Former police officer says he's not to blame for failed drug case

Denies blame for failed case

The former Victoria police constable named as the catalyst for the demise of a major case involving $30 million worth of drugs says he has been wrongly blamed.

Robb Ferris said in a statement to CBC News that he is being used as a “scapegoat” for the case falling apart.

“The downfall of Project Juliet was a result of members and leadership/management of the department’s Strike Force at the time,” said Ferris, who did not respond to phone or email messages from the Times Colonist.

Charges were stayed in B.C. Supreme Court last week against three men with alleged ties to what Victoria Police Chief Del Manak has called “the top of the fentanyl-trafficking pyramid in British Columbia.” Justice Catherine Murray said that Victoria police allowed Ferris to take part in the 2020 drug investigation despite being aware of allegations against him in 2019.

Police said Ferris was allowed to participate so as not to alert him that he was being investigated. Manak has said he doesn’t regret keeping Ferris involved so that more evidence against him could be gathered.

Manak said charges against Ferris were not legally prosecuted, but 19 counts of misconduct under the Police Act led to his dismissal, but he resigned before the dismissal was enacted.

After he was arrested on June 18, 2020 by the RCMP, police went on to restart the drug investigation a few days later with all of the same officers, save for Ferris, and dubbed it Project Juliet.

The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner has begun an investigation under the Police Act into the handling of Project Juliet, with the Delta Police Department appointed as the external investigating agency.

“We are reviewing the decision of the B.C. Supreme Court and will ensure that any relevant allegations of police misconduct relating to ‘Project Juliet’ are assessed for investigation under the Police Act,” OPCC deputy commissioner Andrea Spindler said in a statement. “We acknowledge the findings made by Justice Murray in their decision, which is an important consideration as it relates to the scope of the investigation.”

Manak said his department respects the processes followed by the OPCC “and will continue to fully support and co-operate with this ongoing investigation.”

“Depending on what they find, there could be a request for additional investigations, but it’s important that we allow the investigation to take its course,” he said. “As the file is still under review, I am not able to provide any additional comments or information at this time, but we look forward to gaining additional information through this process.”

Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth expressed his disappointment in the charges being stayed.

“As Chief Manak has said, it is clear that there were several points of failure in this investigation,” he said in a statement. “I have been assured that the Victoria Police Department is making immediate changes.”

Changes have not been revealed by Manak, who said last week that every decision in the case “was made in good faith.”

Farnworth said he is committed to upholding the highest standards of accountability and transparency for law-enforcement agencies “and any allegations of misconduct are treated with the utmost seriousness.”

In her 347-page judgment, Murray said police not only failed to mention the first drug investigation but “obscured it.”

“Through their actions investigators misled the Crown, defence and justices that issued authorizations and warrants into believing that the investigation commenced in June 2020,” after Ferris’s arrest.

The result is that prosecutors stayed charges on Feb. 17 against Bryan Balla, who was originally from Calgary and lived in Victoria, and Surrey resident Vu Bao Nguyen.

That followed charges being stayed in January against Brent William Van Buskirk, a former Vancouver resident.

Manak said after the decision that he was disappointed in the outcome of the case, which he said involved a large amount of police resources.

Former Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board member Paul Schachter has filed a complaint against the police department, saying it should be investigated for any role it might have played in the situation.

Manak said the department’s scrutiny of Ferris began when it was determined he might have been involved in “corrupt practice,” and the RCMP Anti-Corruption Unit was brought in — leading to the arrest and suspension of Ferris.

The department said the RCMP unit determined Ferris “was associating and providing sensitive information to suspects of police investigations.”

Project Juliet led to the seizure of evidence that included 12 kilograms of fentanyl — enough for close to four million doses — 20 firearms and 1,000 rounds of ammunition from locations in Victoria and on the Lower Mainland.

In Victoria, search warrants were executed on a vehicle and three residences on Fisgard Street, Fairfield Road and View Street.

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