Pubdate: Sat, 23 Dec 2006
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2006 Times Colonist
Author: Richard Watts
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Canada)


Boat Raid: Prosecutors See Little Likelihood of Conviction After 
Massive Marijuana Bust

All charges have been dropped against five men arrested aboard a
fishing boat RCMP said was attempting to import $6.5 million worth of
marijuana to B.C.

When police arrested the five and seized the 47-metre MV Baku in
Ucluelet May 22, they laid out marijuana on the dock that had been
discovered inside the vessel -- 1,630 kilograms of it (3,600 pounds).

News photographers were invited to take pictures of the marijuana

Police made statements linking the event to organized

But now, Crown prosecutors say they have entered stays on all the
charges laid against the five men because there is little likelihood
of a conviction.

Robert Prior, regional director of the federal office of public
prosecutions, said in a telephone interview from Vancouver the opinion
of his office is the evidence seized would not be admissible in court.
Without evidence, there is little reason to proceed to trial.

Jim Heller, a Victoria defence lawyer representing one of the five,
said he believes legal issues arose over the original search of the

For example, Heller said police sent in people from the Department of
Fisheries and Oceans instead of police officers to conduct the first
search. Doubts also existed over whether police compiled sufficient
evidence to justify a search in the first place.

All charges of importing a controlled substance have been dropped
against Phil Stirling, 52, a registered owner of the Baku, formerly of
Metchosin but more recently living near Chase.

Similar charges were also dropped against Sean Michael Cochrane, 36,
of Alberta; Ralph Ross Harris, 66, of Ladysmith; John Edward Corbin,
46, of Chase; and Walberto Armenta-Ruelas, 40, of Sonora, Mexico.

This isn't the first time that Stirling, Corbin and Cochrane were
involved with a vessel that was seized. In 2001, Stirling was owner of
a boat called the Western Wind. Corbin was engineer and Cochrane was
also aboard. The Western Wind was seized in the Juan de Fuca Strait
with 2.5 tonnes of cocaine worth an estimated $250 million hidden in
the bow. No charges were ever laid in connection with the Western Wind

Since the Baku boarding, all crew members have been long released on
bail conditions except for Armenta-Ruelas.

Heller, the lawyer now representing Armenta-Ruelas, said his client
remains in custody under immigration regulations.

This detention, he said, is despite the fact his client possesses
legal seaman's papers showing him to be what he has always maintained,
a deckhand hired in Mexico.

Meanwhile, John Green, the Victoria lawyer representing Stirling, said
his client and his family are all breathing huge sighs of relief. It's
especially gratifying, given the time of year, he said.

"It was a great Christmas present for him and his family," said

He said his client has reclaimed the Baku, but the 47-metre vessel is
in sad shape, with flooding in the engine room and other problems.

When police searched the Baku they removed about 10 tonnes of rotten
fish and then went at the vessel with fire axes, drills, and even a

According to officers at the time, cameras were inserted into false
bulkheads and partitions to locate the marijuana hidden away in
disguised compartments and false rooms.

Police also said they had been tracking the Baku from October 2005.
The vessel left Halifax in December 2005, headed down the coast,
through the Panama Canal and up the West Coast to Vancouver Island.
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