Revisiting the Comfort Zone raids

Questions remains a year after the police raid on downtown club


A year after the highly-publicized raid by Toronto police of the Comfort Zone, the Crown has stayed drug charges against one of the accused.

Could more follow?

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An application filed on behalf of one accused, identified only as Peter C., who was in fact found to be in possession of drugs that night, alleges repeated breaches by police of search and seizure and detention provisions of the Charter.

More than half a dozen police units, including cops from 14 division, the Toronto force’s tactical squad and OPP’s biker enforcement unit, even University of Toronto police and TTC special constables, took part in the raid, cuffing patrons en masse and ordering them to lay face down on the floor, some for up to an hour.

The police raid last March followed a six-week investigation and the death of a 26-year-old Hamilton man from an overdose of drugs police allege were purchased at the club. The man’s mother and sister appeared at a tear-filled press conference after the arrests.

Operation White Rabbit comfortably zoned in. That catchy header appeared on the Toronto police press release announcing 33 arrests and the seizure of $30,000 in drugs at the club.

Did the emotional impetus provided by one young man’s death cause the police to overreact?

In an application asking for drugs evidence against Peter C. to be thrown out, lawyer Lorne Sabsay argues that the warrant obtained by police to enter the club gave police “no authorization to arrest, detain, or forcibly search any of the patrons in the club.”

The warrant only gave police permission, Sabsay argues, “to search the premises for evidence of drug trafficking.”

What went down instead was, “a major armed incursion into the club. Patrons in the club were all forced to lie face down on the ground. Many patrons, particularly young women, were in obvious distress.

“The applicant (Peter C.) could hear crying and moans of discomfort from among the patrons on the floor. These were met by numerous shouts from armed police officers for patrons to ‘keep the fuck down’, ‘don’t look up’, and ‘shut the fuck up’.

“One young woman could be heard asking what was going on and why this was happening. The only responses from police were more orders to keep quiet, not look up and to keep her head down.”

Police brought their own lights for the occasion. Some of those in the club were held up to two hours or more by police.

Sabsay’s application on behalf of Peter C. alleges police violated his Charter rights “to be free from arbitrary detention” when he was taken from an outside patio, searched repeatedly and not told of the reasons for his detention, nor advised of his right to a lawyer.

It’s only one case, but it does open up a potential can of worms for other charges laid by police in the hurly burly of that night. Were all in the club patrons who were arrested advised promptly of the reasons for their detention? Were the searches justified? Were they all informed of their right to counsel?

Certainly, versions offered in the blogosphere by those in the club that morning suggests the Charter challenges to some of the arrests won’t end with Peter C.

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