HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Search Warrants Challenged
Pubdate: Wed, 25 Jun 2008
Source: Express (Nelson, CN BC)
Copyright: 2008 Kootenay Express Communication Corp.
Author: Chris Shepherd


Don Skogstad Finishes Arguments In Case That Could Invalidate 
Thousands Of Search Warrants In The Interior

A local lawyer has finished his arguments in a case that could change 
the way search warrants are handled across British Columbia and 
invalidate thousands of search warrants issued in the past six years, 
calling the police investigations and subsequent court cases into question.

Don Skogstad has argued the current practice of issuing search 
warrants from a central office in Burnaby is at odds with the 
Canadian Criminal Code. This case has been brewing for some time, 
said Skogstad, who also defended the owners of Holy Smoke against 
drug trafficking charges this May.

"We waited until we had a perfect case."

The perfect case was a grow-op bust in the Slocan Valley in 2006.  At 
3:42 p.m. on a Thursday, the RCMP faxed their request for a search 
warrant to the Justice Centre in Burnaby.  Fifteen minutes later they 
had their search warrant and the next morning police had uncovered a 
garage packed with a marijuana grow-op.

According to documents submitted jointly by Skogstad and the 
province's lawyers, the RCMP stated they could not appear in person 
before a judge or justice of the peace because it was "impracticable 
due to the distance of some 500 kilometers [sic]."

The Criminal Code prefers police ask for search warrants in person, 
Skogstad says, but makes allowances for phone or faxed requests if 
police believe that it would not be practical to appear personally 
before a judge.

Skogstad says a 2002 decision by the Chief Judge of the Provincial 
Court of B.C. to locate all justices of the peace in a centralized 
office in Burnaby has made it impossible for police to make in-person 
requests for a search warrant.

In his written argument, Skogstad wrote a locally-based justice of 
the peace is familiar with the geography, may be familiar with the 
credibility of certain police officers and encourages public 
confidence in the justice system, Skogstad wrote.

The Canadian Criminal Code prefers in-person requests for search 
warrants, Skogstad says, and changes made by the Chief Justice of 
B.C. sabotages the intent of the code.

"I've argued that's unconstitutional.  The Chief Judge has 
effectively ignored the federal criminal code."

Lawyers for the province have argued search warrants issued by phone 
or fax are as good, if not better than those issued in person. The 
lawyer for the Chief Judge's office wrote that there are a limited 
number of justices of the peace and judges hear criminal, civil, 
regulatory and family matters, the lawyers wrote.

"The Chief Judge is best allocate the available 
judicial resources as seems best to the Chief Judge to deal 
efficiently with this huge array of cases."
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