Police were doing surveillance on someone Joshua Bennett knew, working up a case she was trafficking drugs.
They observed her at Bennett’s rural property, northeast of Calgary, on consecutive days in late March of last year. Later on the second day, they saw Bennett enter the woman’s house in Calgary, then exit carrying something in a black garbage bag. Undercover officers followed him home.
A confidential informant, someone with a criminal record who traded tips for money, had told investigators that the woman “uses stash houses to hide her drugs and likes using rural areas,” according to court records.
That, more or less, was the evidence the constables, from a provincial joint-forces agency called Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT), presented to a judge to get a search warrant.
A week later, at 7 a.m. on a bitterly cold morning, police stormed Bennett’s home.
Officers in commando gear bashed in a door and used an armoured vehicle to smash through the living room window, Bennett and his partner, Jennifer Hacker, say.
“And all of a sudden, you heard all this ‘bang, bang, bang’ going off in the house,” Hacker recounted in an interview last week. “It sounds like we were being shot at, and it was tear gas that they were shooting into our house.” Officers had also set off a stun grenade, she said.
As their home filled with throat-burning smoke, Bennett and Hacker scampered to their garage. They opened the door to the outside and were greeted by guns pointed at their heads by a team of tactical officers.
“It’s so surreal,” Hacker said. “Like it was something out of a movie. Just surrounded. Nobody knocked on the door, nobody called on a megaphone. Nobody.”
“Like, I’m not a Pablo Escobar, you know,” Bennett said. “All they had to do was knock on the door.”
‘Where is the meth?’
No-knock police raids are supposed to be rare in Canada. By law, officers are normally required to “knock and announce” — knock on the door, announce their presence as police, and wait a reasonable amount of time for someone to answer — before executing a search warrant.
But investigators also have sole discretion on when there are “exigent circumstances” — concerns about safety or potential destruction of evidence — to let them depart from that rule. An ongoing CBC News investigation has found that this happens hundreds of times a year in Canada among the country’s half-dozen largest police forces alone, and yet there’s no data on how often the raids actually turn up drugs or weapons, or result in charges.
After officers cuffed and marched Bennett and Hacker to awaiting police cars, they were taken to Calgary police headquarters for 3½ hours and questioned.
“They asked, ‘Where is the meth? Where’s the hard drugs?'” Bennett recalled.
“I said, ‘Well, my drugs are downstairs in the basement.’ I had a backpack with some marijuana that Jen uses to sleep at night. They came back out of the investigation room and said, ‘We don’t care about the marijuana, where’s the hard drugs?'”
As part of the same police investigation, another squad of officers had raided the northwest Calgary home of Bennett’s acquaintance, the house where he’d been surveilled the week before. There, investigators allege, they found a half kilogram of cocaine, 253 grams of methamphetamine, 25 grams of fentanyl and six kilograms of cannabis. They charged her with drug and weapons offences.
Bennett told CBC he did, in fact, visit the woman to purchase four ounces (113 grams) of marijuana from her for his partner, who he said has a medical cannabis authorization. But he says that was two weeks earlier. The week before the raids, he says, he returned to pick up some Lululemon workout clothes she was selling and left with the items in a black garbage bag. A surveillance photo of him carrying the garbage bag was among the evidence police cited to persuade the judge to grant the search warrant for his home.
Nothing was seized at Bennett and Hacker’s home. They weren’t charged with anything, and were let go.
The damage to their home, which they were renting, was later estimated at more than $50,000, according to two different repair estimates their landlord shared with CBC News. The landlord is on the hook for the amount, but he kept Bennett and Hacker’s damage deposit. The City of Calgary refused a compensation claim, saying the police tactics were “necessary” to execute the search warrant and “the officers were acting in accordance with their duties and were not negligent.”
Lack of data hampers accountability, defence lawyer says
Canada’s police forces don’t publish statistics on how many no-knock raids they execute every year. So CBC News made access to information requests to the country’s biggest police departments to try to find out.
Among the police forces that provided numbers, Quebec’s provincial police, the Sûreté du Québec, conducted the most: 143 last year. Ontario Provincial Police were next at 85. Police in Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary, Vancouver and London, Ont., also supplied data.