New trial for Toronto cops 'not fair': lawyer

The lawyer for a group of Toronto policemen accused of corruption said Monday an attempt to launch renewed legal proceedings against his clients isn't fair to them, particularly as allegations of wrongdoing are based on "the flimsiest of evidence."
From left to right, Raymond Pollard, Steve Correia, Richard Benoit, Ned Maodus, Joseph Miched and John Schertzer. ((Ron Bull/Toronto Star))

The lawyer for Toronto policemen accused of corruption said Monday an attempt to launch renewed legal proceedings against his clients isn't fair, particularly as the allegations are based on "the flimsiest of evidence."

The remarks by Peter Brauti came as the Crown began an appeal for a new trial in the corruption case, more than a year after the earlier one was thrown out.

Six former Toronto drug officers were charged in 2004, accused of a conspiracy to rob and beat drug suspects between 1995 and 1999 in what anti-corruption investigators dubbed "a crime spree."

They were the subject of Canada's largest-ever police corruption probe after complaints from drug dealers eventually triggered an internal investigation by a special task force.

Criminal proceedings were stayed in January 2008 because of the "glacial pace of the prosecution," in the words of Ontario Superior Court Justice Ian Nordheimer.

But the accused officers found themselves back in front of Ontario's Court of Appeal on Monday, as the Crown began its appeal for a new trial, arguing that the delay was not unreasonable.

Brauti, however, said the charges have been blown out of proportion. The case "started off as the biggest police corruption investigation in Canadian history — it started off with hundreds of files," Brauti told CBC News. As it progressed, the probe was reduced in scope as "no corroboration" was uncovered, he said.

"And I don't think it looks very fair to these officers that 10 years later we are debating these matters that are [based] on the flimsiest of evidence. And they've never had a trial. It's just not fair to them."

New files from Montreal police

The Crown's appeal comes as the CBC and the Toronto Star made public a 2004 Montreal police document that shows Montreal police notified the Toronto force that they had a "suspicious" encounter in November 1997 with two drug squad officers who seemed singularly focused on securing the cash from a suspect's safety deposit box.

The Montreal force called Toronto police supervisors to complain about Toronto Det. John Schertzer and his colleague Const. Steve Correia, both members of Toronto Police Service's Central Field Command Drug Squad at the time.

Schertzer's superior, Det.-Sgt. Bob Spires, then asked Schertzer for an explanation.

Schertzer penned a report in response to Spires' request two weeks after the Montreal incident. It accuses the Montreal police of being rude and unhelpful and suggests the Montreal police officers were themselves unduly interested in the contents of the box.

Spires said he then informed deputy chief Mike Boyd, now a chief in Edmonton, about the Montreal complaint but didn't know whether it was followed up.

Boyd denies receiving any complaints from the Montreal force.

Dave Eagleson, a Toronto police sergeant at the time, said he tried to warn Schertzer's superiors about the drug squad around the time of the Montreal incident. Eagleson said he knew of about 16 complaints from the public about Schertzer's squad, but he was blown off.

"I coined a phrase years ago in regards to Central Field Command Drugs — wilful blindness. People wilfully knew what was going on — I can't prove it — but allowed and condoned the conduct of these officers."

Also facing charges in the corruption case were Nebojsa Maodus, Joseph Miched, Raymond Pollard and Richard Benoit.

With files from Dave Seglins