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Toronto Police Corruption

Scandal makes case for civilian oversight

Toronto Police Crest

It's not just a few bad apples. It's a bushel full of cop rot.

But this compost of alleged police corruption within the Toronto Police Service might yet yield a decent harvest: A fair, transparent and robust civilian complaints system.

Long before RCMP Superintendent John Neily launched his meticulous and expansive probe of the Central Field Command Drug Squad - at the request, it should be stressed, of Toronto police Chief Julian Fantino - those very same half-dozen officers who've now been charged with 22 criminal offences were the subjects of civilian complaints that went absolutely nowhere.

Police Chief Julian Fantino

Such is nearly always the case when civilians attempt to hold police accountable for improper conduct, much less criminal behaviour.

A police-investigating-police format - the former Tory government at Queen's Park, cop groupies, legislatively reverted to the old way of doing things - is inherently stacked against civilian complainants.

This is unfortunately true even when the suspect officers are viewed dimly, skeptically, within policing circles; even when they have been the targets of internal scrutiny, as was the case here.

In one of the spectacular corruption-probe affidavits released this week, Neily notes that the CFC drug squad, under the command of Detective Sergeant John Schertzer, "had been the subject of police complaints, internal suspicion and prior investigations dating back before 1995 in some instances.

Yet, despite the repeated investigations of these subjects, they continued to be involved in cases that led to complaints of criminal behaviour or professional misconduct until 1999, when the team was purposefully disbanded."

The public that came into contact with these cops - now charged variously with falsifying search warrants, trading in drugs, perjuring themselves, obstructing justice and shaking down citizens - knew something smelled rotten.

But the system in place to address their beefs, a sham of a system, was either incapable of eliciting the truth or unwilling to pursue the allegations, precisely because this is an incubated police culture, instinctively averse to seeing cops as guilty of anything, ever.

Presumption of innocence is one thing; pre-emptive dismissal of allegations, simply because the subject is a police officer or because the complainant has a disreputable character, something else entirely.

Many of the individuals with whom the accused CFC officers interacted, and quite a few more cops who have not been charged because their cases didn't meet the elevated standard of proof for prosecution that was applied here by Neily's task force (although Police Act charges might yet be laid), were unsavoury characters, sleazeballs.

Most reasonable people, and the courts as well, are prepared to grant police generous latitude in the methods they use to investigate and ultimately charge such creeps. But we can't accept cops turning into creeps and crooks in the process.

The CFC six, of course, are alleged to have gone far beyond bending the rules merely to facilitate arrests and drop the dime on bad guys. Evidence painstakingly ferreted out by the task force is shocking in its breadth and depth of self-serving criminality - individuals beaten and threatened and extorted, one officer selling drugs and weapons to drug dealers in return for large quantities of cash, money and jewels disappearing from safety deposit boxes and the homes of rousted suspects - all of it suggesting avarice, cunning and a staggering degree of corruption, the kind of hyper-illegality more commonly associated with accomplished gangsters and crime kingpins than two-bit hoods. And these cops flashed badges, carried guns, wore uniforms that afforded them instant respect and unchallenged authority, in most quarters.

It's the uniform that's been shamed and defiled.

While the courts will now deal with the accused, in their own protracted and sluggish fashion, it's the Toronto police force, under Fantino, that will have to contend with the fallout. That might seem unfair to the thousands of police officers who did no wrong. But the damage to public trust has been severe, given that the allegations against these accused officers follow the earlier conviction of other cops.

The threshold for prosecution - a reasonable shot at conviction - is always so much higher for cops than it is for civilians. And while the hard numbers of police involved in such reprehensible conduct may yet be relatively small, there is the widening stench of tacit complicity and outright mendacity - the greater number of those who knew about the wrongdoing, effectively condoned it, and flatly refused to co-operate with Neily's investigators. Just as too many police officers have pulled every trick in the book to avoid co-operating with the loathed Special Investigations Unit.

The same cops who complain about the reluctance of witnesses when crimes occur in public places, all those bystanders who won't speak a peep, are clearly guilty of the same thing: an unwillingness to get involved, at best; deliberate obstruction of justice and criminal collusion at worst.

Given the grievous damage done to public confidence in the police, it surely behooves cops, especially the Toronto force and more specifically the Toronto Police Association, to immediately drop all objections to a vastly altered police complaints system. How could they possibly justify intransigence now?

Only a week ago, the president of the police union dismissed out of hand any overhaul of the complaints system. He vowed the new Liberal provincial government would have a huge fight on its hands if it moved in that direction.

