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Solicitor-General Urges Prosecutors To Appeal Pot-Grower Case Decision

Rocky Balboa

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Solicitor-General John Les says police entering suspected drug houses cannot wait around at the front door "while the bad guys are locking and loading."

Les urged federal prosecutors to appeal a controversial B.C. Supreme Court ruling this week in which a pot grower with 704 plants was acquitted because the judge said the forced entry by police was too extreme and unconstitutional.

Surrey RCMP knocked on the door of Van Dung Cao in March 2004 with a search warrant in hand and then used a battering ram on a second door two minutes later, entering with their guns drawn.

Justice Catherine Bruce said the police didn't wait long enough and violated Cao's Charter right to a proper warning.

But Les said Thursday he thinks the ruling is out of touch with the critical problem of organized crime and the drug trade.

"If two minutes isn't long enough, what is?" he asked. "These are typically dangerous situations. There have been too many of these grow-ops found with guns and ammunition in them, with booby traps in them. And the police know this and that is why they react the way that they do.

"What are they supposed to do? Continue waiting politely while the bad guys are locking and loading? I think it needs to be appealed," Les said. "I think what federal Crown counsel in this case have to notice is the public outrage and on the basis of that maybe come to the conclusion that if nothing else, this needs to be reviewed by appeal."

He said Bruce's ruling, released Wednesday, is a setback in tackling the illegal marijuana industry.

"It is particularly disheartening to me, in that we have been making some pretty good headway in terms of going after grow-ops -- particularly in Surrey where they estimate the number of grow-ops is down by 40 per cent in the last year," Les said.

"We constantly have this notion of wanting to tie police hands behind their backs as they try to keep our communities safe."

Repeated calls to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to ask whether an appeal is being considered were not returned Thursday, for a second day.

Attorney-General Wally Oppal, a former judge, said he understands why Bruce ruled the way that she did. "It is not our issue. It is a federal issue," Oppal said.

"But before we start running off and blaming this judge, one should look at what the law is. The judge was following the law."

Surrey RCMP Sgt. Roger Morrow said the drug team does not intend to change its practices despite the ruling. He said the reaction to the decision has been very much in favour of police.

He said it is almost as if the "justice system" should now be called the "legal system" because of all the Charter arguments now being made by accused.

Sgt. Neil Munro, head of the Vancouver Police "growbuster" team, said the ruling won't change police practices. The eight-person unit executes almost 100 search warrants a year on suspected growing operations.

"If you think how long two minutes is, you can walk from just about any place in your house to the front door in two minutes unless you've got one heck of a big house," Munro said. "A mailman with a special delivery or a delivery man -- how long would they wait?

"I don't think very many of them would be waiting there for two or three minutes."

If police wait too long, Munro said the suspect could hide or prepare a violent response to police.

Murray Mollard, of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said that despite the controversy surrounding the ruling, the judge carefully considered the public's safety.

But New Democrat public safety critic Mike Farnworth said the ruling put a marijuana trafficker's rights ahead of the community's well-being and must be appealed.

"Marijuana grow-ops are an epidemic and pose a serious threat to public safety, our communities and our youth," he said.

"This B.C. Supreme Court ruling appears to favour the rights of a person running a major grow-op at the expense of all other crucial considerations," Farnworth said.

Source: Vancouver Sun
Author: Kim Bolan
Copyright: 2008 The Vancouver Sun
Website: canada.com
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