Two Surrey Mounties have found out the hard way that simply hollering at someone to stop isn't enough to warrant a charge of obstruction if the person doesn't comply with their demand.
"People must be free to go about their business without their liberty being subject to infringement through arbitrary police conduct or the abuse or misuse of police power," noted Justice Anthony Saunders as he explained why Ian Clifford Langthorne was wrongfully arrested.
Langthorne was acquitted of obstructing police and a weapon possession charge after his case was heard in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster.
The court heard that the two police officers saw Langthorne jaywalking across King George Boulevard, and told him to stop. When he didn't, they announced he was under arrest. He fled, and they chased and arrested him. During the chase two bystanders allegedly saw Langthorne dump a handgun in a shopping centre parking lot.
Langthorne successfully argued that had he not been wrongfully detained, no connection would have been made between him and the gun.
The court heard the two Mounties were driving an unmarked car on 135A Street, between 106th and 108th Avenues, and turned into an alley known for drug dealing. The partners spotted two men - one of them whom, in police lingo, was "known to them" - and wanted to find out who the other man, that is Langthorne, was.
One of the Mounties testified that part of their job is "intelligence gathering" and that they routinely try to engage people. They pulled up their car alongside the men, wound down the passenger window and called out "Hey." The two men glanced at the officers, but kept going. The police then followed the pair down the alley in their car and when the two men began crossing King George Highway, called out "Stop." The men kept crossing.
The officers then used their loud hailer: "Stop. You are under arrest."
Saunders noted that the Mounties didn't say why they wanted the men to stop.
"At no time did either of the officers call out a warning that the individuals were jay-walking," the judge noted. Nor did they say they were under arrest for obstructing police.
After Langthorne was handcuffed, someone told the Mounties they saw him dump a gun. Police found it, and told Langthorne he was under arrest for obstruction and possessing a firearm
"Without advising them what it was they were being arrested for, the individuals were in no position to judge whether the arrest was lawful," Saunders noted in his reasons for judgment. "No one is compelled to submit to an unlawful arrest, and fleeing from a purported arrest where neither the circumstances of the arrest nor the communications from the officers created any explicit or apparent basis for the legitimate exercise of powers of arrest cannot reasonably objectively be seen as a willful obstruction of police powers."
"In short," Saunders decided, "nothing about the circumstances of this case suggests that there was any reasonable basis for concluding that Langthorne was willfully obstructing the police."
The judge determined the arrest was unlawful and had violated Langthorne's Charter Rights.
"In my view, the conduct of the police in this case, while not at the extreme end of egregiousness, was nevertheless serious," Saunders said. "The power to arrest without warrant and the collateral power to compel persons arrested to identify themselves must be exercised appropriately to avoid abuse of police power. Despite the officers' keen interest in intelligence gathering in this case, Mr. Langthorne had done nothing to justify an arrest."