VANCOUVER – It’s unclear what the impact on law enforcement will be in the wake of a landmark court decision that slammed the RCMP for investigative methods it used during an elaborate undercover operation into two terrorist suspects, a legal expert says.
Micheal Vonn of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association said police would do well to reconsider their anti-terrorism tactics after Friday’s B.C. Supreme Court ruling tossed out guilty verdicts against John Nuttall and Amanda Korody.
“It certainly signals to the police that these kinds of initiatives are going to be scrutinized by the court in a very rigorous fashion, including when they involve charges that are terrorist in nature,” Vonn said in an interview.
“That is a very important signal.”
Nuttall and Korody were arrested in July 2013 as part of a police sting after planting what they believed were pressure-cooker bombs at the B.C. legislature on Canada Day. A jury found them guilty of terrorism-related charges in June 2015.
On Friday, Justice Catherine Bruce ruled the RCMP had entrapped Nuttall and Korody into carrying out a police-manufactured crime, describing it as something the couple could never have planned, let alone executed, without the help and coercion of undercover officers.
Vonn described the ruling as both obvious and courageous, and said the fact that such an expensive operation floundered in court will likely provide a strong impetus for police to make changes, if only from a dollars-and-cents point of view.
“You hate to boil this down to cost effectiveness, but we’re talking about an extremely costly initiative,” Vonn said.
“The only result here achieved is that people have become extremely skeptical about this particular tactic,” she added about the operation’s impact in the eyes of the public.
The RCMP issued a brief statement Friday saying it was reviewing the decision, but made no comment about any changes it might be considering in the aftermath of the abuse-of-process ruling.
“The detection, disruption and deterrence of national security-related threats in Canada is a priority for the RCMP and its partner agencies,” read the statement.
Crown lawyer Peter Eccles raised concerns about the impact Friday’s ruling could have on the ability of law enforcement to monitor and prevent terrorist threats.
“As we’ve seen even in the last six weeks, lone participants are undeniably the greatest challenge law enforcement faces,” he said.
“The difficulty for the Crown is the line that the judge has set could very well seriously impact on the ability of (the RCMP) to pursue any similar investigation of anyone in the future.”
IN PICTURES: John Nuttall and Amanda Korody embraced in the lobby of the courthouse after being released.
Defence counsel rejected the notion that police would be hamstrung by Friday’s court decision.
“I’d be surprised if the RCMP hadn’t taken a careful look at this case already a long time ago,” said Mark Jette, Korody’s lawyer.
“An organization like that, you would think, would try to learn some lessons (before and after) a judgment like this,” he said.
In her ruling, Bruce said the actions of the police threatened the fundamental beliefs of Canadians, such as freedom, dignity and fairness.
“There must be balance between the need to protect the public from harm and what is proper police conduct in a free and democratic society,” she said.