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Ontario Court Of Appeal Says Ends Don’t Justify The Means For Waterloo Regional Police

In a decision certain to rock the Canadian policing landscape, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled June 28, 2017, that the goal of investigators, no matter how noble, does not justify violating the Charter rights of Canadians – not even when the accused is a full patch member of the Hell’s Angels.
“The breach of Frank Strauss’ right to be secure from unreasonable search and seizure was very serious. It was as a result of deliberate police conduct known to be in breach of a Charter protected right but which was committed on the basis that ‘the ends justified the means.’ Frank Strauss had every reason to believe he had a significant privacy interest with respect to the portion of the barn which he rented at 2078 Erbs Road.”
It’s a twisted road to this harsh indictment of some members of the Waterloo Regional Police Service.
On February 16, 2012, Keith Faria and Brian Quackenbushi broke into a Cambridge, Ontario, residence and stole 29 firearms and ammunition.
Waterloo Regional Police Service Detective Sergeant Harrington was the senior investigating officer.
When they searched Quackenbush’s home, they learned Jordan Thomas took possession of the stolen firearms and ammunition. After his arrest, Thomas told investigators he traded the stolen firearms and ammunition to Hell’s Angels’ member, Frank Strauss, in exchange for cocaine and marijuana.
Thomas took investigators to the location of the meet but could not identify the location of the safe house. Detective Sergeant Harrington was determined to find the guns. He ordered a “needle in a haystack search” of every property within a 20-minute radius of the drop-off point.
Police basically travelled the region, going onto properties illegally, looking for the safe house. They did not find it.
On February 29, 2012, Constable Craig McManus told Detective Sergeant Harrington while he conducted surveillance on someone else, McManus observed Frank Strauss’s vehicle at 2078 Erbs Road in Perth County. Constable McManus said there is a “barn-style garage” on the property, visible from the road. This property was just five kilometres from the meeting place Thomas showed them.
Detective Sergeant Harrington testified that he did not believe he had grounds to obtain a warrant to search the property or the building. He had no reason to believe the property was owned or leased by Frank Strauss. Still, before he arrived at the garage Detective Sergeant Harrington decided he would enter the property without a warrant. He wanted to find the stolen guns and ammunition, and he didn’t care whose Charter rights he violated in the process.
Detective Sergeant Harrington broke into the back portion of the barn and searched it. His illegal search resulted in the recovery of sixteen long guns, one handgun and approximately 4,500 rounds of ammunition. He also seized used packaging with traces of cocaine, debt lists and some marijuana.
On March 2, 2012, police arrested Frank Strauss for violating the terms of his recognizance stemming from earlier drug charges in London, Ontario. He was not arrested for the stolen guns and ammunition.
Both Jordan Thomas and Frank Strauss attended court in Kitchener, Ontario, on March 6, 2012. While awaiting their respective court appearances the two criminals waited in a large cell. While sitting in that cell, Frank Strauss told Jordan Thomas police didn’t find the secret room inside his safe house where more firearms and drugs were hidden.
Jordan Thomas promptly passed that information to Detective Sergeant Harrington who, based on that information, applied for a search warrant. His application included disclosure of the previous illegal search of the same premises, but the judge still signed off on the search warrant.
Police located the secret room along with the guns and drugs hidden inside it. In total, they seized four long guns, five handguns, 9,873 rounds of ammunition, 10 kilograms of cocaine, 118 pounds of marijuana, 160 growing marijuana plants, a small amount of cannabis resin, 31 methamphetamine pills, 106 grams of crystal methamphetamine and $28,990 in Canadian currency.
Waterloo Regional Police Service Detective Sergeant Harrington admitted, under oath, he believed “the ends justified the means” and recovering the stolen firearms and ammunition from a Hell’s Angels’ member justified his warrantless search.
Detective Sergeant Harrington also testified this was the only time he ever conducted a warrantless search. That declaration may not pass the sniff test, given his very first thought, in this case, was to violate the Charter.
Justice J.A. Benotto, writing for the Ontario Court of Appeal in R. v. Strauss, handed some harsh words to Waterloo Regional Police Service Detective Sergeant Harrington:
“Detective Sgt. Harrington acknowledged … that the ends, recovery of stolen firearms and ammunition from a member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, justified the means which was the warrantless search.”
“[E]xigent circumstances do not justify a warrantless search for evidence or contraband on less than grounds for obtaining a warrant.”
“The Charter does not just apply to law-abiding citizens. There is no exception for members of criminal organizations who are illegally in possession of firearms and ammunition. Accordingly, it is my view that admission of the evidence seized as a result of the search on February 29, 2012 would be more likely to bring the administration of justice into disrepute, in the long term sense, than would the exclusion of the evidence.”
“The breach of Frank Strauss’ right to be secure from unreasonable search and seizure was very serious. It was as a result of deliberate police conduct known to be in breach of a Charter protected right but which was committed on the basis that ‘the ends justified the means.’

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