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Murder case derailed after B.C. judge rules police ignored evidence-handling rules

Click to play video: 'Court: RCMP disregarded law, murder suspect acquitted' Court: RCMP disregarded law, murder suspect acquitted
WATCH: A British Columbia man charged with second degree murder and attempted murder in a high profile homicide has been acquitted. A British Columbia Supreme Court justice ruled investigators with the province's special homicide unit disregarded Canadian law when dealing with key pieces of evidence. As Jordan Armstrong reports, now there are questions about whether other criminal cases will get their day in court – Apr 10, 2021

Samandeep Singh Gill is a free man.

After almost three years in jail awaiting trial, Gill has been acquitted on charges of second-degree murder and attempted murder in connection to a shooting involving a newlywed Surrey couple a decade ago.

Read more: IHIT investigates Abbotsford fatal stabbing

The shock decision came after a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled that investigators with the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) had disregarded Canadian law on the handling of key pieces of evidence, despite legal advice.

The court heard that decision was deliberate policy on the part of IHIT, raising concerns about hundreds of other homicide cases.

“I’ve been practicing criminal law in B.C. for over 20 years. And I can say without exaggeration, I have never seen anything like this before,” Gill’s lawyer, Matthew Nathanson, told Global News.

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Thirty-year-old Manbir Kajla and the love of his life had just married the morning of April 27, 2011. That same night, the new bride watched in horror as her husband was hit with a barrage of bullets and killed, following a road rage incident in Surrey.

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The couple was innocent. The incident was not gang or drug-related. The bride can not be named because of a publication ban.

The shooter fled the scene. Seven painful years passed for the victims’ families, before an explosive announcement by the RCMP in May 2018.

“This case spanned over seven years and it may not always have appeared to be moving forward. I hope news of charges brings some semblance of peace,” Supt. Ward Lymburner of the Provincial Unsolved Homicide Unit said at the time.

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Gill was charged in 2018, but the murder case crumbled after evidence crucial to the Crown’s case was thrown out last month. Alleged audio of the shooting, captured on a cellphone seized by police from Gill’s home, was deemed inadmissible.

Read more: New head of IHIT promises action on high-priority murder cases

“Basically, the police threw out the rule book,” Nathanson said.

“A systemic policy that went to the top of IHIT of basically flouting the law, of deliberately disregarding the law, in what appears to be almost all of their cases, across the board for a manner of years.”

According to audio of court proceedings from March 2, 2021, an IHIT officer only referred to as Sgt. Ross was advised by a senior justice of the peace in 2007 that there was virtually no compliance by officers to a requirement under Canadian law that they seek extension orders to hold evidence beyond an initial 90-day period after seizure.

Later that year, Sgt. Ross was advised by senior Crown that Section 490 of the Criminal Code is clear on seizure and detention: there is no latitude for covert police operations.

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In the summer and fall of 2007, Sgt. Ross was advised by a second senior Crown that he could not advise police to ignore the legislation.

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Sgt. Ross was also told by a senior lawyer for the Mounties that the RCMP could not advise police to ignore the legislation.

In January 2008, Sgt. Ross conducted an audit of 24 random homicide files under conduct of the Surrey office of IHIT. He found 21 of the 24 files were in noncompliance with Section 490.

Sgt. Ross then distributed a memo reminding all members of IHIT of the requirement to comply. IHIT Supt. Wayne Rideout was also notified.

Read more: Mayor says IHIT will remain in Surrey along with new police force, but it will cost more

“The police can not do this,” said Nathanson. “The law is clear, the police have to comply with it, and they were told that in no uncertain terms.”

In Justice David Masuhara’s reasons for judgement from March 2, 2021, court evidence revealed “Sgt. Gorgichuk’s testimony indicates there were likely hundreds of files impacted by the blanket noncompliance policy while it was in effect from 2007 – 2014.”

Despite IHIT dumping the directive in 2014, the practice of holding evidence beyond 90 days without an additional court order continued. Evidence in Gill’s case was held for nearly seven years unlawfully, the judge said.

“The IHIT policy of noncompliance amounts to systemic, flagrant disregard for charter protected rights … I find that IHIT, was at best, willfully blind towards the charter implications of the policy,” Justice Masuhara said.

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“The fact that the police, in this case, sought and received legal advice that explicitly deemed compliance mandatory makes these actions more egregious,” concluded the judge.

“The mandatory provisions of the criminal code enacted by parliament, are not a loophole, those are the rules,” Nathanson said.

“They’re the rules the police have to comply with. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as part of our constitution, that’s not a loophole. That is a document that protects the rights of all Canadians and the court’s ruling, in this case, is an affirmation of how important it is that the police abide by those constitutional parameters and respect people’s constitutional rights.”

The glaring question now is how many homicide cases are potentially in legal jeopardy because of what the judge described as IHIT’s former policy of noncompliance with the law.

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Read more: Richmond shooting victim has gang ties: IHIT

Global News reached out to all levels of the RCMP, including national headquarters, for an interview, but no one was made available by deadline.

In a statement, acting officer-in-charge of IHIT, Insp. Michelle Tansey, said, “I can confirm that IHIT has since taken steps to ensure our investigative standards and actions align with and are compliant with section 490 of the Criminal Code.”

She added that IHIT was working with the BC Prosecution Service on how to move forward.

In a statement, BC Prosecution Service spokesperson Daniel McLaughlin said Crown was reviewing the decision carefully and had yet to make a decision about next steps.

-With files from Jordan Armstrong

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