Judge rejects Hay River search warrant, cocaine trial sinks as the accused walk free

Cocaine trafficking charges have been stayed in Yellowknife court after the judge said police failed to fully disclose important facts about informants. A similar issue arose in a 2017 Fort Simpson child pornography case.

Judge rules RCMP failed to disclose search warrant based on unreliable informants

Cocaine trafficking charges were stayed in Yellowknife court after the search warrant was deemed to have been issued on weak grounds. (CBC)

Two men accused of trafficking cocaine and cannabis in Hay River have gone free because of the way RCMP handled the search warrant in their investigation. 

Judge Shannon Smallwood chastised police in her decision.

The police did not include, for example, whether the informants the police were relying on had criminal records — and if so, what those records were for. Convictions for "offences of dishonesty" such as perjury or fraud were especially important to disclose, the judge noted in her decision.

"It is difficult to see how the reviewing justice could have made an assessment of the reliability of the sources without any reference to a criminal record," the judge wrote.

Informants whose tips had been instrumental to getting the warrant, were also known to have been unreliable on many occasions.

In one case, nearly 90 per cent — 31 of 35 — of an informant's tips had not led to prosecutions, convictions or seizure of controlled substances. 

"Why is source 'A's' track record so poor, or is there an explanation?" the judge asked. 

"Without that explanation or information, it is difficult to see how an authorizing justice could consider source 'A' proven reliable."

Aside from the informants, little information was provided to obtain the warrant. 

Not the first time for N.W.T. police

A search warrant in a child pornography case was also deemed invalid in 2017.

In that case, the search warrant relied on information from a friend who had been invited to see the pictures by the defendant.

However, Judge Garth Malakoe said RCMP Const. Jonah Candy "misled" the justice of the peace in getting the warrant.

He failed to mention their informant had been convicted of "crimes of dishonesty," such as fraud, public mischief and forgery, more than 30 years earlier.

"It was not acceptable police conduct," the judge wrote. 

Prosecutors' office 'in discussions' with RCMP

The CBC contacted Maren Zimmer at the Public Prosecution Service of Canada in Yellowknife.

Zimmer said their office was "in discussions with the RCMP to ensure everything is functioning," following the stay of proceedings filed by her office in the cocaine trafficking case. 

The stay of proceedings was filed on Dec. 15, 2017.

RCMP spokesperson Marie York-Condon said police would not comment on the matter.

"Discussions between PPSC and RCMP are protected by client solicitor privilege, so we cannot provide any details," York-Condon wrote in an email. 

"Informations to obtain search warrants are each unique and done on a case by case basis."