Courts

Ex-Mountie drug trial: the Crown’s case so far

Crown has spent three weeks presenting case against ex-Mountie Craig Robert Burnett

Nine years after a cocaine trafficking deal allegedly occurred, the Crown has spent the last three weeks –– 14 days in trial calling on 10 witnesses –– trying to prove it was the job of a now-retired RCMP officer.

Craig Robert Burnett, 51, is accused of stealing 10 kilograms of cocaine from an RCMP evidence locker sometime between 2010 and 2011.

The former RCMP officer has pleaded not guilty to seven charges, including two breaches of trust, stealing cocaine with a value exceeding $5,000, trafficking a substance, transfer of property that was a result of an offence, obstructing a police officer by counselling a witness to lie and intent to mislead.

During opening remarks Jan. 21, Crown attorney Joseph Selvaratnam told the court four of the seven charges relate to alleged trafficking activities from 2010. The other three were from a 2016 RCMP investigation of Burnett.

The Crown alleges Burnett gave the cocaine to his friend, Scott Rowlings, who was then supposed to give it to dealer, Mike Kanasevich. The Crown’s case rests on Burnett’s financial information and testimony from Kanasevich and Rowlings, but other evidence is “almost non-existent,” said Selvaratnam.

‘A scapegoat’

On days 10 and 11 of the trial, the court viewed hours of footage from interviews during the investigation and after Burnett was arrested in August 2016. He vehemently denied any involvement whatsoever with the trafficking of cocaine.

“I’m still confused and pissed off … I’m a scapegoat for these two,” Burnett told investigators in the interview recorded after his arrest.

When asked why Rowlings and Kanasevich would choose a respected police officer, rather than a criminal, to take the blame, Burnett said they knew he was in charge of evidence at the port authority.

The Crown called on retired and current RCMP members as witnesses to make its case. RCMP Sgt. John Paul MacDougall told the court he knew of Burnett’s “messy divorce,” while both were members National Port Enforcement Team. Burnett was the superior officer and they worked together on the seizure of 201 kilograms of cocaine, some of which Burnett is alleged to have stolen.

RCMP Cpl. Mark Johnson was one of the officers responsible for driving the cocaine to an incinerator on P.E.I. He said it would be hard to steal without he or colleagues noticing, as the weight and texture would have been different if it had been replaced with another substance.

Under questioning from the Crown, Johnson said Burnett stopped speaking about financial difficulties around the time he bought a BMW motorcycle.

Two key Crown witnesses

Rowlings is one of two key Crown witnesses. During his testimony, on days five and six of the trial, Rowlings said he and Burnett were in Burnett’s mother’s kitchen during a Christmas dinner in 2010 when the idea of selling cocaine first came up.

Burnett and Rowlings grew up together in Musquodoboit Harbour. Rowlings testified they saw each other less as they became adults and moved away: Burnett joined the RCMP and Rowlings took over the family garage. But he characterized his relationship with Burnett in 2010 as being, “same as the one as when we were kids.”

Rowlings told the court he knows Kanasevich through his garage and doesn’t recall how he learned Kanasevich was in the medical cannabis industry, but “it would have been (through) conversations in passing.” He also told the court he doesn’t recall telling Burnett who was selling the drugs because it didn’t seem relevant.

Rowlings testified he and Burnett heard a rumour they were under investigation. They then devised a story that Kanasevich wanted to destroy their reputations because they cut him out of the trio’s medical cannabis start-up.

“The parts which were untrue were anything relating to the story Craig Burnett and I were creating because of the rumour that we heard we were under investigation.”

Kanasevich was the second key witness called by the Crown. He said he distributed Rowlings’ cocaine to one specific street dealer and sold it for about $40 a gram.

He told the court he originally told police about the cocaine because he was cut out the mentioned cannabis company, Cannsource. He said he later regretted making the call and told court he’d testify after being offered payment. He’ll receive $150,000 from the RCMP.

Operation Handshake

RCMP Insp. David John Astephan was the sergeant in charge of Operation Handsake, the 2016 investigation into Burnett.

Astephan told the court in 2014 he received a tip from Kanasevich about the stolen cocaine. The RCMP Serious Incident Response Team was asked to investigate the allegation in September 2015 and the next year Operation Handshake began.

He also testified Kanasevich informed him it was the now-retired Burnett who stole the cocaine and then gave it to Rowlings who, in turn, give to Kanasevich to sell.

During the cross-examination of Astephan, defence lawyer David J. Bright questioned Astephan’s “fairly rapid rank progression,” the credibility of Kanasevich as a source and the extensiveness of the investigation.

Astephan said Kanasevich doesn’t have a record, but “has a history of associating with people involved in criminal activity.”

On Thursday, day 14 of the trial, civilian RCMP employee Shaun MacEachern appeared as a Crown witness to testify about installing security systems in exhibit lockers.

MacEachern told the court of his intimate knowledge with the old security system in which the exhibit lockers used to be stored. He said he also knew of the the video surveillance systems, installing the new security system and how the data from these various systems are used, stored or erased.

The cocaine was first stored in an exhibit locker in the RCMP headquarters, before being moved into a shipping container in the headquarters’ parking lot.

MacEachern told the court he recalls a query about the specific lock-and-alarm system that guarded the RCMP exhibit locker in the headquarters.

Supreme Court Justice James L. Chipman has ordered MacEachern to find proof of this query being made. Chipman has also asked for for the shipping container’s security system data.

What’s left

The trial began on Jan. 21 and is scheduled to last 23 days.

The Crown expects to call a forensic accountant and RCMP Sgt. Greg Vardy as witnesses when court reconvenes on Monday. Selvaratnam said in court on Thursday he expects the Crown to rest its case next week.

The defence team has yet to present its case to the court.

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