TORONTO - Police owe a "special duty" to the justice system, Ontario's highest court ruled Monday, as it dismissed an appeal from five former Toronto police officers convicted of attempting to obstruct justice.
In a decision which marked the culmination of a long-running legal saga, Ontario's Court of Appeal found the officers — all members of the Toronto police drug squad — deserved sentences longer than the month-and-a-half term they originally received.
"Police officers owe a special duty to be faithful to the justice system," the appeal court decision said. "The 45-day conditional sentences do not reflect society's condemnation of the conduct. Nor do they address the need to denounce the crimes."
The appeal court ordered a three-year sentence be imposed on the officers, but, give the passage of time since the original sentences were handed down in January 2013, the court ruled that the new sentences should be stayed.
The officers were part of what was called at the time one of the largest-ever police corruption cases in Canada.
John Schertzer, Steven Correia, Ned Maodus, Joseph Miched and Raymond Pollard faced multiple charges based on allegations they conducted searches without warrants, falsified notes to hide those alleged facts and allegedly didn't account for all of the money seized in drug investigations. They also faced extortion and assault allegations.
The case faced numerous delays.
Charges were laid in 2004, but stayed in 2008, when it appeared a trial wouldn't be completed in a timely manner. Ontario's Court of Appeal then ordered a new trial, saying the delays in the case were not unreasonable.
That decision was taken up to the Supreme Court of Canada, which declined to hear an appeal of the ruling, paving the way for the trial to go ahead.
The five officers were all eventually convicted in 2012 of attempting to obstruct justice. Three of them — Pollard, Maodus and Correia — were also convicted of perjury.
A key issue at their trial had been the timing of a search of a suspect's apartment in 1998.
The Crown alleged that the officers falsified their notes and some gave false testimony to conceal the fact that they searched the apartment before a search warrant physically arrived at the location.
The officers maintained they did not search the residence until after the warrant arrived.
In appealing their convictions, the officers alleged the trial judge made several errors, including allowing the jury hearing the case to use preliminary inquiry testimony as a basis to convict the officers. They also argued that the Crown's closing address allegedly resulted in a miscarriage of justice, as it invited the jury to engage in "speculative reasoning."
Meanwhile, the Crown cross-appealed the officers' sentences, saying a three-year term would be far more appropriate.
The Court of Appeal dismissed the officers' conviction appeal and agreed with the Crown, saying the original 45-day conditional sentences were "demonstratively unfit."
"When the perpetrators of the crime are police officers sworn to uphold the law, the objective of denunciation has heightened significance," the court found.
"Public confidence in the honesty of the police is fundamental to the integrity of the criminal justice system."