Cop wins RCMP settlement after highway search

B.C. cop wins out-of-court settlement from RCMP after incident in which he says he was illegally searched by an American police officer.

A Vancouver man has won an out-of-court settlement from the RCMP after an incident in which he says he was illegally searched by an American police officer.

Last spring, David Laing was driving on a highway near Hope, B.C., when he was pulled over by a man with a heavy Texas accent.

"In a very thick American accent from the southern states, he advised me it was a British Columbia road check. And he asked me for my driver's licence and my vehicle registration," said Laing.

"I'm being pulled over and given directions by an American who won't identify himself," said Laing. "And I was concerned about it."

A Vancouver police officer, Laing refused to let the officers search his car. Under Canadian law, police officers don't have the right to perform that kind of search.

The American was a Texas state trooper working with a member of the Hope detachment of the RCMP. The pair gave Laing a ticket for having two different addresses for his insurance and his registration.

Seconds later, Laing says a different RCMP officer and Texas trooper stopped his car, decided he was driving under the influence of marijuana, and searched his vehicle and two-year-old son.

The police found no drugs and despite saying he was impaired just moments earlier, let him go.

"They still, knowingly, had a Texas trooper escort me to the front of the vehicle. I'm a constable with the Vancouver police. He's a Texas trooper and yet I'm under his control," said Laing.

Texas troopers on exchange

The Texas state troopers were in B.C. as part of an exchange program with the RCMP to spot and stop drug traffickers. Called Pipeline Convoy, the program involves training officers to detect people who are lying or trying to hide things from police, said RCMP Sgt. John Ward.

The visiting officers don't have any powers of arrest or detention, said Ward.

"They are under our direction and our very, very strict supervision and scrutiny so they can see what we do and how we do it," said Ward.

Ward says the Texas troopers' profiling program provides great help to the Mounties.

"The Americans do a lot of this and have been doing it for quite some time. So there's a lot of opportunity on both sides of the border to become closer."

Laing and his lawyer disagree. They say that when it comes to narcotics, American attitudes and Canadian laws are quite different.

"We have different freedoms than they have," Laing says. "You don't want to mesh too much. You don't want your police meshing to the point where we start taking on other police jurisdictions' policies."

The RCMP settled with Laing out of court when he threatened to sue for unlawful detention. But the Mounties defend the search, saying Laing looked suspicious because his eyelashes were fluttering and his eyes were flashing.

Murray Mollard of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association says police shouldn't depend on clues like that. He says that it's not a scientifically reliable method.

Mollard says Laing's case presents a series of concerns – from using unreliable profiling techniques to a wrongful vehicle search, not to mention using an American police officer to pull over Canadians. He says his association will be writing the RCMP to complain about the profiling techniques.