The crown has stayed its proceedings against a man charged with firearms and cocaine-possession offences.
The charges were halted following a court decision that found that man’s charter rights were breached through an unwarranted search and other actions by RCMP officers.
Jonathan Baglee pled not guilty to a total of 19 offences related to firearms and cocaine seized by the police. He also filed a legal challenge stating that police breached the rights guaranteed to him by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
On March 14, territorial court Justice Karen Ruddy passed down a ruling on the charter rights challenge. Ruddy found RCMP officers’ explanation unsuitable and ordered the exclusion of any evidence collected in a way that breached Baglee’s rights.
With much of the evidence in the case excluded, the crown filed a stay of proceedings on June 9.
Ruddy’s decision details the police response to gunfire sounds at Baglee’s home in the rural Jake’s Corner area near Tagish. The decision notes that their suspicion was raised by the number and rapidity of shots they heard.
The judge went on to describe how police actions, set against the backdrop of the spree of killings and subsequent manhunt in northern British Columbia earlier in July of 2019, uncovered several guns, high capacity magazines and more than 100 grams of cocaine. Officers responded to the gunshots while in the area investigating a tip about items that might have been left behind by the men suspected in the northern B.C. killings. The two officers turned down an offer of backup after radioing to say they would be investigating the gunfire.
Ruddy’s judgement states the chronology of the events is somewhat unclear but details how the officers arrived and announced themselves before speaking with Baglee’s common law partner and then Baglee himself. Baglee’s partner stated she had been shooting a .22 calibre rifle which the officers did not believe. She presented a .22 to the officers. After stating she might have been shooting another rifle one of the officers had her show him where in the house it was and they came out with a semi-automatic .308 and a shotgun.
At some point during this exchange, Baglee admitted he was subject to a court-ordered firearms prohibition and was handcuffed but not formally arrested.
One of the officers instructed everyone at the house, including three young children, to sit on a couch while Baglee remained handcuffed outside. The officer then walked through each room of the house finding more guns.
After being told by the officers that they would be seeking a search warrant, Baglee admitted they would find cocaine in a garage on the property. Around this time two more RCMP officers arrived.
Baglee was taken out of handcuffs and allowed to hug his children before being taken away.
Prior to a search warrant being obtained, two officers entered the garage finding cocaine, more firearms and firearms parts. A further search was conducted by more officers after the warrant was obtained.
In court, the officers maintained their actions were motivated by a duty to protect public safety. This was called into question as the officers acknowledged target shooting in rural parts of the Yukon was not uncommon and that they only responded after hearing a second series of gunfire that they thought was five or six shots, raising their suspicion that either a prohibited firearm or a legal firearm with a prohibited magazine was in use. Cross examination dealt with legal firearms that are capable of firing six shots in rapid succession.
Ruddy stated that the officers’ testimony — that they were acting within the scope of their duty to ensure public safety — was not supported by evidence.
Officers’ justifications for clearing the house and garage prior to receiving a search warrant also fell flat with Ruddy. Her judgement noted Baglee and others were cooperative and not hostile throughout the encounter and that Baglee was uncuffed before he was walked to the police car.
She stated that one of the officer’s reactions to the situation only make sense if he was conflating the killings in B.C. and the ongoing manhunt with the circumstances before him.
“In my view, the totality of the circumstances simply does not support the existence of objectively verifiable grounds to believe there was any imminent threat to officer or public safety or anyone in distress inside the home,” Ruddy stated.
The court’s decision also took issue with the more than hour-long gap between when Baglee was handcuffed and when he was formally arrested and advised of his right to legal counsel. Ruddy was not satisfied there were any concrete safety concerns that would have justified a delay in advising Baglee of his right to counsel. Ruddy’s decision states that he did not speak to a lawyer until he was at the arrest processing unit in Whitehorse, nearly three hours after he was first handcuffed.
Ruddy found that the RCMP officers’ conduct breached Baglee’s rights under Sections 8, 9 and 10 (b) of the charter.
Ruddy states that the admission of physical evidence obtained amid the police’s “profound failure to respect and comply with charter norms” would reflect poorly on the administration of justice. Any statements made after Baglee was placed in handcuffs and detained were also ruled inadmissible.
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org