Misconduct Charges Sully image of Canadian Police.

Feb 1st, 2004, New York Times

TORONTO, Jan. 30 The harsh image of Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers raiding a newspaper reporter's home and confiscating her files has roiled this country, which is proud of its heritage as a global proponent of human rights and civil liberties.

But the public discomfort was just the latest in a series of episodes that have caused the Canadian police to be accused of abusive practices or corruption. Police officers have been accused of robbery of jewelry and drugs, and of rigging evidence to put suspects behind bars in Toronto, and of abusing drug addicts in Vancouver. They have even been accused of dumping intoxicated Native Canadians on isolated snowy roads to freeze to death in the prairies.

On Wednesday, two Vancouver police officers were fired and four others suspended, after an investigation into a beating of three drug dealing suspects in Stanley Park last year.

Most Canadian police officers appear to be as polite as the population at large. But the arrest earlier in January of six Toronto narcotics squad officers has shocked prosecutors and local criminal lawyers. The six are facing a variety of brutality and corruption charges; moreover, newly released internal police documents indicate that many more may be implicated.

"Each and every day in some courtroom in Toronto, some police officer gives perjured testimony, in my opinion based on over a decade of experience," said Edward Sapiano, a criminal lawyer; it was his database of accusations against Toronto officers that prompted an official investigation into a city narcotics squad. "Every city in the country has examples of police corruption," he said.

The Toronto scandal has followed a pattern that has emerged in New York and other American cities in which officers were suspected of having succumbed to the temptations of the great sums involved in the drug trade while internal investigative units were inadequate to monitor them.

The Toronto investigation is showing that the same officers accused of beating suspects for information are likely to be accused of producing tainted evidence and stealing narcotics.

An affidavit released by a Royal Canadian Mounted Police task force investigating the narcotics squad carried a report that a narcotics dealer had passed a lie detector test in which he stated that several officers stole the equivalent of $50,000 in jewelry and cash when they raided his home. According to the affidavit, three more officers were reported to have stolen $70,000 from a safe deposit box using a fake search warrant.

Canada is policed by a web of local and provincial forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a national agency with a longtime international reputation for efficiency. That image was bruised on Jan. 21, when officers raided the home and office of an Ottawa Citizen reporter, Juliet O'Neill.

She had obtained secret documents about a Canadian citizen who was arrested as a terrorism suspect from Al Qaeda in the United States and then expelled to Syria.

Prime Minister Paul Martin said he was stunned by the raids, which were intended to find the source of the leaked documents, and he called for a review of the law protecting government secrets that was the basis for the search warrants.

But Ms. O'Neill's computer files and other personal documents have still not been returned to her, and newspaper editorials and opposition politicians are questioning whether the civilian control of the police is adequate.

"It is starting to look as if the R.C.M.P. is out of control," The Toronto Star said in an editorial. "It needs its political masters to call it to account for its outrageous actions."

Such commentary is rare in a country in which the brave Mountie on horseback in his smart red uniform is one of the prized national traditions.

"While brutality and fabricating evidence is fairly widespread," said Jean-Paul Brodeur, a criminologist at the University of Montreal, "we really don't want to look too closely into police corruption because corruption is kind of a Canadian taboo."

But that attitude is now being tested.

A much publicized official investigation is continuing into the death in 1990 of Neil Stonechild, a Native Canadian teenager who was found frozen on the outskirts of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. It has revealed that the Saskatoon police have followed a practice of picking up drunken Native Canadian men from the street, taking them away and abandoning them in the snow. One of Mr. Stonechild's friends said he saw him shortly before his death in a police car, handcuffed and screaming.

Over the last decade or so, at least four Native Canadian men have been found frozen to death in the snow around Saskatoon. One Cree man spoke out recently, saying that the Saskatoon police left him in the snow in January 2000, and that after he made the accusation, he began receiving anonymous death threats.

Human Rights Watch, an international human rights group based in New York, issued a report in May documenting cases of police abuse in Vancouver against drug addicts, including beatings, illegal searches and arbitrary arrests. But Mayor Larry Campbell of Vancouver disputed the conclusions of the report and the methods used in compiling it.

The police complaint commissioner for British Columbia recently called for a public inquiry into the 1998 death by exposure of a drunken Native Canadian man after police officers released him from custody and dumped him in an alley.