Can civil action be taken against private people for breaching, or impeding/obstructing, or chilling the exercise of one’s human rights?

Alice assaulted Bob at a demonstration by grabbing his placards and tearing them up.

Police neglected to act on the assault due to the lack of injuries and limited monetary value of the damaged property.

Yet Alice had successfully thwarted Bob’s article-10 protected political expressions on what was perhaps even a rare significant occasion.

Bob has not suffered any psychic injuries or other emotional damage, but he is now daunted from returning to that (especially significant) location and some others on future occasions/dates that are significant to his cause because it feels almost pointless: he feels as though he will almost inevitably be outnumbered by Alice’s lawless horde of cronies all bitterly opposed to society tolerating any expression whatsoever of Bob’s (nonetheless entirely article 10-protected) political and philosophical beliefs.

What is the point of thinking up slogans and making placards and going all the way down to the town square, if they’re just going to get grabbed from him and torn up into pieces anyway? So Bob stays home and has his speech successfully chilled by Alice’s band of miscreant cronies: Bob has been successfully silenced and his article 10 rights effectively denied, if by a private individual. Can damages be claimed on this ground beyond those that might be claimed in case the articles that were grabbed and torn up had been a copy of a common and non-political newspaper that is widely available for free, rather than self- political protest materials such as slogan bearing placards? Or if it couldn’t form an independent cause of action or head of claim, could it be accounted for as an aggravating factor in assessing quantum of damages?

If a police force had improperly interfered with Bob’s peaceful political expressions, Bob would be able to claim compensation for breach of his human rights. But as Alice is a private individual, is there any action that Bob may take against her?

  • 1
    Thinking about how to write an answer. In general, Latin America makes less of a state action v. private action distinction than common law countries.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 10 at 22:05
  • What type of legal system does Latin America mostly use? Oct 10 at 22:08
  • 1
    Latin America uses a civil law system based upon the legal systems of Spain and Portugal (and indirectly based upon the French Civil Code which is heavily influenced by Roman law). The most pertinent issue, however, is the way that Latin American human rights treaties have been drafted and interpreted in light of its history of the use of private violence to suppress human rights in collusion with governmental anti-human rights forces in the 19th and 20th centuries (e.g. with non-governmental "death squads" allied with political parties).
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 10 at 22:11
  • 1
    Ok, well no doubt an answer around Latin American contexts would be quite interesting but for what it is worth I am primarily interested in the position in the common law world Abe especially England and Wales. Oct 11 at 14:35

1 Answer 1


If Bob has a cause of action against Alice, it will be in ordinary tort law.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms only applies against the government. Bob would have no claim against Alice under the Charter.

Provincial (e.g. B.C's) and federal human rights codes protect against private discrimination on various protected grounds, but only in specified domains (e.g. employment, accomodation, tenancy, wages, discriminatory publication). None of them provide a general cause of action against a private individual interfering with another's exercise of rights.

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