B.C.'s police complaint commissioner has reviewed hundreds of Abbotsford police search warrants and found problems that could put at least 43 cases in jeopardy.
The investigation into the alleged misconduct of 17 Abbotsford officers, which has led federal prosecutors to launch a review of relevant cases, and defence lawyers to question if their clients were unfairly convicted, dates as far back as 2008 and could stretch further.
Rollie Woods, the deputy police complaint commissioner, said Thursday that hundreds of search warrants have been scrutinized. He could not provide an exact figure, but said it was more than 500.
Mr. Woods said problems have been found with 43 warrants to date.
He reiterated that the allegations against the officers are serious in nature. Earlier this week, when the investigation into 8 per cent of the force in Abbotsford, known as a gang-crime hot spot, was announced, Mr. Woods said information sworn for warrants may have been "misleading or inaccurate."
The chief of police in Abbotsford, a bible-belt suburb about 70 kilometres east of Vancouver, has pointed to the way the officers handled informants. Information sworn for warrants, particularly in drug cases, can often come from informants.
Paul Doroshenko, a defence lawyer, said he has already written a letter to representatives of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, asking for information on which cases may have been impacted.
"Public confidence and our ability to defend our clients and people's ability to deal with this comes down to us knowing who the police officers are. If we should be putting something on hold, we need to know," he said in an interview.
John Conroy, also a defence lawyer, raised a similar point, saying it's difficult to know which of his files he should review without certainty as to which officers were involved.
"I think most of the defence counsel out here … are probably scratching their heads, saying, 'Well, I wonder if one of my clients was convicted … as a result of misconduct by one of these officers,'" he said in an interview.
Bob Rich, the Abbotsford police chief, has said 10 to 20 investigations have been put on hold as a result of the misconduct probe.
Chief Rich first learned that one of his officers was allegedly involved in criminal activity after the chief was approached by two other members of the force. Chief Rich asked the Vancouver Police Department to investigate.
The 148 allegations of misconduct against the 17 officers fall under the B.C. Police Act. They include corrupt practice, deceit and neglect of duty. One of the officers, Constable Christopher Nicholson, has also been charged criminally. He has been suspended from the force since he was arrested in 2013. His trial is scheduled for next year.
Mr. Woods earlier said more than half of the 148 allegations of misconduct were against Constable Nicholson. Thursday, he said it was actually about 40 per cent, or 58 of the 148 allegations.
About a dozen of the 17 officers under investigation were with the department's drug squad in 2009, when the force began its crackdown on violent gangs. The officers still on duty have been moved off of drug files as a result of the investigation.
Ward Draper and Jesse Wegenast, who operate The 5 and 2 Ministries, an Abbotsford street church, in a joint interview said that as the city has grown so, too, has its drug problem. Smoking, swearing and dressed all in black, the pair operates the services on a shoestring budget, giving out blankets, meals, condoms, clean needles and crack pipes to "hundreds" of downtown Abbotsford's downtrodden. With volunteers, they offer outreach services at several of the city's drug hubs.
Mr. Wegenast said Abbotsford is caught between "small town charms and big city issues," including unemployment, poverty and disease. He said the fact the city's bylaw banning harm-reduction strategies was only abolished last year is "indicative of how far behind we are in terms of policy related to addiction, and we're fumbling forward finding our way."
"It's part of the identity crisis right now: transitioning from sleepy hollow to a city," Mr. Wegenast said. "We're the fifth-largest city in British Columbia now and I think some of the lag in the innovation and best practices you'd see in Vancouver is because it's still in transition.
"Abbotsford's trying to get a sense of itself."
Mr. Draper welcomed the review of the Abbotsford police's drug-squad protocols.
Robert Gordon, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, said an investigation of this magnitude is unlike anything the Vancouver area has seen.
Even though Abbotsford police have faced serious challenges – the city was dubbed the murder capital of Canada after recording 11 homicides in 2009 – Prof. Gordon said evidence must be properly obtained.
"I don't think our criminal justice system is worth compromising," he said.