When cops inhale

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Did the Toronto Police narcs who swooped down on the Church of the Universe congregation in the Beaches, arresting 22 and laying 205 pot charges, actually inhale?

That’s a loaded question for those worried about lack of accountability when it comes to officers breaking the law during investigations.

And if some of the arrestees are right, coppers did toke on-scene in the course of their reconnoitering.

Not that cops – or anyone else – should take a hit for indulging in the pleasures of the bong. But did those narcs actually violate the terms of the Criminal Code governing their behaviour while they built their case against the reefer-worshipping Christians?

Undercover officers are granted extensive powers under the law enforcement justification provisions of the Criminal Code as well as the Controlled Drugs And Substances Act. These laws were passed after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that cops may commit crimes, with exceptions, during undercover investigations.

But is there adequate oversight of these activities? Many say no. Under Ontario law, police must report every instance of an officer committing a crime in the line of duty to the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, which is obliged to make the info public every year.

Oddly, that information has not been released for 2004 and 05.

“I don’t know when they’ll be ready for publication. All statute requirements are high-priority,” an exasperated ministry spokesperson, Tony Brown, says of the two missing years.

But when these reports finally see the light of day, they won’t reveal much, including which police force used the provisions and exactly how. “The reports are laughable,” says the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s Alexi Wood, who argued before Parliament’s Human Rights and Justice Committee that the law is overly broad, lacks oversight and, most importantly, public accountability.

The documents, she says, mostly reveal the number of times the “public officer designation,” the code phrase allowing extra-legal action, was granted. A vague sentence about the crime committed, such as “conspiracy to commit an indictable offence” or “possession of an illegal firearm” serves as explanation.

Says Wood, “The reports are not what is required in a democratic society. We have no information whatsoever. What police force used the designation? We just don’t know how this law is being used.”

And unless someone is charged, she says, we may never know about the role of public officers.

That’s what alarms Ontario NDP justice and attorney general critic Peter Kormos. Referring to the missing documents, he says the Criminal Code “seems to be undermined without the reporting. It says the police are not above the law.

The balance to this is the reporting. Without it, the law is corrupted.’

Kormos wrote to Corrections Minister Monte Kwinter on December 15 requesting all the reports be released but has received no response.

“An undercover officer could conceivably do some very serious things with these laws,’ he says. Specifically, they could deal in forged passports, fake art and falsely tax-stamped tobacco, possess illegal firearms and ingest drugs, including addictive ones. The law only stops short at allowing officers to violate someone’s sexual integrity or cause bodily harm.

In the case of the 1905 Queen East bust, Rev. William Palmer of the church believes the narcs were the converted “brother and sister’ who hung around the cannabis-friendly enclave and partook in the sacrament. “They had to [smoke],” says Palmer, a legal medical pot user who was charged with trafficking, conspiracy to traffic and production for the purpose of trafficking. It was, he says, the only way they could maintain their cover.

At the Toronto Police Service, spokesperson Mark Pugash doesn’t deny officers may have used these laws to infiltrate the church. “Undoubtedly, this is an issue that will come out in court,” he says.

Pugash won’t say if the two officers investigating the church were given permission to inhale cannabis by Chief William Blair prior to deployment or afterwards. “Our undercover operations focus on officer safety and the law. There are very clear policies, but I’m not going to discuss specifics.”

The case involved 22 arrestees, including four Health Canada federal med pot exemptees, 151 marijuana plants and pounds of cannabis, hashish and olive oil. Police allege the Health Canada exemption holders were well over their legal limits for possessing and growing.

The police press release states, “They hid behind the issuance of a medicinal marijuana possession permit as a method of selling large quantities of marijuana for monetary gain.”

The arrestees say they welcomed the two whom they now believe to be narcs, though the pair became heretics when they complained about the absence of Christian symbols of reverence in church proceedings. Interestingly, during the bust the cops grabbed all the grow books and left the Torah and Bible behind.

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