Drug bust disclosure debated

Dave Bartlett
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Lawyers for 12 charged during Operation Razorback appear in court

Two unusual circumstances arose in provincial court Thursday, as a dozen people charged in connection with Operation Razorback were scheduled on the docket for a status update.

In January, 13 people were arrested after a joint drug investigation by the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, the RCMP and local police forces in British Columbia.

Among items seized during Operation Razorback, as seen in this file photo, are marijuana, cocaine, weapons, cash, jewelry, a food wrapping machine and a money counting machine. From top left, Peter Blok-Andersen, 28, of Victoria, B.C., faces drug charg

Two unusual circumstances arose in provincial court Thursday, as a dozen people charged in connection with Operation Razorback were scheduled on the docket for a status update.

In January, 13 people were arrested after a joint drug investigation by the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, the RCMP and local police forces in British Columbia.

Eight of those arrested were from B.C., four were from the Northeast Avalon region of this province and the last - Christopher Webster, 27 - was listed as having no fixed address, although he's also believed to be from the St. John's area.

At the time, police said the charges were the first to be laid in relation to organized crime in this province.

On Thursday morning, more than a half dozen defence lawyers were in Courtroom Number 7 at provincial court on behalf of 12 of the 13 accused.

Andrew Green, 18, of Victoria B.C., has already entered a not guilty plea on drug charges. Green has a pre-trial conference set for July 27 and his trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 30.

Federal Crown prosecutor John Brooks began proceedings on the matter by introducing Jan Murray from the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, based in Halifax.

Brooks told Judge Greg Brown that Murray would be handling the organized crime charges, while he would be handling the drug and conspiracy charges.

He then said the disclosure - the Crown's information on the case - has been available for defence lawyers since late last month, and is contained on two compact discs.

But Brooks said the Crown has asked the defence lawyers to sign an agreement before they get disclosure, to not share the "sensitive" information contained on the discs without prior written approval.

He said at least three lawyers have refused to sign the undertaking so far.

Defence lawyer Brian Wentzell told the court he had signed the agreement and planned to send the CDs to his client in B.C. after downloading the information to his computer.

But lawyer Randy Piercey said his understanding of the agreement was that the CDs could not be given to their clients.

Brooks said that was indeed the case.

Lawyer Jack Lavers spoke next and told the court he would need all the information in the disclosure to "formulate a defence," and said he was not sure he could sign the agreement, as the evidence would be the property his client, not his.

Lavers said it was up to the Crown to get an order from Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court if it wants to protect the sensitive information.

After Brown said he could not make that determination in his court, Brooks said he would consider getting advice from the higher court on the matter before the case was called again.

Brown then asked if any of the lawyers present were prepared to proceed and enter pleas on behalf of their clients.

There was silence.

Brown then set a new date, Aug. 18, for the matter to come back before him for election and plea, pending disclosure from the Crown.

dbartlett@thetelegram.com

Organizations: RCMP, Public Prosecution Service of Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court

Geographic location: British Columbia, Avalon, St. John's Victoria Halifax B.C.

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