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Richardson loses civil suit: decision [OFFSITE]

Lawyer John Richardson

Lawyer arrested after trying to cross street
Officer's warning taped at squatters' protest

A Vancouver lawyer was arrested after challenging a police warning that he faced an obstruction of justice charge at the scene of a squatters' protest in Vancouver.

Details of the confrontation were heard on a taped conversation aired in court yesterday involving John Richardson, a lawyer who represents people in the Downtown Eastside.

Richardson, 33, is suing Vancouver City, claiming the police abused their powers and tried to strip-search him during the September 2002 incident.

Responding to a call from someone seeking legal help, Richardson had taken a cab down to the Woodward's building late in the evening.

With his tape recorder running, Richardson learned that he may face arrest if he tried to cross the street.

He asked an officer what he would be charged with if he stepped off the sidewalk. He was told he'd face an obstruction of justice charge.

"No, no, no," says Richardson, his voice rising on the tape. "That's not law. Your direction is not law, sir. I'd like to know the lawful authority you are relying upon . . . I have been given no reason under the law that I cannot cross this sidewalk."

As Richardson started to move across the street, an officer advised him that he was being taken into custody and read him his rights.

In his lawsuit, Richardson also claims that Vancouver police Chief Jamie Graham defamed him in a letter of complaint the chief sent to the Law Society of B.C. after Richardson released details of allegations police were involved in kidnapping and torture.

On the witness stand for the second day yesterday, Graham defended an assertion he made on CKNW's Bill Good show that the allegations were "preposterous."

"I take exception to the fact that he throws out allegations, one-sided allegations of the most serious nature against the Vancouver police, and engages in a very public campaign," said Graham. "That's preposterous and unfair."

The allegations in the report, written by Richardson and his colleagues at the Pivot Legal Society, which provides legal services to people on the Downtown Eastside, are now being investigated by the RCMP.

Graham's complaint to the Law Society was later dismissed.

The civil suit before B.C. Supreme Court Justice Allan Stewart, in which Richardson is seeking damages against the City of Vancouver, continues today.


Vancouver Police Officer Charged with Assault (on Activist)

"A city police officer has been criminally charged with assault after allegedly throwing a local activist through a plate-glass window"

VANCOUVER - A city police officer has been criminally charged with assault after allegedly throwing a local activist through a plate-glass window. The criminal charge was approved by a Provincial Court Judge following a private prosecution hearing on September 9, 2004. The officer is scheduled to make a first appearance in regards to the charge at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, October 25, at the Provincial Courthouse at 222 Main St.

Unique about this case is the fact that an individual citizen, rather than the Crown, initiated the criminal proceeding and a private prosecutor, rather than the Crown, is conducting the prosecution. Under the Criminal Code, individual citizens are authorized to initiate criminal proceedings without the assistance of either the police or the Crown. However, the procedure is rarely used.

"Private prosecutions in Canada have proven to be an effective way of holding officials and companies to account," said Doug Chapman, a former government prosecutor and Sierra Legal Defence Fund lawyer who has launched many private prosecutions. "In my experience private prosecutions are an important legal tool for all Canadians to enforce our laws when there is a reluctance among government officials, including the police, to do so."

The assault charge against Vancouver Police Constable Wade Rodrigue stems from an incident that took place on April 28, 2004, in the City's Downtown Eastside. According to victim and witness statements, David Cunningham - an outspoken anti-poverty activist who has been highly critical of police - was held with his arms pinned behind his back and thrown through a drug-store window after a verbal confrontation with the officer.

Cunningham complained to the police about the alleged incident. However, three months after making his complaint, internal police investigators still had not contacted key witnesses. Cunningham approached Pivot Legal Society, who asked lawyer Cristen Gleeson to act as private prosecutor in the case. Acting in a pro bono capacity, Gleeson presented Cunningham's case to a Provincial Court Judge, who approved the charge against the Vancouver Police Constable on September 9, 2004.

John Richardson, Executive Director of Pivot Legal Society, says that the current reliance on police to investigate themselves make private prosecutions an important remedy for individuals who have suffered police misconduct. "Generally, a criminal charge will only get to court if the police press charges. However, police are often reluctant to press charges against their one of their fellow officers. Private prosecutions are an alternate way to hold police accountable for criminal acts."

