A tactic employed by Winnipeg police apparently aimed at keeping people behind bars for longer periods is coming under fire in Manitoba's criminal court system.
The gambit -- known in legal circles as "gating" -- involves officers holding off on executing arrest warrants on suspects who are already in custody and serving time for other offences. Only when that sentence has expired and the prisoner freed do police appear to make the new arrest.
"They're deliberately doing it -- it's cruel," said defence lawyer Chris Sigurdson. "It's not uncommon. It happens a lot."
The issue came to a head Tuesday after Judge Tim Killeen was told police held a warrant for nearly a year and failed to arrest a young man for a break and enter charge until he was freed on parole from prison for a prior B&E.
'They're deliberately doing it -- it's cruel. It's not uncommon. It happens a lot'
Justin Shorting, 21, spent about one hour out of custody -- just enough time to change his clothes and check in with his parole officer -- before Winnipeg police turned up to take him back to jail, court heard.
Shorting has cognitive challenges and his sudden rearrest after a fleeting taste of freedom left him confused and "very disappointed," said Sigurdson.
Shortly after being sentenced in November 2012 to two years in federal prison for a break and enter, investigators obtained a warrant to obtain his DNA in connection with a separate offence involving the theft of a $700 piece of equipment from a Sargent Avenue apartment block in May 2012. Investigators took the time a few days after getting the warrant to go to Stony Mountain to obtain a comparison sample.
On April 10, 2013, police obtained DNA results from the RCMP that confirmed Shorting was at the scene of the Sargent Avenue break-in.
Court records show on April 16, officers sought and were granted a warrant to arrest him. They didn't execute the arrest, however, until Feb. 28 this year.
Killeen said he was "profoundly unimpressed" with how police handled the situation and hoped his view was made clear to them.
"I've seen this over and over and over again," he said. "I don't know what makes it so difficult for them to get to the institution and arrest the person," said Killeen.
He said he found it difficult to believe police simply didn't have time to execute their arrest warrants in a timely way.
The implication of that is that police could be deliberately avoiding the arrest with a mind to potentially keeping people locked up longer. That's "much more troubling," said Killeen.
The Crown described the 10-month delay in arresting Shorting as "ridiculous."
Because of this, prosecutors offered Shorting a compensatory deal that saw him plead guilty Tuesday and be sentenced to six months.
"Had police arrested him when they should have arrested him and he had dealt with these charges at a more appropriate time, this is probably the likely result," said Crown attorney Geoff Bayly.
Killeen also indicated the gating tactic is unfair for victims as well, as they're likely not made aware a suspect has been arrested or identified until months after the fact.
"Unfortunately, this is a situation that seems to be occurring relatively often," Killeen said.
Sigurdson said a major issue is there's no sanctions toward the police for their use of the tactic. It's possible, depending on the length of the delay, that the Crown could drop charges in the circumstances, he said.