British Columbia

Salon owner complained about officer's contact with young victims, lawyer alleges

Multiple civilians allegedly called Vancouver police to complain about then-detective James Fisher's behaviour with victims of an underage prostitution ring, the B.C. Court of Appeal heard this week.

Vancouver police are declining to comment on latest allegations against former detective James Fisher

James Fisher retired from the Vancouver Police Department in 2017 while awaiting trial on sex-related charges. (CBC)

Multiple civilians allegedly called Vancouver police to complain about then-detective James Fisher's behaviour with victims of an underage prostitution ring, the B.C. Court of Appeal heard this week.

That includes the owner of a Vancouver hair salon who was unsettled to see Fisher arrive for an appointment with a teenage girl, defence lawyer Tom Arbogast told the court during a Monday bail hearing for notorious pimp Reza Moazami. Fisher was in his late 50s at the time.

When police officers responded to the call, Fisher allegedly told them "I'm preparing her for the trial." Arbogast said that by that point, the young woman had already testified in Moazami's trial.

Support workers in the Downtown Eastside made similar comments to the VPD about Fisher, according to Arbogast, and the former detective's fellow officers were concerned when they saw him breaking the department's strict rules against meeting alone with female crime victims.

Those allegations were part of a thick stack of evidence Moazami's defence team presented to Justice David Frankel on Monday. It was pieced together from police reports and interviews, text messages, and other sources. 

They form the backbone for Moazami's appeal of his convictions for crimes including human trafficking, sexual exploitation, sexual assault and living off the avails of prostitution.

Fisher was the lead investigator on his case, and Moazami is alleging that the former officer's improper contact with the victims interfered with his right to a fair trial.

"It's been very, very difficult for us to put these things together," Arbogast told the court.

He said that process has been complicated by Fisher's alleged actions when he discovered he was under investigation.

"There is ample evidence of a ... large amount of obstruction on behalf of Mr. Fisher in terms of being able to delete evidence," Arbogast said.

"He deleted something like 3,000 text messages when he found out about this investigation."

Shocking new allegations

The defence team alleges Fisher sexually abused six of the 11 young girls and women included in the case against Moazami, as well as one key witness. They suggest Fisher may have committed non-sexual misconduct with 10 out of 11 victims.

The new allegations against Fisher have not been tested in court, and CBC is not aware of any new charges against him. He pleaded guilty last year to one count of sexual exploitation and two counts of breach of trust involving two victims, both of whom he admitted to kissing.

Officers at the Vancouver Police Department declined an interview about the latest allegations, saying it would be inappropriate to comment while the case is still before the courts. Mayor Kennedy Stewart, who serves as chair of the police board, also declined to comment.

Should Moazami's appeal go ahead, the public will likely hear details about Fisher's alleged activities that have not been revealed previously.

Reza Moazami, 34, is appealing his convictions. (CBC)

Fisher was originally charged with offences against a total of four alleged victims, but his guilty pleas only covered charges connected to two young women. Because he entered his plea before trial began, the allegations involving the other two alleged victims have never been heard.

There have been attempts in the past to bring more of this information to light, but so far they've been unsuccessful.

One of Fisher's admitted victims was a 17-year-old girl who had been exploited by Michael Bannon, another Vancouver pimp.

During Bannon's trial, his lawyers tried to get access to the full file from the police investigation into Fisher's actions — more than 15,000 pages and over 200 audio, video and photo files, according to court documents.

But a B.C. Supreme Court judge would only grant disclosure of evidence directly related to Fisher's activities with that one named victim, writing that "an order for the disclosure of the entire file would likely include material that is clearly irrelevant in Mr. Bannon's case."

Bannon is currently serving a 14-year prison sentence for running an underage prostitution ring.

Moazami is in prison for 23 years, but he is asking to be released on bail while his appeal is underway. A date has yet to be set for a decision on that request and Crown prosecutors have argued that he is a flight risk and a risk to the public.

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.