Years later, Toronto drug cop corruption case ordered to trial

TORONTO - One of Canada's largest ever police corruption cases has been ordered to go to trial after Ontario's highest court overturned a decision to throw the case out because of years of delays.

TORONTO - One of Canada's largest ever police corruption cases has been ordered to go to trial after Ontario's highest court overturned a decision to throw the case out because of years of delays.

Wednesday's Court of Appeal decision comes nearly five years after the charges were laid and 10 years since the investigation first began.

The 30 corruption charges against six former members of the Toronto police drug squad were based on allegations they conducted searches without warrants, falsified notes to hide those alleged facts and didn't account for all of the money seized in drug investigations, as well as extortion and assault allegations.

The charges were stayed in January 2008 - four years after they were laid - under the prospect of a trial that wouldn't be completed until August 2008. Ontario Superior Court Justice Ian Nordheimer described that as a "glacial" pace.

The Appeal Court granted the Crown's appeal of that decision in the case against five of the officers. The court said that, in the case of those five, the delay was not unreasonable and ordered a new trial.

In the case of the sixth person, Richard Benoit, the court allowed the stay as he was only facing one charge and the court estimates his trial would have taken no more than one week.

"We took the position from the beginning that the case should go to trial, it should be heard in its entirety. I'm pleased with the Court of Appeal's decision," said Attorney General Chris Bentley.

Nordheimer made two "fundamental errors" in finding that the rights of the five people to a trial within a reasonable time were infringed upon, the three-judge panel said in its unanimous decision.

"First, he erred in finding that the delay was due to disclosure problems," the court wrote.

"Whatever the problems with disclosure, and there clearly were some, delay in making disclosure had no impact on the progress of the prosecution."

The judges also ruled Nordheimer failed to "expressly identify" causes for the bulk of the delay.

Nordheimer was "clearly not impressed" with the Crown in some respects but the section of the Charter under which he found the defendants' rights were infringed "is not the medium through which the quality of the prosecution's performance is measured," the Appeal Court judges wrote.

"This case proceeded in accordance with a schedule with which the accused and their counsel were content."

In staying the charges Nordheimer laid much of the blame for delays on how long it took the Crown to get mountains of evidence to the defence. But the Appeal Court said the length of time was due to the complexities of the case.

"As we have demonstrated, far from this being a case where the vast majority of the 56 months passed because of the Crown's failure to make full disclosure, virtually none of the time can be so characterized," the court wrote.

"Rather, the bulk of the time that passed is attributable to the inherent time required to prosecute this complex case."

The first formal charges against some of the six men were Police Services Act charges laid in 1998, though "it appears that concerns about the CFC (Central Field Command) drug squad had been circulating for some time," the court said.

That investigation also led to criminal charges in November 2000. The Police Services Act charges were dismissed in 1998, because they weren't laid within the proper time period and the criminal charges were stayed by the Crown in 2002 because they could not be prosecuted without compromising a wider investigation that ultimately led to the charges at hand.

Those charges, laid in January 2004 and stemming from five drug squad investigations, consisted of attempting to obstruct justice, perjury, assault causing bodily harm, extortion, theft and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

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