Aug 28 2010
REGINA - A provincial court judge in Regina has slammed the RCMP for destroying video evidence that could have been used in a drinking and driving case.
"I can only conclude that the police do not understand their obligations to preserve and disclose evidence," Judge Clifford Toth wrote in a decision dated Aug. 18.
Toth decided the case against the driver should not proceed.
Toth's criticism was directed at RCMP detachments throughout Saskatchewan and their policies on saving surveillance camera videos.
The case involved a driver who was stopped by Lumsden RCMP in June of 2009 on suspicion of impaired driving.
The accused was taken to the detachment, about 30 kilometres west of Regina, in order to take a breath sample.
According to the decision, the force has a video system that records goings-on in different parts of the detachment, including the cells and breath-testing room.
After the man was charged, his lawyer asked Crown prosecutors for copies of the video. The request was made on July 16. However, while the Crown sent some documents on the case to the lawyer, the video wasn't included.
According to Toth's decision, the videos from June 27 were purged from the RCMP's system on Aug. 21, 55 days after they were recorded, "in keeping with detachment policy."
"Given the Crown's obligation to preserve evidence and the fact that the defence drew the Crown's attention to the video in question, failure to secure the videos ... constitutes unacceptable negligence," Toth wrote.
But he didn't stop with the Crown.
The judge also criticized the RCMP over how it handles digital video evidence.
"It is now 2010 and VHS recording systems are rare," Toth noted, pointing out there's no longer any need to store bulky tapes. He said the RCMP could easily store many hours of video surveillance on compact discs or memory sticks.
Toth said a retention period of 55 days is too short and should be extended to six months or one year.
Toth also pointed out in his decision that the circumstances in the Lumsden case were not unique and other cases had raised similar issues.
"For more than 10 years, this court has repeatedly commented on the video retention periods of detachments around the province," Toth said.
"Our comments appear to have gone unheeded."
He also cited a long list of cases from other jurisdictions, notably in Ontario, where similar problems have arisen. Toth specifically mentioned cases from Newmarket, Ont., where police routinely erased tapes after a short period of time.
According to Toth, the RCMP's attitude amounted to neglect of duty.
"Police detachments, including the Lumsden detachment, appear to be pursuing a policy of routine destruction of ... evidence," Toth said. "I can only conclude that the police do not understand their obligations to preserve and disclose evidence."
A spokesman for the RCMP in Saskatchewan told CBC News Friday that police have been aware of the issue for some time and that detachments have been told to be more diligent.
"There's no doubt that we did err," Sgt. Paul Dawson said about the Lumsden case. "It wasn't so much about our technical capabilities as it was about disclosing the information when we could have."
Dawson said the current retention period of two months should be long enough to meet disclosure requests, although he could not explain why the video from Lumsden wasn't made available to the defence.
"There was a request made ... we didn't fulfill that request," Dawson said. "It was something that should have been done."
He added that video formats have changed over the years.
"This type of technology moves very quickly," Dawson said.