Lies, deception
and manipulation of justice system

A column by Ethan Baron, The Vancouver Province, July 17, 2009

Lying police are reducing our justice system to a laughable charade.

We expect police, upon whom the whole system rests, to tell the truth.

Over and over again, we have seen that they don’t.

Any police officer’s testimony must now be treated with suspicion.

On Tuesday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Peter Leask ruled that senior RCMP officers Cpl. Martin Stoner and Staff.-Sgt. Peter Lea lied while testifying in the drug-trafficking case of former boxer Robert Della Penna.

Stoner had already misled another judge while seeking the wiretapping authorization, Leask said in the Vancouver court. Both Stoner and Lea then lied during Della Penna’s trial.

After Leask threw out the wiretap evidence, the Crown threw in the towel, saying it had no further evidence. Della Penna and three others accused of operating a ring shipping marijuana and ecstasy to the U.S. and smuggling cocaine into Canada were acquitted.

This incident is part of a disturbing collection of cases that have revealed lies, deception and callous manipulation of the justice system by police.

Two months ago, also in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, RCMP Staff-Sgt. Ross Spenard admitted he was untruthful to a judge when he concealed information about flaws in a forensic report in the case of Charlie Rae Lincoln, a woman who ended up convicted of stabbing her two-year-old child to death. Spenard also said he’d lied under oath about a former colleague’s work status, to protect the man’s privacy.

The judge told the jury that Spenard’s lies had tainted his evidence so badly it had no value.

Last year, RCMP Const. Ryan Sheremetta was temporarily suspended after giving false testimony in a coroner’s inquest into the shooting by Sheremetta of Kevin St. Arnaud on a Vanderhoof playing field in 2004. Sheremetta had claimed he was on his back when he shot St. Arnaud, while evidence showed he was standing.

And of course there’s the Robert Dziekanski case, in which Mounties committed outrageous fabrications in their statements after the fatal Vancouver airport incident, only to be shown as liars when a bystander’s video came to light. RCMP brass also withheld from the Braidwood inquiry crucial evidence that the officers involved had discussed Tasering Dziekanski while on their way to the airport.

One of the three defence lawyers in the Della Penna case told me yesterday that the Mounties’ lying was not an isolated incident.

“I’m always very disturbed when I catch police officers lying, but it certainly happens,” says Elizabeth Lewis.

And often enough, Lewis says, officers will fill in evidentiary blanks with “spin” in order to secure a conviction.

Trial Lawyers Association of B.C. president Robert Holmes told me that the officers’ deception in the Della Penna case seriously threatens public confidence in the police.

“Is there more of an incidence of police not living up to their obligation to tell the truth than actually gets detected?” Holmes asks. “That may be the case -- we’ll never know.” Both Holmes and Lewis noted that a great many officers fulfil their duties on the street and in court with honesty and competence. The problem is, some of them don’t.

“The leadership in the police forces and the training [officers] go through has to be rigorous in maintaining the truth-telling standard,” Holmes says.

That’s no lie.

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