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Former police board member files complaint against Victoria police over drug prosecution collapse

Paul Schachter says the department should be investigated for how it may have contributed to the collapse of a major drug prosecution.
Victoria Police Department headquarters on Caledonia Avenue. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

A former Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board member has filed a complaint against the Victoria Police Department and is arguing that it should be investigated for how it may have contributed to the ­collapse of a major drug ­prosecution.

Charges have been stayed against three men in a ­fentanyl-trafficking case with $30-million worth of seized evidence after a judge found that Victoria police allowed an officer under investigation by the RCMP’s anti-corruption unit to be involved in the case and then tried to hide the situation from the courts.

Paul Schachter wants the police board to initiate an independent investigation into whether Victoria police have appropriate policies and procedures in place for officers who are under investigation for serious breaches and corruption. "We have to do what we can to really restore this trust and restore the confidence between the public and the police,” he said in an interview Saturday.

Schachter, a provincial appointee, resigned from his position in 2022 citing a lack of information and oversight powers available to the board. Schachter said he left the board on good terms with the police board and the Victoria Police Department.

But the “tremendous breakdown” in police conduct as seen in the fentanyl-trafficking case has prompted him to submit a complaint calling for an external investigation, he said.

“It would be really a travesty of justice if all of this was put on the shoulders of one constable.”

Strike Force Const. Robb Ferris was part of an initial investigation into an organized-crime group that was trafficking high-concentration fentanyl in Victoria that began in April 2020.

He was arrested in June 2020 and was suspended from the force after the RCMP’s anti-corruption unit found he was “associating with and providing sensitive information to suspects of police investigations,” according to a statement provided by Victoria police.

In a ruling published this week, Supreme Court Justice Catherine Murray said that police had not mentioned the officer’s involvement but had instead “obscured” it during the court process.

Murray wrote that “investigators misled the Crown, defence and the justices” into believing that the fentanyl-trafficking investigation did not involve Ferris and only began after he was arrested.

Victoria police were aware of corruption allegations against Ferris since 2019 but he was allowed to participate in the investigation so as to not alert him that he was under RCMP investigation, Murray said in her written judgment.

Ferris, who is now retired, was able to resign before he was dismissed from the force. Charges were not brought before a court.

Of his 19 counts of misconduct under the Police Act, there were 13 counts of improper disclosure of information, three counts of deceit, two counts of discreditable conduct and one count of neglect of duty.

Schachter said he has been told by the police board that his six-point complaint has been submitted for ­consideration at an ­upcoming meeting and has been forwarded to the Office of the Police Complaint ­Commissioner and Victoria Police Chief Del Manak.

The Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board and the Victoria Police Department did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

Manak acknowledged this past week that there were “several points of failure” during the drug-trafficking investigation but said police acted with the intention to reduce drug and organized-crime activity.

Rob Gordon, a professor emeritus of criminology at Simon Fraser University, said it’s unlikely that the police board will launch its own investigation.

Police boards should be dealing with administrative issues of policing such as human resource concerns, he said.

“They’re not supposed to be dealing with allegations of ­corruption or criminal behaviour on the part of the members of the police service.”

The Police Act says that municipal police boards have the authority to investigate police service and policy complaints, as well as prepare general reports on policing and law enforcement.

But asking for the police board to hire an independent investigator would be tantamount to a vote of no confidence in the current process, Gordon said. “The police board should just probably refer it to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner.”

Schachter said that the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board is responsible for investigating service and policy complaints. “I’m putting the onus on the police board to step up and do a good job.”

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