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Police And Politician Want Appeal Of Court Decision Against Grow-op Warrant

Herb Fellow

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VANCOUVER - British Columbia's top police officer wonders if the courts want police to wait while criminals "lock and load" their weapons before officers move in to execute a search warrant.

The frustrated reaction from Solicitor General John Les followed a B.C. Supreme Court judgment throwing out evidence of a marijuana grow operation because the Charter rights of the accused were violated.

"I really wonder, what do police have to do? They apparently knocked on the door, waited for several minutes," Les told reporters. "Are they supposed to wait longer to give people the opportunity to lock and load?"

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Bruce harshly criticized the RCMP drug squad's actions in a ruling this week, saying officers endangered their own lives and that of the accused when they smashed in the side door of a Surrey, B.C., home with guns drawn.

"The police created an extremely dangerous situation by forcing entry without any regard to the particular circumstances before them," Bruce wrote in her ruling.

The justice decided the evidence of 700 marijuana plants police found in the basement of the home was inadmissible, forcing the Crown to drop charges against Van Dung Cao.

"I was profoundly disappointed," Les said. "We've been making good progress in terms of getting after grow operations."

The disappointment is echoed by Surrey RCMP spokesman Sgt. Roger Morrow.

"I found it, frankly, from a policing aspect, rather disconcerting."

Morrow said police go into these situations with guns drawn because it's impossible to know what is inside homes with marijuana grow operations.

He said that is the very reason police ask for search warrants.

"It's very difficult to read these types of judgments and understand the thought process of these people making the rulings," he said.

Morrow said the culture of grow operations means officers must assume high-powered weapons are involved and that the homes they're about to search may have been booby trapped.

Both Morrow and Les said they hope the Crown will appeal the ruling.

Morrow said he had read the ruling but wasn't sure if any changes would or could be made to their search practices.

Bruce pointed out in her ruling that the so-called "knock and announce" rule is not a mere formality for police.

"Moreover, this kind of violent and forceful entry with guns drawn appears to be standard practice for the Surrey RCMP," she noted.

Morrow said the ruling left several of his fellow officers shaking their heads.

"We don't have the benefits of hindsight when we're going to have to take down a drug house," he said.

Les said he respects individual liberties but police obviously went in to the home apprehensive that there was a grow operation inside.

"You know we always seem to be fighting these battles with at least one hand tied behind our back."

He added that police can't get their jobs done by politely knocking and waiting.

Bruce found that police didn't wait long enough after they knocked on the front door and announced themselves before a second team bashed down a garage door, entered the home and arrested the suspect at gunpoint.

"The abrupt and violent entry executed by police went well beyond what was necessary," she wrote.

Source: The Prince George Citizen
Copyright: 2008, The Canadian Press
Contact: Terri Theodore, The Canadian Press
Website: Prince George Citizen - Police and politician want appeal of court decision against grow-op warrant
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