Essays

Judicial insanity – A man with 27,500 fentanyl pills goes free

The Notwithstanding clause was intended for court cases when a judge delivers a verdict that goes against all common sense and reason.

fentanyl

In Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), Norman Bates says, “We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?”

Bates is insane, yet even a sane person will sometimes do crazy things.

Case in point: A Supreme Court Justice in British Columbia recently delivered a verdict that was totally nuts. Justice Michael J. Brundrett ruled that a drug dealer’s Charter rights were violated when the police searched his van and found 27,500 fentanyl pills.

In 2017, Sandor Rigo was pulled over for speeding on Highway 1 near Chilliwack, BC. There were multiple cell phones in his vehicle, a large amount of cash, and a strong odor of cologne or air freshener, which is often used to mask the smell of drugs.

The police officer used a drug detection dog to inspect the vehicle for narcotics. The dog bounced her nose, put her paws on the van, then partially sat down. (When a drug detection dog sits, it is signalling the presence of narcotics.)

The dog did not completely sit down because she was near a curb. She was reportedly “startled by her rear-end hitting the concrete barrier…”

The judge said that it was “highly ambiguous” if the dog signalled there were narcotics in the van. He ruled that the police search of Rigo’s van violated his Charter rights.

Section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms states, “Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.”

One problem with the Charter is that many rights are stated in vague terms. When rights are not clearly defined, they are subject to judicial interpretation.

Judges often interpret the Charter according to their own ideological biases. Justice Brundrett, who was appointed by Justin Trudeau, has a very liberal bias in how he views section 8 of the Charter.

Brundrett believes that the police search of the van was unreasonable because the drug detection dog did not keep her ass flat on the ground! He said there was “an absence of reasonable grounds to arrest the accused.”

The problem with the word “unreasonable” in section 8 is what is reasonable to one person is not reasonable to someone else.

It was not unreasonable for the police to search Rigo’s van for narcotics. He had a previous criminal record. He said he was driving from Vancouver to Calgary to buy used tires. The ridiculous reason for his trip, cell phones, cash, and fragrance were all red flags that he was a drug dealer who was transporting drugs. The behavior of the dog indicated the possible presence of narcotics, and the dog was right.

But the judge ignored all this and excluded the fentanyl from evidence.

In 2017, there were 1,223 fentanyl-detected deaths in BC. Drug dealers like Rigo should be given severe prison sentences—even life in prison—for killing many of their customers. Instead, Rigo is back on the streets and will likely continue to distribute fentanyl.

There is an obvious solution to this insane court ruling: John Horgan, the Premier of British Columbia, can invoke the Notwithstanding clause and overturn it.

The Notwithstanding clause, aka Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, allows a provincial or federal government to pass legislation that overrides a court ruling on sections 2 and 7 to 15 of the Charter.

The Notwithstanding clause was intended for court cases when a judge delivers a verdict that goes against all common sense and reason. Justice Brundrett placed greater value on a drug dealer’s supposed rights than the harm caused by the narcotics he was transporting. He let a guilty man go free because of his extremely liberal interpretation of the Charter.

If Premier Horgan is concerned about fentanyl-related deaths, and wants to get drug dealers off the streets, he should pass legislation to put Rigo behind bars.

The Notwithstanding clause is the only way to stop judicial overreach. Where the Charter is ambiguously worded, an elected Parliament or Legislature should define what a person’s rights are by passing legislation, not by unelected judges who are accountable to no one.


Originally published in The Post Millennial.

6 comments

  1. Excellent column, Chris, as usual.

    We often have the same problem here in the US, as I’m sure you’re aware. Unelected mandarins in black robes legislating from the bench, creating their own laws, answerable to no one. At least you Canadians have a mechanism to reverse such overreach. We don’t.

    Liked by 1 person

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