The Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

Top court upholds ruling in favour of Coquitlam RCMP in cocaine entrapment case

The ruling upholds a B.C. Court of Appeal decision in the case of Cheung Wai Wallace Li

  • Jun. 12, 2020 8:20 a.m.

By Carl Meyer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer

When police in Coquitlam phoned up a suspected cocaine dealer and ordered drugs, it was not entrapment because they had done other investigative work and had a reasonable suspicion before calling, Canada’s top court ruled Thursday.

The decision adds to the Supreme Court of Canada’s body of work dealing with the balance between individual liberties and police powers, and the doctrine of entrapment — the idea that police should not randomly test people’s virtue, and that the state should be limited in how it can manipulate people for the purpose of scoring convictions.

Justice Sheilah Martin read out the court’s ruling following a virtual hearing. Justices appeared via Zoom video-conferencing, and used the virtual background setting to display a photo of the court behind them as they spoke into headsets.

The ruling upholds a B.C. Court of Appeal decision in the case of Cheung Wai Wallace Li, who pleaded guilty to trafficking in cocaine.

A B.C. trial judge had stayed proceedings on Li, saying that before the Mounties made the initial phone call to buy drugs off him, they didn’t have a reasonable basis to suspect that the phone number they were about to dial was associated with a drug-dealing operation.

But the appeals court lifted the stay, saying it had found “several errors in the judge’s analysis.” On Thursday, Eric Purtzki, the Vancouver-based counsel for the appellant, had argued for the Supreme Court to restore the B.C. trial judge’s finding.

The case involved an anonymous Crime Stoppers tip received by the Coquitlam RCMP in 2015. The tipster provided a phone number and said it was being used to deal cocaine in the area. They also gave a description of a tan Honda Odyssey minivan they said was involved, and gave the licence plate number.

The Mounties ran the phone number against a police database and came up empty, but when they ran a vehicle registration check on the plate, it confirmed the minivan description. Further records checks revealed that the owner “had an extensive history of suspected drug trafficking” and had five other vehicles registered in his name.

When an RCMP constable tried the phone number, a man answered, later identified as Li. The constable asked how the man was doing, and he said, “good” and then asked who was calling. The constable said it was “J” or “Jen” and the man said, “OK.” The constable then asked for “half of soft,” or half a gram of cocaine.

They then arranged to meet at the Coquitlam Centre mall and the police bought the drugs. Over the following months, the Mounties bought drugs 21 more times, with Li involved in 16 of those deals, according to the B.C. Court of Appeal ruling.

Purtzki argued Thursday that the police investigation into the vehicle should have been seen as disconnected from the records check on the phone number. Allowing police to bring together such disparate elements would create a “moral hazard,” he said.

There was no reasonable grounds to support a suspicion of drug dealing either before the call or during the call, argued Purtzki. “There’s nothing in the course of the call … linking the analysis and the tip to the content of the call,” he said.

Crown counsel countered that the RCMP’s action was not based on a hunch, but a “constellation” of factors. While the reliability of the tipster was unknown, the tip itself was detailed, including not just the phone number, but the make, model and colour of the vehicle and the licence plate.

As well, the Crown asked why Li, after the constable identified themselves as “J” or “Jen,” did not ask any follow-up questions about the person’s identity. And the Crown argued it was typical for drug dealers to use “burner” phones, or disposable, prepaid phones, so it was not uncommon for a phone number check to come back negative.

Purtzki replied that the sergeant who was questioned on the burner phone issue was asked in court proceedings if he agreed that, in his experience, drug dealers changed their phone numbers frequently, and his answer was that he didn’t necessarily agree.

Martin, when reading out the court’s ruling Thursday, confirmed that the justices agreed with the Crown that they should apply the framework of another Supreme Court case, R. v. Ahmad, dated May 29. That case is considered to be the first time the court had looked at entrapment in the context of so-called “dial-a-dope” trafficking cases.

In that case, the Supreme Court found that the entrapment doctrine should be focused on “abuse of process,” and that stays of proceedings should be “only issued in the clearest of cases of intolerable state conduct.”

“The police confirmed the assertion of illegality by connecting this car and licence plate, and five other vehicles, to a person with an extensive and recent history of suspected dial-a-dope drug dealing,” said Martin.

“Therefore, there was no entrapment.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Cops and Courts

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

PHOTOS: Cat owners in Chilliwack celebrate National Kitten Day

Chilliwack Progress readers share photos of their favourite felines on National Kitten Day

Child falls down Bridal Veil Falls near Chilliwack, crews on scene

An 11-year-old boy fell over the falls about 25 to 30 feet and has suffered a head injury

Foodies flock to drive-thru food truck fest in Chilliwack

The Greater Vancouver Food Truck Festival takes place this weekend at Chilliwack Heritage Park

UPDATE: Four-vehicle collision snarls eastbound highway traffic in Chilliwack

Collision west of Lickman Road on Highway 1 includes three vehicles plus motorcycle

Popular retired UFV therapy dog passes away

Mac the Therapy Dog consoled countless students and staff, as well as wildfire victims

Woman sexually assaulted, robbed near Surrey SkyTrain station: RCMP

Police say the incident happened July 10, just after 11 p.m. near King George SkyTrain station

B.C. Ferries increasing passenger capacity after COVID-19 restrictions

Transport Canada 50-per-cent limit being phased out, no current plans to provide masks

Once-in-a-lifetime comet photographed soaring over Abbotsford

Photographer Randy Small captures Comet NEOWISE in early-morning sky

Amber Alert for two Quebec girls cancelled after bodies found

Romy Carpentier, 6, Norah Carpentier, 11, and their father, Martin Carpentier, missing since Wednesday

Bringing support to Indigenous students and communities, while fulfilling a dream

Mitacs is a nonprofit organization that operates research and training programs

B.C. man prepares to be first to receive double-hand transplant in Canada

After the surgery, transplant patients face a long recovery

Grocers appear before MPs to explain decision to cut pandemic pay

Executives from three of Canada’s largest grocery chains have defended their decision to end temporary wage increases

Man shot dead in east Abbotsford suburbs

Integrated Homicide Investigative Team called to investigate

Most Read