"The public doesn't want any changes," Rick McIntosh told the Star. This was a doubtful statement at the time. It's preposterous now.

In the wake of the public release of those aforementioned task force affidavits - illuminating documents that must jolt and dismay even the most avid police apologists - there's no place for cop bullies to hide, no way they can continue to claim that rigorous civilian oversight is unnecessary and unfairly intrusive.

McIntosh asserted that the impetus for change was being driven by the "usual suspects," primarily defence lawyers and scattershot cop-bashers. This is the same old, same old - demonizing even gentle police critics as special-interest cabalists who don't represent the larger public.

Nonsense.

Yet there was McIntosh going on the offence yesterday by posturing defensively - warning about plummeting police morale, as if the public is responsible for this state of affairs and not the actions of the indicted colleagues; dumping on Neily's three-year probe for "smearing the reputations" of officers not subsequently charged; and urging citizens to hug-a-cop, poor things.

I've no problem with showing affection for cops, go right ahead. I like and respect most of the cops I've ever met. And they probably need some comforting right now, the good ones, the decent ones. They've been so terribly betrayed by some of their own. But how to tell the good from the bad, how to trust?

Details of the task force investigation do not arrive in isolation. And Toronto cops are not necessarily tops, so spare me the bromides.

Even before this week's revelations, there was the matter of a recent human rights report that documented the troubling extent of racial profiling by police in Ontario, itself prompted by an earlier newspaper investigation chronicling the problem

Cops have earned vigilant scrutiny, whether it makes them unhappy or not.

Attorney-General Michael Bryant has already given notice that the Liberal government hopes to pass legislation this year to create a "more fair and transparent" civilian oversight system, one that will end the unacceptable practice of police investigating themselves.

While they're at it, the government should also revisit the whole befuddling matter of whether suspect police officers have the right to decline to co-operate with the SIU.

Suspect officers routinely say no to interviews with the SIU, arguing they have the same right to silence as anybody else.

But do they? It's never been tested in court because no government, of any political stripe, has ever had the nerve to challenge the prevailing view.

That central issue needs to be resolved. It's time.

Just as it's time for good cops to stop protecting bad cops at the expense of public trust and their own honour.


For Fantino, it's already a bad year

This year doesn't look to be starting out any better than the last one did for police Chief Julian Fantino.

It will be intriguing to see if his response to challenge and criticism has evolved with the passage of time, to see if his world-class case of denial has subsided with the mounting evidence of a force with serious problems.

The embarrassments began piling up right away last year.

In January, 2003, homeless petty criminal Thomas Kerr, who claimed to have been savagely beaten six years earlier by a gang of 51 Division cops, was awarded a financial settlement in his suit against the Toronto Police Service, a case which a recent Toronto Life profile said "raised the spectre of a lawless force, of evidence tampering, of police drinking on the job."

In April last year, an Ontario Court of Appeal judgment in the drunk-driving case against former Raptor Dee Brown said racial profiling by police may exist. That echoed an earlier Star investigation on police practices. It also foreshadowed a report later in the year by Ontario Human Rights Commissioner Keith Norton on the human cost of racial profiling, and amounted, black leaders in the city said, to a "significant wakeup call for police."

As the year progressed, the chief assumed an unwished-for spot centre-stage in the worst of times - the murder of 10-year-old Holly Jones in May and the disappearance of 9-year-old Cecilia Zhang in October.

After five people were killed in a single week in November, three as a result of shootings, he called for a public inquiry into the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, saying gangs and drug dealers with no respect for the law were responsible for an outbreak of gunplay.

In December, Fantino dismissed Norton's recommendation of installing cameras in police cruisers as an insult to his members, which, he said, would brand them all as "racists and no-goods and unprofessional people." Then a tape was produced showing a young Somali immigrant, charged with assaulting police after the Caribana festival, actually being sucker-punched in the face without provocation by a cop, whose notes bore scant resemblance to the events on tape.

As criticism of his force mounted, Fantino dismissed it all. As the city's overall crime rate dropped, he continued to shout dire warnings of streets deteriorating into anarchy.

If anything, 2004 looks only to have gotten worse for the chief.

In the first week of the year, six veteran drug-squad officers were charged with 22 Criminal Code offences after a years-long RCMP investigation.

Though saying he was saddened at the news, Fantino, as is his custom, minimized the damage, assuring that "the allegations are isolated and confined."

