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Downtown pawnshop fights city in court

The B.C. Supreme Court has ordered that the City of New Westminster turn over any documents that might assist a pawnshop manager with his claim that he was wrongfully arrested and maliciously prosecuted.

The B.C. Supreme Court has ordered that the City of New Westminster turn over any documents that might assist a pawnshop manager with his claim that he was wrongfully arrested and maliciously prosecuted.

In October 2007, two police officers paid a visit to the premises of Royal City Jewellers and Loans Ltd., described on its website as "Canada's Largest Pawnbroker."

Michael Anthony Isman, the shop's general manager, alleges that police asked him to turn over certain pawned items suspected of being stolen.

Isman asked for a search warrant and told police he'd retain and safeguard the items - an electric guitar and an amp - until the warrant was served.

But when police returned with a valid warrant, they not only took the items into their possession, they also took Isman into custody.

Isman, who on the website is described as "Canada's leading authority" on pawnbroking, was charged with possession of stolen property, but about two months later the Crown stayed the charges.

The arrest came after Isman had launched a legal challenge to a city bylaw aimed at cracking down on second-hand shops, including pawnshops.

The bylaw would have required all pawnshops to report to police every transaction, including personal information, which Isman argued was an invasion of privacy.

Eventually he won the case, as the bylaw was quashed by the B.C. Court of Appeal in July 2007.

He's alleging that as a result of the bylaw challenge, he and the shop have become targets and he believes that the city has in its possession documents - such as memos and emails - that can help prove his case.

Isman filed an application seeking those documents.

In a recently released ruling, B.C. Supreme Court Master Ian Caldwell rejected the city's argument that, among other things, Isman was on a fishing expedition.

He ordered that the documents be turned over to Isman.

"This case involves potentially very serious questions involving the interaction between a government and one of its citizens and the role of the police authorities in that interaction," he said. "In a free and democratic society, it is hard to imagine an issue of greater import."

Outside court, Isman said that after his legal challenge, the authorities "took the first opportunity to get even with me," in October 2007.

"They picked on the wrong guy," he aid. "They gave me nothing but grief. They don't want to play fair. They're unhappy with me."

The allegation that pawnshops are fronts for stolen goods is a bad rap, he says.

"This is nonsense, to criminalize everybody for nothing, when the incidents of stolen property is like one in every 7,000 pieces. That's our experience. We're good at what we do."

People wishing to pawn items have to produce governmentissued photo ID, each item is recorded carefully, and "if there's a problem, there's a comeback," he said.

Isman said the trial is set for April or May next year but believes it will probably be settled before it sees the inside of a courtroom.

"I will take whatever the court orders, and I will donate it, every last cent over and above my legal costs, to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank.

"This is not a personal gain for me. I'm not looking to retire on the city's money."

Every year, Isman organizes an auction of celebrity-autographed ties and donates the proceeds to the food bank.

Commenting on the ruling, Mayor Wayne Wright said the city will comply but he doesn't expect there to be any evidence of malicious prosecution.

"We've been asked if we have any information, individually or collectively as a council, on the actions that took place. We don't," Wright said. "My instruction to everybody was 'Give all the information that we have, whoever has any,' because to my knowledge, there isn't any."

As for allegations, Wright said the city has no vendetta with Isman, as New Westminster council admires Isman and his work.

"We're in good standing with him. We're supporters of his tie program that they put on every year for the food bank. We've always had a very cordial relationship. So, no, we would never be doing that," he said. "That will come out in the court case. There's nothing there as far as I know."

editorial@royalcityrecord.com