Search ruled unlawful, man acquitted of five armed robberies

A Victoria man has been acquitted of five armed robberies after a judge found his charter rights were violated and a search of his house was unlawful.

Joal Vaz, 33, was arrested in October 2011 and charged with committing five armed robberies in Greater Victoria. Vaz was charged with holding up Liquor Depot on Gorge Road East with a knife on Sept. 10, 2011, robbing the Travelodge on Gorge Road East while using an imitation firearm on Sept. 19, robbing the Subway restaurant in the 3400 block of Douglas Street with an imitation firearm on Sept. 25, robbing Money Mart in Langford’s Millstream Village on Oct. 1 and robbing Panago Pizza on Yates Street on Oct. 2. Vaz was also charged with wearing a mask while committing the robberies.

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After his arrest, while Vaz was in custody, police obtained a warrant and searched his house.

On April 7, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Douglas Thompson ruled all evidence from the search inadmissible.

On Tuesday, prosecutor Tim Stokes told the court the Crown did not have enough evidence to proceed and called no evidence.

Thompson found Vaz not guilty of all 14 charges.

“This is huge,” said defence lawyer Ray Dieno.

“It’s not that rare for the courts to find that a breach of section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has occurred. What is rare is for actual real evidence to be excluded and that’s what occurred here.”

Thompson found the search warrant was deficient because the officer swearing the affidavit did not provide a source for some of the hearsay evidence. “You can’t go and ask to look in somebody’s home unless you can put forth information that the authorizing justice can look at and be confident that it’s reliable,” said Dieno.

“The judge found, in this case, it would bring the administration of justice into more disrepute to let the evidence in than to exclude it. The charter is here to protect all of us. We live in a country where police aren’t allowed to invade and search someone’s residence unless they’ve done things correctly and legally.”

By calling no evidence, the Crown has preserved its right of appeal, said Criminal Justice Branch spokesman Gordon Comer.

The Crown will review Thompson’s written reasons on the breach of Vaz’s right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure and the exclusion of evidence when they are released by the court.

Saanich police Sgt. Steve Eassie said he was aware there were some technical issues with the search warrant in the multi-jurisdictional investigation.

“We will be reviewing the written reasons and hopefully we will be looking at this as a learning experience,” Eassie said.

Const. Mike Russell said Victoria police are also interested in looking at the reasons why evidence was excluded. He confirmed the information to obtain the search warrant was written by a Victoria officer.

“VicPD respects the court’s decision,” Russell said in an email.

Vaz is now working in Vancouver for an irrigation company during the week and as a chef on weekends.

“He’s doing well,” said Dieno. “He went to Bible college and has a fiancée and is not involved in any criminal activity.”

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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