I Was Harassed or Assaulted by the Police
- 1 What is improper police behaviour?
- 2 What are my options?
- 3 When do I have to act?
- 4 What should I do first?
- 5 How to file a police complaint
- 6 What happens next
- 7 How to start a lawsuit
- 8 How to file a human rights complaint
- 9 Where to get help
What is improper police behaviour?
Examples of improper police behaviour include:
- using excessive force in the course of an arrest or investigation,
- arresting or detaining someone without reasonable grounds,
- obtaining a search warrant using false information,
- harassing or targeting members of the public for an improper reason, and
- driving recklessly or dangerously.
What are my options?
You have at least three options. You could choose one or more of these:
- file a police complaint,
- file a lawsuit, and
- file a human rights complaint.
Each option is designed for a different purpose, and each leads to a different outcome. If possible, you should speak to a lawyer before deciding which option(s) to pursue. A lawyer can give you advice on which option(s) are appropriate. In some cases, it might be appropriate to commence two, or even all three, processes, but note a lawsuit might be stalled if there is a police complaint or a human rights complaint that was started but had not completed.
- A police complaint may lead to an investigation of the officer’s conduct. You will be asked to give a statement. It might result in a recommendation for discipline of the officer(s) involved. It will not result in the payment of money for any injuries or harm you have suffered.
- A lawsuit is filed with either the Provincial (Small Claims) Court or the Supreme Court of BC. There are rules and processes that must be followed. A lawsuit might lead to a settlement or judgment involving the payment of money.
- A human rights complaint is filed with the BC or Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. These Tribunals are specialized to look into cases involving human rights abuses. A human rights complaint might lead to a settlement or judgment involving the payment of money.
When do I have to act?
This depends on which option(s) you choose to pursue. For example:
- police complaints must normally be filed within 12 months of the incident,
- lawsuits must normally be filed within 2 years of the incident, and
- human rights complaints must normally be filed within 6 months (municipal police) or 12 months (RCMP) of the incident.
It is best to get your complaint or lawsuit filed as soon as possible. The time limits described above are called "limitation periods."
What should I do first?
Write down what happened
Notes recorded right after the incident will support your credibility down the road. You should include the following details:
- date and time of the incident,
- what were you doing prior to the incident,
- who was involved, who witnessed the incident,
- the number and description of police officers involved,
- what happened during the incident, in as much detail as possible,
- who said what during the incident, and
- what happened after the incident.
Preserve the evidence
There might be evidence confirming what happened. It is important to keep it in a safe place. You may need it later to prove your version of events. Evidence might include:
- video/audio recordings of the incident,
- photographs taken during the incident,
- photographs of injuries taken after the incident,
- badge numbers, business cards of officers involved,
- statements from witnesses, and
- any other items or documents related to the incident.
Go to the hospital or your doctor
If you have been injured, get medical help. Tell a doctor what happened. Describe all of your injuries in detail. Follow the doctor’s advice. Fill any prescriptions right away. Return for a follow-up appointment as early as possible. Attend physiotherapy or specialists appointments if recommended. Get any recommended blood tests or imaging done right away.
How to file a police complaint
BC has two agencies that accept complaints about the police. One is for complaints against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The other is for complaints against all other police forces. You do not need a lawyer to file a complaint, but a lawyer could help you prepare your complaint and follow it to conclusion.
The RCMP have responsibility for policing most of rural BC, and some urban centers including Surrey, North Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby, Chilliwack, Kelowna, Nanaimo, and Prince George. A full list of RCMP detachments in BC is available on the RCMP's website.
If you have a complaint against one or more members of the RCMP you should file it with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP ("CRCC"). Complaints can be filed online, or by telephone, fax, or regular mail. More information on how to file your complaint is found on the Commission's website.
Many municipalities have their own police force, such as Vancouver, West Vancouver, New Westminster, Delta, Abbotsford, Port Moody, Victoria, Saanich, and Nelson. If you have a complaint against one or more members of a municipal police force, you should file it with BC’s Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (“OPCC”). The OPCC also accepts complaints relating to the transit police and some tribal police forces, including the Kitasoo Xaixais Police Service and Stl'atl'imx Tribal Police. Complaints may be about an individual officer’s conduct or more general policing policies. Complaints can be filed online or by fax or regular mail.
