British Columbia

3 officers with VPD sex crimes unit under investigation for corruption, court hears

Three Vancouver police officers who were involved in high-profile prostitution and human trafficking investigations alongside disgraced former detective James Fisher are currently under investigation for corruption, a B.C. court heard Wednesday.

Pimp's lawyer says criminal allegations now raised against 4 of 9 officers in Counter Exploitation Unit

One high-profile former detective with the VPD's Counter Exploitation Unit has already been convicted of sexual exploitation and breach of trust. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

Three Vancouver police officers who were involved in high-profile prostitution and human trafficking investigations alongside disgraced former detective James Fisher are currently under investigation for corruption, a B.C. court heard Wednesday.

The revelation came from Marilyn Sandford, a lawyer representing Tamim Albashir as he appeals his convictions for pimping-related crimes, during an appearance at the B.C. Court of Appeal.

Sandford said she's struggling to get access to files concerning the investigation into Albashir's operation, including any connections to wrongdoing by Fisher, formerly of the VPD's Counter Exploitation Unit.

"This very small unit within the VPD, most of whose members are involved in our case in significant proportion, four out of nine have either been charged — Mr Fisher convicted — or are still being investigated with relation to what appears to be corruption," Sandford told the court.

She said she knows that three officers are currently the subject of a criminal investigation, "and I don't know much more than that."

Spokespeople for the Vancouver Police Department did not respond to requests for comment.

Allegations of widespread misconduct by detective

Once a celebrated officer with the unit, Fisher was sentenced last year to 20 months in jail for sexual exploitation and breach of trust for kissing two female victims of sex crimes.

But there are allegations that his misconduct was much more extensive than that.

Another convicted pimp, Reza Moazami, is also appealing his convictions, alleging that Fisher had sexual contact with at least six victims and a key witness before, during and after Moazami's trial. 

He's alleged Fisher gave the young women drugs and encouraged them to lie in court, and that the VPD was aware of issues with the detective five years before he was suspended from duty.

None of Moazami's new allegations have been tested in court.

Detective Const. James Fisher, pictured here in 2014, was convicted of sexual exploitation and breach of trust for kissing two female victims of sex crimes. (CBC)

Two women have also filed civil suits claiming Fisher sexually abused and emotionally manipulated them. Fisher has denied those allegations.

The major theme of two back-to-back appeal court sessions on Wednesday was frustration over accessing evidence as Albashir, Kasra Mohsenipour and Moazami appeal their convictions on dozens of charges related to prostitution and human trafficking.

The appearances featured a rotating cast of about 20 lawyers, including counsel representing all three pimps, Fisher, the B.C. Crown, the attorneys general of B.C. and Canada, multiple media organizations, and more than a dozen young women who were victims of the three pimps and/or alleged victims of Fisher.

As he entered the courtroom and surveyed the scene, Justice David Frankel joked, "I haven't been in a room with so many lawyers since my bar mitzvah."

'We're not happy'

During the first matter, a case planning conference in the Albashir and Mohsenipour appeals, Sandford said she hasn't even been able to obtain the report to Crown counsel that led to charges against Fisher.

She added that she hasn't been allowed to discuss the case with Moazami's lawyers, even though there are overlapping witnesses in the two appeals.

"The more time goes on, and the more I'm hearing from press reports, the more intrigued I am as to what is it we're not allowed to know," Sandford said.

"Here is an allegation, of very serious and potential criminal and actual criminal conduct, related to this unit of police that was investigating our client. Why is it that undertakings etc. are being used to block us at this stage? We're not happy with this."

Reza Moazami was sentenced to 23 years in prison for running a teenage prostitution ring. (CBC)

The second of Wednesday's two hearings concerned attempts by CBC and the Vancouver Sun to access documents filed in Moazami's appeal.

Both media organizations filed applications to obtain that material in May, but the Crown has asked for sweeping restrictions on what should be made available, despite the lack of a publication ban or sealing order, and nothing has been released to date.

CBC and the Sun are now challenging the appeal court's access policy on a constitutional basis, arguing that it infringes on the principle of open courts and free expression rights, including the freedom of the press and creates a barrier between the public and presumptively public records.

The next hearing in that application is scheduled for January.

About the Author

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay has more than a decade of experience in B.C. journalism, with a focus on the courts, health and social justice issues. She has also reported on human rights and crimes against humanity in Cambodia. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.