Then came Monday. And with it the release by Ontario's highest court of affidavits filed by the RCMP in the investigation, documents suggesting a rot that runs much wider and much deeper through Fantino's force than the proverbial few bad apples to which most misconduct is usually written off.

These documents contain shocking allegations of police corruption: allegations of shakedowns and beatings and death threats, of the theft by police of jewelry, narcotics and cash, of a tax charged to let drug dealers operate unimpeded in part of the city, of cops who stole drugs and guns during the execution of search warrants, then sold them to other dealers, of perjury and doctored evidence.

Worse still were allegations of a Toronto force closing ranks against RCMP investigators, seeming to put misplaced loyalty ahead of both sworn duty and respect for the uniform.

It's important to remember that the allegations are, as police association president Rick McIntosh said, still merely that, allegations untested by trial. But the language, coming from those not inclined to toss words around lightly, is breathtaking and the consequences of the alleged crimes huge.

A pattern of misconduct. Serious criminal activity. Repeated patterns of suspected criminal activity by the same officers.

"Confidence in the proper administration of criminal justice can only be assured once every file that these suspect officers have touched during their terms on the drug squad is reviewed," RCMP Chief Superintendent John Neily said in one affidavit.

It's difficult to see how Fantino's preferred defence of deny, deny, deny can stand against the weight of such allegations.

These, after all, come not from the usual suspects -so-called liberal media, minority activists, and cop-hating malcontents - but a senior RCMP officer with almost three decades on the job.

For too long, Fantino has done nothing to diminish a culture of defensiveness and paranoia fuelled by the bellicose leadership of a police association that seems to see anyone outside the blue tent as an enemy, and all criticism, however valid, as a declaration of war.

It now seems all but certain that Fantino's call for a public inquiry will be heeded, though with a focus far different than what he once imagined.

If it is, as the chief has said, that gangs and drug dealers have been chiefly responsible for the gunplay that has littered Toronto streets with bodies, mayhem that has seen innocent citizens killed in their homes by stray bullets, how much has a drug squad out of control and allegedly turned to crime itself contributed to the lawlessness and its ghastly consequences?

In any event, it had better be a considerable time before Fantino asks again for more officers to keep Toronto streets safe.

His first order of business would seem to be ensuring that those he already has are working for him, not against him. And that the rest of the force remember who it is they swore to serve and protect.


Fantino denies force rife with corruption
30-month inquiry: Drug squad issues 'being dealt with'

TORONTO - Toronto police chief Julian Fantino says a 30-month internal investigation of a now disbanded drug squad did not uncover widespread evidence of corruption.

Chief Fantino confirmed yesterday that internal disciplinary proceedings may be initiated against former drug squad officers who are not facing criminal charges.

However, he insisted the task force did not uncover systemic problems in the former Central Field Command drug squad.

"Over 2 1/2 years, as the investigation progressed, the allegations against the remaining officers that have appeared in today's media were fully investigated but not supported by evidence," said Chief Fantino.

"Whatever issues fall out from this investigation, they either have been dealt with or they are being dealt with," said the chief at a news conference yesterday.

Six veteran officers were charged earlier this month with 22 counts of perjury, theft, extortion and assault related charges. Four other former drug-squad colleagues were named as unindicted co-conspirators, which means their past conduct may be used in the prosecution of the six charged officers.

The corruption allegations have also resulted in the staying of charges in more than 200 drug prosecutions in Toronto, dating back to 1996.

Affidavits made public this week by the Ontario Court of Appeal revealed the internal task force, led by RCMP Chief Supt. John Neily, found evidence of "criminal activity" by as many as 17 officers.

The allegations included theft of money and drugs during raids, trafficking, threats against witnesses and even the sale of weapons to drug dealers.

The findings outlined in a series of task force affidavits, appear to contradict the assertions of Chief Fantino that the allegations were "not supported by evidence."

The task force indicated it had "isolated significant criminal behaviour on the part of 12 serving Toronto Police Service officers against whom I believe I have reasonable and probably grounds to believe they have committed serious criminal offences," said Chief Supt. Neily in an affidavit file in June 2003.

The task force evidence was turned over to the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, which has suffered a number of high-profile defeats in recent prosecutions of Toronto police officers.

It eventually decided to lay charges against only six of the officers under investigation.

The task force was required by the Court of Appeal to file the affidavits, every six months since July 2001, to explain why it should continue to seal information that led to the sudden release of convicted heroin trafficker.

