02/22/2013 10:36 EST | Updated 04/24/2013 05:12 EDT

Supreme Court chides Quebec police for not clarifying informant's status

OTTAWA - The Supreme Court of Canada has chided Quebec's provincial police for leaving a witness to the bloody biker wars in limbo over his or her status as a confidential informant.

But the high court was split in its ruling Friday over whether or not the individual was indeed a police informant — and thus entitled to have his or her identity protected.

The justices opted to send the matter back to a lower court for reconsideration.

The case involves someone identified only as B who bore witness to — and participated in — violent crimes as part of a savage turf war between Quebec's biker gangs that broke out in the mid-1990s.

"Motivated by fear for his safety and a desire for vengeance," B met two officers from an unnamed police force to given them information, the ruling says.

The court's legal officer says while the masculine gender was chosen to identify B in the ruling, that doesn't mean B is necessarily a man.

The police force promised B confidentiality — and assigned him or her an informant code — in exchange for information that implicated several people in violent crimes.

The force released B because the crimes were outside its authority. The police then passed along B's information to the Surete du Quebec.

Two days later, the Surete du Quebec arrested B for his crimes. B agreed to help the Surete du Quebec. Over the next few days, he continued to provide the Surete du Quebec with information about the crimes.

The Surete du Quebec gave B an informant code, and the person co-operated with police for the next five years. During that time, B repeatedly asked the Surete du Quebec to clarify B's status as an informant, but never received a clear answer.

B eventually pleaded guilty to one of the crimes and was sentenced. The nature of the crime and the name and location of the jail are not given in the court's ruling.

The Crown ordered the Surete du Quebec to remove B's name from any information that might identify the person and to seal the documents. But a few months later, two Surete du Quebec officers visited B in jail and asked him or her to give up privileges as an informer. B refused.

The Crown then went to court to clarify B's status.

At the closed-door hearing, B claimed he was an informer. B pointed to the fact that the Surete du Quebec assigned him an informant code, and requested he sign a waiver of informer privilege.

While the judge found it odd the Surete du Quebec would ask B to give up informer privileges if he was never an informer in the first place, he ultimately concluded the Surete du Quebec never promised B informer status.

The Supreme Court saw it differently.

"While the SQ officers were adamant that they did not think of B as an informer, they do not appear to have shared this view with B," the ruling says.

"B was promised confidentiality by the first police force because his co-operation put his life at risk. The risk did not change when he was transferred to the SQ two days later."

The Supreme Court notes B repeatedly voiced concerns about his confidentiality, safety and the uncertainty and confusion he or she felt.

"The fact nobody clarified for him whether the confidentiality promised by the first police force continued to apply to his dealings with the SQ could well have led him to believe that the protection he had with the first force continued pending the co-operating witness contract," the ruling says.