The credibility of a major urban vice-squad unit is in tatters after a judge concluded that officers concocted evidence to frame a suspected pimp.
Ontario Superior Court Judge Douglas Gray halted a trial and acquitted the defendant of 17 charges - including human trafficking and pimping - after learning that Peel Regional Police officers had falsified evidence against him.
The findings threw a shadow over the integrity of a group of Peel Regional Police vice officers. However, in the face of calls for a full investigation by an external force, they remained on the job on Friday with the full backing of their force.
"The officers are still conducting investigations and looking into allegations of human trafficking," said Sgt. Zahir Shah, head of public affairs. "We think it's important that we try to rescue as many of these young women as possible."
Judge Gray concluded that the officers misled the courts into believing that a suspect, Courtney Salmon, had been caught carrying fake identification that identified a 17-year-old stripper as over 18.
The girl had told police that Mr. Salmon confined her to a hotel room and pimped her out as a prostitute. While making her report, she turned over the fake I.D., which the officers later claimed to have found in Mr. Salmon's wallet when they arrested him.
Paul Burstein, president of the Criminal Lawyers Association, called upon Peel Police Chief Mike Metcalf to order an immediate investigation. "The Chief of Police must take action now to preserve the integrity of ongoing investigations," he said. "Silence, delay or the status quo are not options."
Nathalie Des Rosiers, general counsel to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said the case has grave implications. "If we cannot trust that police are telling the truth, we have lost a significant element of the criminal law system," she said.
Jennifer Penman, Mr. Salmon's lawyer, said on Friday that there is great pressure on vice-squad police to produce results. "The officers seem to be very, very anxious to get these guys and get them behind bars," she said.
Ms. Penman said she became suspicious when police disclosed notebooks for every officer on the case except one. She obtained his notes on the eve of trial and found that they corroborated the girl's account.
Ms. Penman said the officers should be charged with obstructing justice. "People are charged all the time on a lot less than what you can read in that judgment," she said. "The public sense of confidence in the justice system will be undermined if these officers just get away with it."
In his ruling, Judge Gray said that the officers were angry that Mr. Salmon had been acquitted on an earlier pimping charge. He singled out Constable George Wang as the worst offender, followed by Constable Michael Viozzi and Constable Scott Hogan.
"The credibility of a number of police witnesses is severely impacted adversely, if not in tatters," he said. "It would be difficult to conceive of conduct that would more distinctly shock the conscience of the community than a fabrication of evidence by the police."
Coincidentally, Constable Viozzi and Constable Hogan were named as defendants two weeks ago in a malicious prosecution and defamation lawsuit.
The plaintiff, Elom Benjamin Dzuazah, claims that he was wrongly arrested on a pimping charge in 2008. According to his statement of claim, a trial judge acquitted him and noted that the complainant had extensive involvement with the justice system and a history of making false statements.
A Juno award-winning musician, Mr. Dzuazah alleges that the officers distributed his photograph to 150 strip bars in North America accompanied with a warning that he is a notorious pimp.
Sgt. Shah said no consideration will be given to an internal investigation until a possible Crown appeal is completed.