SURREY — The Director of Civil Forfeiture is seeking the forfeiture of more than $290,000 that police seized from a Mercedes Benz during a “tactical vehicle takedown” near the Surrey-Delta border in 2015.
Justice Nathan Smith presided over the case in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver and rendered his judgment Feb. 15.
The defendant is identified as “the owners and all others interested in the money, in particular, Sandeep Singh Thandi.”
The director alleges the cash “was derived directly or indirectly from unlawful activity,” Smith noted in his reasons for judgment. “Police found most of that money in a search of the defendant Sandeep Singh Thandi’s car after they stopped and arrested him. The defendant has not been convicted of any criminal offence arising from these events.”
Thandi’s counsel argued the search and seizure violated his Charter rights. Smith noted that if a breach of the Charter is found at trial, the defendant “will ask for exclusion of the evidence obtained in the search” and “such a ruling could end the plaintiff’s case.”
Smith decided it is “in the interests of justice, as well as the interests of efficiency, that these vital Charter issues be dealt with before the case proceeds to trial on any other issues and before the defendant is put to the time and expense of discovery on those other issues.”
“In this case,” Smith said, “I make no comment on the likely outcome of the Charter issues. Even if such a comment was appropriate, the evidentiary record is not yet complete enough. But relying solely on the material put forward by the director, I find that it raises obvious questions about the sources and reliability of the information the police relied upon as grounds for obtaining the tracking warrant, the subsequent arrest of the defendant and the resulting search incidental to arrest.”
The judge noted that on Nov. 4, 2015, officers of the RCMP Federal Serious Organized Crime section obtained a warrant to track the movements of a cell phone associated with a particular number.
The court heard the RCMP received information from U.S. authorities that the telephone number was allegedly being used “by individuals involved in the movement of large amounts of money that was to be used for the purchase of cocaine for importation into Canada.
The tracking warrant enabled police to trace the cell phone by “pinging,” Smith noted. “That is by identifying the cellular towers to which it connected from time to time. That may indicate a general area where the phone is located or being carried through.”
A police affidavit said the “pings” indicated that at about 4 p.m. on Nov. 5, 2015 the phone was in the area of 75th Avenue and 140th Street in Newton, where a suspected international drug trafficker/money launderer named “Mr. S” lived.
An RCMP sergeant told the court he drove to Mr. S’s home and saw a vehicle belonging to the defendant parked nearby, with its lights on and engine running. The officer told the court he saw the defendant go to the front of the residence, receive a bag and put it in his trunk. “The defendant then drove off, with cell phone ‘pings’ continuing in a route through Surrey,” Smith stated in his reasons.
Police blocked the defendant’s car on three sides, at 70th Avenue and Scott Road in North Delta, emerging from their vehicles with guns drawn. He was arrested and his vehicle was searched.
“The bag that he was seen to be putting into the trunk contained $290,820 in Canadian currency, wrapped in bundles of $20 bill,” Smith noted.
“Police also found two ounces of cocaine in the trunk. The cell phone that had been tracked was on the centre console between the driver and the front passenger seats. A subsequent search of the defendant’s person found another $3,580 in cash, of which $580 was later returned to him.”
The judge noted that though civil forfeiture cases may arise from alleged criminal activity they are civil proceedings that don’t depend on criminal convictions.