If you are unsure whether the incident involved one or more members of the RCMP or a municipal police department you should file your complaint with both the CRCC and the OPCC. It is always better to file your complaint with one of these two agencies rather than the police department itself. Filing your complaint with the CRCC or OPCC will ensure your complaint follows the formal investigation process.
|There is now an independent, civilian-led body that will conduct investigations into on- and off-duty police involved in incidents that result in death or serious harm. For more information see the website for the Independent Investigations Office of BC.|
What happens next
Your complaint will be investigated by a police officer. In minor cases, the investigator will contact you and attempt to resolve the complaint informally, sometimes by arranging an apology or explaining what had happened. In more serious cases, or where you say that you would prefer not to do informal resolution, the investigator will investigate the incident in depth. You will be provided with a report of what happened.
You will not be awarded a sum of money as a result of your police complaint. At best, your complaint will be “substantiated”, or found to be warranted, and appropriate remedial action will be recommended, such as discipline or an amendment to policing policy.
Most complaints in British Columbia are not substantiated, which means the complainant’s version of events is not accepted, or the conduct complained about is determined to have been appropriate in the circumstances.
In complaints involving one or more members of the RCMP, if you are not satisfied with the informal resolution or the investigator’s report, you can submit a Request for Complaint Review to the Chair of the CRCC. The Chair may deny your request, order a further investigation or, in very serious cases, order a public hearing.
In complaints involving municipal forces, if you are not satisfied with the informal resolution or the investigator’s report, you can send a letter to the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner (BC) asking for a review. The Commissioner will review the investigation and may order further investigation.
How to start a lawsuit
If you believe you have been harmed by a police officer that was acting improperly you have the option of starting a lawsuit.
Choosing whether or not to sue
There are no straightforward lawsuits against the police, and success is never guaranteed. Lawsuits may take months or even years to reach a conclusion.
However, a lawsuit is often the best option. Where you have suffered financial losses or injuries involving pain, disfigurement or disability, a lawsuit is the best option for achieving compensation for those losses.
You should be aware that information about lawsuits is publicly available. Some people choose to protect their privacy by not starting a lawsuit. Lawsuits against the police sometimes attract the attention of media.
Whatever court you choose, be aware the police will be represented by lawyers.
How to commence your lawsuit
You can sue in one of two courts: BC Provincial Court's "Small Claims Court" or BC Supreme Court. In either court, the only possible outcome is an award of money.
For more information on the choice of courts and the process for starting a lawsuit, see the chapter on I Need to Take Someone to Court.
Naming and serving the defendant
The "defendant" means the person or agency you are suing. In cases involving the RCMP, the appropriate defendant is "Her Majesty the Queen in Right of the Province of British Columbia (Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General)." While the RCMP is a federal policing agency, it is contracted to the Province of British Columbia to perform policing services. Typically, a lawyer from the Federal Government (Department of Justice) will be assigned to defend a claim involving the RCMP. Court documents should be delivered by Registered Mail to:
- Her Majesty the Queen in Right of the Province of BC
- Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General
- PO Box 9010 Stn Prov Govt
- Victoria, BC V8W 9E2
Municipal police forces
In a municipality with its own police force, the appropriate defendant is the municipality itself. For example, if you wish to sue for damages caused by members of the Vancouver Police Department, you should name the "City of Vancouver" as a defendant. It is not proper to name the Vancouver Police Department because it is a department of the City, not itself a legal entity capable of being sued.
For municipal police departments, court documents should be delivered to the municipality’s general delivery address. For example, in cases involving the Vancouver Police Department you would deliver your filed Notice of Civil Claim to the following address:
- City of Vancouver
- 453 West 12th Ave.
- Vancouver, B.C. V5Y 1V4
- Attention: City Clerk
You should not name individual officers as defendants except in the most serious cases of misconduct. Officers are not personally liable for their conduct on the job except in the most extreme cases. That said, there may be advantages to naming individual officers as defendants at the beginning of the case to preserve your right to examine those officers prior to trial.
What happens next?
There are more procedural steps that must be followed in a lawsuit. See the section called I Need to Take Someone to Court.
How to file a human rights complaint
If you believe you have been discriminated against by a police officer you should consider filing a human rights complaint.
If the incident involved municipal police officers you must file your complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal ("BCHRT"). The BCHRT is an independent body responsible for dealing with complaints of discrimination pursuant to the BC Human Rights Code. The Human Rights Code prohibits a variety of discriminatory conduct including where a police officer treats a person differently or denies a service regularly available because of that person's race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation or age of that person.
If the incident involved RCMP officer you must file your complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission (“CHRC”). The CHRC administers complaints under the Canadian Human Rights Act. The Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.
For more information on filing a human rights complaint with either the BCHRT or the CHRC, please review the resources below.
