Nunavut RCMP violated Iqaluit man’s charter rights: judge
Nearly seven pounds of seized marijuana ruled inadmissible
An Iqaluit man found with nearly seven pounds of marijuana in his luggage last year will almost certainly not be prosecuted, following a Nunavut Court of Justice ruling, issued Aug. 8, that found police violated his Charter right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.
Two RCMP members arrested Andrew Alainga at the Iqaluit airport on March 7, 2011. In a search of his luggage, they found 6.87 pounds of marijuana and charged him with possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking.
But defence lawyer Christian Lyons asked Justice Sue Cooper to rule the drug evidence inadmissible, on the grounds that police did not have reasonable and probable grounds to arrest Alainga and search his luggage.
To make her decision, Cooper used evidence from an RCMP member who told court that on March 5, 2011, he received information from a confidential informant, or “CI,” that Alainga was to fly to Ottawa to pick up marijuana.
The officer said the CI described the accused as “a tall, young male Inuk with light skin and wearing glasses,” Cooper’s judgment said.
After checking with the two airlines that operate the Iqaluit-Ottawa route, the officer learned Alainga had bought a return ticket March 4, 2011 for travel to Ottawa March 5 and back to Iqaluit March 7.
On March 7, the airline told the RCMP member that Alainga had checked one piece of luggage, which they searched when the young man arrived later that day in Iqaluit.
But Cooper found the information from the CI lacked many details, such as the exact time of travel, the quantity of drugs to be transported and the nature of the transaction in Ottawa.
She also found the RCMP investigator did not offer any evidence on how the CI acquired the information. She noted the officer, to protect the informant’s identity, did not want to share various pieces of information from the CI.
And she found the CI’s information was not adequately corroborated.
“The only information that corroborated the information received from the CI was the fact of the accused travelling to Ottawa and back. This, standing alone, is not indicative of criminal conduct,” Cooper said.
Because of all this, she said that while the information was enough to justify an investigation, it was not enough to justify the arrest and subsequent search.
She said that while travellers expect their luggage can be searched for the purpose of airline safety, “they do not expect their luggage to be searched for general criminal investigation purposes in the absence of reasonable grounds for doing so.”
In this case, the Charter violation was serious, Cooper said, because Alainga was arrested in a public place and detained in police cells.
So even though the drug evidence is “necessary for the Crown’s case,” Cooper ruled it inadmissible.
“I am of the view that the administration of justice would be brought into disrepute by the admission of the evidence in this matter,” Cooper said.