Police officer charged with impaired control of vehicle had 'overwhelming smell of liquor,' court hears

When a Manitoba RCMP officer approached a still-running vehicle pulled over on the side of the Trans-Canada Highway, he found the door wasn't latched shut, the lights were still on and the interior carried the "overwhelming smell of liquor," a Winnipeg court heard Thursday.

Winnipeg police Const. Leslie McRae pleaded not guilty to charge following November arrest

Ten-year police veteran Leslie McRae was one of five Winnipeg police officers arrested in 2017 for drinking and driving-related charges. (CBC)

When a Manitoba RCMP officer approached a still-running vehicle pulled over on the side of the Trans-Canada Highway, he found the door wasn't latched shut, the lights were still on and he caught the "overwhelming smell of liquor," a Winnipeg court heard Thursday.

Manitoba RCMP Const. Marcello Oddo told court the man in the driver's seat, Winnipeg police Const. Leslie McRae, then 41 and a 10-year veteran of the Winnipeg police, had bloodshot and watery eyes, slurred his speech and appeared disoriented.

"Once I opened the door, there was this overwhelming smell of liquor coming from the vehicle," Oddo said Thursday in a Winnipeg courtroom.

McRae was arrested by Oddo in November 2017 and charged in January with impaired care and control of a vehicle and refusing a breath sample. The latter charge was withdrawn by Brandon-based Crown Attorney Brett Rach in September.

McRae has pleaded not guilty to the charge of impaired care and control of a vehicle. He was one of five Winnipeg police officers arrested for similar offences in 2017.

He previously appeared in court in September, before provincial court associate chief Judge John P. Guy. The trial was delayed, however, when Rach said he'd expected the case to appear before a judge from outside of Winnipeg.

The trial again hit a snag Thursday, when Rach and McRae's defence lawyer Evan Roitenberg arrived in court expecting an out-of-town judge and instead found provincial court senior Judge Robin A. Finlayson, of Winnipeg.

After leaving to speak to clerks, Rach and Roitenberg said they hadn't been informed the request for an outside-of-Winnipeg judge had been denied by a chief judge who determined it was not required.

Oddo was the only witness called on Thursday. He testified about McRae's behaviour leading up to and following his arrest. During cross-examination, Roitenberg focused on details left out of Oddo's notes taken on the day that appeared in his testimony and the absence of any audio or video recordings of the encounter.

RCMP officer saw Winnipeg police member lift can to face in car, court hears

In his testimony, Oddo said his shift started at 8 a.m. on Nov. 20, and he encountered McRae in the vehicle roughly 10 to 15 minutes later while driving westbound down the Trans-Canada Highway. McRae's vehicle was stationary and parked on the shoulder of the eastbound lanes, court heard.

Oddo testified he had slowed somewhat as he passed McRae's vehicle and observed an individual reclined in the driver's seat bring a can to their face as if drinking — although he couldn't see the individual's face.

Oddo told court he drove approximately 200 to 300 metres to a break in the highway where he made a U-turn and returned to McRae's vehicle, where he parked, got out and approached. He said he observed a can on the ground on the passenger-side of the vehicle and then knocked on a window.

When there was no response, court heard, Oddo said he opened the driver-side door, which he found was not latched shut. He told court he identified himself as a police officer and McRae said he was resting before going home. Oddo testified McRae's eyes were bloodshot and watery, and his speech was slurred.

Oddo said he asked for McRae's licence and registration, and testified McRae appeared to have difficulty accessing them as well as sitting up from his reclined position — although Roitenberg highlighted during cross-examination his notes from the day don't include those details.

"He was reaching for the steering wheel and in doing so, he was clenching his hands before he reached the steering wheel," Oddo said. "Eventually he got himself up."

At one point, Oddo testified, McRae told him he'd "had a couple beers." 

Oddo told the court that McRae identified himself as a Winnipeg police officer and said McRae told him that "common courtesy" was to drive him home. He also testified that upon returning to the detachment, McRae told him he'd been "in [his] shoes before" and made a different choice, and said, "You have a different approach than we do."

Defence questions notes, testimony

Defence laywer Roitenberg pressed Oddo on several details he added in his testimony that did not appear in his notes from the day. He asked about the distance between their vehicles when he first saw McRae and saying that without seeing his face, Oddo can't have seen McRae drinking.

He suggested McRae's comment about Oddo driving him home was McRae indicating to Oddo that he was not intoxicated, but if Oddo was concerned, he could drive him home.

Roitenberg questioned Oddo's testimony that McRae had said he'd had beer, as well, asking Oddo to recall the exact wording McRae had used. He referenced a written note Oddo had added to his notebook following the arrest that didn't specify exactly what McRae said.

He also pushed back on Oddo on the lack of any recording of their interaction at the detachment, which is ordinarily recorded. Oddo said he was unable to produce one and he'd never been required to produce such a recording in the past.

Judge Finlayson adjourned the trial around 4 p.m. It will resume on Nov. 29.

With files from Bryce Hoye