He was in, he was out, he was back in, and now he’s back out again.
Chilliwack’s Clayton Eheler is finding out that even without a lawyer, despite facing charges for gang activity and cocaine trafficking, nothing he does keeps him behind bars.
Three days after the provincial government announced a suite of public safety measures to ostensibly keep British Columbians safe, Surrey provincial court Judge David Albert released Eheler on bail.
I don’t mean to pick on Eheler, whose bail release I also wrote about four months ago under the headline “B.C. courts handing out bail like Oprah Winfrey hands out free cars.”
It’s not his fault he was released. Of course he wants to be released.
So why does it matter?
Firstly, Eheler was convicted, along with Mathew Thiessen, of trafficking after the two were caught processing a mountain of cocaine. The convictions were overturned on appeal due to a long delay in the sentencing judge releasing his written reasons for rejecting a charter application. Eheler is awaiting a retrial on that charge, while Thiessen is set to plead guilty in the new year.
While out on bail facing retrial for drug trafficking, Eheler was charged with commission of an offence for a criminal organization for something he allegedly did on May 1, 2021.
On July 28, 2022, Judge Albert granted Eheler bail on strict conditions, despite the fact that when Eheler was out on bail in 2019, he was issued a fraudulent passport in his cousin’s name.
It took facial recognition software used by Global Affairs Canada to identify Eheler as the man in the passport photo with Tyler Van Basten’s name.
I know for a fact that this release was a head-scratcher for many RCMP members, Mounties who spend countless hours compiling evidence to nab the worst criminals in our midst.
Since his release on July 28, Eheler may have had a good time but it wasn’t a long time. Two months later he was caught violating conditions. I don’t know what conditions he violated, but he was under 24-hour house arrest, electronic monitoring, not allowed to have any visitors except a short list of named individuals. He was also not allowed to be within 100 metres of the U.S. border or within two kilometres of any airport. He was also not allowed to download encrypted messaging apps.
OK, so he was back in custody, facing the criminal organization charge and awaiting the cocaine trafficking retrial.
Then last Thursday (Nov. 24), the lawyerless Eheler was back in front of Judge Albert in Surrey, along with Crown counsel who, I’m told, “vehemently” opposed his release on bail, for obvious reasons.
Despite this, Judge Albert (who I also don’t mean to pick on) granted Eheler bail.
That same week, four days prior, one of the measures announced by newly installed B.C. Premier David Eby was a revised bail policy for prosecutors to follow. This part, however, isn’t new: “To be legally justifiable, pre-trial detention… of an accused person must be necessary for one or more of the three purposes enumerated in section 515(10) of the Criminal Code.”
Namely: 1. to ensure the accused’s attendance in court; 2. to protect public safety from a substantial likelihood that a criminal offence will be committed; or, 3. to maintain confidence in the administration of justice.
I was not in court when Judge Albert released Eheler on bail, presumably on equally strict conditions, but what I am told is that the judge read from a written decision after Crown argued in favour of detention. In other words, Eheler was getting out no matter what the lawyers said.
Given the fake passport issue from a few months ago, one might think the first legal reason to detain applied. Flight risk maybe?
As for the second, is there a substantial likelihood he’ll commit a criminal offence? Maybe not.
But it’s the confidence in the administration of justice that is in shambles, precisely because of offenders like Eheler repeatedly getting released by judges like Albert.
Eby’s public safety changes were at least in part put in place to build “public confidence in the prosecution system.”
That’s great, but if police are doing their job arresting gangsters, and prosecutors are doing their best to argue to keep those gangsters behind bars, it’s all for naught if judges are handing out get-out-of-jail-free cards.
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