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Charges Bring Calls For Inquiry

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TORONTO -- A number of questions remain unanswered about the level of
corruption in a former Toronto police drug squad, despite the laying of
criminal charges yesterday against six veteran officers.

The federal Department of Justice, the Ontario Ministry of the
Attorney-General and the Toronto Police Services Board have all repeatedly
refused to shed light on the scandal during a more than 2 1/2-year internal
probe that cost more than $3-million.

As many as two dozen officers, from two different drug squads in the city,
were investigated by the task force after several defence lawyers said their
clients were robbed of money and jewellery and beaten during drug raids in
the late 1990s.

The alleged thefts ranged from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of
thousands of dollars in one drug investigation.

The six officers facing charges, have also made their own accusations during
the lengthy investigation, alleging that the task force allowed officers in
another squad to take drug treatment instead of being charged criminally, in
a $116-million lawsuit filed a year ago.

The charges announced yesterday are connected to a handful of drug
investigations. However, the Justice Department, which is responsible for
all drug prosecutions, has stayed charges in more than 150 cases in Toronto
since 1999, when it first learned of the corruption allegations.

The proceedings ranged from minor marijuana prosecutions to a $50-million
heroin seizure in 1999, nicknamed Project Pizza, by the Toronto police.
Charges against the five main defendants were suddenly dropped in August,
2001, without explanation in court.

The Justice Department has never made a public statement about the
prosecutions it stopped and it has refused to confirm even how many cases
have been stayed.

"The federal Department of Justice owes the public an explanation," said
criminal lawyer Edward Sapiano. "This problem went well beyond the six
officers. The Justice Department must account for why it stayed these
cases," said Mr. Sapiano, who has called for a public inquiry into the

In two separate prosecutions of Roman Paryniuk, an alleged drug trafficker
represented by Mr. Sapiano, Superior Court judges threw out the charges
because of the failure of federal prosecutors to meet their disclosure

One of the cases involved the seizure of more than $150-million in hashish.
In the other proceeding, Mr. Paryniuk alleged that two officers, from
another drug squad unit than the officers who have been charged, stole
several hundred thousand dollars while executing a search warrant of his
bank safety deposit box. Mr. Sapiano said Revenue Canada is now attempting
to collect taxes from Mr. Paryniuk on the money he claims was stolen.

Four of the charges laid yesterday are connected to the investigation of
Simon Yeung, who was suddenly released from jail in July, 2001, after the
Ontario Court of Appeal ruled his conviction for heroin trafficking was a
"miscarriage of justice."

At a hearing today in the Ontario Court of Appeal, lawyers for the
Attorney-General are expected to ask that documents connected to the Yeung
case, which have been sealed for 2 1/2 years, remain sealed.

The Toronto Police Services Board, the civilian agency that oversees the
force, has agreed to financial settlements in at least three of seven
lawsuits filed against numerous drug squad officers. Mr. Yeung received more
than $100,000 for spending nearly two years in prison, although the board
has refused to make public any details of the settlements.

"It's a wise trial tactic for the Crown to pick out the cases that have the
best chance of success. But we don't know how many complaints were
considered credible, but there was a concern about an ability to prove the
allegations beyond a reasonable doubt," said Greg Lafontaine, who
represented Mr. Yeung at the Court of Appeal.

"The public must be given information about the breadth and depth of the
scandal," after the trial of the six officers is concluded, Mr. Lafontaine

Pubdate: Thu, 08 Jan 2004
Source: National Post (Canada)
Webpage: http://www.mapinc.org/cancom/66ef90fe-81a6-471a-9d02-8b5cfafa700c
Copyright: 2004 Southam Inc.
Contact: letters@nationalpost.com
Website: National Post