When criminal charges were announced Jan. 5, the Appeal Court unsealed the documents and it lifted a publication ban on the information in the affidavits Monday.

Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant has refused to call a public inquiry into the corruption allegations. A spokesman for the minister said yesterday he would have no further comment because "the matter is now before the court."

"We have a terrific police force, but the comments of a chief superintendent of the RCMP have to be taken seriously," Toronto Mayor David Miller said.

The impact of the task force findings, however, may not be limited to the criminal charges or any internal disciplinary proceedings filed under the Police Act. The allegations could also result in another wave of civil lawsuits being filed against the force and the Police Services Board.

The task force identified 28 cases where there was suspected "criminal misconduct" by drug squad officers.

Convictions were registered in at least 14 of these proceedings, which all took place in the late 1990s. The federal Department of Justice, which handles all drug prosecutions, said it was not aware of the misconduct allegations in these cases until the task force affidavits were unsealed earlier this month.

The police services board has already settled three of at least seven lawsuits that were previously filed against drug squad officers, but it has refused to make public any details of the agreements.

More than $100,000 in damages was paid to Simon Yeung, a convicted heroin dealer whose prosecution triggered the task force investigation.

The police services board also agreed to a $50,000 settlement last fall with a Vietnamese woman and her two young sons. The settlement included a formal apology to the family by a senior member of the Toronto police force.

The family had claimed it was terrorized by several officers, who were part of a unit of the Central Field Command drug squad that is not currently facing any criminal charges.

Some of these same officers have been accused of the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars from bank safety deposit boxes during the execution of search warrants.

The task force investigated these allegations and found that while there was not a basis to lay criminal charges, "the cases show a suspicious pattern of similar behaviour."


'Conscience is clean,' Fantino says

Julian Fantino sounded a little beaten up. "On days like this," the Toronto Police Chief said yesterday, "I'd rather be in Kosovo, doing peacekeeping."

Except for the loss of an officer in the line of duty, there probably is nothing so difficult for a police chief to bear as a scandal such as the one now revolving around the Toronto force.

What honourably distinguishes this one, and ought to offer comfort to the citizens of the country's largest city, is that it was Chief Fantino himself who drove the investigation that led to the whole contretemps.

It was he who in the late summer of 2001, unsatisfied that an earlier internal-affairs probe had managed to get to the bottom of things (and this is less a reflection of the quality of that probe than a function of its focus), invited in Chief Superintendent John Neily of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Chief Fantino did this in the face of enormous pressure from a variety of quarters, including the Toronto Police Association, which argued that a second probe was unfair.

Chief Supt. Neily's mandate was to run a broader investigation - and an expensive and arduous one it turned out to be - into allegations of serious wrongdoing against former members of the disbanded central command drug squad.

That culminated earlier this month with significant criminal charges being laid against six officers and with four others being named as unindicted co-conspirators. The gory and sometimes alarming investigative details came to light only two days ago, when the Ontario Court of Appeal unsealed a whack of affidavits from Chief Supt. Neily that had been used to justify keeping the whole kit and caboodle under wraps for so long.

It was also Chief Fantino who, a few months after calling in Chief Supt. Neily, hired retired judge George Ferguson to review some of the larger policy and arguably systemic questions raised by the allegations, or, as the chief put it yesterday, to find out, "Why did this happen? What failed us? And what safeguards do we need to ensure this never happens again?"

The judge's work - he has reported back regularly, and Chief Fantino says some of his recommendations have already been implemented - continues, with a full report yet to come, and if the chief gets his wish, made fully public.

Among the issues the judge is looking at is the question of "high-risk jobs" such as those done by drug squad officers, and what red flags supervisors ought to be alert to spot.

This is part of the background to the chief's remarks at a press conference yesterday, where he defended his force against suggestions - found in Chief Supt. Neily's various affidavits, filed as the investigation progressed over more than two years - that the Mountie's task force encountered widespread lack of co-operation.

The chief pointed out, and fairly so, that some of the most egregious alleged misconduct - the threatening of witnesses, for instance - is by now historic.

This is true: Chief Supt. Neily was effectively reporting back to the appeal court at approximately six-month intervals about the progress of the case. Thus, when his six affidavits were released this week, what was fresh to all of us in many instances dates back to other charges that have already been dealt with by the courts, and in some instances even to unrelated cases.

Some allegations were duly investigated, en route, by the task force, and found to be either unsubstantiated or not involving criminal conduct, in which case the complaints have been referred back to internal affairs, which still could proceed with Police Act charges.

