Epiq Systems, Inc.

Who's more dangerous?

By J.S. Vijaya

Five former Toronto drug squad officers were recently sentenced to 45 days of house arrest for attempting to obstruct justice. Toronto Star  Sun Media  

Let us examine some of the facts closely. These police officers were initially accused of, inter alia, conspiracy, extortion, theft and brutally beating up individuals.

The defence basically took the position that these officers were merely “foot soldiers in the war on drugs,” and while minor mistakes may have been made, these police officers were never corrupt or violent.

After a lengthy trial akin to a Wagnerian sound and fury opera, they were acquitted of those specific charges.

However, all five police officers were convicted of attempting to obstruct justice which can potentially carry a sentence of ten years. Three of the five were also convicted of perjury, where a conviction can put you in jail for 14 years. In short, a jury found that these officers conducted an illegal search inside an apartment without a search warrant and then lied under oath in order to cover up the truth.

According to the judge these police officers “short-circuited the constitutional rights of the defendants.” The presiding judge also stated upon conviction that “the accused all breached the trust confided in them as police officers.” The Crown rightly took the position that these types of offences “strike at the heart of the criminal justice system.”

Upon these convictions, the Crown sought penitentiary time, up to four years, as punishment for these police officers. The Crown cited the theory of general deterrence in sentencing where a clear and strong message would be sent to the community at large that this sort of illegal, deliberate behaviour will not be tolerated. This case took more than a decade to come to “justice.” Millions upon millions of dollars were spent in the prosecution of this case.

Last week, these officers were finally sentenced to 45 days of house arrest for their crimes. In addition, the house arrest conditions were softened and relaxed in order to allow these convicted men to lead more or less ordinary lives.

In my view, this stunning result may further entrench the view that many people in the “at risk” communities already hold – that police officers are de facto treated very differently when it comes to breaches of trust and lying to a jury under oath in our criminal justice system. In essence, the underlying moral endorsement seems to be that these police officers are the “good guys” trying to stop the “bad guys” and accordingly they should be given a “break” when it comes to their grotesque, malignant and deliberate unwillingness to follow the law themselves.

In the past, I have stood beside trembling, “at risk” young men pleading guilty to selling $20 worth of crack to an undercover police officer in court. I have advised that my client has no previous criminal record. I have advised that this is a guilty plea at the first opportunity and my client is remorseful for his actions. I have advised that my client now has a job, and a supportive family. I pointed out that a prison sentence will not serve any real function as a deterrent for a young man who seems to have readjusted his moral compass.

More often than not, the “at risk,” young, trembling man is ordered to be warehoused in a prison facility with other young, “at risk” men for at least 60-90 days. These young men are ostensibly the real “bad guys.”

I wonder if I am really able to conduct the objective analysis necessary to come to a final conclusion as to who is more dangerous to our society and our guaranteed freedoms as citizens of this great country. Is it men with loaded guns and badges illegally breaking into homes without a warrant seeking to do “good,” OR a young man who should have also known better.

You decide.

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