Supreme Court of Canada sides with Crown over immunity of prosecutors

OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada has ended a bid by Toronto police members to sue over the actions of Crown prosecutors that the officers say damaged their reputations.

In its 8-1 decision Friday, the high court stressed the importance of prosecutorial independence and objectivity in ensuring the integrity of the justice system.

article continues below

The case began when the Toronto officers were accused of assaulting two men, Randy Maharaj and Neil Singh, they had arrested for robbery in 2009.

The allegations against the officers led to Maharaj's charges being stayed and the eventual setting aside of Singh's conviction.

The three police officers filed a lawsuit in 2016 alleging Crown attorneys failed to put forward evidence that contradicted the assault claims.

A judge struck out their claim of negligence but allowed an allegation of misfeasance in public office — knowingly engaging in unlawful conduct — to proceed, a decision upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal.

In their statement of claim, the police officers — Sgt. Jamie Clark, Det. Sgt. Donald Belanger and Det. Sgt. Steven Watts — alleged they had suffered harms including significant depression, emotional trauma and irreparable damage to their reputations and credibility.

They said they had been subject to ridicule and contempt, and would face this prejudice for the rest of their careers.

The Supreme Court nixed the officers' claim, saying that allowing police to sue the Crown for misfeasance related to prosecutors' decision-making would undermine the integrity of the criminal justice system.

In writing for the majority, Justice Rosalie Abella said one of the critical dimensions of a prosecutor’s independence protected by immunity is, in fact, independence from the police.

"The police role is to investigate crime," Abella wrote. "The Crown prosecutor’s role, on the other hand, is to assess whether a prosecution is in the public interest and, if so, to carry out that prosecution in accordance with the prosecutor’s duties to the administration of justice and the accused."

The police certainly have a legitimate expectation and interest in their reputations not being unfairly impaired, Abella said.

"But the solution cannot be to make prosecutors accountable to them in a way that obliterates the independence between the police and prosecutors and is inconsistent with the Crown’s core public duties to the administration of justice and to the accused."

However, she indicated the Crown is not completely immune from scrutiny by the courts, noting the public interest in ensuring accountability for malicious prosecution.

In the case of the Toronto police, Abella said, "the public interest argues against, not in favour of piercing prosecutorial immunity."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 30, 2021.

© Kamloops This Week



Question of the Week POLL

Do you think the provincial government waited too long to declare a state of emergency in response to the wildfires?

or  view results

Popular Kamloops This Week

Events Calendar

Help Us Help Kamloops. Support Local Media.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Kamloops This Week is now soliciting donations from readers. This program is designed to support our local journalism in a time where our advertisers are unable to due to their own economic constraints. Kamloops This Week has always been a free product and will continue to be free. This is a means for those who can afford to support local media to help ensure those who can’t afford to can get access to trusted local information. You can make a one-time or a monthly donation of any amount and cancel at any time .

NEW: For every donation of $25 or greater, we will offer a digital advertising package to the local non-profit group of your choice.

Click on for more information or to make your donation.

Thank you in advance for your support.