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Peel police officers fabricated evidence in prostitution case: judge

Several Peel Region police officers fabricated evidence in an attempt to secure a conviction against a man accused of prostituting a 17-year-old girl, found an Ontario judge, who said he had no choice but to throw the case out.

"It would be difficult to conceive of conduct that would more distinctly shock the conscience of the community than the fabrication of evidence by the police," Superior Court Judge Douglas Gray wrote in the decision released this week from court in Brampton, Ont.

It is "an affront to decency and fair play," he wrote.

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Courtney Salmon was facing 17 charges, including human trafficking and living on the avails of prostitution. The Crown alleged that Mr. Salmon induced a 17-year-old girl to become a prostitute and took most of her earnings.

He was also alleged to have obtained a fake ID for the girl saying she was older than 18 years old so she could work in sex clubs in Brampton. But it was that fake ID that ultimately led the judge to free Mr. Salmon of all of the charges because he concluded that Peel Regional officers "concocted a scheme" to falsify evidence.

According to what Constable George Wang had written in his notes, on the exhibit list and property tag as well as the evidence he gave at the preliminary inquiry, the fake ID was found in Mr. Salmon's wallet at the time of arrest, Judge Gray said in his decision.

It was later revealed that in fact the girl herself had turned over the fake ID at the police station when she went there to make her complaint, Judge Gray noted.

Constable Wang colluded with one or more vice unit officers to make it appear as though the ID was found in Mr. Salmon's wallet, which would have been strong evidence of a degree of control Salmon had over the girl, the judge found.

In his judgment, Judge Gray singled out officers Michael Viozzi and Scott Hogan, saying they had opportunity and motive. Officers Viozzi and Hogan had seen Mr. Salmon charged for similar offences before but the charges were stayed or dismissed. They thought Mr. Salmon had "got away with it," and didn't want to see that happen again, Judge Gray said.

In this case Constable Viozzi saw the exhibit list the night it was prepared and would have known it was false and Officer Hogan heard Constable Wang's evidence at the preliminary inquiry and would have known it was false, Judge Gray said.

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"Their conduct contravenes fundamental notions of justice and undermines the integrity of the criminal judicial process," Judge Gray wrote in his decision.

Sergeant Zahir Shah said he could not comment on the allegations made against Peel officers in the decision.

The Crown is still considering whether to appeal the ruling, Sgt. Shah said Thursday.

The Crown had argued that it was a case of sloppy work by an inexperienced police officer - Constable Wang has been with the force for about six years - who was overwhelmed by the responsibility.

Judge Gray disagreed, finding that the erroneous evidence was deliberate, and saying that he couldn't conceive of a remedy short of a stay of the entire proceedings that would suffice in the circumstances.

"The interest is not in protecting an accused's fair trial rights, rather it is in protecting the integrity of the justice system," Judge Gray said in his decision. "It is not so much that Mr. Salmon has been shabbily or badly treated. Rather, the state actors, the police, have been prepared to fabricate a case, in part, in order to secure a conviction."

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