More than 1,000 people detained during the chaotic G20 summit almost six years ago won the right Wednesday to go the class-action route in lawsuits against police and others.
In approving the class-action process, Ontario's top court said various reports on the events to date had made only non-binding recommendations.
"The remedies sought by the plaintiffs, which include a declaration that class members' charter rights have been violated and an award of damages, would be stronger instruments of behaviour modification," the Court of Appeal said in its decision.
The G20 summit over a weekend in June 2010 — marred by vandalism from several dozen protesters — saw more than 1,000 people arrested or detained in what was later described as one of the worst violations of civil liberties in Canadian history. Many were kept in appalling conditions at a makeshift detention centre. Almost all were released without charge within 24 hours.
In response to the court decision, lawyer Eric Gillespie said a class action could "help protect the basic freedoms of all Canadians" while co-counsel Kent Elson said it could lead to the disclosure of confidential police documents and tapes about what really happened as well as "positive reforms about policing."
It was not immediately clear when the class-action suits might be heard on their merits but a trial is likely months away.
Police authorities in Toronto had wanted the Appeal Court to quash the class proceedings, which had already been subject to two lower court rulings. The courts had originally ruled against certifying a class action, but Divisional Court overturned the ruling on initial appeal and instead split the action in two.
"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," the Appeal Court noted.
"There was some basis in fact for finding that the individual officer or officers who are alleged to have given orders for mass detentions and arrests did so without regard to whether all of the individuals detained, or detained and then arrested, were implicated in the criminal activity with which the police were concerned."
The lead plaintiffs in the actions are Sherry Good, who was among scores of people police "kettled" in torrential rain at a downtown intersection, and Thomas Taylor, who represents those sent to the east-end detention centre.
Both want damages for false arrest or imprisonment, and violations of their constitutional rights. They maintain a senior officer gave orders for the indiscriminate roundup of anyone present at various downtown locations — including peaceful protesters, bystanders and journalists.
"We were illegally arrested, thrown into overcrowded wire cages, and treated worse than animals in a zoo," Taylor said after the ruling. "We want justice to be served. We don't want this to happen to any other Canadian, ever again."
Good said she was delighted with the decision.
"Now, the police need to make changes and prove to us that this will never happen again," Good said.
There was no immediate reaction from the police services board.
Among other things, the board had argued Divisional Court overstepped its boundaries in stating the mass arrests could be seen as "one of the hallmarks of a police state" and therefore needed a thorough airing as class actions. The board also argued the different behaviour of various summit protesters precluded their being considered a class.
The Appeal Court rejected that argument, noting only 16 individuals had brought claims for their detentions.
"It remains apparent that most of the affected individuals are unwilling to devote the time and expense necessary to seek individual relief," the Appeal Court found. "A class proceeding is the preferable procedure for the resolution of the common issues."
In addition, the court awarded the plaintiffs $315,000 in costs for the certification motion and another $65,000 for the appeal.