Davin Charney took Toronto Police to small-claims court on Feb. 9, 2010, saying he was wrongfully arrested.JOHN GODDARD/TORONTO STAR
A student protester turned lawyer took his crusade against police wrongdoing to a Toronto small-claims court Tuesday, asking $25,000 in damages for injuries that include being labelled a neo-Nazi in an internal document.
Davin Charney, who is Jewish, also alleges he was wrongfully arrested and that police broke into his home. His three housemates from the time collectively claim $10,000 in connection with the police entry.
"Our law firm focuses on ... lawsuits against police and private security guards," says Charney, 35, on the website of his one-person Kitchener firm, established since he became a lawyer one year ago.
As a student activist, Charney was arrested at least 15 times but never criminally convicted. Now his specialty is taking police to small-claims court and he says he has won $15,000 in such suits for clients. Waterloo Regional Police also paid him $9,000 in an out-of-court settlement.
Events in the current case began with a stray hat.
On Jan. 20, 2005, Charney took part in a protest at York University, where he was going to law school, against U.S. President George W. Bush's inauguration. During a scuffle, a Toronto police officer lost his hat.
Charney scooped it up and dropped it at the lost-and-found. An officer later picked it up, he says. Police lawyer Robin Squires testified in opening remarks that the hat and badge were never recovered.
Five days after the protest, then-U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci arrived on campus. Security personnel spotted Charney and arrested him. A police check showed he was on bail facing charges – later dropped – of assaulting a neo-Nazi in Kitchener.
Toronto police arrested Charney for theft, later dropping the charges in exchange for 40 hours of community service. In a document, never made public, Toronto police erroneously identified Charney as the neo-Nazi.
That label is "so blatantly untrue," Rhona Charney, the lawyer's mother, told the court under her son's questioning. "Of all the events, this is what stood out as the most disturbing."
On the night of Charney's arrest, two officers went to his house. Boot marks in the snow suggested police entered through a rear window when nobody was home, housemate Kris Pheasant testified.
Police lawyer Squires said police knocked at the front door and it swung open. The police entered, he said, "to protect whoever was living at the residence."
The trial continues at a later date.