Gleeson has refused to comment publicly on the case while it is proceeding. However, Richardson is calling upon the Attorney General to take a closer look. "The evidentiary groundwork for this prosecution has been laid, and a Provincial Court Judge has approved the charge. The test for proceeding with a criminal prosecution has been passed. Now, we are asking the Attorney General's office to get involved in the prosecution, either by assisting in or taking over the trial."

The Attorney General will state its position to the Court on Monday, October 25. If the Attorney General does not intervene in the prosecution, lawyer Cristen Gleeson has undertaken to see the case through to its end.

__________ Further Comment: Doug Chapman (604) 838-1584

John Richardson (604) 417-6074


Attorney General Halts Charges Against Vancouver Police Officer

VANCOUVER - Crown Prosecutors have stayed criminal charges of assault against a city police officer. The decision was made despite an earlier ruling by a Provincial Court Judge that there was sufficient evidence to proceed with the case.

"We're disappointed that the Attorney General has decided to end the proceeding," said Cristen Gleeson, a local lawyer who initiated the criminal proceedings against the officer. "Although the Crown has suggested that there were inconsistencies in the evidence, they have not told us what those might be. In my opinion the evidence was strong and pointed clearly to an unjustifiable assault."

The charges against Const. Wade Rodrigue stem from an incident that took place on April 28, 2004, in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. According to victim and witness statements, David Cunningham - an outspoken poverty activist who has been highly critical of police - was held with his arms pinned behind his back and thrown through a drug-store window after a verbal confrontation with the officer. Cunningham was taken away in an ambulance while police paid for repairs to the window, which was fixed within 30 minutes.

Cunningham complained to the police about the incident. However, three months after making his complaint, internal police investigators had failed to contact key witnesses. Cunningham approached Pivot Legal Society, who asked lawyer Cristen Gleeson to act as private prosecutor in the case. Acting in a pro bono capacity, Gleeson presented Cunningham's case to a Provincial Court Judge, who approved the charge against the Vancouver Police Constable on September 9, 2004. On October 25, Crown Counsel intervened in the prosecution and adjourned the matter to November 16 to allow time to review the file.

A problem emerged soon after the adjournment, however, when Crown Counsel turned the matter over to the Vancouver Police Department for re-investigation. Not trusting the VPD to investigate fairly, Cunningham and a key witness refused to be interviewed by internal investigators. The role of the VPD became a sticking point, with Crown Counsel rejecting proposals to interview the two directly or delegate the role to the RCMP.

"It basically came down to the same problem that the private prosecution was launched to avoid; that of Vancouver Police investigating their own," said John Richardson, executive director of Pivot Legal Society. "It's disappointing. We had hoped that Crown Counsel would understand people's concerns about the fairness and objectivity of such investigations." ____

Further Comment:

Cristen Gleeson (604) 433-5678

John Richardson (604) 417-6074


Vancouver Crown Council Serves and Protects Vancouver Police

The Crown has intervened and stayed the charges that (were) being pressed by myself against an officer of the Vancouver Police Department. Constable Wade Rodrique, a known thug within the Downtown East Side, has been given a 'stay out of jail for free' by Crown Counsel in a case where the VPD faced a series of charges ranging from "obstruction of justice" to "aggravated assault."

Crown Counsel informed me that "The statements provided by others including police members present are not consistent with the description given by Mr. Cunningham (myself)." What is consistent is the role of Crown Counsel to serve and protect the VPD.

A private prosecution was used as a strategy to by-pass the inherent bias that is shared between Crown Counsel and the police. We succeeded in getting a judge to approve six criminal charges against Rodrique. Up until that point, Crown had not involved themselves, most likely they (were) not ready to take on the PIVOT Legal Society as we had caught them with their guard down. The Crown was finally sent in upon the orders of the Attorney General to crush the case.

I am a member of the Anti-Poverty Committee and never believed that justice would be found (through) our legal system. Our effort was meant to take this cop off the street. He has since been relocated outside the DTES.

The Anti-Poverty Committee is determined to continue with the legal strategy of private prosecution. We see an opportunity to exploit the legal system along this route. We do not believe there is any reason to pursue police complaints. With PIVOT (PIVOT Legal Society, a community group focussing on legal support for drug users, the homeless and other marginalized persons) we played the game and lost. The APC realizes (the) Crown and the entire court system are vulnerable to pressure. We understand that as poor people our only power is disruption. We will make sure that our power is felt in their courtrooms and on our streets.