The fight against Whitehorse grow ops suffered a setback this week.
Cops, Crown prosecutors and others are going to be cursing territorial court Judge Karen Ruddy as some sort of liberal wank.
This week, Ruddy issued an 83-page judgment on the admissibility of evidence collected by police investigating the high-profile Copper Ridge grow-op case.
She turfed out a lot of the evidence.
So much evidence, in fact, that it’s difficult to imagine how the Crown can continue prosecuting its case, in which 4,500 marijuana plants were seized.
As a result, nine suspected indoor horticulturists could be set free.
It would be easy to pin the blame on Ruddy.
After all, it was her decision that will, in all likelihood, set these alleged bad guys free.
The simple view is crystal clear: Cops busted bad guys. Judge released bad guys.
Stupid judge. Stupid system.
But if you read Ruddy’s thoughtful, well-documented decision an entirely different picture emerges.
And Ruddy’s is much closer to the truth.
The territory is not being policed well.
Last summer, police launched Project Meander, which saw undercover officers posing as travelling salesmen peddling T-shirts and touques emblazoned with marijuana leaves.
The operation cost $70,000. Six cops executed the plan, which entailed driving around to Yukon communities all summer.
It resulted in 17 charges, 16 of ‘em for marijuana.
Over the course of two months, police confiscated 31 grams of weed. That, we’re told, is equivalent to 31 Cheech-sized joints — fatties in druggie parlance.
It’s not much for two months of police work, but the information-challenged RCMP publicity teams played it up like they’d just wiped out the Hells Angels.
In March, two of the charges against the accused were dismissed.
Because police failed to provide evidence against the accused in a reasonable time.
Another case went to trial.
That bust was ruled entrapment — the undercover cops enticed the guy to commit a crime that he might not have participated in otherwise. And that’s not kosher.
In fact, it’s Police 101 stuff.
So, either M Division cops didn’t know the rule. Or they did, and played fast and loose with Canadian laws. You choose.
Both are damning.
As a result, 12 other charges against Yukon citizens were dropped. Another pleaded guilty. Only two charges stand.
Not a good record.
Alright, let’s examine some stats.
In 2004, the last year for such stats, RCMP in the NWT confiscated 165 pot plants.
That same year, the Yukon detachment confiscated nine.
That same year, police in the NWT confiscated 26,457 grams of pot.
Police in the Yukon confiscated a measly 708.
Why? Nobody deals in the Yukon?
And now there’s Ruddy’s damning ruling on Project Mobile, the grow-op case.
After examining evidence presented in court, and researching legal precedents across the country, she ruled the local RCMP ran roughshod over the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The lead RCMP officer on the case manipulated a document dubbed Information to Obtain, which is used to secure a search warrant, said Ruddy.
Case co-ordinator Cpl. Thomas Wyers altered evidence provided by other police officers, she said.
“Each of these alterations or omissions has the effect of strengthening, at least on paper, the impression that the home is a site of a marijuana grow operation.”
Wyers work was sloppy, she said.
“While I don’t feel that Corporal Wyers set out to mislead the justice of the peace in a deliberate and calculated manner, it is clear to me that he was both careless and reckless with respect to his obligations within the prior judicial authorization process.”
Another arrest was deemed “unlawful.”
A traffic stop was found to be an “arbitrary detention” in violation of the charter.
After being arrested, police violated the men’s fundamental right to legal counsel, said Ruddy.
A lawyer was not provided to one of the men fast enough.
In another case, the police officer pre-chose one of the men’s lawyers.
Luckily for him, the lawyer wasn’t in Syria.
And one of the arrested men, who was Asian, was told to translate a lawyer’s advice to a second man, who was also Asian.
“Of all the concerns raised, this was perhaps the most shocking. It is absolutely appalling that Corporal Wyers would consider this procedure to be in any way appropriate police practice in facilitating an accused person’s right to counsel.
“It is equally appalling that duty counsel apparently condoned his suggestion,” Ruddy said.
“I find this procedure adopted by Corporal Wyers to be a flagrant breach of Mr. Zhou’s right to counsel. In addition, I find it to be a breach of Mr. Jiang’s right to counsel.
“It is grossly inappropriate, in my view, for the police to put an accused in the position of having to disclose confidential discussions with his or her legal counsel to anyone.
“Such a violation renders the right to counsel utterly meaningless.”
In fact, Ruddy decided that the police didn’t even process the fingerprinting and photographing of the accused properly.
In this grow-op case, nine dubious guys could be released back on the street because of shoddy police work.
Yukoners are paying $14 million a year to the RCMP for police protection.
It’s a lot of money for a simple contract.
The territory deserves better.
And there is a another point that Ruddy highlights.
“Many of the breaches before me are serious ones,” wrote Ruddy. “Others, less so, but the totality of the breaches clearly creates a picture of a general lack of respect for individual rights of the charter.”
The charter is Canada’s legal guarantee against oppression — from government and the federal police.
The fight for cherished freedom is, in fact, what eight Canadians are supposed to have died for in Afghanistan this week.
Here in Canada it is law.
You can’t embrace it as a national right, and then suspend it for alleged ne’er-do-wells.
The freedoms we hold dear must apply to all. Or none.
There are no half measures.
Ruddy’s ruling suggests some police officers hold the charter in contempt, believing it hinders their ability to nab the bad guys.
But, in fact, it’s sloppy police work that lets the bad guys off the hook.
We pay the police to get the bad guys while upholding the tenets of the charter.
You can’t break the law to catch the bad guys.
That makes it a tough job.
But that is the job. (RM)