A Win for Accountable Policing

Last summer Pivot represented Bobbi O’Shea, who courageously stood up to protect her rights and dignity. 

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Using the law as a catalyst for positive social change, Pivot Legal Society works to improve the lives of marginalized communities.

Bobbi O’Shea sued the Vancouver Police Department after police responded to a call for medical assistance in 2008 and instead imprisoned her. During last June’s trial, one of the officers testified that she was incarcerated because she admitted to drug use before the onset of an anxiety attack and because the Vancouver Detox, where people are sometimes taken for medical care, was closed at the time.

I’m so pleased to report back to you about the really great news we received this week: Bobbi has won her case.

Provincial Court Judge Laura Bakan found the police in Bobbi's case were negligent after they responded to her medical emergency by taking her to jail and placing her in a restraint device for more than an hour. In awarding Bobbi damages, she cited the police’s failure to consider reports from ambulance attendants citing her anxiety, the fact that she was not a threat of violence, and their refusal to let her see a nurse once she arrived in jail.

She also quoted the recent findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in condemning Bobbi's treatment, linking it to the incarcerated and trauma inflicted on Bobbi and her ancestors through the residential school system. 

“I left the Vancouver Jail angry and hurt. 
I never thought I’d see justice. 
I decided to fight back not just for myself, but for others in my community who’ve been treated the same way.
It’s wrong and it must end.”

This is a vindication for Bobbi and everyone else in her community who has ever been criminalized when they were in need of medical care. 

I’ve seen countless cases of use of force complaints against the police go unchallenged because of the circumstances of those abused. Many are far too vulnerable to see their complaints go through court: they are too unwell, too scared of retribution, or too disenchanted with a system of police investigating and protecting themselves. 

Bobbi was different. She began her complaint seven years ago. At times it seemed hopeless, but she kept on fighting. She continued to speak up, sharing her story and calling for changes in how intoxicated people are treated. 

Thanks in no small part to Bobbi, Vancouver may soon see a new 24-hour sobering centre opened, and significant changes to the care of prisoners in the interim.

Ultimately, I hope this means no one will ever go to jail again when what they truly require is medical care.    


Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck