Halton cases in limbo amid police drug vault probe
OAKVILLE — Halton’s police chief says one uniform officer is the subject of an external investigation as to whether evidence in drug cases was tampered with or compromised.
Chief Stephen Tanner said Friday he is concerned and anxiously awaiting the result of a probe into “a small number of (evidence) exhibits (that) may have been compromised/altered in some way.
“We view this as very serious in nature.”
The formal review has potential widespread implications for the status of a number of Halton police’s drug-related court cases.
“In the latter part of last fall, we completed a comprehensive audit of over 2,000 drug exhibits in our drug vault,” said Tanner, alluding to what he described as one in a regular series of internal audits conducted by Halton police in mid-November 2016.
The service’s audit team consists of two civilian members of Halton police, he said.
The Toronto Star has reported that 36 drug evidence exhibits out of 2,185 may have had packaging or contents tampered with.
Halton police’s drug evidence vault is located at the Oakville police station. The exhibit locker is expected to be expanded and transferred to the new police headquarters once its construction is completed.
The current external investigation of some of the service’s drug evidence is being conducted by another Ontario police service, confirmed Tanner.
“It was my decision to get a complete investigation done by an independent service,” he said, noting that service has asked him not to name it at this point.
“I anticipate the investigation will be concluded in a week to two weeks, and criminal charges may be laid at that time.” After the investigation, “there will also be a disciplinary process to follow.”
Tanner declined to identify the officer who’s being investigated to preserve the “integrity of the investigation.”
The chief said some criminal court proceedings have already been stayed pending the outcome of the investigation, adding that a number of Halton’s drug cases may now be compromised.
“That is certainly a ramification that I expect will occur down the road and will be a part of how seriously we view this,” he said.
“Once we know what exhibits were tampered with or not tampered with and what the investigation showed, then the prosecution office can certainly address that.”
The Halton Regional Police Association did not respond to multiple requests for comment. A spokesperson from the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, a federal agency that handles drug prosecutions, said she was “unable to speculate about the outcome” of the investigation, or comment on any cases that may have been affected.
Crown lawyers prosecuting drug charges in the region have sent out boilerplate letters to defence lawyers explaining that the issue is being investigated. But without specific details, the courts have been wary of proceeding with drug cases that rely on evidence stored in the same drug vault.
Presiding in January over a drug case in Milton that ultimately was found not to be affected, Judge Stephen Brown said the uncertainty “potentially taints every investigation.”
The chief said his service does regular audits of several areas, such as drugs, firearms, property and evidence.
He says it was appropriate to ask another police service to conduct this investigation.
“Generally, we do this (police) chief to chief … The only proper way is to use another police service and their (investigative) expertise.
Tanner said the Ontario Attorney General’s office doesn’t investigate such cases while the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) deals with instances of serious injury or death to civilians when police are involved, and the Office of Police Independent Review Director (OPIRD) looks into public complaints.