84 police witnesses, eight-week trial, four accused. By doggedly proving a conspiracy at all costs, despite all the delays, the crown has overstepped the bounds, a judge rules. Outcome: The alleged head of a cannabis production and distribution network gets away with no consequences thanks to the Jordan decision due to unreasonable delays.
Posted at 1:04 am. Updated at 05:00
“Even knowingly, knowing that deadlines have been exceeded, [la Couronne] maintains its original, rigid position and ignores the legal position on the subject. The time is no longer for willful blindness to deadlines,” Judge Joëlle Roy chided in a decision made Wednesday at the Montreal Courthouse.
Mitchell Lifshitz, 46 – the alleged leader of the network -, Ashleigh Vanessa Nielsen, 32, Shane Tanny, 44, and Golan Waiser, 44, who are accused of conspiracy and multiple offenses under the Cannabis Act, have therefore benefited from the stay of court proceedings following the Jordan judgment given the undue delays.
The PRESTIGE project of the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal led to the dissolution of this network that was rampant in western Montreal.
One member of the network was licensed to legally produce nearly 300 plants but sold the content illegally, a scheme often used by organized crime.
The network trafficked significant amounts of drugs, as two 2020 raids in Laval and Saint-Lazare resulted in the seizure of one hundred pounds of flower (cocottes) cannabis, 80 pounds of cannabis leaves and tens of thousands of dollars, according to court documents.
Eight weeks, 87 witnesses
The four co-defendants charged in December 2021 were due to face their eight-week trial in September 2023. However, this period exceeds the 18-month limit set by the Supreme Court between the indictment and the conclusion of the trial.
Judge Roy places the grave blame on the Crown, represented by her Serious Crime Bureau, in this case. According to the judge, prosecutors chose to use “laborious” evidence — 87 witnesses — to prove a conspiracy, and they did so by interpreting a new law.
The Bureau of Serious Crime is testing a theory of a law it says it has little understanding of. The concrete result of this attitude is that the judicial system is being held hostage by planning an unnecessarily long trial.
Judge Joelle Roy
According to the judge, the trial of the four defendants could have been “easier” to have been split up to go faster. In addition, the Crown did so for certain co-defendants who had already admitted their guilt (Magdalena Wosik, Bryan Sternszus and Gaétan Larivière). “Alternatives are possible,” emphasizes the judge.
“The prosecution maintained a backward-looking and indecisive attitude while their duty required them to review their original positions as the situation permitted. In that essential aspect, she was in control,” the judge added.
“Notorious and recurring” defects
The Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DPCP) cited two exceptional circumstances justifying exceeding the time limits, namely the complexity of the case and the “retroactivity” of the pandemic. In that regard, Judge Roy criticized the Crown for remaining “passive” and “taking for granted the courts’ generosity in relation to delays”.
A former Criminal and Criminal Division Coordination Assistant gave a detailed account of the ills besetting the justice system: lack of judges, lack of court clerks, problems with incarceration, lack of special police officers.
However, these shortcomings are “unfortunately notorious and recurring” and even part of the “everyday life” of the courthouse, argues the judge. Therefore, they cannot be qualified as extraordinary circumstances, she concludes.
This interpretation, if picked up by the judiciary, could have significant consequences this fall in other cases where the limit set in the Jordan decision was exceeded. For months, Montreal has been rescheduling multi-day exams 12 to 15 months later, sometimes bordering on the 18-month deadline.
I, Chantal-Andrée Morin, and I, Vicky Anik Pilote, represented the prosecutor in this case. “The DPCP is analyzing the reasons for this decision to decide whether the judgment should be appealed,” said Me Patricia Johnson, spokeswoman for the DPCP.
The story so far
The SPVM launches the PRESTIGE project, an investigation aimed at a cannabis production and distribution network.
Arrest warrants have been issued against several defendants for conspiracy and various criminal offenses under the Cannabis Act.
July 19, 2023
Judge Joëlle Roy stayed the court case in accordance with the Jordan decision in the case of four co-defendants.