Home Canadian News Massive B.C. drug case collapses after police errors, ‘disgraced’ officer’s role revealed – BC

Massive B.C. drug case collapses after police errors, ‘disgraced’ officer’s role revealed – BC

Massive B.C. drug case collapses after police errors, ‘disgraced’ officer’s role revealed – BC

A massive B.C. drug trafficking investigation has collapsed and charges against three men have been stayed, after the revelation of serious errors by the Victoria Police Department.

The investigation, dubbed Project Juliet, resulted in the seizure of $30 million in fentanyl, weapons and cash, and charges a year later against Brent Van Buskirk, Vu Bao Nguyen and Byran Balla.

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But the case began falling apart when first Crown, and then defence lawyers, became aware that one of the Victoria police officers actively involved in the early stages of the investigation was himself under criminal investigation for alleged corrupt practices.

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“It’s clear that there were several points of failure in our processes,” Victoria Police Chief Del Manak said at a Wednesday press conference.

“I apologize for our contribution to this outcome.”

Perhaps more troubling, court documents suggest that Victoria police had taken steps to hide the now-disgraced officer’s involvement.

Court ruling reveals how case unravelled

Details of how the case unraveled are revealed in an October 2023 B.C. Supreme Court Decision, in which Justice Catherine Murray excoriated police for trying to hide the fact that now-disgraced former officer Rob Ferris was involved.

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According to the ruling, the investigation into Balla and Nguyen began in the spring of 2020 and Ferris was allowed to participate — including conducting surveillance and handling an informant — so as not to tip him off to the fact he was being probed by an RCMP anti-corruption unit.

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When Ferris was arrested in June, police scrapped the initial investigation, and started a new one days later with a new file number but with the same lead investigator and focused on the same targets under the Project Juliet banner, according to the ruling.

That probe connected Balla and Nguyen in Victoria to VanBuskirk, their alleged supplier in Metro Vancouver, and the trio were arrested in November 2020 in a joint operation with the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit.

According to the ruling, in their report to Crown counsel, police stated the investigation had actually started in June 2020, and made no reference to any prior work or any involvement by Ferris. Police claimed the first development in the case had been a June 2023 review of an “unrelated police file,” and failed to disclose prior warrants they’d obtained in the first investigation.

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“Not only did police not mention the first investigation, they obscured it,” Murray wrote.

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“Through their actions, investigators misled the Crown, defence and the Justices that issued authorizations and warrants into believing that the investigation commenced in June 2020.”

Following the suspects’ arrests, a defence lawyer reviewing police disclosure noticed a reference to a task dated April 2020 and began asking questions.

Crown ultimately learned about the first investigation and disclosed it to defence in January 2023 and all charges against Nguyen and Balla were dropped the following month.

Murray’s judgment came after one of the accused, Van Buskirk — who was on parole for the 2004 murder of Ravi Nutt in Saanich at the time of his arrest — successfully applied to access details about Ferris’ role in Project Juliet.

The Crown stayed charges against him on Jan. 19, 2024, with no reasons listed on the record.

“Although the crown claims that Mr. Ferris played an insignificant role in the first investigation, the Crown’s actions in staying the serious charges against Nguyen and Balla belie that. As do VicPD’s efforts in concealing the first investigation,” wrote Murray.

While police admit to errors in the investigation, Chief Manak insisted Wednesday that there had been no intent to mislead.

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“I think there was a number of mistakes that were made; I can tell you that at no point in time was there any attempt to try to derail the process or to mislead the court,” he told reporters.

Manak said that decisions in the investigation were made in good faith, including officers’ attempts to “minimize” his involvement while maintaining the integrity of the RCMP probe into his actions. After he was arrested, Manak said the investigation was “re-set” without Ferris’ influence.

“There were decisions that should have been made differently and changes that can be made to the way we do our work,” he conceded.

Ferris was never criminally charged, but 19 allegations of misconduct under the Police Act were substantiated. Ferris resigned before he could be fired.

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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