Pot grower freed after rights breached by RCMP

Justice rules police made too many errors in obtaining search warrant

A Sorrento man busted with nearly 800 pot plants in a barn grow-op walked free Friday after a B.C. Supreme Court justice ruled that RCMP made too many errors in information used to obtain a search warrant.

Darren Farrell was charged with production, possession of more than three kilos of marjuana for the purpose of trafficking and theft of hydro after police raided his property April 15, 2011.

Police visited Farrell's property one week earlier, a visit defence lawyer Julian van der Walle suggested was done on a false pretence so that police could do a "snoop and sniff" test.

An RCMP officer visited Farrell's home in person April 8, 2011, to advise him how to obtain his firearm, which had been seized on another matter. The member failed to state in a search warrant, however, that he'd talked to Farrell in January about the gun.

Meiklem rejected the allegation of the snoop and sniff test, but said there were fundamental problems with other information used to obtain the search warrant, enough to breach Farrell's rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Other problems with information supplied by the RCMP to obtain the search warrant included:

* A BC Hydro representative told police he didn't see anything unusual in hydro records, something not disclosed by police.

* Failure of the member to note that a theromographer who conducted infrared imaging on the barn from the roadside reported one of the walls didn't have any large heat transfer.

* The RCMP member who swore the information said he smelled an odour of marijuana on the property but didn't note another, more senior, member with him failed to smell anything.

As a result, Meiklem found the search was unreasonable and breached Farrell's rights, what he called "negligence to a degree the court should not condone."

Meiklem said the Mountie who supplied information to obtain the search warrant from a justice of the peace had less than two years of experience and may have been inadequately trained.

While the grow-op was a huge commercial operation and thus serious - with jail time a distinct possibility - Meiklem noted governments are now beginning to license production themselves.

"Society's view of the seriousness of the offence may be changing."

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