Bizarre BC court ruling exposed
Global News recently reported on a bizarre ruling by BC Superior Court Justice Michael Brundrett in a fentanyl trafficking case where the accused was found to be in possession of 27,500 fentanyl pills hidden in the vehicle he was driving. The driver, Sandor Rigo, was pulled over for speeding on a highway near Chilliwack and the RCMP officer noted multiple legitimate signs that there might be drugs concealed within the vehicle.
A drug detection dog was used, and the dog handler recognized the dog’s actions as confirming the presence of drugs. Rigo was taken into custody and returned to the local detachment and the vehicle was searched resulting in the detection of 27,500 lethal fentanyl pills which is the drug at the center of the exploding lethal opioid crisis in Canada. The drugs were hidden in tires found within the vehicle and when confronted with this Rigo confessed to his crime and the details of the drug trafficking scheme he was part of, all of which was recorded on video.
The initial actions of the drug detection dog were also captured on video and introduced as evidence in court. The Global News stories publicly revealed the videos for the first time which has caused a huge, and deserved, uproar of why the presiding Justice excluded the evidence thereby allowing the confessed drug dealer to walk free.
In his decision, which was made public in January, Justice Michael Brundrett said that he concluded that the dog was only shown in a “partial form of ‘alert,’” which meant there wasn’t reasonable grounds to search the vehicle. For Justice Brundrett, that meant Rigo’s Charter rights under s. 8 (unlawful search) and s. 10 (right to counsel) were violated and so he invoked s. 24(2) of the Charter and excluded the relevant and reliable truth which resulted in the acquittal.
So… the officer lawfully pulls the vehicle over... detects signs in the driver which justify a further search of the vehicle including using a sniffer dog... and honestly concludes the dog has detected drugs... which is subsequently confirmed in a subsequent search. BUT... the judge subsequently decides that his armchair analysis of the dog's actions are to be preferred, which means there were no reasonable grounds to believe there were drugs in the car... even though there were drugs in the car.
AND... having made this from-on-high ruling, the judge then cites s. 24(2) of the Charter and excludes the truth (evidence) and acquits the confessed drug mule. Just another ruling from our Charter-empowered juristocracy. But wait... even if the judge finds there was a Charter breach (which there wasn't), exclusion of evidence is not supposed to automatic. As s. 24(2) specifically notes: "... the evidence shall be excluded if it is established that, having regard to all the circumstances, the admission of it in the proceedings would bring the administration of justice into disrepute."
Given the facts and the undeniable public interest in getting fentanyl and its dealers off the streets, there is no question the administration of justice has been brought into disrepute in this case but that's the result of the judge's actions not the cops. It also appears to be the case that for some unexplained reason, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, which conducted the prosecution, has chosen not to appeal the ruling which, in some ways, is even more alarming than the ruling itself.
This kind of blatant judicial activism and potential Crown acquiescence erodes law enforcement morale and undermines public confidence in our justice system. It needs to be acknowledged and confronted or things are only going to get worse.
– Scott Newark is a former Alberta Crown Prosecutor who has also served as Executive Officer of the Canadian Police Association, Vice Chair of the Ontario Office for Victims of Crime, Director of Operations for Investigative Project on Terrorism and as a Security Policy Advisor to the governments of Ontario and Canada. He is currently an Adjunct Professor in the TRSS Program in the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University.