TORONTO - Police defended their investigation that led to drug and drunk driving charges against former Conservative politician Rahim Jaffer while legal experts said Wednesday the Crown had no choice but to withdraw those charges.
Jaffer's guilty plea to the lesser charge of careless driving on Tuesday sparked a swirl of questions from opposition politicians and some members of the public about the outcome of the case.
“A very thorough and detailed investigation was completed and done,” said provincial police spokesman Const. Peter Leon from headquarters in Orillia, Ont.
“It's up to the court to interpret the work that the officer put before the court.”
The officer involved, who had about 10 years of experience, did a “professional” investigation, Leon said, referring further questions to the Crown attorney's office.
Ontario's Attorney General's Ministry said Wednesday there were “issues relating to the admissibility of evidence” but did not elaborate.
“The prosecuting Crown has the duty to make such assessments, and is in the best position to do so,” said ministry spokesman Brendan Crawley.
Prosecutor Marie Balogh did not return calls Wednesday seeking comment on the decision to withdraw the cocaine-possession and drunk-driving charges against Jaffer.
In court Tuesday, Balogh said there was “no reasonable prospect” of convicting Jaffer on those charges.
Criminal lawyers said that statement was key to understanding the decision not to proceed, given that the Crown is obliged to have sufficient evidence to take a case before a judge.
“If there's no reasonable prospect of conviction, I don't think it's fair or appropriate that you start talking about what evidence there is because it ends up to be a simple allegation that is not worthy of prosecution,” said veteran criminal lawyer Bill Trudell.
“If you start talking about this fact or that fact, it may do damage to somebody, especially in the public eye.”
One legal source close to the case said anyone who thinks Jaffer got favourable treatment was wrong.
“If anything, he was treated more harshly because it was tougher for a Crown to come to this decision knowing they were going to get criticized for it,” the source said.
“The evidence just wasn't there to convict him.”
Problems with the Crown's case were canvassed at confidential pretrial conferences in front of a judge, who, as is customary, was not the judge designated to sit at trial.
As a result, the flaws in the police case remain sealed. Any legal issues with a police investigation normally only emerge if a trial is held.
Ontario court justice Doug Maund said Tuesday that he hoped Jaffer recognized he was getting “a break,” although he did not elaborate.
Maund was not involved in the pretrial discussions and would not have known about the evidence.
Jaffer was stopped for speeding north of Toronto last September. Provincial police from the Caledon detachment arrested him after he admitted to having consumed two bottles of beer and he failed a breath test.
His lawyer, Howard Rubel, refused Wednesday to elaborate on comments he made outside court that the decision to withdraw the charges vindicated the defence “refutation” of the police allegations.
The advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving has written to Ontario's attorney general, demanding to know why the drunk driving case against Jaffer fell apart.
“It is critical that answers be provided as to why the case did not proceed with the original charges, given that the evidence appeared to warrant and support the charges,” wrote MADD Canada's National President Margaret Miller in the letter.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said he maintained faith in the justice system.
“What I can say is that I have been around long enough now to know it's really easy to second guess our police officers, our judges and our Crowns Attorney,” McGuinty said.
Police laid three charges against Jaffer - possession of cocaine, drunk driving and speeding - for doing 90 kilometres an hour in a 50 km/h zone.
The speeding charge was subsumed in Jaffer's admission of careless driving.