Tuesday, January 22, 2008
WOW!!!!! IN CANADA??????
Police officers across Canada face once-rare perjury charges
Published: Sunday, January 20, 2008 | 1:45 PM ET
Canadian Press: Tamara King, THE CANADIAN PRESS
WINNIPEG - A growing number of Canadian police officers are facing charges of perjury - the serious and usually rare crime of giving false testimony.
At least eight officers, either active or recently retired, will heading be to courts in Toronto, Winnipeg and Regina over the next two months accused of an offence that carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.
"I have not seen this many examples of perjury charges brought against police officers," says James Morton, a Toronto lawyer and adjunct professor at York University's Osgoode Hall Law School.
"I don't think this means that police are lying more than they used to," Morton said in a telephone interview.
"It used to be that people just didn't believe policemen would lie. That sort of restriction has disappeared now."
Perjury is viewed as dangerous enough to the justice system that it's actually enshrined in Canada's Constitution, Morton notes.
"It is the only crime that is expressly referred to in the Charter of Rights (and Freedoms)," he says.
Most serious when the accusation is levelled against a member of the justice system, perjury is extremely difficult to prove. Prosecutors have to show not only that the evidence was false, but that it was intentionally false.
"It's really something that's only prosecuted when it becomes clear that someone wilfully, intentionally and effectively misled the court - lied to the court," Morton says.
"When a police officer actually does intentionally mislead the court, that's a tremendously dangerous thing. It has the effect of leading to wrongful convictions and poisoning the whole system."
In the most recent case, two Winnipeg police officers were accused last week of lying under oath about how they obtained a search warrant in a drug investigation.
Hymie Weinstein, a defence lawyer with more than 40 years experience, says he can't recall perjury charges ever being laid against police officers in Manitoba.
"Be it city police, be it RCMP or any other police officer," said Weinstein, who will be defending one of the Winnipeg officers recently charged.
Also last week, a British Columbia RCMP officer was temporarily taken off the job because of allegations he gave misleading testimony at an inquest into the 2004 death of Kevin St. Arnaud, who was shot after a drugstore burglary.
Although the force did not use the term perjury, Const. Ryan Sheremetta was suspended under the RCMP Act over allegations that he conducted himself "in a disgraceful manner that could bring discredit on the force by knowingly making false, misleading or inaccurate statement(s) while testifying ..." Assistant Commissioner Al Macintyre said at a news conference.
In Saskatchewan, a Regina police officer is going to trial, likely in the fall, on a perjury charge that stems from testimony given at a January 2006 traffic-court case involving a seatbelt violation.
Five members of an elite Toronto Police Service drug squad that is facing allegations of extortion and assault are also charged with perjury. Jury selection is scheduled to start in February.
Also in Toronto, a police officer was acquitted last November of assault, perjury and attempting to obstruct justice. The 17-year veteran of the Toronto Police Service had been accused assaulting an activist at a violent anti-poverty demonstration in 2003 and then attempting to fabricate evidence.
Though it's historically rare to see perjury charges against police, it has long been a cultural problem, says Frank Addario, president of the Ontario Criminal Lawyers' Association.
"I think it's a constant problem. The police get corrupted because they think the cause they're working for is noble and righteous, and therefore it's OK to shade the truth because the defendant is a slime bucket."
Police agencies appear hesitant to address the topic publicly. A spokesman for the Canadian Police Association, which represents frontline officers, said no one was available to comment. The agency for police brass, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, did not respond to an interview request.
Addario said he's concerned that until recently, perjury charges were relatively rare, since they could act as a deterrent.
"We know, historically, there have been wrongful convictions, and that they have been caused, in part, by police corruption in pursuit of what they thought was righteous and it hasn't led to charges," Addario said in a telephone interview from Toronto.
Part of the solution, he says, would be to improve disclosure mechanisms, which curb the capacity of a police witness to lie about circumstances. Another improvement would be to encourage Crown attorneys "to maintain a healthy, objective distance" from the police, Addario said.
"The problem is ongoing, and it's something I think the justice system has to continue to grapple with."
Some recent cases of Canadian police officers accused of giving false testimony:
-Two Winnipeg police officers, Constables Peter O'Kane and Jess Zebrun, were put on paid administrative leave last week after being charged with perjury. The allegations involve how the officers obtained a search warrant for a drug investigation.
-RCMP Const. Ryan Sheremetta was suspended with pay last week over allegations that he conducted himself "in a disgraceful manner that could bring discredit on the force by knowingly making false, misleading or inaccurate statement(s)" while testifying at an inquest into the death of Kevin St. Arnaud, a man shot by Sheremetta after a 2004 drugstore robbery in Vanderhoof, B.C.
- Const. William Schmidt, a Regina police officer, was charged with perjury last March and is expected to go to trial next fall. The allegation stems from testimony given at a January 2006 traffic-court case that involved a seatbelt violation.
-Five members of an elite Toronto Police Service drug squad that's facing allegations of extortion and assault are also charged with perjury: Staff Sgt. John Schertzer, Const. Steve Correia, Const. Joseph Miched, Const. Ray Pollard and Const. Ned Maodus. Jury selection is scheduled for February.
-Const. Amar Katoch, 48, of the Toronto Police Service was acquitted last November of allegations that he assaulted an activist at a violent anti-poverty demonstration in 2003 and then attempted to fabricate evidence.