The abuse of police powers has received significant media attention in recent months particularly with the accusations of disproportionately targeting visible minorities during street ‘carding’ checks. In addition, an investigation conducted by the Toronto Star found that police who give false testimony are rarely disciplined.
In R v Tran, 2015 ONSC 5607, a recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court, Justice Edward Morgan stayed drug charges against the defendant and threw out the seized drugs as evidence as being planted in the defendant’s car by the Toronto Police.
On the afternoon of January 13, 2014, Nguyen Son Tran was pulled over for allegedly running a red light. He was arrested and charged with heroin possession when the officer who pulled him over spotted white powder on his dash. His car was searched, 11 grams of heroin was discovered in the vehicle and he was then re-arrested for possession for the purpose of trafficking. The Court heard very different accounts of the events leading to Mr. Tran’s arrest from the arresting officers and Mr. Tran himself.
The case turned on the admissibility of the seized drugs, and whether the police officers who searched Mr. Tran’s vehicle were acting within their lawful authority. As the Supreme Court of Canada indicated in R v Caslake, 1998 CanLII 838 (SCC),  1 SCR 51, at para 16, a “search is only justifiable if the purpose of the search is related to the purpose of the arrest.” If it is not established that the police saw heroin on the console of the car, the evidence seized in the search would have to be excluded.
The trial judge found that the police had colluded to place the loose heroin on the dash after their search to cover their tracks for conducting an illegal search of Mr. Tran’s vehicle. Justice Morgan described the conduct of the officers as egregious and wrongful. He found the officers had no real explanation for all the wrong information they shared and had colluded to come up with an untrue version of events.
It is uncertain yet whether the officers in this case will be disciplined or face charges. Police officers must be held accountable for their betrayals of trust, because when they act like this public confidence in police inevitably erodes.
For more information and to speak to an experienced criminal defence lawyer, please contact Affleck & Barrison online or at 905-404-1947.
To read the full decision in R v Tran, 2015 ONSC 5607 click here.