Quebec Superior Court has approved a partial settlement, as part of a wider class action lawsuit, for Quebec City's failure to bring people before municipal courts within 24 hours of being arrested and detained.
The settlement of $412,750 concerns anyone who was held for over 24 consecutive hours without seeing a municipal court judge while the courts were not in session, between Dec. 15, 2017 and Feb. 9, 2020.
"It's the state's role to put in place a system that permits citizens who are detained to appear within 24 hours each time they're detained," said Sophie-Anne Décarie, the lawyer leading the class action lawsuit. "It's a fundamental, constitutional obligation."
Décarie says most people who are victims of these types of delays are usually those arrested on holidays.
At least 120 people in Quebec City qualify to receive between $2,260 and $6,780, depending how many times they were arrested and had their initial court appearance delayed, during the eligible time period.
Décarie says her law firm has notified those who qualify and informed them they have until March 13, 2022 to opt in. She says the partial settlement is a lump sum payment and the amount paid per individual could decrease if more people sign on.
The settlement with Quebec City is part of a larger class-action lawsuit that covers the entire province and names the Attorney General of Quebec, the City of Quebec and the City of Montreal.
Benoît Atchom Makoma launched the suit in 2018 with the help of the Décarie law firm.
Atchom Makoma was arrested in Gatineau on June 23, 2015 — the day before Quebec's Saint-Jean Baptiste holiday. He was incarcerated for 38 hours before he appeared in court.
Décarie says the right to appear before a judge within 24 hours of being arrested is part of the Criminal Code, Quebec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"The provisions of the law have been confirmed time and time again by case law," she said. "But they have not been taken seriously by our government."
Décarie says the City of Montreal and the City of Quebec were only liable for municipal court appearances and have an agreement with the Quebec government where the province handles court proceedings for certain infractions.
"The responsibility to organize the whole system lies more on the [Quebec] government," she said.
Décarie said she hopes the partial settlement with Quebec City will pave the way for a similar agreement with the City of Montreal and lead to a resolution with the province, both to compensate those who experienced delays and address the shortcomings of the judicial system when it comes to timely court appearances.
Décarie says there are 13,000 people officially named in the lawsuit who have dealt with prolonged detentions but she estimates the real number is closer to 19,000.