Rights infringed in bust, judge rules
Couple charged with making counterfeit documents acquitted
Nov 06, 2008 04:30 AM
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A young Markham couple charged with faking hundreds of passports, university degrees and government documents was acquitted yesterday after a judge ruled York Regional Police officers violated their rights when they entered their house without a warrant, and arrested them.
Calling it the toughest decision of his four years on the bench, Justice Richard Blouin said the breach of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by the officers was “so serious” he had no choice but to suppress all the evidence against Yan Shen, 26, and his wife, Ruiqiong Zhong, 27.
That evidence included hundreds of forged government documents, including Chinese passports, Ontario drivers' licences, marriage certificates and diplomas for prestigious universities in Canada.
In throwing out charges of possession of forged documents and instruments of forgery, Blouin warned the couple not to look on the acquittal as vindication. The evidence found in their home, the judge said, was a “serious crime” that could impact national security. “Short of violence I can't think of many more serious offences.”
But he found the actions of the police even more serious, saying officers had entered the house without “much in the way of grounds.”
It was only after entering the house, and arresting the couple, that police obtained a search warrant. Charges against three other residents were withdrawn earlier.
All five accused were Chinese visa students on March 6, 2007, when police stumbled on the forgery den in the basement of a house on Eastpine Dr., near Kennedy Rd. and Steeles Ave. E., while investigating car thefts and break and enters in the area.
Const. Sony Dosanjh, on patrol in an unmarked car, testified he believed a break and enter was in progress after a male in a car across the street flashed his lights at another male parked in the driveway of the house. As his partner detained the two men outside, Dosanjh entered the house after finding the front door open in 20C weather. After yelling out “Police!” Dosanjh said he was met by Shen, who immediately turned and ran into the basement.
Dosanjh followed and found the couple throwing documents around while yelling in a language he did not understand. He called for backup and the arrests were made.
“An open front door is not an invitation for police to come in and gather evidence,” defence attorney Mary Cremer said outside of Newmarket court yesterday. “Life was breathed into the Charter today. It's a decision, that if it stands it upholds the sanctity of individual rights.”
Defence lawyers suggested that police had lied in court, because their timeline of events did not match that recorded by the dispatcher at headquarters.
Zhong's lawyer, Scott Cowan, said he was outraged police had handcuffed his client, who was 8 months pregnant at the time, and was in pyjamas and slippers when police entered the house at about 11 p.m.
Shen, in jail since his arrest 18 months ago, remains in custody on an immigration warrant alleging that he entered Canada with a forged Chinese passport.
Police heralded the bust as the dismantling one of the most ambitious counterfeit document rackets in Ontario history. Senior York Region officers said the operation was a “full service” forgery mill that would allow people to obtain entry into Canada or stay here illegally.
“This was quite a brazen operation. You could create an entire false identity,” with the range of documents produced by the high-quality printers, York Police Chief Armand La Barge, said at a news conference to announce the bust.
“In my 30 years on the job, I've never seen forged university degrees or mark transcripts they even produced high school diplomas,' York Det. Fred Kerr said then.
Police displayed university degrees, passports, drivers' licences and even fake legal stamps from colleges and lawyers.
The degrees were from the University of Toronto, York University, University of Western Ontario, Concordia, Brock, Carleton, Seneca College, George Brown College, Fanshawe College and Cape Breton University.
The counterfeiters advertised over the Internet in Chinese, including prices beside each item for sale and the headline. “Best Price! Best Service! Fastest!”
Police and university officials said the fakes were virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.
Also confiscated during the raid were two high-quality printers, five computers and two laptops.
A fake Chinese passport was still sitting in the tray of one printer when police raided the home.