Hal­ton cases in limbo amid po­lice drug vault probe

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - TIM WHITNELL

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.

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