It does matter we find
responsibility for Hyatt-riot:
Settlement a model for
police community relations?
Sid Chow Tan
The first independent look at
the so-called "Riot at the Hyatt" recently concluded when this
writer, as self-represented plaintiff, accepted a settlement in a civil
alleging unlawful assault and unreasonable force by members of the
street squads of the Vancouver Police Department.
The settlement came on
September 24, over four and a half years since the incident. It
money; costs were waived and required no confidentiality clauses.
earlier, three other civil suits that involved the police crowd control
In Tan versus City of Vancouver the burden of
proof was on the plaintiff. The caliber of public servants involved in
case–from the judge and court reporter to the City of Vancouver
lawyers and the police officer who
struck the plaintiff--is an indicator that some of our tax dollars are
The witnesses for the
plaintiff (that’s me) took the duty as citizens seriously and paid
expenses to come and testify. There were also good people among the
supporters, including some in the media. All saw a trial unfold that
studied by legal scholars and students.
I have no legal training.
Justice M. M. Koenigsberg of the BC Supreme Court suggested a
"mini-trial" for an evaluation of the testimony and videotapes within
the formal proceedings. All sides would be heard off the record and not
oath. The city, represented by Bruce Quayle and Karen Liang, agreed.
My case involved the
testimony of three witnesses: Brian Peterson, Bryce Gilroy-Scott and
Marcuse. The defense had finished cross-examining them. Peterson,
columnist for the weekly Westender magazine, gave testimony about the
circumstances when the crowd control unit advanced.
Gilroy-Scott, a student who
returned for the trial from El Salvador where he is
development work, gave testimony about being allegedly struck on the
the street by the crowd control unit.
Marcuse, then a mental health
worker, formerly a plaintiff in the action and currently a full-time
student, gave testimony on alleged injuries he received while sitting
Daniel O'Donavan, police
bicycle squad member on duty that night, testified he struck me as
in a "continuum of force" procedure to make an arrest of someone in
the police security zone. If nothing else, protestors, the police and
should spend more time discussing the use of force and security zones.
was not even a megaphone on hand that night.
In the evaluation of the
"mini-trial" testimony, Justice Koenigsberg said the case was not
proven on its legal merits. Constable O'Donovan had the duty to remove
because the secure line as shown on the videotape, several feet behind
been breached, and under those circumstances lawful and necessary force
But Koenigsberg also said the
suit was not frivolous or a waste of the court's time and raised
issues of when and how police should use force. Because there was no
breach the line, I would be found not guilty in a criminal trial
is no intent.
This action demonstrates a
citizen can get a day in court if prepared to risk financial jeopardy.
the court date, my lawyer, Iven Tse, was confronted with an eight-week
that included the three actions against the police crowd control unit.
time and resources commitments, Tse said he could not do the trial pro
asked to be dismissed.
In the end, it was a three
day session, a wise and creative judge, a self-representing citizen
legal training and two accommodating city lawyers with a police
people who are unable to explain why there was so much violence that
8, 1998 evening at the Hyatt when the prime minister was there.
The explanation for the
alleged assault in Tan versus City of Vancouver
satisfies legally. The explanation for why the crowd control unit
needed to be
unleashed is still wanting. The judge, who admitted taking a hit on the
during a Vietnam
anti-war protest years back, says the explanation is better sought in
This trial showed the need for
timely disclosure by the police of relevant information, preferably in
environment of co-operation and dialogue. Until now, it seems the
more concerned about admitting liability than serving the public the
Citizens should rightly hope all learn and not repeat the mistakes that
many get hurt. Some good may still come from the prime minister's visit
Sid Chow Tan is a Freelance
journalist and regular contributor to the Columbia
Journal. He is also a community television advocate active with the
Community Television cooperative.