A federal review has been launched into drug-related prosecutions that may be affected by the investigation into corruption and misconduct at the Abbotsford Police Department in B.C.
The Public Prosecution Service of Canada — which prosecutes drug cases in B.C. — said it has begun taking steps to address problem cases involving the accused officers.
Const. Christopher Nicholson is facing criminal charges, including six counts of attempting to obstruct justice, and 16 other officers are under investigation for allegations related to the integrity of statements used in a number of criminal cases to obtain search warrants.
CBC News has also learned that 43 search warrant documents with substantial errors have been identified after the New Westminister Police reviewed more than 500 information to obtain documents.
Deputy police complaint commissioner Rollie Woods said these errors were not just clerical errors or spelling mistakes, but instances where material information was missing or inaccurate.
Numerous cases could be affected
Yesterday's bombshell has sent shock waves through the legal community. An unknown number of drug cases may have to be thrown out if the information to obtain a search warrant had false or missing information.
Already 10 to 20 cases before the courts have been stayed or dismissed because the evidence gathered by the accused Abbotsford police officers is apparently tainted.
"This could spread like a cancer and impact numerous investigations," said Rob Dhanu, an Abbotsford criminal lawyer who has had two to three cases dropped by the Crown, apparently in light of the recent investigation.
He said he had advised one of his clients to enter a guilty plea based on a search warrant that looked "fairly solid," but now wonders if that was the right call.
Another Abbotsford lawyer, Ondine Snowden, said some criminal cases could be appealed or reopened. The police force and individual police officers could also be on the hook for civil damages, she said, if negligence is established.
However, Abbotsford police Chief Bob Rich maintains the allegations are overblown.
"We have a large number of members under investigation under the Police Act. I need you to understand that if I did not have confidence in the integrity of these members, I would have suspended them. I have not done that," Rich told reporters on Wednesday.
"They are, in my view, great cops. They continue to serve this community even while under investigation, and I am proud of how they have conducted themselves during difficult times."
Rich also said that the officers in question have been taken off drug investigations and moved to other duties, and that the Abbotsford police have changed the way they handle informants following a Vancouver police audit.