SkyTrain arrest, gun seizure a rights violation, BC judge rules

Transit Police stopped a man during a fare check and found a gun in his backpack, but the arrest and seizure were declared invalid.

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A British Columbia judge has ruled that Metro Vancouver Transit Police officers violated the rights of a man caught carrying a gun on SkyTrain, making his testimony and the gun inadmissible as evidence.

Mateo Zanatta was stopped by two agents on March 2, 2023 to check his rate.

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Zanatta’s lawyers argued that “his detention, interrogation, search and subsequent arrest were unlawful and, given that, he alleges that the search of his backpack was also unlawful,” according to a ruling by provincial court Judge Patricia Bond posted online this week. .

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The sequence of events is not in doubt.

Officers approached Zanatta and told him they were checking fares, and he said something like, “Just write me the ticket, I don’t have a fare,” and said he had to leave because he was in a hurry, the ruling said.

The lead officer asked if Zanatta was under curfew or restrictions, and he responded, “Yes.” The officer said he was detaining Zanatta for violating the conditions and asked for his name and date of birth for verification. He told Zanatta that if it was a minor infraction, he would write him a ticket and let him go.

The main problem is that the officer did not give Zanatta a warning as required by the Charter after stopping him. The officer said he didn’t do that because they were on a moving train that was making a lot of noise and he was having trouble hearing Zanatta. The officer said he wanted to wait until they got off the train.

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Despite the lack of warning, the officer continued to speak with Zanatta and asked him what his condition was related to. Zanatta responded that he was charged with aggravated assault for allegedly stabbing someone.

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The officers and Zanatta got off at the Holdom SkyTrain station, two stops from where they had boarded. They asked Zanatta to put his backpack against the wall and searched him to make sure he had no weapons, finding only keys, a vaporizing device and an article of clothing.

The officer asked Zanatta to stay still while he grabbed the backpack about three or four meters away. He testified that he was about to ask if he could look in the bag when Zanatta said, “Please don’t search my bag, sir.”

The officer asked him why and if he had a knife. Zanatta said: “No, a gun.” The Traffic Police officer then arrested Zanatta.

The judge ruled that the officer violated Zanatta’s rights by stopping him on the train without warning, questioning him without telling him he had the right to an attorney, and therefore looking in his backpack was an unreasonable search and seizure.

“The most important function of post-arrest legal advice is to ensure that the accused understands his rights, the main one of which is his right to remain silent,” the ruling says.

The judge also rejected the argument that noise and movement on the train were factors in Zanatta not being read his rights, because the officer continued to ask questions and did not appear to have trouble hearing him.

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“Clearly, the officers could have ordered Mr. Zanatta to leave the train at the first opportunity,” rather than choosing to continue the conversation over several stops.

The search of the bag was not justified on security grounds because it was in the officers’ possession and Zanatta’s demeanor “was polite and cooperative during several minutes of conversation on the train and then on the platform.”

For all those reasons, Bond wrote: “I consider the arrest to be unlawful.” That means the search of the backpack after his arrest was also a violation of Zanatta’s “right to be secure against unreasonable searches or seizures.”

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