Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Judge considering evidence in huge cocaine bust

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The Crown's case against two B.C. truck drivers accused in Winnipeg's single largest-ever cocaine seizure is based on "wishful thinking" and they should be acquitted, one of their defence lawyers says.

"Suspicion is not enough to convict. Probable guilt is not enough to convict," Sheldon Pinx told court Tuesday in his closing argument in defence of Tirath Bal, 44, and Gurdarshan Hansra, 51.

The two men have pleaded not guilty to drug trafficking charges stemming from their arrests in July 2010.

Winnipeg police found 51 kg. of cocaine bricks worth between $2.5-$4 million in the cargo of a transport truck during a traffic stop on the Trans-Canada Highway.

The men were driving a load of hams and other dry goods from Vancouver to Brampton, Ont.

The Crown's case is entirely circumstantial and it must prove the men had knowledge and control of the drugs.

Prosecutors contend evidence heard over the week-long trial shows the men had complete and exclusive access to the truck, trailer and cargo they they were hauling.

A criminal organization wouldn't chance leaving the very large amount of cocaine in the hands of so-called "blind couriers" unaware of what they were shipping, Crown attorney Janna Hyman told Court of Queen's Bench Justice Robert Dewar.

Most of the cocaine bricks were packed into blank cardboard boxes of different sizes than the hams were in. They stood out at a glance because of this, court was shown through photographs. These "anomaly" boxes were also shrink-wrapped inside the pallets of ham boxes.

Key testimony in the case came from employees at the Vancouver packing plant where Bal and Hansra received the cargo.

Court heard the cargo wasn't inspected after it was placed on the truck, and may have sat on the shop floor largely unsecured for as long as a day before it was turned over to the men.

Despite this, it would make no sense for drug kingpins to leave a massive quantity of drugs simply sitting around in mismatched boxes in a busy shop, said Hyman.

"To suggest the possibility that an organized crime group was prepared to leave $2 million worth of cocaine sitting on the floors of (the plant) with all of these persons having access to the boxes … is nonsensical and irrational," Hyman argued.

The Crown's theory is the drugs were placed on the truck in the period after it left the plant but before it left Vancouver bound for Ontario — a timeframe ranging from 19 to 24 hours.

Pinx and colleague Ryan Rolston, however, countered by showing that the plant changed its practices after learning of the bust.

Now, cargo is subject to inspections after its loaded and it is the shipper, not the truck driver, who seals the cargo at the time of departure.

"Why put in place an inspection process that didn't exist before unless there are concerns (at the plant)?" asked Pinx.

The lawyers also pointed to how the men were co-operative with Winnipeg police, handed over their keys and freely consented to a search of the truck despite not being bound to answer questions when stopped at the roadside.

"I have nothing to hide," Hansra twice told police, according to Pinx. "Who does that?" Pinx wondered. "They had no idea (the cocaine) was there," he said. "They could have blown (police) off. They didn't."

Dewar reserved his decision and remanded the case to March 12.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

 

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