So while the chief was pooh-poohing the notion yesterday that the task-force investigators ran into a "blue wall" of silence - this was a persistent theme in Chief Supt. Neily's affidavits - his position is understandable. As he told me yesterday: "We persevered. We dealt with this. There were barriers, but we broke down every barrier. These are the results of what we initiated. No one here is championing the view that police officers aren't to co-operate with the administration of justice. This is not the culture of this organization."

The thoughtful new boss of the police association, Rick McIntosh, had a nugget to add in this regard yesterday. He points out that Chief Supt. Neily likely suffered something of a culture shock in his dealings with the Toronto rank and file. The RCMP, Chief Supt. Neily's home force, does not have a strong police association; only about 10 per cent of members belong, Mr. McIntosh said.

So when Chief Supt. Neily encountered witness officers in Toronto who wanted to bring an association lawyer along to a task-force interview, he may have found it jarring.

And, Mr. McIntosh said, he personally knows of one officer who was told the task force wanted to talk to him as a witness, but who, when he arrived for the interview, found he was now considered a suspect officer, an unenviable position. Toronto officers often encountered this same shifting suspect-witness reclassification in the earlier days of the province's special investigations unit; they don't shrink from exercising their right to silence.

That said, Mr. McIntosh agreed that police are "not quick to judge each other" because they know, from experience, what can happen "when people open their mouths without knowing the whole story, when they see only a slice of something. It's not that they're purposefully covering up, but sometimes what investigators think you should have seen is not what you saw."

At bottom, the wide-ranging task-force probe (staffed largely by Toronto police officers, it should be noted, if headed by a Mountie) that saw all this properly come to light might well have been swept under the carpet somewhere else. The original internal-affairs probe, from which all this sprang, found insufficient evidence to proceed with criminal charges. How easy it would have been to let things lie there, to shrug and say, "Well, we tried."

Instead, Chief Fantino made two phone calls, and this week we all saw the results. "We didn't shirk from it," he said yesterday. "We weren't intimidated by it, by the lawsuits [some of the now accused officers are suing the force]. None of it has worked to deter us from doing what is in the public interest.

"My heart is heavy," he concluded, "but my conscience is clean."


Top cop denies T.O. officers blocked RCMP probe

Responding to newly released court documents that suggest an RCMP police corruption probe was a target for death threats and intimidation, Toronto's top cop denied allegations his officers interfered with the Mounties.

RCMP Chief Superintendent John Neily began investigating Toronto's special drug squad more than two years ago.

By the time it was over, 22 criminal charges were laid against six officers.

The top-secret investigations had found evidence of officers who falsified search warrants, traded in drugs, supplied perjured testimony and shook down citizens.

But according to documents from the Ontario Court of Appeal, those charges weren't easily laid. Witnesses were threatened and RCMP investigators were systematically stymied -- by cops not facing charges -- for the duration of the probe, the documents suggest.

Among the evidence revealed:

A man thought to have damning information about the police was pulled over on a Toronto highway and threatened at gunpoint; Another officer known to have co-operated with the RCMP probe heard indirectly he would have his kneecaps broken; An officer related to an RCMP task force member was threatened with bodily harm by a police colleague hostile to the probe; Charges against three officers were dropped when a key witness said he was afraid, recanted his testimony and intentionally injured himself.

The documents were released after a two-year access battle by The Globe and Mail and the CBC.

The Globe's Christie Blatchford said that from the moment RCMP Chief Superintendent John Neily began to investigate the allegations, he was met with the "blue wall" of silence in which officers refuse to rat on one another.

Blatchford said in all her years of covering the police, she is particularly saddened by this story because of its scope.

"It's quite clear from the documents that there's a larger number who either tacitly or actively condoned this behaviour, and perhaps an even larger number of officers who simply flatly refused to talk to the investigators who were looking at it," she told CTV's Canada AM.

"And I find that really troubling."

For his part, Toronto Police Chief Julian Fantino said the allegations contained in the just-released court documents are unfounded.

"Over two-and-a-half years, as the investigation progressed, the allegations against the remaining officers that have appeared in today's media were fully investigated but were not supported by evidence," Fantino said Tuesday.

"The officers against whom those allegations were made were not the subject of criminal charges."

Criminal lawyer Edward Sapiano, who first alerted the Toronto police chief to the corruption allegations in 1999, disagree. He says any officers accused of stonewalling investigators should be dealt with summarily.

