The Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

The Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

Top court upholds ruling in favour of Coquitlam RCMP in cocaine entrapment case

The ruling upholds a B.C. Court of Appeal decision in the case of Cheung Wai Wallace Li

  • Jun. 12, 2020 8:20 a.m.

By Carl Meyer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer

When police in Coquitlam phoned up a suspected cocaine dealer and ordered drugs, it was not entrapment because they had done other investigative work and had a reasonable suspicion before calling, Canada’s top court ruled Thursday.

The decision adds to the Supreme Court of Canada’s body of work dealing with the balance between individual liberties and police powers, and the doctrine of entrapment — the idea that police should not randomly test people’s virtue, and that the state should be limited in how it can manipulate people for the purpose of scoring convictions.

Justice Sheilah Martin read out the court’s ruling following a virtual hearing. Justices appeared via Zoom video-conferencing, and used the virtual background setting to display a photo of the court behind them as they spoke into headsets.

The ruling upholds a B.C. Court of Appeal decision in the case of Cheung Wai Wallace Li, who pleaded guilty to trafficking in cocaine.

A B.C. trial judge had stayed proceedings on Li, saying that before the Mounties made the initial phone call to buy drugs off him, they didn’t have a reasonable basis to suspect that the phone number they were about to dial was associated with a drug-dealing operation.

But the appeals court lifted the stay, saying it had found “several errors in the judge’s analysis.” On Thursday, Eric Purtzki, the Vancouver-based counsel for the appellant, had argued for the Supreme Court to restore the B.C. trial judge’s finding.

The case involved an anonymous Crime Stoppers tip received by the Coquitlam RCMP in 2015. The tipster provided a phone number and said it was being used to deal cocaine in the area. They also gave a description of a tan Honda Odyssey minivan they said was involved, and gave the licence plate number.

The Mounties ran the phone number against a police database and came up empty, but when they ran a vehicle registration check on the plate, it confirmed the minivan description. Further records checks revealed that the owner “had an extensive history of suspected drug trafficking” and had five other vehicles registered in his name.

When an RCMP constable tried the phone number, a man answered, later identified as Li. The constable asked how the man was doing, and he said, “good” and then asked who was calling. The constable said it was “J” or “Jen” and the man said, “OK.” The constable then asked for “half of soft,” or half a gram of cocaine.

They then arranged to meet at the Coquitlam Centre mall and the police bought the drugs. Over the following months, the Mounties bought drugs 21 more times, with Li involved in 16 of those deals, according to the B.C. Court of Appeal ruling.

Purtzki argued Thursday that the police investigation into the vehicle should have been seen as disconnected from the records check on the phone number. Allowing police to bring together such disparate elements would create a “moral hazard,” he said.

There was no reasonable grounds to support a suspicion of drug dealing either before the call or during the call, argued Purtzki. “There’s nothing in the course of the call … linking the analysis and the tip to the content of the call,” he said.

Crown counsel countered that the RCMP’s action was not based on a hunch, but a “constellation” of factors. While the reliability of the tipster was unknown, the tip itself was detailed, including not just the phone number, but the make, model and colour of the vehicle and the licence plate.

As well, the Crown asked why Li, after the constable identified themselves as “J” or “Jen,” did not ask any follow-up questions about the person’s identity. And the Crown argued it was typical for drug dealers to use “burner” phones, or disposable, prepaid phones, so it was not uncommon for a phone number check to come back negative.

Purtzki replied that the sergeant who was questioned on the burner phone issue was asked in court proceedings if he agreed that, in his experience, drug dealers changed their phone numbers frequently, and his answer was that he didn’t necessarily agree.

Martin, when reading out the court’s ruling Thursday, confirmed that the justices agreed with the Crown that they should apply the framework of another Supreme Court case, R. v. Ahmad, dated May 29. That case is considered to be the first time the court had looked at entrapment in the context of so-called “dial-a-dope” trafficking cases.

In that case, the Supreme Court found that the entrapment doctrine should be focused on “abuse of process,” and that stays of proceedings should be “only issued in the clearest of cases of intolerable state conduct.”

“The police confirmed the assertion of illegality by connecting this car and licence plate, and five other vehicles, to a person with an extensive and recent history of suspected dial-a-dope drug dealing,” said Martin.

“Therefore, there was no entrapment.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Cops and Courts

Just Posted

Alexis Paige Simpson has not been in contact with her family in two months. (RCMP photo)
Chilliwack RCMP looking for missing 20-year-old woman

Police say Alexis Paige Simpson has not been in contact with her family in two months

(Maps.Chilliwack.com)
RCMP seek dash-cam footage after Chilliwack road rage incident

Male driving a black pickup stopped and allegedly threatened to punch another driver

Deepak Sharma of Abbotsford has been convicted of the sexual assault of one of his cab passengers in West Vancouver in January 2019.
Former Abbotsford Hindu temple president convicted of sexual assault

Deepak Sharma assaulted a female passenger when he was a cab driver

A blood drive in support of 1-year-old Rielynn Gormley of Agassiz is scheduled for Monday, June 28 at Tzeachten First Nation Community Hall in Chilliwack. Rielynn lives with type 3 von Willebrand disease, which makes it difficult for her to stop bleeding. (Screenshot/Canadian Blood Services)
Upcoming blood drive in honour of Agassiz toddler with rare blood condition

The Gormley family has organized a blood drive in Chilliwack on June 28

Woody’s RV World hosts a grand opening for its brand-new Abbotsford location on Saturday. (YouTube)
Woody’s RV World hosts Abbotsford grand opening on Saturday

First-ever B.C. location for successful RV chain, located on Marshall Road

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Chilliwack secondary school’s principal is apologizing after a quote equating graduation with the end of slavery in the U.S. was included in the 2020-2021 yearbook. (Screenshot from submitted SnapChat)
B.C. student’s yearbook quote equates grad to end of slavery; principal cites editing error

Black former student ‘disgusted’ as CSS principal apologizes for what is called an editing error

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross. (Photo by Peter Versteege)
BC Liberal leadership candidate condemns ‘senseless violence’ of Okanagan church fires

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says reconciliation isn’t about revenge for past tragedies

A coroner’s inquest will be taking place at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni for the next week. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Teen B.C. mom who died following police custody recalled as ‘friend to many’

Police sent Jocelyn George to hospital after intoxication had gone ‘beyond the realm’ of normal detox

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read