A former bouncer who trafficked in hard drugs, possessed firearms, and allegedly used threats of violence while acting as a police agent did not cross the line because his actions were to further a major RCMP investigation into the Hells Angels, a British Columbia Supreme Court judge ruled.
Justice Victor Curtis dismissed an abuse-of-process application by two defendants facing charges of trafficking methamphetamine, in the first of a half dozen Hells Angels trials in B.C., stemming from a $10-million RCMP probe known as E-Pandora.
The police investigation and the conduct of the civilian agent did not violate the principles of fundamental justice or infringe the fair trial rights of Ronaldo Lising and Nima Ghavami, said the judge as he released his ruling in court on March 16.
The detailed reasons in the 79-page ruling cannot be reported as a result of a publication ban imposed by Curtis.
No party asked for the ban in the judge-alone trial and there were no restrictions on reporting the evidence heard during the 51-day, abuse-of-process hearing last fall. The judge indicated the ban was to protect the fair trial rights of other E-Pandora defendants who are identified by letters such as W, U, and Z in the ruling.
The decision to dismiss the abuse-of-process application is a major victory for the RCMP and the federal Crown.
Martha Devlin, deputy director of the federal prosecution service in B.C., had previously indicated in court that the Crown would stay charges in all of its E-Pandora proceedings if the conduct of the agent was found to be an abuse-of-process.
It is one of the first times a court has examined the conduct of police agents and what kind of illegal conduct is permissible under the exemptions set out in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the Criminal Code.
As well, the decision may have an impact on two major Ontario proceedings -the alleged terror plot prosecution and Project Tandem, a joint police investigation which resulted in the arrest of nearly two-dozen people last fall, including several alleged Hells Angels. Both investigations utilized civilian agents allegedly promised large sums of money.
Law Times has learned that police agreed to pay more than $400,000 initially to the civilian agent in Project Tandem and the total compensation package could be significantly higher by the end of all court proceedings.
In B.C., agent Michael Plante has already been paid over $600,000 for his work with the RCMP between July 2003 and January 2005. He has been promised another $500,000 after he testifies at all of the E-Pandora trials.
Senior RCMP officers testified that E-Pandora was a “national priority” and a “watershed” moment in the way the force handles organized crime investigations.
Chief superintendent Bob Paulson, who is now the head of the RCMP’s Organized Crime Intelligence Branch, suggested that a civilian agent is the only way to infiltrate the Hells Angels.
During the abuse hearing, the court heard that the RCMP’s investigative technique also included a media and public relations strategy aimed at “disrupting” the biker group. As part of the strategy, Paulson spoke to a writer working on a Hells Angels book about E-Pandora, which the senior officer admitted was unusual because the matter was still “before the courts.”
Plante agreed to co-operate with the RCMP in 2003 after he was released on bail on a charge of extortion. The bouncer, and admitted steroid user and seller, testified last fall that he had previously acted as an enforcer and had ties to people involved in the Hells Angels in east Vancouver.
The court heard that police permitted Plante to participate in the trafficking of more than 20 kilograms of methamphetamine (RCMP assistant commissioner Raf Souccar testified that, in theory, he believed the exemptions would even permit the release of 100 kilograms of heroin into the community through an agent, if it would further an investigation).
Plante admitted he possessed firearms at times and there was evidence of alleged threats and assaults while acting as a police agent.
Devlin successfully argued that his conduct was covered by the statutory exemptions and that Plante was always under the direction and control of the RCMP.
Defence lawyer Don Morrison, who represents Ghavami, said he is still troubled by the decision to permit hard drugs to be sold on the street.
Morrison, a former prosecutor and police complaint commissioner in B.C., wrote to the provincial attorney general and asked for an independent prosecutor to probe the conduct of the RCMP, aided by Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit in Ontario.
“This should be scrutinized very closely. There are other strategies they could have used. Being involved directly in the trafficking of meth is not preventing crime,” said Morrison, who referred to the RCMP actions as an example of “noble cause corruption.”