Friday, March 5, 1999

Kirk Makin

p. A6.

Police dismiss strip-search complaint

Angry British lawyer vows he won't be back

Toronto police have thrown out a complaint lodged by a prominent British lawyer who said he was hauled off a downtown Toronto street last fall and strip-searched.

A police report sent to John Hanson, an international expert in reinsurance law concluded there was "insufficient evidence to support the allegations you have made."

Weary and embarrassed by the situation, Mr. Hanson is no longer willing to discuss it. However, a friend of his — Toronto lawyer John Black — said the 46-year-old London solicitor has vowed not to return to Toronto.

"His reason was one of anger and disgust," said Mr. Black, a conference organizer and publisher of the Lexpert legal directory who was authorized by Mr. Hanson to speak for him.

"Mr. Hanson is taking no further action, as he sees no point," Mr. Black said. "At first, he felt that something worthwhile might come of the complaint. That gave him some comfort. Now, he feels this is very much a slap in the face."

The report by the Toronto Police Service complaints investigation bureau was prepared by Staff Inspector Keith Forde after a review of evidence gathered by complaints bureau investigators.

"All the police had to do was say they were sorry," Mr. Black said. "If they are so ungracious that they cannot bring themselves to say they are sorry in a matter where they so obviously made a mistake, it simply reinforces the belief that 'police intelligence' is an enduring oxymoron."

An account of Mr. Hanson's arrest and strip-search appeared in The Globe and Mail last October. It ignited a sustained furor over the strip-searching of civilians brought to police stations in connection with minor or trivial offences.

At the time of his arrest, Mr. Hanson was in Toronto to give a lecture at a legal conference organized by Lexpert. In an interview afterward, he recounted walking by the Toronto Police 52 Division on a Saturday afternoon with his wife when an officer — Constable Abdulhameed Virani — rushed out and arrested him.

Held on suspicion of having punched a man in nearby Kensington Market, Mr. Hanson said he was released two hours later with an apology.

"It was absolutely unbelievably demeaning," he said in the interview from his London office shortly afterward. "I had to bend over for an anal search. It was absolutely horrible."

However, Staff Insp. Forde disagreed yesterday that Mr. Hanson was given an apology.

"It was a case of mistaken identity," Staff Insp. Forde acknowledged in an interview. But I can tell you that we did not offer an apology. We might have offered our regrets and said a full investigation will take place but not an apology."

Staff Insp. Forde said he could not reveal any details of the case because of privacy legislation. However, he noted that Mr. Hanson would have been in a position to publicize the details had he not elected to throw away his copy of the full report.

"I cannot begin to tell you how regrettable this situation is to this force," Staff Insp. Forde said. "Any time you have a complaint that someone's rights were infringed, we take it extremely seriously. But in this case, I am confident we acted appropriately."

Mr. Black said the conclusion in the report is absurd, since the police have admitted the arrest was a mistake.

"The allegations were that he was wrongly arrested, wrongly strip-searched and that he was wrongly held for two hours before being released," Mr. Black said. "That was it. For Staff Insp. Forde to say there was insufficient evidence to support the allegations doesn't make sense."

Upon Mr. Hanson's ordeal becoming public, he was bombarded with interview requests from Canadian and British media outlets. Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman expressed shock over the incident at the time and invited Mr. Hanson to Toronto for an expense-paid return visit.

"The performance of Mayor Lastman's office has been exemplary," Mr. Black said yesterday. "I can understand his concern over the matter. The key to it is that this was such an intrusive procedure, and it was over a relatively minor thing. It is a real abuse of power."

Toronto Police clippings… [Fiona Stewart]

Created: October 8, 2000
Last modified: October 8, 2000
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