The criminal case against the man behind the largest illegal marijuana grow operation in Chilliwack’s history, which was also one of the oldest files still on the BC Supreme Court docket, is now over.
And there will be no justice for what was once described by Crown counsel Michael LeDressay as a “monstrous criminal enterprise” that involved nearly 12,000 plants in an elaborate underground bunker producing more than $3 million of drugs a year.
The accused in the case, Lloyd Allan McConnell, was himself the reason for years of delays in the court system, but finally a BC Supeme Court Justice issued a stay of proceedings in New Westminster on Aug. 30.
By that date, the case was 3,276 days old dating back to Sept. 9, 2009.
The Progress was not in court Aug. 30 and details are not available online, but the Public Prosecution Services of Canada (PPSC) confirmed the judicial stay of proceedings was ordered that day.
“The PPSC can confirm that a judicial stay in accordance with s. 11(b) was entered by the court in the matter of Mr. Lloyd McConnell,” a spokesperson said via email.
Section 11(b) of the Charter and Rights and Freedom states that “any person charged with an offence has the right to be tried within a reasonable time.”
Essentially, accused individuals have the right to a speedy trial, but this was a nebulous concept until the 2016 R. v Jordan decision, which specified how long cases should last. In the case of provincial matters, unreasonable delay is considered to be 18 months for matters without preliminary inquiry, and 30 months for cases tried in BC Supreme Court.
The Jordan case stretched on for 49.5 months, 44 of which were the fault of Crown, so the charges were dropped. McConnell’s case went on for more than 107 months, but most of that was the fault of McConnell himself who went through at least two lawyers, then fought for years to get a lawyer via legal aid but was disallowed.
At one point he tried for a Rowbotham application, which is used to ask for Charter relief (and a drop of the charges) when an accused is denied legal aid but can’t afford a lawyer. He later filed the Jordan application, which was granted on Aug. 30.
McConnell was charged with marijuana production and possession, and hydro theft in connection with the Sept. 9, 2009 search of his Nixon Road acreage where 11,520 pot plants were discovered under a Quonset hut in a bunker on the property.
BC Supreme Court heard that the structure, supposedly intended as a manure pit for a proposed cattle operation, was engineered and constructed by local firms, and it was even permitted by the City of Chilliwack.
The thousands of marijuana plants were fed using a system that illegally piped water from nearby Elk Creek, and the light system was run by way of stolen electricity from a sophisticated “primary feed bypass.”
Armed with a warrant, when the RCMP’s Emergency Response Team members used bolt cutters to enter the property at the very top of Nixon Road in the Eastern Hillsides that day more than nine years ago, officers found what they knew was there, but more.
On site was an elaborate security system including entrances rigged to shoot bear spray at intruders. There was a sub-floor built to conceal a hydraulic lift allowing for access to the bunker inside which were four separate growing rooms.
The only person on the property was 61-year-old Darryl Ness who was found guilty of production and possession of marijuana in 2012.
LeDressay had asked for a stiff sentence for Ness due to the size of the “monstrous criminal enterprise,” but Justice William Grist gave the then 64-year-old an 18-month conditional sentence.
McConnell’s case had numerous twist and turns over the years. In 2010, he was a city council for a show-cause hearing regarding hazard conditions at the property. His lawyer at the time, Nathan Muirhead, argued McConnell was an “innocent victim” and an absentee landlord.
Police said chemicals were spilled at the site, and the operators had run an irrigation line from nearby Elk Creek, a fish-bearing stream, and were pumping water to the plants.
His next lawyer, Patrick McGowan, took an opposite approach, arguing in BC Supreme Court in 2014 that the police search of his property constituted 12 breaches of his Charter rights regarding unreasonable search and seizure.
“He is the primary person connected to the property,” McGowan said in November 2014. “Mr. McConnell is very much tied to the property, the Quonset hut specifically, and the grow-op very specifically.”
Justice Miriam Maisonville rejected eight but allowed four of the alleged Charter violations.
The industrial-scale grow-op was said to be producing an estimated $3 million worth of drugs a year, and police estimate the grow-op probably consumed more than $400,000 of stolen hydro.