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Toronto Police: Drug corruption

Probe drug cops, lawyers ask Premier McGuinty

Police Chief Julian Fantino

TORONTO - A group of lawyers has asked for a provincial inquiry into allegations of theft and brutality by Toronto Police drug squad officers.

The allegations were first made more than four years ago, when suspects in drug cases alleged that they were beaten and robbed by police officers.

Following an investigation by the department's internal affairs division, Police Chief Julian Fantino appointed a Royal Canadian Mounted Police superintendent to look into the case.

Now, more than two years later, lawyer Clayton Ruby says the force has "failed utterly" to deal with the corruption allegations.

"We don't know their budget, we don't know their terms of reference and, year after year after year, nothing happens," Clayton Ruby said.

CBC News has learned that the investigation has still not talked to all of the potential witnesses, or to all of the people who have levelled allegations against the officers.

Furthermore, some officers have refused to cooperate with the inquiry.

Clayton Ruby and two other lawyers have written to Premier Dalton McGuinty, Attorney General Michael Bryant and Community Safety Minister Monte Kwinter to ask for a judicial inquiry.

Clayton Ruby

The officers against whom the allegations were made are currently suing the force. They say their reputations have been damaged and their careers ruined by the investigation.

Toronto Police will only say the investigation is ongoing.

Former drug cops sue force

TORONTO - Eight former members of the Toronto Police drug squad have filed a $116-million defamation suit against top law enforcement officials, claiming an internal investigation has damaged their reputations and ruined their careers.

Police Chief Julian Fantino, the Toronto Police Services Board, Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigators and Justice Department officials are among those named in a Statement of Claim filed at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on Friday.

None of the allegations contained in it has been proven in court.

The eight plaintiffs are all police officers who served on the force's drug squad. They were reassigned following allegations that some members of the squad had beaten and robbed suspected drug dealers.

An 18-month RCMP investigation into the allegations against them is expected to result in charges within the next few weeks.

At least 10 people have launched civil suits against the Toronto Police Service, claiming millions in damages and all naming the same group of drug squad officers.

Those suits allege that drug squad officers used search warrants to rob the homes and safety deposit boxes of suspected drug dealers.

On advice from their union, some police officers have refused to provide information to the RCMP investigation.

The drug squad has been overhauled since the allegations were made, and the officers in question have been reassigned.

Officers won't talk to drug-squad probe

TORONTO - A probe into allegations against former members of the Toronto Police drug squad is being hampered by the refusal of five officers to speak with investigators.

Two of the potential witnesses have even been offered immunity from prosecution if they give evidence against their fellow officers. But all are refusing to talk on advice from the lawyer for the Toronto Police Association.

The probe was appointed by Chief Julian Fantino to investigate allegations that some former drug-squad officers stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from criminal suspects.

FROM JAN. 20, 2003: Charges expected against drug squad officers

Charges are expected to be laid within weeks, following an 18-month probe by Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

At least 10 people have launched civil suits, claiming millions in damages and all naming the same group of drug-squad officers. The suits allege that drug-squad officers used search warrants to rob the homes and safety deposit boxes of suspected drug dealers.

TPA lawyer Gary Clewley said the officers who have been approached as witnesses in the RCMP investigation don't trust the offer of immunity, and say they feel intimidated.

"Well they've been summoned in out in the west end by the RCMP people and told if they don't cooperate they'll be charged with insubordination," he said.

So far, no disciplinary action or charges have been brought against any of the potential witnesses.

But eight former members of the drug squad have reportedly filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Fantino and other police officials.

The lawsuit alleges that the officers' reputations and careers have been badly damaged by the investigation into complaints about them.

Police charges could sink trials: Eight officers were slated to be witnesses in many drug cases

More drug cases may be in jeopardy and closed cases could be reopened in what has become the biggest alleged corruption scandal to hit the Toronto police force.

