A Black man sentenced to five years and nine months in prison for gun possession and selling drugs out of a Thunder Bay home was convicted on inadmissible evidence, the Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled.
The court replaced the 2019 conviction of Antoine Peters with an acquittal this week after prosecutor Katherine Beaudoin of the Ontario Crown Law Office conceded that Mr. Peters had been wrongly convicted.
Owen Goddard, a lawyer who represented Mr. Peters on appeal, says race stands out to him as a defining feature of the case.
Mr. Peters, he said, was one of eight people, most of them white, in a basement in which police found nearly $25,000 in cash, plus three handguns, a machete, cocaine and marijuana, and an icepick to bolster the door. But the other seven were released by police. And the judge accepted the prosecution argument at trial that it could be inferred he had control over the drugs, the guns and the possession of the proceeds of crime.
“The undertone of this case for me was all about race,” Mr. Goddard said in an interview. “His race leading to a jump to a conclusion that he is the one who must be doing this, and not checking out anyone else. And then at trial, not really a probing look at the evidence, and a jump to a finding of guilt that couldn’t be sustained on appeal.”
Ms. Beaudoin declined to comment when reached by e-mail.
The police service in Thunder Bay has faced a slew of complaints, inquests, investigations, reports and recommendations revealing years of incompetence and neglect when it comes to how they police racialized groups in the city, particularly Indigenous people.
The arrest began with a tip from a confidential informant that two or three Black men from Toronto were selling drugs from a basement apartment in 2018. After watching the home for several hours, officers entered the house with a battering ram and guns drawn. The guns, money and drugs were spread around the small apartment.
A key piece of evidence for Ontario Court Justice Chantal Brochu was that police officers watching the house did not see Mr. Peters come or go.
But the officer who testified about watching the house left his post two hours before the arrest, evidence showed. Ms. Beaudoin, the prosecutor, said the judge’s conclusion was therefore not grounded in solid evidence.
“Since it is unknown whether the appellant entered the apartment after 3:50 p.m., it is reasonable to infer that he may have entered the apartment sometime shortly before police arrived [at 6 p.m.]” she said in a written filing.
She also said Justice Brochu’s task was to find whether the only reasonable inference from the evidence was that Mr. Peters was in control of the drugs, guns and money. But the court could have inferred Mr. Peters was buying drugs, not selling them, she said in the filing.
Mr. Peters spent three months in jail and after being released on bail was charged in a robbery, his lawyers said in a written filing.
The 3-0 appeal court ruling, made orally after a hearing on Tuesday, was reproduced Thursday in two brief paragraphs, with no commentary and no details about the case, other than the names of the accused and the trial judge, and the prosecution’s concession that almost all the evidence used to convict Mr. Peters had been inadmissible.
“In the highly unusual circumstances of this case, we are prepared to accept the Crown’s concession,” Justice Michal Fairburn, Justice Grant Huscroft and Justice Steve Coroza wrote.
With a report from Willow Fiddler