery. His neck was grabbed, throat squeezed, head slammed against the wall and he was punched. They demanded Singh tell them what happened in the robbery. One detective said, “tell them something, tell them anything or else they’re going to come back.”

On the third occasion, the officers opened the door with Singh’s co-arrestee between them, then closed it and left him alone. They later returned and again beat him after another denial. He was hit on the back of the head many times and begged officers to just kill him. The officers left but one returned alone an hour later and said “I am sorry for what I did to you. It’s part of my job.”

Singh was given food, water and a towel after the apology and an opportunity to clean himself up. He continued to deny having anything to do with the robbery during a video statement. Ten days later, after his release, Singh visited his family doctor.

In Ontario Superior Court the Crown voluntarily sought a stay of proceedings on the charges against Singh’s co-accused because he was beaten, required medical attention and X-rays subsequently revealed that he had a fractured rib. Singh’s was convicted of armed robbery and forcible confinement. The Crown did not contest Singh’s beating allegations, calling no evidence to refute them.

The judge recognized the egregious nature of the police misconduct in his ruling, describing it as “thoroughly reprehensible behavior on the part of those acting on behalf of the state”. However, she concluded the beatings did not warrant a stay under s. 24(1) of the Charter.

The police brutality had not affected the fairness of the trial, the accused’s injuries did not result in serious harm – there were no bruises, cuts or broken bones – and the charges were very serious . She also concluded that there were very few cases in Canadian jurisprudence where a stay has been imposed solely as a remedy for police brutality. The judge did, however, reduce Singh’s sentence by one year for the police misconduct, incarcerating him for 5 and a half years.

Singh argued to the Ontario Court of Appeal that the police misconduct was so egregious that a stay of his convictions was warranted. The court agreed.

“Canadian society cannot tolerate – and the courts cannot permit – police officers to beat suspects in order to obtain confessions,” said Justice Blair. “Yet, sadly, that is precisely what happened in this case. One of the two police officers who participated in the beatings apparently thought, as he said, that “it’s part of (his) job” to do so. It is not.”

In a footnote to its ruling, the court stated “the conduct in this case might well be characterized as ‘torture’ as that term is defined in s. 269.1(2) of the Criminal Code.”

Stay of proceedings

Although a stay of proceedings under s. 24(1) is usually rare when trial fairness is not an issue, a stay was warranted in this case under the residual category, which permits judicial discretion in granting a stay, even where trial unfairness is not at issue, if (1)”the prejudice caused by the abuse in question will be manifested, perpetuated or aggravated through the conduct of the trial, or by its outcome” and (2) “no other remedy is reasonably capable of removing that prejudice.”

The trial judge failed to “direct her mind to the nature of the police misconduct in the context of its potential systemic ramifications and the need to consider its impact upon the integrity of the judicial process.”

The serious nature of the charges in question, the absence of trial fairness issues and the nature of the injuries inflicted are all important factors in the balancing exercise that leads to the grant or refusal of a stay of proceedings. None is controlling, however, where – as here – the conduct involved goes to the heart of the integrity of the justice system. …

What occurred here wasn’t a momentary overreaction by a police officer caught up in the moment of a difficult interrogation. What occurred here was the administration of a calculated, prolonged and skillfully choreographed investigative technique developed by these officers to secure evidence. This technique involved the deliberate and repeated use of intimidation, threats and violence, coupled with what can only be described as a systematic breach of the constitutional rights of detained persons – including the denial of their rights to counsel. It would be naïve to suppose that this type of egregious conduct, on the part of these officers, would be confined to an isolated incident.

The courts must not condone such an approach to interrogation. Real life in the police services is not a television drama. What took place here sullies the reputations of the many good officers in our country, whose work is integral to the safety and security of our society (42-44).

Police refused to respond to the allegations. An internal investigation stopped when the beating victims were unwilling to cooperate. No charges, disciplinary measures or other consequences flowing from the investigation were reported. In granting the stay, Blair stated:

Balancing all of the competing interests at play in contemplating a stay of proceedings – the seriousness of the offence and society’s interest in upholding a conviction, the integrity of the justice system and the nature and gravity of the violation of the (accused’s) rights – I am satisfied that a stay is warranted and should have been imposed. The state misconduct was a flagrant breach of the (accused’s)) Charter-protected rights. The prolonged and grave nature of the beatings and the careful choreography underlying them suggest a pattern of misconduct on the part of (the officers) that has systemic implications. That similar assaults were committed against the (accused’s) co-accused reinforces this concern.

(A) stay of the convictions is necessary to prevent the perpetuation of a wrong that, if left alone, will continue to trouble the parties and the community as a whole in the future (para. 48-49).

Singh’s appeal was allowed and a stay of convictions entered.