Constable Michael Brisco disciplined for donating $50 to Freedom Convoy protest

Brisco v. The Windsor Police Service

Constable Michael Brisco disciplined for donating $50 to Freedom Convoy protest

Brisco v. The Windsor Police Service

Constable Michael Brisco of the Windsor Police Service is a highly trained and respected police officer with an exemplary record. He has been a police officer for 15 years and has no prior disciplinary record. In February 2022, Constable Brisco was forced to go on unpaid leave from his job as police officer after choosing not to be vaccinated for Covid. So, when Freedom Convoy protestors from across Canada rolled into the nation’s capital to challenge vaccine mandates, Constable Brisco decided to anonymously donate $50 to the protest via GiveSendGo. When giving, he did not identify himself as a police officer. He believed that he was exercising his freedom of expression by donating and that the Freedom Convoy was a legal protest. After all, he donated one day after a Superior Court Judge found that the protest was “peaceful, lawful, and safe” and could continue without honking. 

Later, the GiveSendGo donor list was illegally hacked. Constable Brisco’s donation was brought to the attention of the Windsor Police Service and the Ontario Provincial Police, who began identifying donations made by police officers throughout Ontario. The Windsor Police Service charged him for “discreditable conduct.”

After a six-day hearing before an Ontario Provincial Police Adjudicator, Constable Brisco was found guilty of discreditable conduct on March 24, 2023. Two months late, on May 18, 2023, the Tribunal ordered that Constable Brisco forfeit 80 hours of work as punishment.

In June 2023, Constable Brisco filed a Notice of Appeal with the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, challenging his conviction and punishment. The Ontario Civilian Police Commission heard his appeal on November 21, 2023. His counsel argued that the prosecution against him lacks sufficient evidence. The claim that the Freedom Convoy protest was unlawful rested entirely on claims made in newspaper articles by various officials, including the Prime Minister and the Premier of Ontario. No credible video, photographic, or other evidence on this point was filed against Constable Brisco. Further, his counsel argued that the evidence against him – a hacked list that should have remained private and confidential – was obtained illegally. Counting the donor list as evidence against Constable Brisco amounts to an abuse of process, counsel argued. Constable Brisco’s counsel further argue that his conviction and penalty rested on the claim that his donation to the Freedom Convoy was a demonstration of support for the Ambassador Bridge blockade in Windsor, Ontario.There is no evidence, however, of a link between the Ottawa protest and the Windsor blockade, and Constable Brisco denied supporting the blockade during his hearing.

Most importantly, Constable Brisco argued that his conviction and punishment violate his freedom of expression – protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While a police officer’s right to freedom of expression may be limited during the performance of their duties, Constable Brisco did not donate to the Freedom Convoy in his capacity as a police officer. He also expected the donation to be confidential, and he did not seek to advertise his giving. The expression of off-duty police officers is protected by the Charter to the same degree as the expression of any other citizen.

Darren Leung, one of the lawyers for Constable Brisco, stated, “Freedom of expression is a right that is guaranteed to all Canadians. Police officers are also entitled to express their political beliefs, so long as they do it without identifying themselves as police.”

“Every Canadian, including police and also including doctors, nurses, teachers and other regulated professionals, has a right to donate to the cause of her or his choice, and to do so privately and confidentially. No Canadian should face disciplinary proceedings at the hands of her or his professional association for expressing support for a cause or movement,” stated John Carpay, President of the Justice Centre.

Unfortunately, the Ontario Civilian Police Commission upheld the decision of the Windsor Police Service in February 2024. Constable Brisco’s appeal was unsuccessful.

However, he is not deterred. He is applying for a judicial review – a process by which courts ensure that the decisions of administrative bodies (e.g., the Windsor Police Services) are fair, reasonable, and lawful. With help from the Justice Centre, Constable Brisco continues to stand up for his freedom of expression.

Darren Leung, counsel to Constable Brisco, stated, “It was unfortunate that private donor information was unlawfully accessed. It is outrageous that the Ontario Provincial Police obtained this information to assist in persecuting police officers who were exercising their right to free expression. The evidence used to convict Constable Brisco amounted to nothing more than opinions from people who did not like the message. We are hopeful that the Divisional Court will see that the entire conviction was unreasonable.”

Constable Brisco is now back on active duty. We are awaiting results of the judicial review from the Divisional Court. 

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