The confidential informant’s tip was alarming: a Markham convenience store was peddling more than milk and eggs; if you knew to ask a certain employee, he would hook you up with heroin. The informant told Toronto police he had bought some himself.
So in the early morning of Oct. 1, 2012, Const. Robert Warrener, a 20-year Toronto police veteran and member of the drug squad, pulled into the Daisy Mart lot, parked where he could see the store and the employee’s grey Toyota, and settled in to watch. His goal was to witness activity that would back up the informant’s claims, in turn providing vital evidence police needed to obtain a search warrant.
Warrener later told a court that within a half an hour, he witnessed the target employee leave the store, walk to his car, meet a “black man in a leather jacket,” and make an exchange — an interaction the police officer judged to be a hand-to-hand drug deal.
Five hours later, police had court-approved search warrants for the store, the employee’s house and his car. They seized 99 grams of powdered cocaine, bags of heroin and crack cocaine, oxycodone pills, nearly $6,000, 251 rounds of ammunition, and a Taser. They arrested and charged the employee, 35-year-old Pankaj Bedi, with drug trafficking and weapons possession.
The only problem? The drug sale that gave the green light for it all never happened, Ontario Superior Court Justice Beth Allen ruled this week.
In a scathing indictment of Warrener, Allen threw out all the evidence against Bedi, saying the Toronto officer had “deliberately fabricated” the drug transaction — “inexcusable deceptive conduct” that led to “unlawful” searches resulting in Bedi’s arrest, she wrote in her ruling, which was delivered on Thursday.
Without the evidence, the Crown had no case. Bedi, who has a prior criminal record for weapon possession, was acquitted Thursday.
“Taking the shortcut through deception is no replacement for good police work. Time, patience and a more dedicated investigation might have served the police well and culminated in a different result,” Allen wrote.
“I find the nature of this police action to be on the more extreme end of the spectrum of seriousness. The court cannot be seen to condone this conduct and must dissociate itself from it.”
The Star could not reach Const. Warrener for comment. Toronto police have launched a Professional Standards investigation, said police spokesperson Meaghan Gray. If they move forward with the case, the officer could be charged with offences under the Police Services Act, such as deceit or discreditable conduct.
“Depending on the outcome, like with any case, officers can face a range of penalties ranging from deducting a day’s pay to rank reduction to dismissal,” she wrote in an email.
Bedi’s lawyer, James Miglin, said he is concerned Allen’s ruling could point to a larger issue of police conduct in courtrooms.
“Findings like this are extremely troubling, yet there appears to be little, if anything, of substance that is being done about it — nobody appears to be seriously looking into the conduct underlying these findings or doing anything about it,” he wrote in an email. “And in my view, that is completely unacceptable.”
Gray said any time comments such as Miglin’s are made, “they are taken very seriously and investigated thoroughly.”
Problems with Warrener’s testimony began after he gave “a very detailed account” of the hand-to-hand drug sale, despite not having written notes about what he saw, Allen wrote.
Among the facts he recounted: which hands each man used, which sides of each hand Warrener saw, and that Bedi had been unloading goods from the rear passenger side of his car just prior to the transaction, which he said took place near the passenger’s side.
Surveillance video showed in court did not capture the transaction Warrener claimed occurred. Allen writes that there is only one window of time when Bedi steps outside of the camera’s scope when the transaction could have happened, and she notes that it is “only a split second.”
The video also illustrated substantial contradictions in Warrener’s account, including that Bedi was unloading goods from the opposite side of the car Warrrener had testified. Faced with the video evidence, Warrener recanted his account about the location of the transaction, saying it instead took place on the other side of the car.
“I find it incredible, if Officer Warrener observed a drug deal, that he could vividly recall minor details of an interaction that occurred nearly two years earlier, without having made notes, but to be mistaken about a very important fact — exactly where the drug deal happened.”
She criticized Warrener for shrugging off the mix-up about the side of the car, “as though he made only a minor error.”
“I was actually astounded by Officer Warrener’s underplay of the critical importance of officers being precise about directions and locations when reporting findings to other officers, given the dangers intrinsic to police work. Life or death of fellow officers and the safety of members of the public depend on accurate reporting.”
A recent Star investigation, Police Who Lie, highlighted 100 cases across Canada in which judges suspected police officers had been deceitful on the stand. The resulting probe by Ontario’s attorney general produced rules requiring the Crown to report cases where a judge has found that or suspects that an officer lied.