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Victoria police misconduct fuels appeal for convicted drug dealer

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A man who trafficked drugs in Victoria is trying to overturn his conviction by arguing the police officer who was a key witness at his trial cannot be trusted.

On Wednesday, news broke that charges were stayed in a separate case where three men were accused of trafficking millions of dollars in drugs. Those legal proceedings came to a halt after Crown prosecutors learned one of the officers “may have been involved in corrupt practice,” VicPD said in a news release.

The officer at the centre of both controversies is now-retired Victoria Police Const. Robb Ferris. He has not responded to a request for comment. This story will be updated if a response is received.

Ferris was arrested by the RCMP anti-corruption unit in June of 2020.

An investigation determined “19 findings of misconduct,” substantiating claims that Ferris shared details of investigations and covert operation techniques with his wife, mother and another civilian, according to a B.C. Court of Appeal decision by Justice Joyce DeWitt-Van Oosten.

Prior to Ferris’s arrest and suspension from the department, he was part of VicPD’s Strike Force, which focuses largely on fentanyl and firearms.

“My understanding is that there’s no other files currently before the courts that are being impacted as a result of Const. Ferris’s misconduct,” Victoria police Chief Del Manak said Wednesday.

That’s incorrect. CTV News has confirmed there’s at least one ongoing appeal, in which a drug trafficker is trying to overturn his conviction by questioning Ferris’s credibility.

‘A miscarriage of justice’

Ferris was part of an investigation that led to the 2017 arrest of Horst Schirmer, who was sentenced to six years behind bars for drug trafficking. Schirmer was convicted before Ferris’s alleged misconduct, which occurred between February 2020 and August 2021, DeWitt-Van Oosten wrote.

Schirmer’s lawyer said he has already served his time.

Police found the drugs that led to his conviction while executing a search warrant at a Victoria apartment in early 2017, according to an earlier decision from Dewitt-Van Oosten. A large supply was found in a safe.

The safe was opened by a key that Ferris had found while conducting a warranted search of Schirmer’s bedroom.

“Const. Ferris was the only witness who could link the … key that opened the safe to Mr. Schirmer’s bedroom,” DeWitt-Van Oosten wrote.

The appeal seeks to target the credibility of Ferris’s testimony about when and where he found the key, bolstered by the misconduct allegations that came years after Schirmer’s arrest.

“Mr. Schirmer alleges his conviction was the product of a miscarriage of justice,” his lawyer, Brent Anderson, told CTV News in an email.

“He was convicted largely on the strength of Const. Ferris's testimony. Mr. Schirmer is tendering fresh evidence on appeal that he says would have affected the assessment of Ferris's credibility and therefore the verdict if it had been available at trial.”

The appeal hearing is scheduled for early December.

‘People in jail that may get released’

A CTV News public safety analyst said all cases Ferris worked on are tainted.

“Every case that this officer has touched now, given the allegations against him, will be under a microscope and there’s people in jail that may get released as a result,” Chris Lewis said in an interview on Wednesday.

After Ferris was arrested, VicPD and the RCMP’s anti-corruption unit conducted an audit of all of his files, Manak said.

“I’m confident that was done appropriately,” Manak said.

The police chief said he’s disappointed cases have unravelled as a result of the misconduct.

“The outcome is far less than ideal and … I’m committed to making sure that we don’t make those mistakes again,” he said.

Schirmer’s lawyer said police officers are given extraordinary powers to uphold the law.

“When they engage in misconduct, they shatter the public's trust in the rule of law and in turn the public's confidence in the administration of justice,” Anderson said.

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