Court throws out cannabis charges after police search package without warrant

A Nova Scotia man who was arrested in 2018 for having 133 pounds of cannabis shipped to him from BC was found not guilty this week by a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge

The judge agreed with the defendant that police had violated his section 8 Charter right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure as it relates to certain courier packages because the police searched the package without a warrant. The judge also ruled that police had not proven that the accused had taken possession of the cannabis or knew of the contents of the packages.

Although police argued that the cannabis was in plain view, the court noted that the initial attending officer could not see the cannabis in the package it was shipped in “without lifting and holding out of the way the box top and…liner,” which the officer admitted he had to do. 

Because of this, Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Hunt ruled that “Constructive possession has not been proved by the Crown beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Background

On October 10, 2018, police seized three boxes from Purolator at 42 Parkway Drive in Truro Heights, Nova Scotia. Box 1 contained 21.61 kgs of cannabis, Box 2 contained 21.78 kgs of cannabis, and Box 3 contained 17.4 kgs plus 2,000 grams of commercial cannabis shatter packs. All packages were vacuum sealed. 

The packages were initially discovered by an employee at Purolator in Nova Scotia who noticed that the packages were sent by a BC company that the court records refer to as both Bio-Script and Bio-Best, who had been flagged previously by Purolator for shipping suspected unauthorized cannabis. 

Because of this, the employee opened the packages for further inspection and discovered what appeared to be several vacuum sealed packages of dried cannabis. The Purolator employee then contacted police who came to inspect and later take into possession the three boxes as evidence. 

The Purolator employee testified that the contents of the boxes could not be seen without lifting the top of the box and reinforced liner of the package and that no smell was noticeable from the packages. 

The officer who followed up on the employees call confirmed for the court that on arrival at the Purolator Depot he could see the boxes but not their contents.  He testified that to see inside you had to physically lift the box flap and Medium density fiberboard (MDF) which formed a liner in the box.  The judge noted that in order to obtain the pictures that were in evidence someone had to lift the box flap and MDF liner.

Upon inspection, the attending Constable seized all three packages and took them back to an RCMP facility. In cross-examination the officer confirmed that at no time did he seek or obtain judicial authorization for the steps he took regarding the seizure in this case.

It was only two weeks later that the officer filed a s. 489.1 Report in which the constable refers to a “plain view” seizure of cannabis from boxes obtained from a private company. The judge noted that while the Purolator employee did have the right to inspect the contents of the box, as per Purolator policy, the police did not have the right to inspect the contents of the box without a warrant. 

Upon taking possession of the three boxes, RCMP instructed Purloator to contact Jonathan Piatt, who the package had been addressed to, to come pick up the package. When Mr Piatt arrived at the Puroator centre, he was instructed to pull his vehicle around the side of the building to load the boxes. It was here that Mr Piatt was arrested by the RCMP for possession for the purpose of trafficking.

Mr Piatt later told police that  he was paid to pick up packages from the depot and deliver them to a building attached to a cannabis dispensary in Newfoundland.  He said he was offered $7,000.00 to do this, $2,000.00 up front and $5,000.00 upon completion of the delivery.

The court agreed with Mr Piatt’s defence team, arguing that law enforcement had not only violated Mr Piatt’s rights by inspecting the packages without a warrant, but that they had not proven possession of the packages since he never actually picked them up. Police had arrested him prior to him physically being in possession of the three boxes of cannabis.

“Mr. Piatt was never in actual physical possession of the cannabis contained in the three boxes as these had been seized by the police and removed to the RCMP detachment,” wrote the judge in the court ruling.

“There is no direct evidence that Mr. Piatt knew of the illegal contents of the packages,” he continued at a later point. 

“The Court enters a finding of not guilty on the single count on the Indictment. As a consequence, the recognizance is discharged.”

h/t to thechronicleherald.ca

Featured image via Google Maps


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