Nearly 200 grams of crack cocaine — packaged in 728 baggies, some stashed in a CD player — were seized by Yellowknife RCMP at the Chateau Nova Hotel in early December 2017.
Mahmoud Taliani and Quintin Glasgow-Brownlow, of Edmonton, were charged with possessing the drugs for the purpose of trafficking.
Earlier this month, they both walked away free men.
That’s because Justice Shannon Smallwood ruled the pair’s Charter rights were violated by Yellowknife RCMP. Police didn’t have reasonable grounds to execute the search warrant that turned up hundreds of baggies of crack cocaine, she concluded.
The Charter challenge was filed in February by the accused’s lawyers, Peter Harte and Jamel Chadi.
Smallwood outlined the events leading up to the hotel drug seizure.
In late November of 2017, the NWT RCMP’s federal investigation unit received at tip from Saskatoon police involving a human trafficking complaint stemming from the province.
In February, during a voir dire – a trial within a trial held in order to determine the admissibility of a piece of evidence – Const. Brain Martel testified he learned a woman, who can’t be identified under a court-ordered ban, was being forced into prostitution in Yellowknife. Police began conducting surveillance of the Northern Lites Motel, where the woman was staying. Officers soon picked her up, testified Martel.
He testified the woman told him she’d been threatened and had her passport stolen by a man who then trafficked her to Yellowknife in late November, along with the other men who planned to sell drugs.
Martel said the woman handed him an ounce of cocaine, given to her by the men.
At Northern Lites Motel, police identified three suspects believed to be involved in the human trafficking and drug operation.The woman, who was flown out out of the capital shortly after, identified one of the males, according to Martel.
That led Yellowknife Mounties to the Chateau Nova Hotel, where the suspects had moved to (the woman at the centre of the human trafficking investigation recanted her statements to police ahead of a preliminary hearing).
Tracking down the suspects’ room number, 113, officers set up surveillance inside a nearby room, using the peephole to map and track the comings and goings of the men.
Martel was not at the hotel. He was drafting an Information to Obtain (ITO) order for a search warrant based on the information less than a handful of officers were feeding to him from the Chateau Nova Hotel via BBM chat and radio communications.
Police came to believe the suspects were staying in room 113, as well.
Officers staking out the hotel, asked Martel to add room 113 into the search warrant, which would allow Mounties to raid the room.
“So far, I’m not hearing anything that will get us in there,” replied Martel.
Another officer replied, “not super solid, but it might slide.”
A message from Const. Kyle McDonald to Martel, however, seemed to seal the deal.
McDonald sent Martel a message saying he’d heard a noise at room 114 that sounded like the door shutting, before hearing them walk back to room 113. For Martel, that linked the two rooms together. So room 113 was added in the ITO for a search warrant. However, in the ITO, he writes that the were suspects seen, not just heard, exiting room 114 — a substantial discrepancy that Smallwood honed in on.
“Overall, I found McDonald’s evidence confusing; not sure he remembers his observations from that date,” she said.
Smallwood, who acknowledged the chaotic and confusing nature of the operation, still found those discrepancies “misleading.”
“The link between room 113 and 114 was tenuous at best,” said Smallwood.
Martel admitted in February that he only had two hours to write a 17-page application for the search warrant.
“It was this two-day, insane situation,” he said.
Martel told the court that if he had more time, if “this was a normal search warrant,” he would would have been “a lot more detailed. Instead, Martel described it as “rushed and “confusing.”
“This was the most hurried warrant I’ve ever done,” said Martel.
Despite the fluid nature of the investigation, Smallwood said officers should have asked more questions before going ahead with the unreasonable search, a breached she called “serious.”
Smallwood moved to exclude the evidence. While the public has an interest in making sure drugs get off the streets and criminals are held accountable, the rights of accused must also always been considered, she added.
With the cocaine seized, the crux of the case, ruled inadmissible, prosecutors ended their case and both men were acquitted.