HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html RCMP Broke The Law In Drug Sting, Court Rules
Pubdate: Friday, April 23, 1999
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 1999, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Kirk Makin


New trials ordered because officers sold hash to suspected traffickers

The RCMP broke the law when it arranged the sale of 50 kilos of hashish to
set up suspected drug lords, and cannot avoid being questioned about the
deal, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled yesterday.

It ordered new trials for two Toronto men convicted of trafficking in drugs
after RCMP undercover officers arrived at a hotel rendezvous in 1992
ostensibly to sell them the drugs with a street value of almost $1-million.

Over the past three decades, the RCMP has periodically got into hot water
over sting operations to snare suspects. Those range from burning barns in
Quebec to blowing up oil wells in Alberta.

The Supreme Court also ordered the Department of Justice to reveal the
contents of a legal opinion it gave the RCMP before the raid, saying federal
commitment to wage a "war on drugs" is insufficient to justify an illegal

"We were astonished when the government lawyers had the audacity to argue
that the RCMP have some kind of state immunity and could break the law with
impunity," defence lawyer Alan Gold said in an interview yesterday.

"What is very important," he added, "is that the court has made it very
clear the end does not justify the means -- even if the end is the war on

Mr. Gold and co-counsel Irwin Koziebrocki took steps yesterday to obtain
bail for their clients, John Campbell and Salvatore Shirose, until their new
trial. Mr. Campbell is serving a nine-year penitentiary sentence and had
$270,000 seized by the RCMP. Mr. Shirose is serving a six-year term.

The case began in 1990, when RCMP Corporal Richard Reynolds noticed a Quebec
Superior Court judgment that he felt opened the door to "reverse stings" --
operations in which police try to sell narcotics to selected targets.

Cpl. Reynolds met with Justice Department lawyer James Leising to obtain
advice. In January, 1992, the RCMP embarked on the first large-scale reverse
sting operation in Canadian history, arranging to sell the defendants
cannabis resin with a resale value of almost $1-million.

After a seven-month operation, the two defendants were arrested at a hotel
meeting near Toronto's Pearson Airport.

When their clients were convicted in 1994, Mr. Gold and Mr. Koziebrocki
attempted to halt the proceeding on the basis that in breaking the law, the
police had abused their authority.

The RCMP insisted that their actions had been pursued in good faith on the
basis of their legal opinion, but the court refused to let the defence have
access to the opinion on the grounds that it was a confidential
solicitor-and-client matter.

"The clear implication sought to be conveyed to the court by the RCMP was
that Mr. Leising's advice had assured the RCMP that the proposed reverse
sting was legal," Mr. Justice Ian Binnie wrote for the court yesterday.

"Police illegality of any description is a serious matter," he added.
"Police illegality that is planned and approved within the RCMP hierarchy
and implemented in defiance of legal advice would, if established, suggest a
potential systemic problem concerning police accountability and control."

The court said the issue is a grave one. "In this appeal, the court is asked
to consider some implications of the constitutional principle that everyone
from the highest officers of the state to the constable on the beat is
subject to the ordinary law of the land," it said.

"A police force that chooses to operate outside the law is not the same
thing as a police force that made an honest mistake on the basis of
erroneous advice. . . . It should be emphasized that the police in this case
were not acting in an emergency or other exigent circumstances. This was a
premeditated, carefully planned attempt to sell a ton of hashish."

Mr. Gold said in the interview that he suspects the RCMP was envious of the
amount of money U.S. police seize and appropriate every year under their
Draconian proceeds-of-crime laws. He speculated that by selling previously
seized narcotics to criminals for cash, the RCMP felt it had lucked into an
easy method of adding millions of dollars to its budget.

Judge Binnie said it is not hard to understand why police are attracted to
the effectiveness of reverse-sting operations, but they tread close to a
legal boundary line.

"It brought the police into conflict with the very law they were trying to
enforce," he said. "The paradox of breaking a law in order to better enforce
it has important ramifications for the rule of law."

Once the Mounties made good faith the issue, he said, they automatically
entitled the defence to get a look at their legal advice.

While some RCMP duties may involve immunity, when the force is involved in a
criminal investigation, it operates as an independent body, Judge Binnie

"A police officer investigating a crime is not acting as a government
functionary or as an agent of anybody."

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