Court of Appeal Decision of the Week

(Lack of) Police Dashcams; Standard of Review; Motions to Strike

Case: Sangha v Alberta, 2018 ABCA 32 (CanLII)

Keywords: Traffic Conviction; Red Light; Abuse of Process; “Collateral Attack”; Standard of Review; Motions to Strike

Synopsis:

The Appellant is convicted of proceeding on a red light contrary to s. 54(1)(b) of the Use of Highway and Rules of the Road Regulation, Alta Reg 304/2002. Rather than appeal his conviction, the Appellant files a separate civil action claiming that, had there been an operational dash camera in the police vehicle, the case against him would not have involved a credibility contest (in which police evidence is allegedly “preferred”).

The Appellant argues the presence of a dash camera would have prevented the Respondent police officer’s breach of duty, negligence, and abuse of authority. He also claims against various municipal and provincial entities and argues, among other things, that the collective failure to equip (and enforce their use) police dash cameras constitutes negligence. The Appellant seeks the following remedies:

  • a declaration that the Respondents were required to “implement sound legislation and practices to prevent discrimination, exploitation and ensure rights” under s. 15 of the Charter;
  • damages for reimbursement for his traffic ticket;
  • damages for the resulting increase in his insurance premiums; and
  • the cost of installing a dash camera in his vehicle. (See para. 2).

The Respondents successfully apply to have the action struck. On appeal, the Court of Queen’s Bench confirms the decision. The Court of Appeal determines the sole question on appeal is whether the Appellant’s claim “…ought to have been struck summarily because he failed to raise the issues he advanced in his civil action on an appeal from his conviction on the traffic offence.” (See para. 6). Ultimately, the Court concludes the Appellant should have appealed the Traffic Commissioner’s decision and that the action should be struck as an abuse of process. (See paras. 18-19).

Importance:

For the Court of Appeal (the Reasons were by “The Court”; Justices Berger, Veldhuis & Strekaf sitting) a court order stands and is both binding and conclusive unless set aside on an appeal or lawfully quashed. Moreover, it is not permissible to engage in so-called “collateral attacks” against such an order – for example, the use of a civil action to challenge the final decision of a criminal court of competent jurisdiction. (See paras. 15 & 16).

Citing Michaud v Brodsky, 2008 MBCA 67 (CanLII) at para. 4, the Court of Appeal determined that, in the context of claims of negligence raised after a person has been convicted of an offence, overriding policy considerations may foreclose a determination of negligence allegations as against the police on their merits. More specifically, this is because the “proper forum” to overturn a criminal conviction is the appeal process created by the criminal law itself. (See para. 16).

The Court of Appeal referred to Harris v Levine, 2014 ONCA 608 (CanLII) at paras. 7–9, leave to appeal to SCC refused [2014] SCCA No 467 as further support for the proposition that allowing the Appellant to do otherwise “…would inevitably result in re-litigation of the criminal charges and would potentially impeach the integrity of the adjudicative process.” (See para. 17).

The Appellant contended that, because his civil claim was broader than his traffic violation, it could not be a collateral attack. On this point the Court of Appeal agreed with the Court of Queen’s Bench decision: “…you cannot undo in this proceeding what you didn’t undo in the other proceeding.” (See para. 12).

The Court also emphasized, citing Lameman v. Alberta 2013 ABCA 148 (which Marie-France Major and I argued, successfully):

  • whether a claim discloses a cause of action is a question of law, reviewed on the standard of reasonableness
  • otherwise, striking a pleading will be reviewed for reasonableness. (See para. 5).

Counsel for the Appellant: Inderpal Singh Sangha (self-represented)

Counsel for the Respondents (Government of Alberta and the Alberta Minister of Solicitor General and Public Security): Christine Nugent (Department of Justice and Solicitor General Alberta, Calgary)

Counsel for the Respondent (City of Calgary, Calgary Police Services, and Constable Barrett): D.T.M. Gallo

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Posted: Friday, February 02, 2018