Ottawa police launch three investigations into actions of officers

By CHRIS COBB, The Ottawa Citizen July 8, 2011

OTTAWA — Police have launched three internal investigations after judges threw out two drug cases because officers broke the rules governing the gathering of evidence.

The potentially most serious probe was instigated Thursday by Police Chief Vern White after “an anomaly” was found in the tracking of money taken from two young black men whom a judge said Wednesday had been victims of racial profiling by police.

The Ottawa police have said that they seized $1,685 in cash from a vehicle driven by the two men — money that the Crown was later forced to admit in court went missing from the police evidence lock-up. Money in the amount of $1,685 was eventually returned.

Loik St-Louis, 24, and Jordan Noel, 22, had drug possession charges against them dropped as a result of the ruling this week.

The internal probe will attempt to determine what happened to the money between the time police took it from the men’s Cadillac and the time the $1,685 was returned.

Arresting officer Const. Robin Ferrie testified in court that he stopped the Cadillac DeVille because he was concerned the vehicle was stolen and because it was in a high-crime area — Rideau Street.

Ferrie told the court that he ran a licence plate check and discovered the car was not stolen, but that it belonged to Noel’s mother.

“It sure sounds like racial profiling to me,” said Ontario Court Justice Dianne Nicholas, who asked Ferrie whether he would treat two white women in the same way.

After hearing the judge’s comment, Crown prosecutors withdrew the charges against the two. Police found 13 grams of marijuana, five grams of cocaine and a drug scale in the Cadillac.

St-Louis and Noel said they didn’t know how the drugs came to be in the car and denied owning them.

The other drug-related case was tossed after Ontario Superior Court Justice Julianne Parfett ruled that two detectives involved in a Kanata drug bust had entered a house illegally, through an unlocked door.

Parfett was scathing in her criticism of detectives Kevin Jacobs and Doug Edgar.

The behaviour of the two officers would “shock the conscience of the community,” she said.

“I find the public would be horrified to learn that there are police officers who believe that they can enter homes to look for criminal activity for no better reason than they have forgotten to lock a door,” said Parfett.

The two detectives found about 12 kilograms of cocaine, four handguns and ammunition and $900 in cash during the June 17, 2006, search of the Edenvale Drive residence.

The planned bust was the result of a 16-month investigation and huge use of resources by the undercover drug squad

Insp. Tessa Youngson-Larochelle, head of the Ottawa Police Quality Assurance unit, said she couldn’t estimate the cost of the operation, but said “six months is a significant length of time to dedicate to an investigation.”

“The cases are different, but we have to look at both of them to see what went wrong and how we can do better,” she said. “We want to make sure we are not in that position again. Or do our best to ensure we’re not.”

The two investigations into how the officers broke the rules in carrying out their searches will not involve discipline, added Youngson-Larochelle.

“We want to look at a number of different elements so we can be sure that the training, case preparation, the way we mete out legal requirements are in place,” she said.

“Ottawa police are committed to ensuring that our members are aware of racial profiling issues,” Youngson-Larochelle said. “We have a commitment that people should live and work in an environment that is free of police action based on racial bias or racial profiling.”

Doug Baum, president of the Ottawa Defence Council Association, said the cases “tell me that our Constitutional rights as citizens matter a great deal and that our judges are willing to defend them.

“In one incident you have two police officers who find an unlocked door and take it as an invitation to go in and search a house, and in the second incident you have an officer acting on a hunch and decides to make a vehicle stop.”

Baum also questioned the police description of Rideau Street as a “high-crime area.’

“So is the main pedestrian mall in our downtown core considered a high-crime area?” he said. “How many murders have happened on Rideau Street? None that I know of. You get vagrancy and drunks and kids selling marijuana outside the Rideau Centre. I don’t know that it’s a high-crime area.

“Courts keep our law enforcement people in line,” he said. “That’s what they do. They’re our oversight. We generally have a very good police force in this city, but even among police forces there are tendencies that need to be kept in check and that is what this is all about.”

Youngson-Larochelle said reports would be sent to White and on to the Ottawa Police Services Board, but she did not know if they would be made public.

West Carleton-March Councillor Eli El-Chantiry, chairman of the Ottawa Police Services Board, said the cases are operational matters and fall under the responsibility of the chief.

But the police services board and the Ottawa Police Service have an ongoing commitment to educate officers and discuss the issue of racial profiling, El-Chantiry said, noting that a community meeting, titled “Let’s chat about racial profiling,” was held in November.
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