Article by Greg McArthur, Globe and Mail
Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s chief of staff took multiple steps to urge police forces across the province to launch raids on illegal marijuana storefronts in the weeks after cannabis was legalized, records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show.
Dean French sought daily reports on the number of store owners charged by police and the number of stores shut down, and he instructed staff to send letters to police service boards in an effort to instill “some urgency.”
Mr. French also instructed staff in an e-mail to discuss “concerns,” which he did not detail, about how justices of the peace, the judicial officials who rule on provincial offences, were treating marijuana-related charges.
The democratic norm of walling off police investigations from the priorities of an elected government has been the subject of much analysis in Canada. The issue was at the heart of the three-year Ipperwash Inquiry, which examined the shooting death of an Indigenous protester in 1995 by an OPP officer amid pressure from the Premier’s Office to remove demonstrators from a provincial park.
The inquiry commissioner, Justice Sidney Linden, wrote in his 2006 report that, although it is necessary for police and government to exchange some information, “care must be taken to ensure that they do not become covert or veiled attempts to inappropriately direct police operations.”
Michael Spratt, an Ottawa criminal defence lawyer, called Mr. French’s efforts “disturbing” – especially, he said, because of his interest in the performance of justices of the peace.
“You have to remember these are judicial officers who can authorize intrusive police actions, like search warrants, and can sentence individuals to large monetary penalties and even deprive people of their liberty. We would never, like never, accept or condone politicians … seeking to exercise influence in what judges do.”
He added: “This is definitely across the line of what’s proper.”