Men walk free after massive drug bust
Two men caught carrying more than $1 millon worth of magic mushrooms are free to go after a judge ruled the RCMP violated their charter rights during a vehicle search.
After what was considered the biggest drug bust in Lake Louise history, charges against Scott Gowing and Shawn Lutz were dropped after a judge ruled they were unjustifiably detained and searched by RCMP. All evidence collected during the search was ruled inadmissible.
On Oct. 22, 2009, west of Lake Louise, an RCMP roving traffic detachment stopped Gowing and Lutz in a small pickup truck. Police suspected the truck had illegally tinted windows. Upon further inspection, however, the cops discovered the windows were fine.
RCMP said Lutz and Gowing appeared nervous, noting the truck had an air freshener and several food wrappers. They checked for warrants on the two men and discovered Lutz had been arrested on drug charges two years prior.
The court heard neither officer at this point had reason to suspect the two of any wrongdoing, however, they continued their search.
RCMP separated Gowing and Lutz to question them and discovered discrepancies in their stories. At that point, a drug dog was brought in to help with the vehicle search, which found 160 pounds of magic mushrooms in the back of the truck. Gowing and Lutz were taken to the Lake Louise RCMP detachment and charged with possession.
The evidence was sent to Calgary the next day for analysis. It was then sent to Health Canada, where it was destroyed for “health concerns” three days later. Neither Health Canada nor the RCMP could determine who ordered the drugs destroyed. The signature on the order was never identified.
Judge Judy Shriar ruled the officers did not have reasonable evidence to detain Gowing and Lutz and violated their charter rights in doing so. She said she found several charter breaches, which led to an unlawful arrest and detention.
“Even when considered collectively, the evidence was too ambiguous to suspect drugs. Driving an older model vehicle with air fresheners is not suspicious, and the food wrappers are less suspicious,” Judge Shriar said.
She ruled there were two phases of the search, and the charter violation occurred once the drug dog was used without proper justification.
“Separating them was a significant invasion of their privacy and breach of their charter rights,” Judge Shriar said. “The officers did not have justification to initiate a dog search.”
That meant the following arrest was unlawful, the judge ruled.
She stressed that not every interaction with police constitutes a detention, however, in this case, both officers agreed they did not have enough evidence, but proceeded with their investigation regardless, which was reason to throw out all of the evidence they gathered.
Judge Shriar also noted destroying the evidence also breached Lutz and Gowing’s right to a fair trial.
“There is little evidence explaining the destruction,” Judge Shriar said.
Once Judge Shriar ruled the evidence gathered in the search was inadmissible, the prosecution dropped their case.
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