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Justice Turns Blind Eye To Pot Plants

Rocky Balboa

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A judge has thrown out the evidence in a drug trial -- 704 marijuana plants -- because the Surrey cops botched the raid.

The ruling was branded "absurd" last night by Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts, who said the decision put "the rights of criminals first and foremost," ahead of "the safety of the general public."

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Bruce said in her ruling that to admit the marijuana as evidence would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

"The actions of the police created a real risk of harm to an occupant by accidental shooting and to the police in terms of an aggressive response to the violent entry," she said.

"In my view, a shocking entry without a prior 'knock and announce,' with guns drawn and ready to be discharged, and pointed at the accused's head, could have produced disastrous consequences."

Van Dung Cao was charged with production of marijuana and possessing marijuana for trafficking after six members of the RCMP drug squad executed a search

warrant on a residence on 157A Street on March 10, 2004.

Police knocked on the front door and, receiving no answer, went to the side entrance, where they used a battering ram to knock down the door. They entered the house with guns drawn. Inside, they found a grow-op containing the 704 plants.

Cao's lawyers, Neil Cobb and Elizabeth Lewis, said the search warrant was executed in an unreasonable manner and Cao's rights were violated because police failed to adhere to the well-established "knock and announce" rule.

The Crown argued there was sufficient time for the residents to respond to the knock at the door. Receiving no response, police were entitled to enter.

Prosecutors said that in a suspected marijuana bust, the police must act quickly for their safety.

But the judge said in her ruling this week there was no risk assessment done by police supporting the use of drawn weapons.

She said the methods used appear to be "standard practice" for Surrey RCMP and added: "The long-term harm to the justice system is not worth the short-term gain made by admission of the evidence, which was obtained in a manner that ignores the rule of law . . . I find the evidence obtained during the execution of the search warrant is inadmissible . . . the Crown will be unable to prove its case without the evidence secured by the entry to the residence."

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association supported the judge's decision.

"Certainly we're aware of numerous cases in which deaths of civilians or police resulted from the police's failure to adhere to the 'knock and announce' rule," said Jason Gratl, president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

"Throwing out the case is a way of protecting the lives of citizens and police alike," he said.

But Watts said the decision sends the wrong message to criminals.

"The police will, I guess, just have to be a little more polite when they knock and ask permission to fulfil their duties when they know there's criminal activity going on," she said. "I find things like that just absurd.

"And here we go, the rights of the criminals are first and foremost. And the safety of the general public, of course, is always secondary."

Source: Province, The
Authors: Keith Fraser, and Jack Keating
Copyright: 2008 The Province
Website: The Province
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