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Victoria police chief apologizes for force’s ‘contributions’ to collapse of $30M drug prosecution

Victoria's police chief apologized Wednesday for the "contributions" his officers made to the collapse of a major drug prosecution doomed by a disgraced former officer's involvement in the initial investigation.

Chief defended allowing serving officer to continue business partnership with disgraced colleague

A man in a police uniform stands before a podium speaking with his hands clasped together. Behind him on a screen are the words 'Honour through service.'

Victoria's police chief apologized Wednesday for the "contributions" his officers made to the collapse of a major drug prosecution doomed by a disgraced former officer's involvement in the initial investigation.

But Chief Del Manak insisted his officers didn't mislead the court about Robb Ferris's role in Project Juliet, despite a B.C. Supreme Court judge's claim they "obscured" Ferris's part in a probe that began a month earlier than his officers swore it did.

"We're disappointed at the outcome of the file, which involved a significant amount of resources and dedication from our officers. Now it's clear that there were several points of failure," Manak said at a news conference late Wednesday.

"There were decisions that should have been made differently and changes that could be made to the way that we do our work, and I apologize for our contribution to this outcome."

'Investigators misled the Crown'

Manak made the comments in the wake of a CBC News story detailing the demise of Project Juliet, which is spelled out in a recently released ruling from Justice Catherine Murray.

Charges have been stayed against all three of the men originally charged for alleged involvement in a fentanyl trafficking ring following raids that yielded more than $30 million worth of drugs, weapons and cash.

According to Murray's decision, prosecutors stayed the charges after learning Victoria police hid the fact Ferris was part of the original investigative team at the same time he was under criminal investigation by the RCMP's anti-corruption squad.

Ferris was part of the team from May 2020 to June 2020, when he was arrested.

Murray said the drug probe recommenced without him, culminating in the three arrests. But when investigators filed a final report to Crown counsel they left out any mention of activities preceding June 2020.

The judge said an officer tasked with writing applications for search warrants "concealed" the existence of previous authorizations obtained in the investigation.

And when a defence lawyer stumbled on an earlier date in the documentation, the lead investigator told Crown counsel it was an administrative oversight.

She is now the subject of an external disciplinary investigation.

"In Project Juliet investigators misled the Crown, defence and issuing justices by concealing the existence of the first investigation," Murray wrote.

'I'm not going to argue with Justice Murray'

Manak insisted Wednesday his officers had not lied.

"That's the way it would appear, but I can tell you that this was an extremely complex file with many, many moving parts," he said.

"I'm not going to argue with Justice Murray's comments, I can just tell you that we have made changes and we're going to learn from this and we're going to be better."

Ferris was not criminally charged in connection with the allegations against him, which included associating with suspects, divulging details of investigations to family members, improperly accessing police databases and lying to investigators.

Manak said that by 2021, a Police Act investigation found that 19 counts of misconduct had been substantiated against Ferris. But the chief said the officer resigned before he could be fired.

Ferris's name has subsequently appeared in a number of appeals by suspects convicted as a result of investigations in which he played a part.

Business partners?

Manak said Wednesday that Victoria Police and RCMP did an audit following Ferris's arrest "on any files that may be impacted."

He said he did not have the details, "but I can assure you that there was an audit conducted."

The chief also said he believed there were no more files "currently before the courts that are being impacted as a result of Const. Ferris's misconduct."

In a strange twist to proceedings, Manak also defended the force's decision not to intervene in a private business partnership between Ferris and another serving officer, who only retired a few weeks ago.

The two men remained partners in a company that builds tennis and sports courts despite the cloud of misconduct allegations surrounding Ferris's resignation.

"Our officers are allowed to have secondary employment. We do know what the off-duty activities are; they do have to obtain approval," Manak said.

"I've got no concerns over their relationship or anything that may have transpired. We believe and I believe that Const., Ferris actions are owned by him."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and the justice system extensively.

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