Ottawa Canada July 11 2018 A woman who picked up an unattended purse and handed it to a bus driver on her way home is suing the Ottawa Police Services Board and Ottawa Capital Area Crime Stoppers for defamation and negligence after her image was posted online with the caption “purse snatching” at a downtown mall, suggesting the woman was a “female suspect.”
According to court documents, the incident occurred March 19, 2016, when Gabrielle Roy spotted an unattended purse on a bench while leaving the Rideau Centre. Roy, who was with her boyfriend at the time, picked up the purse “pausing and circling the bench” and walked away with it toward the exit around 10 p.m., an hour after the mall closed. She then handed the purse to a bus driver for Société de transport de l’Outaouais (STO), the Gatineau public transit system operating buses in Ottawa and Gatineau. The purse eventually wound up at the STO lost-and-found office in Gatineau.
The owner of the purse, a foreign student in Ottawa, reported it stolen from the Rideau Centre a few days later. The Ottawa police obtained surveillance video from the mall that showed the purse owner leaving it unattended on the bench.
After investigating, police uploaded a still image of Roy from the surveillance video and posted it to the Crime Stoppers website on April 6 with the caption “Ottawa: Purse Snatching in Downtown Mall.” The text read “on Saturday, March 19 at approximately 10 p.m. a female suspect stole a purse while walking through the Rideau Centre.” It went on to describe the purse and to request information. “If you know the identity of the suspects or other criminal activity call Crime Stoppers …”
The Crime Stoppers post was removed on April 15 after a legal representative for Roy sent a letter stating that the post was defamatory and demanded that it be removed.
According to motions filed by the defendants on May 15, Roy, who works as a support counsellor, was immediately suspended by her employer once her image was flagged on the Crime Stoppers website because it was thought she was “unsuitable for social work.” Her lawyer, Richard R. Marks, said she was subsequently fired when her doctor put her on medical leave. He said the impact on his client had been “traumatic” and Roy had suffered discrimination because of the incident. She will be seeking compensation.
Marks said Roy had gone to the Westin Hotel that night for a spa treatment and was being a Good Samaritan when she took the purse and passed it to a bus driver. There was no mall security around.
“They went to the bus stop and got on the bus and thought, ‘This is a good place. We’ll just leave it with the bus driver, and he’ll take it to the lost and found and they’ll look after it,’” Marks said. “So she did … STO reported they had the purse and it came in (to lost and found) at one o’clock in the morning … on the 30th.”
In a ruling on July 5, Justice Calum MacLeod dismissed an Ottawa Police Services Board motion seeking dismissal of the plaintiff’s claim for defamation and negligence. However, he granted, in part, Crime Stoppers’ request to dismiss the defamation claim and confirmed the negligence claim “may” continue.
A lawyer representing Crime Stoppers declined to comment on the case, citing “ongoing litigation.” Legal counsel for the Ottawa Police Services Board was not immediately available for comment.
The trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 9.