POLITICS

Group arrested during G20 sue police, alleging profiling, sexual assault

08/01/2012 12:18 EDT | Updated 10/01/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - A lawsuit against Toronto police is more about alleged sex-based discrimination than being profiled for having "hairy legs," one of the plaintiffs said Wednesday.

Alicia Ridge, 27, is part of a group of seven people from Hamilton suing Toronto police for $1.4 million over their arrests during the 2010 G20 summit, claiming false arrest, battery and malicious prosecution.

The women in the group claim they were profiled by an officer who wrote in his arrest notes that all the women had hairy legs — something he said he associated with G20 protesters.

Ridge, who is a nurse and studying to become a midwife, and also volunteers with a sexual assault centre, said the lawsuit was prompted by allegations beyond the "hairy legs" comment.

"My arresting officer, who was male, decided to do an initial search of my body, which was just basically running his hand up the side of my leg and grabbing my ass, along with sexualized comments and comments that were put out there to create fear," Ridge said Wednesday after serving the lawsuit at police headquarters.

None of the claims has been proven or tested in court. The Toronto Police Services Board was not immediately available to comment on the lawsuit.

The group alleges the police wrongfully arrested them on June 27, 2010 — a day after vandals went on a rampage in downtown Toronto — as they emerged from a pizza parlour.

Davin Charney is the lawyer for the group, and he said they were held in "miserable conditions" where they were not given enough water. He also claimed it wasn't just the women in the group who were treated with sexual misconduct on the part of police.

"Six of the seven plaintiffs were subject to unlawful and degrading strip searches," he said. "In the context of an unlawful arrest, I call that a sexual assault as well."

In a statement, Charney said one of the seven asked the reason for their arrest and an officer told them police "would make one up."

A provincial police watchdog — the Ontario Independent Police Review Director — conducted an investigation into the incident and found the complaint "substantiated."

Its report found Const. James Ure wrote in his arrest notes that "all parties appear to be protesters; back packs; clothing and females all have hairy legs."

The officer told investigators he jotted down the "hairy legs" note as a general observation, calling unshaven female legs "one indicator that I associated with protesters down at the G20 that weekend."

A police spokesman was not immediately able to say whether any action had been taken against the officer.

The statement of claim alleges senior officers were frustrated that front-line officers were not able to stop the vandalism.

The lawsuit, which was filed at the end of June, could be the last one of its kind, given the two-year limitation period. Several suits have previously been filed; some have already been settled.

Dozens of officers are facing various disciplinary charges resulting from the summit weekend, including allegations of excessive use of force and illegal arrest.

More than 1,100 people were arrested — most released without charge — in one of the largest mass arrests in Canadian history. In his systemic report, the review director was fiercely critical of police for riding roughshod over people's rights.

However, more than 40 people have been successfully prosecuted for the rampage, which included vandals using black bloc tactics to smash windows and attack police vehicles.