Charges: Conspiracy to Import a Controlled Substance, and Breach of Trust.
The Facts: Our client was a university student and part-time employee of Canada Customs, working at Pearson International Airport during the summer, and weekend shifts during the school year. She was also one of only a few front line Customs officers who was black; born in Jamaica. Customs officials received a tip from an informant warning them about a shipment of cocaine destined for Canada, and giving the name of the passenger. They were told that a corrupt Customs officer would be looking out for the smuggler and would let him pass through Customs in booth #1. Customs issued a “lookout” notice for the smuggler. One night, a passenger from Jamaica fitting the name and profile described by the informant arrived in Canada and was issued a pass by Andrea J., despite the lookout notice. Andrea was working in booth #1. The passenger was later detained and found to be in possession of 12 kilos of cocaine in a false-bottomed suitcase.
The Defence Strategy: The smuggler confessed to having imported cocaine into Canada and explained that he had been given a description of the corrupt Customs officer as being young and female, in booth #1. Given that our client matched that description, and let the smuggler pass despite the lookout warning, it seemed at first that the Crown had a strong case. However, in the smuggler’s description of the corrupt agent, there was no mention of her being black, which would have been the most obvious feature to describe, given that there were very few black Customs officers, and only one, Andrea J., working that night. There were, however, four women working the Primary line that night, including our client. Also, booth assignments change daily and are issued less than an hour before the officers start their shift, so it would be unlikely for a smuggler to have that information beforehand. Andrea J. claimed that she had misplaced the lookout information.
We requested a great deal of information from Customs: Andrea’s excellent work records; Customs policies regarding lookout information; the shift schedules for the month leading up to the arrest; the roster of Customs officers on duty during previous arrests; and information about previous arrests in which tips were provided. Customs refused to provide much of this relevant information, which required us to bring motions for production in court. We were successful. We also requested that the police and Customs investigate Andrea J., because we were confident that the investigation would turn up no evidence that she was involved with any criminals and that she had not benefited financially in any way from crime. The government failed to investigate, which gave us grounds to argue that they had rushed to judgment, and engaged in racial profiling, in part because Andrea J. was black.
The Result: Because of the government’s failure to turn over the relevant disclosure that we had requested, trial dates had to be adjourned on two occasions. We then brought an Application under the Charter of Rights to have the case dismissed because of unreasonable delay. We argued that our client was unfairly prejudiced by the delay caused by the government’s failure to turn over the evidence. She had been fired from her job at Customs, and had trouble securing employment and student loans because of the criminal charges against her. We also argued that the government had targeted her because she was black, despite the absence of such a descriptor in the informant’s tip and the confession of the smuggler. After two full days of evidence and argument in court, the charges were thrown out by the judge, and Andrea J. was fully exonerated. She is now a university graduate.Back
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