Criminal Law

TLA president calls for probe into lawyer's arrest at Brampton courthouse

The president of the Toronto Lawyers Association is calling for an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the arrest of a criminal defence lawyer by Peel Regional Police at the Brampton courthouse.

“Anytime a police officer effects an arrest there is usually considerable thought put into the manner in which the arrest is going to be executed,” says Joseph Neuberger. “In this particular instance, given the conflicting accounts of the arrest, once the case has concluded, an inquiry should be conducted into how this arrest was undertaken.”

Lawyer Laura Liscio, 32, was arrested inside the courthouse in connection with allegations of drug trafficking; she faces multiple charges after Peel police allege she “smuggled” drugs into the courthouse, reports the Toronto Star.

Media reports of the arrest sparked outrage by defence lawyers as to how it was said to have been executed.

In response, Peel police took the unusual step of issuing a release disputing the reports, including a denial that Liscio was handcuffed while wearing her court attire. Peel Media Release

Published reports say Liscio’s lawyer Steven Bernstein took exception to the release, calling the statement inaccurate, and maintaining she was handcuffed while wearing the court attire. Toronto Star Toronto Sun

Neuberger tells that lawyers are not suggesting Liscio should be treated in a special way because she is a member of the bar. The issue, he says, is that arrests, when possible, should be carried out in a dignified manner, keeping in mind the presumption of innocence.

“The manner in which an arrest is effected should be a consideration no matter who is being arrested. Whether it is a civilian, a police officer or a lawyer. Understanding the sensitivities and allowing an arrest to be conducted in as dignified manner as possible is in everyone’s interest,” says Neuberger.

“The power of arrest must be exercised with appropriate discretion given the circumstances facing the police,” says Neuberger. “It is very common for police to exercise discretion in order to provide an accused with a dignified manner in which to be arrested.”

In fact, Neuberger relates a prior incident involving the Peel police drug squad “who permitted my client to leave his house and walk around the block at which time he was placed in an unmarked cruiser. This allowed my client to be taken into custody not in view of his family and his neighbours. The actions of the Peel police drug squad in that case were extremely commendable.”

Neuberger notes that police officers “commonly weigh the sensitivities and the risks that go into the manner of an arrest and in this particular case it seems there should be an investigation into the actions; whether they were hastily taken and whether they were thought out.

“In this case I would have expected that Ms. Liscio would have been spoken to about an issue and asked to attend at a nearby police station to either be interviewed or arrested if they felt they had reasonable and probable grounds,” says Neuberger.

“Based upon the information that I have available to me it does not seem that Ms. Liscio presented any flight risk, safety risk or risk to destruction of evidence so in similar circumstances,” he says.

Therefore he wonders why she was not “afforded the opportunity to attend at a police station within a reasonable period of time.”

Neuberger, partner with Neuberger & Partners LLP, says the contradictory versions of events provide a further reason for an inquiry into the arrest. He notes that there is disagreement of basic facts including where she was handcuffed, what she was wearing at the time of the cuffing and whether she was placed in a marked or unmarked cruiser.

He says that if her lawyer’s version proves to be accurate and “Ms. Liscio is found innocent of these allegations – and she is presumed innocent at this time – one can never take back the manner of that arrest and the public display that she had to endure … visible to people in the courthouse including her colleagues, Crown attorneys, possibly judges, and members of the public.”

Neuberger says that it is “one thing to be reported in the media that somebody is suspected of an offence and was arrested. It’s another to be removed in handcuffs while in some form of court attire. It signals to people there is an immediate risk and they had to be removed right away, and frankly I significantly doubt that was the case.”

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