Charges Stayed in Drug Trafficking Case Amid Police Misconduct Allegations

Former police officer Robb Ferris was investigating a drug ring when he was accused of corruption.

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Charges against three men, once considered at the top of British Columbia’s fentanyl trafficking pyramid, have been stayed after allegations of police misconduct tainted a wide-ranging 2020 investigation that resulted in the seizure of $30 million in drugs, firearms and cash.

Court records reveal that the original police investigation included an officer who was under criminal investigation at the time. Following his arrest, Victoria Police launched a new investigation with the same officers (except one) on June 23, 2020, dubbed Project Juliet.

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The investigation brought together the Victoria Police Department’s strike force unit and British Columbia’s Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, which targets gangs.

Victoria Police said the investigation began in June 2020, when Victoria Police discovered that an organized crime group was trafficking highly concentrated fentanyl in Victoria. Court documents show it began in April of that year.

The documents show the strike force Const. Robb Ferris, now retired, was under criminal investigation by the RCMP’s anti-corruption unit for breach of trust and obstruction of justice.

Supreme Court Justice Catherine Murray said in her written ruling that Victoria Police was aware in 2019 of the allegations against Ferris and was still allowed to participate in the investigation so as not to alert him that he was under investigation.

Ferris was arrested on June 18, 2020 by the RCMP. Days later, Victoria Police restarted the investigation under a new file number with the same officers, except Ferris, and called it Project Juliet.

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Court documents say officers realized the allegations against Ferris were serious and decided not to use any information obtained in the first investigation and vowed to relearn everything they learned before.

However, in a 347-page report to the Crown prosecutor, police not only failed to mention the first investigation, they “obscured it,” Murray wrote in his ruling.

“Through their actions, investigators misled the Crown, the defense, and the judges who issued authorizations and orders into believing that the investigation began in June 2020,” he wrote.

Their decision was published this week.

On February 17, 2023, prosecutors stayed charges against Bryan Balla, who lived in Victoria and was originally from Calgary, and Vu Bao Nguyen, a resident of Surrey. Charges against Vancouver native Brent William Van Buskirk were stayed last month, according to CBC News.

Victoria Police Chief Del Manak said Wednesday he is disappointed with the decision in a case that “involves a significant amount of resources and dedication from our officers.”

“It is clear that there were several points of failure in our processes,” he said. “Decisions were made that should have been made differently and changes can be made to the way we do our work, and I apologize for our contribution to this outcome.”

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Manak said police were dealing with an “extremely complicated” file that included three investigations, “and I can assure you that every decision made in the course of these events was made in good faith and with the intention of reducing the impact of drugs and organized crime activity on our streets.”

Before beginning the investigation, his department discovered that Ferris may have been involved in “corrupt practices,” Manak said.

“VicPD immediately requested assistance from the RCMP anti-corruption unit, which conducted an investigation into those allegations,” he said. “This led to his arrest and suspension.”

The arrest occurred in June 2020 and the department notified the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner.

The unit discovered that Ferris “was associating with and providing confidential information to suspects in police investigations,” the department said in a statement.

Because Ferris’ situation arose at the same time as an investigation into drug activity, Manak said officers attempted to minimize his involvement while maintaining the integrity of the investigation into his actions.

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He said he does not regret allowing Ferris to be involved in the drug investigation because more evidence was needed to have a complete case against him.

Manak said no charges were brought to court, but 19 counts of misconduct under the Police Act led to Ferris’ dismissal, although Ferris resigned before the dismissal was official.

The 19 charges included 13 counts of improper disclosure of information, three counts of deception, two counts of discreditable conduct and one count of dereliction of duty.

“I am proud of my staff for their work in identifying this officer’s activities and for their commendable efforts to continue the investigation of serious crimes despite Mr. Ferris’ impact on the department,” he said.

Police remain committed to ensuring the community is safe “and will implement the lessons learned from this process to ensure a more impactful outcome in the future,” Manak said.

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