"Fire them and let them sue for unlawful dismissal," he told CTV's Toronto affiliate CFTO News. "Let's go to court and let's litigate the issues."

But Fantino assured reporters that charges under the police service act are being considered in some of the cases. That means a more cautious approach.

"Just because an allegation is made, I think in today's democratic system of justice we have here that we're all entitled to a fair day and a fair hearing," Fantino told reporters.

The six officers facing criminal charges are Staff Sgt. John Schertzer and Constables Steve Correia, Joe Miched, Ray Pollard, Ned Maodus and Richard Benoit.

Charges include conspiracy to obstruct justice, attempt to obstruct justice, perjury, theft over $5,000, assault causing bodily harm and extortion.

Four other officers have been identified as un-indicted co-conspirators. They are Greg Forestall, John Reid, Jason Kondo and Mike Turnball.

The documents unsealed yesterday indicate that members of another drug team were accused by suspects they had arrested of drug thefts.


Toronto police blocked RCMP corruption probe

A massive RCMP-led operation to root out corruption in the Toronto Police Service was jolted by death threats to witnesses and a solid wall of hostility within police ranks, according to court documents unsealed yesterday.

Released after a two-year access battle by The Globe and Mail and the CBC, the documents read like a detective thriller. They reveal a chilling spectrum of improper practices and alleged criminality extending well beyond six officers who were charged with 22 offences earlier this month.

The top-secret investigation that began into the Toronto police drug squad in 2001 found evidence of rogue officers who falsified search warrants, traded in drugs, supplied perjured testimony and shook down citizens. Other evidence revealed:

• A man who was thought to have supplied damning information against a group of suspect officers was later pulled over on a Toronto highway and threatened at gunpoint.

"The assailants told [him] that if they found out it was him who had co-operated with the investigation, he was dead," states an affidavit sworn by RCMP Chief Superintendent John Neily. He said no link was found to the officers, but the incident highlighted potential dangers to witnesses.

• Charges against three officers were dropped when a key witness "expressed extreme fear for his safety, recanted, intentionally injured himself, threatened further self-mutilation if forced to testify, and was ultimately assessed by the Crown as unreliable."

• An officer who was related to a Royal Canadian Mounted Police task force member was threatened with bodily harm by a police colleague hostile to the probe.

• Another officer known to have co-operated with the task force "heard indirectly - and in a way that cannot be linked to any of the accused police officers - that he would get his kneecaps broken for having talked to the Internal Affairs investigators," according to Chief Supt. Neily.

Many of the suspect officers simply refused to be interviewed, the affidavits state, while their memo books went unaccountably missing. Indeed, a search of one officer's home revealed a hidden stash of them.

A Toronto defence lawyer whose agitation helped launch the internal investigation said yesterday that the unsealed documents reveal a startling number of previously unknown allegations that did not result in charges.

"In my opinion, it portrays a degree of criminality that exceeds the cops who are charged," Edward Sapiano said.

"When it comes to prosecuting police officers, you don't just have to have proof beyond a reasonable doubt - it has to be beyond, beyond, beyond a reasonable doubt."

A last-ditch bid by police lawyers to have the documents suppressed yesterday was thwarted when three Ontario Court of Appeal judges ruled that the prejudicial effect on future trials was insufficient to "trump" freedom of the press.

The Globe and the CBC had been seeking to open information since 2001, when convicted heroin trafficker Simon Yeung was freed in the middle of his prison term. The Court of Appeal sealed the case to ensure that the RCMP operation remained secret. (As it turns out, Mr. Yeung's 1999 conviction was reversed because officers had obstructed justice and committed perjury.)

Every six months, the RCMP and the Crown renewed the sealing order using affidavits from Chief Supt. Neily. Amongst the riveting inside details is an elaborate sting operation which targeted a prime suspect - Constable Joseph Miched.

An undercover RCMP operative initially gained his confidence by posing as an ex-police officer turned money-launderer for organized crime. Constable Miched swallowed the bait, according to Chief Supt. Neily, and was eventually "present at, and actively participated in, several transactions where several hundred thousands of dollars of money were delivered to the undercover operator purportedly to be invested and laundered."

The affidavit states that Constable Miched - armed on at least one occasion with his police-issue weapon - helped provide security, and counted and transported money and diamonds that were supposedly derived from large-scale drug deals.

It says he also tried to persuade his superior, Staff Sergeant John Shertzer, to join the scheme. However, Staff Sgt. Shertzer smelled a set-up. Constable Miched abruptly went off on a lengthy sick leave, and was shunned thereafter by other suspect officers.

