Three police officers and the City of Montreal were jointly and severally ordered by Quebec Superior Court to pay a Montrealer $115,000 in damages following a wrongful arrest that occurred more than nine years ago.
Didier Berry was leaving a downtown Montreal bar in the wee hours of the morning in the company of some people with whom he had spent the evening when he witnessed the arrest of two suspects. Berry, who began filming the arrest, was too arrested for allegedly repeatedly returning to the scene of the arrest in spite of being told by police to disperse. During Berry’s arrest, he was pepper sprayed, received blows to his face and chest, and suffered a split lower lip before being taken to hospital.
“I was trying to film an arrest that I thought was unfair, at a distance,” Berry said in an interview. “They never told me what I did wrong or notified me of my rights. They beat, insulted, and choked me until I lost consciousness.”
Berry was charged with five counts of assaulting peace officers and obstructing police work for which he was acquitted, pledging to keep the public peace. He then took legal action against three officers and the City of Montreal.
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Quebec Superior Court Justice Marc St-Pierre did not believe the version given by police officers, holding that on the balance of probabilities the arrest and the use of force was not justified.
“The Court concludes that Mr. Berry’s arrest was not justified, nor was the use of force; the three police officers who used force, as well as their employer, the City of Montreal, will therefore be ordered jointly and severally to compensate Mr. Berry,” said Justice St-Pierre in Berry c. Baribeau, 2022 QCCS 5.
Berry suffered “significant psychological trauma” as a result of the altercation and suspended his activities as a filmmaker for several years, returning to work only for minor jobs from 2015 onwards, noted Justice St-Pierre. It was only in 2020 that he was able to fully recover, added Justice St-Pierre, who awarded him $65,000 in material damages to compensate for the material loss he sustained, and $20,000 in moral damages, all of which is to be paid jointly and severally by the three police officers involved in the altercation and the City of Montreal.
Justice St-Pierre also ordered the three police officers to pay Berry $30,000 in exemplary damages.
According to PEN Canada, it is not a crime in Canada for anyone to photograph a uniformed police officer, as long as the photographer does not obstruct or interfere with the execution of their duties. The organization adds that it is a violation of their Charter rights to prevent anyone from doing so.