The Ontario Court of Appeal concluded today that Canada’s biggest police-corruption scandal had not been unreasonably delayed.
“Giving full weight to the prejudice suffered by the respondents because of the delay, the charges should not have been stayed,” the Court said. “This case proceeded slowly but it also proceeded at the pace dictated by its complexity and the actions of all the parties.”
The ruling means that sensational corruption charges against five Toronto drug squad officers will proceed to a full trial.
The court ruled that charges against a sixth officer Richard Benoit will remain stayed because of the particular status of his own case.
The prosecution ended abruptly almost two years ago, when Justice Ian Nordheimer of the Superior Court of Justice ruled that the glacial pace of the case was largely the fault of the Crown, and had violated the officers’ constitutional right to be tried within a reasonable time. At the time, the had case been in the system four years and three weeks.
The six defendants all members of the Toronto Police Central Field Command Drug Squad were charged with assaulting and robbing suspects, conducting illegal searches and falsifying their police reports to conceal their wrongdoing. At the heart of the case was a drug enforcement unit that laid thousands of charges involving drugs, weapons and proceeds-of-crime offences during the 1990s. Based on accusations from convicted drug dealers who claimed they had been ripped off and abused, the police force launched a probe of the squad in 1998.
Among the accusations aired at the officers’ preliminary hearing were that they took money from a safety deposit box belonging to a suspect under investigation. The Crown also alleged that the officers whose combined police experience totalled 113 years had lied in court and created bogus search warrants.
“In our view, the trial judge made two fundamental errors in finding that the s. 11(b) rights of the Schertzer respondents were infringed,” the Court said today. “First, he erred in finding that the delay was due to disclosure problems. Whatever the problems with disclosure, and there clearly were some, delay in making disclosure had no impact on the progress of the prosecution.
“There was no causal connection between problems with disclosure and the timing of the proceedings. To the contrary, the delay was a reflection of the inherent time required to prepare and prosecute this complex case.”
The ruling was made by Mr. Justice David Doherty, Mr. Justice Marc Rosenberg and Mr. Justice Michael Moldaver.
Today’s decision came as a major blow to the officers: retired Staff Sgt. John Schertzer and Det. Const. Steve Correia, Joseph Miched also since retired Ned Maodus and Ray Pollard.
In his blistering 2007 judgment, Judge Nordheimer rebuked prosecutors for their tardiness in disclosing hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence to the defence. “I have strived to find any sense of urgency on the part of the prosecution ... or any apparent recognition that this case was teetering on the precipice of unreasonable delay,” Judge Nordheimer told the court. “I can find none on the record before me.”
“Rather,” the judge said, “the record creates an impression of complacency, or perhaps a lack of awareness to the situation as it was presenting itself. ... A stay of proceedings is entered with respect to all charges.”
In appealing Judge Nordheimer’s ruling last summer, Crown counsel Ken Campbell contended that the police officers and their lawyers had caused 23 months of the delay while they were preparing for a preliminary hearing.
Headed up by the RCMP, the task force that probed the corruption allegations is estimated to have cost at least $3-million and generated more than 500,000 pages of evidence. And as the investigation developed, more than 200 charges against accused drug dealers were withdrawn.
In late 2000, the officers were initially charged with theft, fraud, forgery and breach of trust. They were suspended from work for a month, then reinstated to different jobs on the force. Two years later, those charges were stayed by prosecutors and eventually dropped.
However, in early 2004, the six officers were charged again with assault, extortion and attempting to obstruct justice. They were then suspended with pay.
In June, 2006, after a six-month preliminary hearing, the six were ordered to stand trial on the charges. In his ruling, Ontario Superior Court Judge James Blacklock noted that he had serious doubts about the credibility of a significant number of Crown witnesses.