Judge clears restaurateur accused of gang links
Lawyer asks why his client was denied bail for two years
Almost two years ago, Bob Turner was arrested by Toronto police as part of an early morning gang raid called Project Fusion. Police alleged his restaurant, Flavaz, was a hub of drug distribution by a criminal organization known as M and E Crew, and that he was a mid-level gang member. Three ounces of pot and a silver digital scale were seized at Flavaz, then at 3340 Lawrence Ave. E. Turner was arrested in an apartment along with his common-law wife and daughter. Inside a bedroom closet, police found a loaded handgun between layers of clothing. At his bail hearing, a justice of the peace deemed the case against Turner, 44, to be so strong that he was detained on the severe “tertiary ground” — to maintain public confidence in the administration of justice. Turner spent 22 months, including two Christmases, inside the oft-maligned Toronto (Don) Jail awaiting trial. But at the preliminary hearing, Ontario Court Judge Andrea Tuck-Jackson discharged him on all 11 offences, including possession of a loaded firearm, drugs and participation in a criminal organization. “The evidence they claimed supported their opinion that he was too dangerous to be released on bail . . . never materialized in court,” says Turner’s lawyer, Daniel Brown. Brown says the case raises concerns about an increase in the number of accused, particularly in gang-related cases, being detained on the tertiary ground, which the highest courts have said should be used only in “the rarest of cases,” such as murder. Prosecutors, however, argue that Parliament intended gang-related offences to be considered among those rare cases. At a bail hearing, the Crown can try to keep an accused person in jail awaiting trial on three grounds: primary (to ensure the accused will attend court), secondary (to prevent an accused from committing further offences or threatening witnesses) and tertiary (to maintain public confidence in the administration of justice). On the tertiary ground, four elements must be in place: a strong case, a serious alleged offence, compelling circumstances, and a long prison term if the accused is convicted. The Turner case also underscores that justices of the peace and judges at bail hearings often assess the strength of the Crown’s case based on hearsay evidence, Brown said.
In this case, the daughter of Turner’s common-law wife told police the gun belonged to him. She was subsequently released without charges. Turner’s common-law wife was also released without charges after denying any knowledge of the gun. A cook at Flavaz, also arrested in the sweep, eventually had drug charges dropped after telling police the restaurant was a drug depot.
Their statements were all presented at the bail hearing stage and not subject to crossexamination, Brown says. He suggests the gun belonged to someone other than Turner’s wife and daughter, as other people occasionally stayed in the apartment.
But by the time the preliminary hearing ended in December, the Crown was only seeking committal to trial on the firearmrelated offences — not the pot possession, trafficking or criminal organization charges.
Yet Turner remained locked up. In jail, his even temperament earned him the respect of correctional officers and the admiration of younger inmates, who called him “Old Boy.”
“People who came to visit would say, ‘What are you doing here?’ It hurts,” says Turner.
He has always maintained his innocence and scoffs when asked if he is a gang member. “I’m not guilty of anything and I’ve been saying that since day one,” he says.
Now free, Turner is trying to get his life back on track. Gone is Flavaz, which he opened in 2006 and turned into a popular West Indian eatery. His common-law marriage also ended.
“They took all of this away from me. Everything,” he says.