Where to get help
See the Resource List for a list of helpful resources. Your best bets are:
- Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP
- Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner (BC)
- BC Civil Liberties Association
- How to Sue the Police and Private Security in Small Claims Court
- Community Legal Assistance Society
- BC Human Rights Clinic
- Access Pro Bono
- Pivot Legal Society
- Lawyer Referral Service
- Private bar lawyers
- The Law Students' Legal Advice Program Manual chapter on "Public Complaints Procedures."
- Clicklaw for more resources listed under the common question "I was assaulted by police."
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Neil Chantler, April 2017.|
|Legal Help for British Columbians © Cliff Thorstenson and Courthouse Libraries BC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence.|
A person licensed to practice law in a particular jurisdiction. See "barrister and solicitor."
A resolution of one or more issues in a court proceeding or legal dispute with the agreement of the parties to the proceeding or dispute, usually recorded in a written agreement or in an order that all parties agree the court should make. A court proceeding can be settled at any time before the conclusion of trial. See "action," "consent order," "family law agreements," and "offer."
A judge's conclusions after hearing argument and considering the evidence presented at a trial or an application; a decision, the judge's reasons. A judge's written or oral decision will include the judge's conclusions about the relief or remedies claimed as well as their findings of fact and conclusions of law. A written decision is called the judge’s "reasons for judgment." See "common law," "conclusions of law," "findings of fact," and "final judgment."
Intentionally doing a thing; a law passed by a government, also called "legislation" or a "statute." See "regulations."
Facts or proof of facts presented to a judge at a hearing or trial. Evidence can be given through the oral testimony of witnesses, in writing as business records and other documents, or in the form of physical objects. Evidence must be admissible according to the rules of court and the rules of evidence. See "circumstantial evidence," "hearsay," and "testimony."
A court proceeding in which one party sues another for a specific remedy or relief, also called a "lawsuit" or a "case." An action for divorce, for example, is a court proceeding in which the claimant sues the respondent for the relief of a divorce order.
In law, any proceeding before a judicial official to determine questions of law and questions of fact, including the hearing of an application and the hearing of a trial. See "decision" and "evidence."
In law, the re-examination of a term of an order or agreement, usually to determine whether the term remains fair and appropriate in light of the circumstances prevailing at the time of the review. In family law, particularly the review of an order or agreement provided for the payment of spousal support. See "de novo," "family law agreements," "order," and "spousal support."
In law, a legal incapacity to do certain things, like enter into a contract or start a court proceeding. Legal disabilities include insanity and being under the age of majority. See "age of majority."
A court established and staffed by the provincial government, which includes Small Claims Court, Youth Court, and Family Court. The Provincial Court is the lowest level of court in British Columbia and is restricted in the sorts of matters it can deal with. It is, however, the most accessible of the two trial courts and no fees are charged to begin or defend a family court proceeding. The Family Court of the Provincial Court cannot deal with the division of family property or matters under the Divorce Act. See "judge" and "jurisdiction."
Normally referred to as the "Supreme Court of British Columbia," this court hears most court proceedings in this province. The Supreme Court is a court of inherent jurisdiction and is subject to no limits on the sorts of claims it can hear or on the sorts of orders it can make. Decisions of the Provincial Court are appealed to the Supreme Court; decisions of the Supreme Court are appealed to the Court of Appeal. See "Court of Appeal," "jurisdiction," "Provincial Court," and "Supreme Court of Canada."
A mandatory direction of an arbitrator, binding and enforceable upon the parties to an arbitration proceeding, made following the hearing of the arbitration trial proceeding or the parties' settlement, following which the only recourse open to a dissatisfied party is to challenge or appeal the award in court. See "appeal," "arbitration," and "family law arbitrator."
The assertion of a legal right to an order or to a thing; the remedy or relief sought by a party to a court proceeding.
An award of money payable by one party to a court proceeding to another, usually as compensation for loss or harm suffered as a result of the other party’s actions or omissions. In family law, damages are usually awarded to one party in compensation for breach of contract or spousal abuse. See "breach of contract" and "tort."
Sending legal documents to a party at that party's "address for service," usually by mail, fax, or email, called "ordinary service" in proceedings before the Supreme Court. Certain documents, like a Notice of Family Claim, must be served on the other party by personal service. Most other documents may be served by ordinary service. See also "address for service" and "personal service."
The testing of the claims at issue in a court proceeding at a formal hearing before a judge with the jurisdiction to hear the proceeding. The parties present their evidence and arguments to the judge, who then makes a determination of the parties' claims against one another that is final and binding on the parties unless appealed. See "action," "appeal," "argument," "claim," "evidence," and "jurisdiction."