Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

B.C. truckers free of cocaine charges

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Two B.C. truck drivers have walked free from a Winnipeg court, cleared of drug-related charges levelled against them in connection with the single largest cocaine seizure in Winnipeg's history.

Tirath Bal, 44, and Gurdarshan Hansra, 55, were acquitted Friday on charges of trafficking and possession for the purpose of trafficking.

Defence lawyers Sheldon Pinx, Ryan Rolston and Katherine Smith presented a rational theory which cast doubt on allegations the men knew of and controlled a huge amount of cocaine found inside their semi, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Robert Dewar ruled.

"Suspicion, even a reasoned suspicion, does not meet the standard of proof required," Dewar said. "In my view, the Crown has not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Messrs. Hansra and Bal had the requisite knowledge of the drugs found within their legitimate cargo."

Court heard at trial that 51 kilograms of cocaine police seized from boxes in the trailer in July 2010 had a street value of $2.5-$4 million.

Bal and Hansra were arrested after a traffic stop near the John Blumberg golf course at the west edge of the city. They consented to an officer's search, despite being told they were free to go after being issued a ticket.

Confronted with the fact cocaine was found, each man expressed surprise.

"What? This can't be cocaine," Hansra told police. "No, no," said Bal.

The Crown's case against the men was entirely circumstantial. Prosecutors had to show the only rational conclusion arising from their evidence was that the men were guilty.

Court heard the pair were ferrying pallets of hams from Vancouver to Brampton, Ont. The cocaine was found in boxes that were clearly unlike the ones the meats were shipped in -- dubbed "anomaly" boxes in court.

Key testimony for the defence centred around the activities at the shipping plant where the truck was loaded. It was a "busy place," Dewar found.

Court heard the load meant for the truck may have sat on a shop floor for up to a day before being put on the truck. Also, it was not inspected prior to the truck departing.

"It was clear -- the drivers were told to sit in their cab while the cargo was loaded ... this was a policy," said Dewar.

Dewar suggested the fact no testimony was led from any person responsible for actually loading the truck had influenced his decision to acquit.

"A statement by a loader that the anomaly boxes were not on the pallets when he put them onto the truck would have been helpful closing the (factual) gap," Dewar said. "The fact that the gap exists lends credence to the defence theory ... there was opportunity for the boxes to be placed on the pallets."

The shipping plant changed practices after being notified of the case, court heard. Now, shipments are inspected and sealed by plant staff.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 8, 2014 0

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