By late 2001, 26 officers and five support staff were investigating allegations that included fraudulent search warrants, non-existent confidential informants, drug trafficking, use of hard drugs and the theft of a total of as much as $500,000 in money and jewellery from citizens.

Chief Supt. Neily estimated that 2,100 prosecutions and 600 search warrants would have to be re-investigated. The Crown eventually stayed or withdrew approximately 200 cases because of concerns about the honesty of the investigators.

In March of 2002, task-force investigators who searched the home of a suspect found a large volume of search warrant forms, confidential informant documents and videotapes in police exhibit packages. They also found two ounces of heroin and cocaine and four ecstasy tablets.

Chief Supt. Neily said this was particularly alarming, since the officer involved - Constable Ned Maodus - hadn't worked on a drug unit since 1999, and had been on sick leave for 200 days. The task force often sought information from underworld informants with whom the target officers had shared startlingly close relationships. "It was actually a social relationship in some cases," Chief Supt. Neily noted.

He expressed unhappiness with the surly reaction the RCMP encountered from Toronto officers, including the alteration or destruction of police notes. "We are receiving very little co-operation from witness police officers of the Toronto Police Service and in fact, it can be fairly stated that witness police officers are antagonistic towards this investigation," he said in one affidavit.

By November of 2002, the task force had thousands of documents pointing to criminal activity by 17 members of one drug unit alone. The task force also had evidence of a suspect who had been beaten and extorted; of officers who had "taxed" drug dealers in return for permission to operate unimpeded in certain portions of the city; and of an officer who sold drugs and weapons to drug dealers in return for large quantities of cash.

"In isolating the strongest cases, we have eliminated many more than those being presented for criminal prosecution," Chief Supt. Neily noted.

He expressed increasing concern for the welfare of their informants, and made preparations for witness relocation and protection programs to kick into gear at a moment's notice. "The threat level attached to this is extremely high and of significant tactical concern to us in future," Chief Supt. Neily said.


Drug squad rot goes deeper: task force

'Serious criminal activity': 17 Toronto officers suspected of theft, affidavits reveal

TORONTO - Almost 20 Toronto drug squad officers were suspected of "serious criminal activity" ranging from the sale of weapons and narcotics to the theft of money, according to allegations contained in sworn affidavits made public yesterday.

A special police internal task force had "reason to suspect" the officers were also involved in the theft of drugs, numerous searches of homes without warrants and a willingness to participate in money laundering, according to the documents.

The affidavits reveal that more than 200 drug prosecutions, dozens more than has been made public, may have been stayed in Toronto since 1996, because of credibility problems with certain officers.

The allegations follow a 30-month investigation that resulted in six officers being charged earlier this month.

The officers, all former members of the now disbanded Central Field Command drug squad, face a total of 22 counts of assault, extortion, theft, perjury and obstruction of justice related charges.

The ongoing findings of the internal investigation were outlined in six affidavits filed by a senior Toronto detective and RCMP Chief Superintendent John Neily, who was called in to lead the 31-member task force in August, 2001.

The affidavits had been sealed by the Court of Appeal and were linked to the case of Simon Yeung, a convicted heroin trafficker, who was released from prison in July, 2001, after serving 18 months of a 45-month sentence.

The Court of Appeal did not give its reasons for releasing Mr. Yeung at the time because of fears that the drug-squad investigation might be compromised.

However, the court requested updates, which were given in the form of the affidavits.

Last week, when the officers were charged, the court was prepared to release the documents but agreed to hear arguments from their lawyers and legal representatives of officers named in the affidavits.

Yesterday, Earl Levy, the lawyer for the six charged officers, claimed they would not receive a fair trial if the material was unsealed. However, Justice David Doherty, one of a three-member panel, ordered the documents unsealed.

"This isn't evidence. This is what the police say the results of the investigation have yielded. Evidence is what you hear in court," said Judge Doherty. "We are talking about the public's right to know about this investigation and why it has lasted two and a half years."

According to the affidavits released yesterday, within a few months of the creation of the task force, Chief Supt. Neily alleged that his probe had uncovered "a pattern of misconduct," by the officers involved in the Yeung case.

The affidavits say the internal affairs investigation suggested that a team of officers led by Staff Sergeant John Schertzer may have committed perjury and obstructed justice in the prosecution of Mr. Yeung, who was arrested in April, 1998.