With Wednesday's arrest of eight former members of the force's Central Field Command drug squad, a total of 13 Toronto police officers now face charges as a result of an internal investigation into alleged pilfering of informant money.

Internal Affairs, according to police sources, alleges only a small amount of cash has been taken from the informant fund, which is used to pay "finks" for information about criminal activity.

The Toronto Police Association is outraged at the charges against the eight. The union has been told the charges involve $2,100. Five other officers charged earlier this year, who were from other units, are alleged to have taken about $4,700 from the fund. Union officials have been meeting to decide what action to take. They are leaning toward some sort of civil action against the force.

While the alleged amounts involved may seem small, the charges are serious: theft, fraud, forgery and breach of trust. If convicted, the officers could face jail time - a penalty that would cost them their jobs.

At least 50 drug cases, where one or more of the eight drug squad officers were potential witnesses, have been on hold since Dec. 6, 1999.

Federal crown attorneys who stayed charges in those cases are now looking into whether the cases will ever be tried. They have one year from the time of staying charges to decide whether to reinstate them, and that time is beginning to run out.

With nearly a year now gone since the first of the cases began to unravel, not a single charge has been reinstated, Tom Beveridge, deputy section head of criminal prosecutions for the justice department, said yesterday.

Crown attorneys must disclose that the officers are facing serious charges

The officers charged Wednesday have been under investigation for some time. Federal crown attorneys were told of investigations into at least three of the officers in late 1999. In June, Toronto police informed them two others were under investigation, said Beveridge.

Although the officers were moved from the drug squad while under investigation, they remained on active duty in other units and are likely witnesses in many upcoming cases.

Crown attorneys are obliged to disclose that the officers are facing serious criminal charges.

"They were certainly witnesses on drug cases that are still going through the courts," said Beveridge. "So we've been asking for either stays or adjournments because we were concerned, naturally, about our ability to live up to disclosure obligations."

As for closed cases, where accused have already been convicted, Beveridge said crown attorneys will be attempting to identify cases where evidence given by the officers played a significant part in gaining convictions.

"We're going to have to look at it and it may be appropriate to write to either the lawyer or the accused, and say, `We've got some new disclosure information that we want to provide to you, in case you don't already know.' "

Hugh O'Connell, a senior federal crown who has had to stay charges in a number of cases, said in a recent interview he knows of at least two cases where lawyers representing clients who were convicted have asked for reviews based on the controversy surrounding the squad.

Edward Sapiano, who was among a group of lawyers that filed a formal complaint against the drug squad more than 18 months ago, said he's glad the force took the matter so seriously.

"I tip my hat to Internal Affairs. They did a bang-up job and that was made possible I firmly believe by the integrity of (former chief) David Boothby" and Chief Julian Fantino, he said.

If someone feels they have been wrongly convicted they can ask the Ontario attorney-general to review their case, ask for a hearing from the court of appeal based on new evidence or even ask the federal justice minister to look into their conviction, Sapiano said.

During the investigation, detectives interviewed hundreds of people, many of them drug informants. They also spent a lot of time going over paperwork that must be filled out each time a drug officer uses money from the force's special informant fund.

In April, a slew of criminal charges were laid against five officers, two of whom were key members of the force's special repeat offender and parole enforcement unit. It had been rumoured for months more charges were coming.

Fantino held a news conference Wednesday night to announce the arrests of eight veteran officers. Staff Sergeant John Schertzer, Detective Constable Steven Correia, and Constables Sean McGuinness, James Leslie, Jonathan Reid, Raymond Pollard, Jaroslaw Cieslik and Joseph Miched are to appear in court in January.

Schertzer, the most senior of the officers charged, has steadily climbed the ranks during his 25 years with the Toronto force. But he and certain members of the drug squad have also been the subject of a number of public complaints.

In one case, a Toronto police complaint investigator found two men suspected by the squad of dealing drugs had been unjustly detained, strip-searched and had their homes searched in October, 1997, without a warrant. The case against several officers was dismissed on a time-limit technicality.