(This column was published in the North Shore News on Jan. 13, 1999)


More matters of injustice

By Leo Knight

If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction. 

The Twelfth Night - Act III Sc.4  


WILLIAM Shakespeare was not considering the thought processes of British Columbia judges when he penned those words some 450 years ago or so. But they certainly seem appropriate when looking at the written decision issued by Madame Justice Levine in the B.C. Supreme Court last week.  


The case in question involves some Vietnamese dope dealers.  


"Street Crew," a collection of Vancouver Police Detectives and RCMP investigators, developed information from a scuzzy little doper concerning a "dial-a-dope" operation in East Vancouver on Grandview Highway.  


Unfortunately for the cops, as it turned out, this new snitch had been untried before.  


The doper was arrested with "decks" of heroin and cocaine. The source said it was purchased from "Sonny" -- a street name -- and a contact cell phone number and vehicle description were provided.  


The resulting investigation turned up potential suspects, an address (duplex) in East Van and two black Nissan Maximas at the suspect address matching the description provided.  


Given the problems the police have in using source information thanks to a decade and a half of Charter decisions, the cops attempted to buy dope from the suspects using undercover officers in a "cold approach." No such luck.  


In order to get a search warrant for the house in question, the cops had to conduct surveillance over several days to corroborate the information provided by the original source.  


During this process, they observed the resident of the house get into the same car described by the original source and drive to a location where a female was picked up on a corner. The vehicle drove around the block with the female and let her out at the pickup location.  


The police arrested and searched the female and found, guess what? A couple of "flaps" of cocaine and heroin.  


After a couple of well-placed questions, they determined she had purchased the drugs from a Viet dealer named "Sonny" who drove the black Nissan the cops had been following and, to top it all off, she had phoned the same cell number as the original source to arrange the dope delivery.  


OK, are you beginning to see a pattern here?  


A reasonable person might actually arrive at the conclusion that someone at that house on Grandview Highway who goes by the street name of "Sonny" sells cocaine and heroin in split gram amounts and works off a specific cell phone.  


Further investigation revealed an individual of Vietnamese origin living at the specific house on Grandview Highway owned a black Nissan and had a cell phone registered to him with -- are you ready -- the exact same phone number as both dopers gave police as the contact number for the "dial-a-dope" operation.  


When the officers went to the Justice of the Peace to get the search warrant, a couple of things occurred that would ultimately result in Justice Levine tossing out the warrant and the fruits of the search.  


The nuts and bolts of the decision revolved around two issues. The first was because the warrant was issued to "the peace officers of British Columbia," not the specific officers who conducted the search.  


The issue here has to do with the old Narcotic Control Act and the new Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Under the NCA, the officers conducting the search had to be named in the warrant. The new legislation has no such requirement. Despite this, the judge ruled the warrant invalid because no officer was specifically named.  


The judge also expressed concern about the method used by police to enter the residence. Specifically, the police entered the house forcibly, unannounced and with guns drawn.  


Levine stated she didn't care that this was standard operating procedure and argued it was a violation of the rights of the accused simply because there was no specific statutory authority for the police to do this.  


Now, lest anyone think I believe the police should be able to forgo the legal niceties when they execute a search warrant, let me dispel that right now. The sanctity of a person's house is paramount in a free society. In my view that is an absolute. So, too, is an individual's right against unlawful search and seizure.  


But it seems to me that we as a society also need to be protected against those who choose to live beyond the law.  


The police in this case investigated the information they received. They conducted surveillance to corroborate the information. They tried unsuccessfully to eliminate the need for source information by making "buys" themselves. When this didn't work out, they developed a second source totally independent of the first.  


When they searched the house they found all the evidence supporting the information and arrested and charged the people associated with the house and the "dial-a-dope" operation.  


But Madame Justice Levine decided that none of this mattered. She ordered the warrant invalid and all evidence seized by police inadmissable.  


As a result of the decision, the Crown must now consider dropping all charges in cases where the police used a search warrant in which no officer is named or in which a forcible entry was used. They could, of course, appeal the Levine decision, but that is expensive and time-consuming in a system already weighed down with pedantic appeals.  


Invariably, all outstanding cases will now be dropped.  


There doesn't seem to be much "justice" in this "system."






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