Lawyers in N.W.T. drug trial question search warrant that led to trafficking charges

Lawyers for the final two accused in a drug and human trafficking investigation in Yellowknife are challenging the search warrant police used in their investigation.

Final 2 of 5 accused in 2017 drug, human trafficking case on trial

Drugs seized following a tip about human trafficking and drug trafficking in Yellowknife in 2017. (Yellowknife RCMP)

Lawyers for the final two accused in a drug and human trafficking investigation in Yellowknife are challenging the search warrant police used in their investigation.

Mahmoud Taliani of Calgary and Quintin Glasgow-Brownlow of Edmonton were among four people RCMP charged with possessing cocaine for the purpose of trafficking, after police searched two hotel rooms and seized 729 bags of crack cocaine. Another person arrested in the same investigation was charged with obstruction.

RCMP testified that as they were writing up an application for a search warrant, they were surveilling suspects using aliases in a rapidly changing situation with too few officers.

The suspects had moved from the Northern Lites Motel in Yellowknife to the Chateau Nova hotel. They were coming and going from the hotel. Two were named Mohammed Ali. Two were wearing camouflage-pattern coats. Police initially thought they had only one room, but found out they had two.

"It was happening fast and a lot of it was confusing," testified Const. Bryan Martell, who was writing up what's known as the information to obtain a search warrant, as other officers were keeping watch of the five suspects.

Alleged human trafficking victim recants

Martell said a woman who was allegedly prostituted out against her will told him she was addicted to crack cocaine and had been working as an independent escort in Saskatoon when Jonathan Ouellet-Gendron threatened to harm her and her children unless she worked for him.

She said he took her passport and, with two other men and a supply of cocaine to sell, drove to Yellowknife in late November 2017. But just past Fort Providence they hit a bison. They left their car there and hitched a ride with a helpful trucker the rest of the way.

The woman — whose identity is protected by a publication ban — told police a second car was seven hours behind the first and on the way up from High Level, Alta. 

But when it came time to testify at the preliminary inquiry for Ouellet-Gendron and one of the other accused, the woman recanted her story. Ouellet-Gendron and his co-accused, Mohamed Mohamud Ali, were discharged.

So far, the investigation has netted only one conviction for obstruction of justice.

Defence takes aim at search warrant

In court Tuesday, defence lawyers questioned one of the RCMP officers who had been keeping an eye on the suspects at the hotel. Const. Kyle McDonald was in room 110. The suspects were coming and going from room 113. McDonald was watching them through the peephole in his room door.

After the RCMP learned their suspects also had a room a few doors down the hall from where McDonald was stationed, the commanding officer texted him: "K-Mac, are you able to lock down whether any of them returned to 114?" Defence lawyers Jake Chadi and Peter Harte took that to mean the commanding officer wanted some evidence to get a warrant to enter the room.

A minute later, McDonald texted back, saying he just heard a door shut down the hall and saw the three return to their room across the hall.

When pressed on that text, and why he didn't mention anything about the men going to the room down the hall until asked by his superior, McDonald said he noticed the men returning to the room across the hall at the same time as his superior texted him.

In the application for a search warrant, Martell wrote that the suspects had been "observed" leaving room 114. In court McDonald testified he could not see the room, but inferred they had come from it when he heard a door down the hall close and saw them return to room 113.

It is in that room 114 that the police later found the crack cocaine, packaged and ready for sale.

The trial continues on Wednesday in N.W.T. Supreme Court with Justice Shannon Smallwood presiding.