Pubdate: Fri, 11 Aug 2017
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Mohammed Adam
Page: A11


The scourge of fentanyl has hit the nation's capital with devastating
consequences, and kudos to Ottawa police for going into overdrive to
bring to justice the criminals who traffic in this deadly drug. But
there is no excuse for what they did to Royston Christie after a drug
raid at his Caldwell Avenue home.

And it is a shame that months later, nobody has raised a finger to
support a man wrongly accused of dealing drugs and then left homeless
to boot. Ottawa police have sent a letter to the Citizen (see below,
left) giving their take on the arrest, but it still doesn't answer the
fundamental question about Christie's treatment.

According to a Citizen report by Gary Dimmock, police raided
Christie's public housing apartment in April after they received a
complaint that fentanyl was being sold there. The police apparently
discovered 15 grams of a powdered substance they believed was fentanyl
in a linen closet, and following standard practice, charged Christie
with various drugoffences. He was put in jail, pending trial.

But there wasn't the usual caution police often exercise in handling
suspected cases of wrongdoing. The police essentially branded Christie
a fentanyl dealer, and, following their lead, news organizations
blared his name around the country, tarring him as an alleged drug
trafficker. After a week in jail Christie got bail, but his nightmare
was not over.

Days later, he was evicted from his public housing unit for selling
fentanyl. Crucially, a police officer testified at the eviction
hearing that 15 grams of fentanyl had been seized from Christie's
home, even though lab results had not confirmed that the powdered
substance was indeed the opioid. In fact it wasn't. When the lab
results came in, they showed Christie was innocent. What the police
thought was fentanyl, appeared to be face powder his girlfriend got
from the food bank.

Federal prosecutors withdrew the charges but the damage was done.
Christie was now homeless, and a branded fentanyl dealer. "I am 61 and
basically homeless because of the police. All the people who heard I
deal drugs, how am I going to change that? How am I going to get my
name back?" he told the Citizen. And the worse of it? No one from the
police or the city has bothered to call and say anything. "I lost
everything, and they are just ignoring me. No one has said a word to
me," says Christie, who is now staying with a friend.

The letter to the Citizen, signed by Supt. Chris Renwick, defends the
police, explaining that the raid yielded a number of drug-related
substances that left no doubt in officers' minds that the apartment
was a site of "trafficking activity." And given the seriousness of the
fentanyl crisis in the city, "it's my belief that our officers
responded appropriately," he writes.

No one is questioning the police response. The opioid is destroying
the lives of young people in the city and around the country, and most
people would appreciate the desire to get a suspected drug dealer off
the streets. The problem is the way they treated Christie after, and
that remains indefensible.

The police, no matter how well-meaning, cannot wrongly accuse a man of
a crime, give false evidence that seals his eviction, then just shrug
it off. How's that right? What's wrong with calling him to apologize
and helping him back on his feet? If this happened to anyone who
wasn't disadvantaged and underprivileged, there would be howls of
outrage and protest from every corner.

The real mark of a civil society is its capacity to stand up for
people, no matter their station in life. Royston Christie has been
wronged, and someone - the police chief, the chair of the police
services board, the mayor - should speak out and make amends.

We keep hearing that relations between the minority community and the
police are fraught, but how can there be any confidence between them
when a man's rights can be so abused and the authorities behave as if
it doesn't matter?
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