More than 1,100 charges in 286 drug investigations, were laid by members of Staff Sgt. Schertzer's crew between January, 1997 and May, 1999. More than 80% of those charges were stayed or withdrawn by federal prosecutors before going to trial and not as part of a plea bargain, according to the affidavits.

"I don't know whether his [Supt. Neily's] figures are accurate," James Leising, the director of criminal prosecutions (Ontario) for the federal Justice Department, which is responsible for all drug prosecutions, said last week after reviewing the affidavits.

By November, 2002, according to the affidavits, the task force said there was "evidence of criminal activity" against 17 drug squad officers, which included 27 allegations that police, "stole large amounts of cash from targets of their drug investigations."

The task force investigation also alleged that it had reason to believe that a second unit of drug squad officers may have been involved in stealing nearly $500,000 while executing search warrants of bank safety deposit boxes.

None of these officers has been charged.

The Justice Department has stayed prosecutions involving the second unit of officers, but Mr. Leising insisted he was never informed by the task force about its suspicions in this area.

The affidavits also contain allegations against Constable Ned Maodus, a 15-year veteran of the Toronto force who is scheduled to stand trial this year on assault, sexual assault and weapons-related charges. He has also been charged with assaulting another officer and various drug trafficking offences in addition to corruption charges.

The task force reported that a "reliable" informant said Const. Maodus and other officers were involved in the theft of weapons and drugs while executing search warrants and then sold "drugs and in some cases, the weapons, to other drug dealers for large quantities of cash."


Unfair trial feared: Affidavits' release ripped by lawyers

Six former drug cops facing criminal charges and named in a series of affidavits released in the Simon Yeung appeal could suffer prejudice at trial, their lawyers said. Earl Levy, who represented Staff-Sgt. John Schertzer and detectives Steve Correia, Joseph Miched, Raymond Pollard, Richard Benoit and Ned Maodus, said while precise details may be forgotten at trial a year or two from now, prospective jurors might not be able to purge a general picture from their minds.

Acting for four officers who were named as unindicted co-conspirators and other cops mentioned but not charged, lawyer Peter Brauti questioned why the affidavit referred to allegations against uncharged cops.

When it comes to evidence, "you either get it, or you don't," Brauti said.

"It was totally unnecessary and unfair to the officers."

Brauti conceded that he and Levy did not have much of a legal foothold when they argued the affidavits should remain sealed to Justices David Doherty, Michael Moldaver and Marc Rosenberg of the Ontario Court of Appeal.

TAKEN TO TASK BY JUDGES

Levy had barely began decrying how the material could prejudice the trials of the six officers, when all three appeal court justices took him to task.

The justices said the fact the affidavits contained prejudicial materials did not matter.

The test, said, Justice Moldaver, is "at the end of the day, can you get a fair trial".

"I've probably looked at these affidavits four or five times now," Moldaver said.

"I still can't understand who is who. Even if the press published the whole thing tomorrow, and even if I read the whole thing tomorrow, I still couldn't understand who is who."

The first of the seven affidavits filed in the appeal of Simon Yeung go back to July 5, 2001, when Toronto Police internal affairs Det.-Sgt. Randy Franks wrote an affidavit detailing what he had found in his probe of the case.

Yeung had pleaded guilty to possession of heroin for the purposes of trafficking in 1999 after being picked up by Staff-Sgt. John Schertzer's crew.

He had served 18 months of a 45-month sentence when police and prosecutors told him they would support an appeal.

Franks wrote some officers in the Schertzer team are alleged to have hidden the role of a drug user who worked for them to set up Yeung. By law only confidential informants can be shielded.

Franks alleged that at a preliminary hearing in the Yeung case, Schertzer, Miched and Correia "may have perjured themselves and obstructed justice."

RCMP Chief Supt. John Neily's affidavits were filed in an effort to keep disclosure on the Yeung matter under wraps until after his probe had yielded charges against drug squad officers.

In his first affidavit of Dec. 17, 2001, Neily claimed his task force had uncovered information "that demonstrates a pattern of misconduct by officers ... in the Yeung matter."

'ACTS OF DISHONESTY'

Neily alleged that evidence suggested certain officers had "acted in concert in committing acts of dishonesty commencing in 1995." This included dealings with confidential informants, search warrants and testimony.

The impact on the administration of justice "is tremendous," Neily wrote.

In a subsequent affidavit, Neily said the task force had discovered that information attributed to confidential informants had not been given by the stated informant and informants had been given drugs for information.

Neily wrote that suspect officers memo books for the "bulk" of the probe timeline were "missing."