Plea deal for speeding cop in serious crash sends dangerous message, lawyer argues Public could be left with impression justice system treats police differently

A decision to stay a dangerous driving charge against a Winnipeg cop responsible for a high-speed collision that sent a woman to hospital in critical condition is raising questions about how police are treated by the justice system.

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A decision to stay a dangerous driving charge against a Winnipeg cop responsible for a high-speed collision that sent a woman to hospital in critical condition is raising questions about how police are treated by the justice system.

“I think there is a real risk that the public will have the perception that because police are participants in the justice system that they aren’t treated the same way as everybody else,” criminal defence lawyer Karl Gowenlock said Monday.

“At a time where there is a real concern about the ability of police to be held accountable by systems when they do commit crimes…. I think it really risks feeding into that perception that for whatever reason, police are not held to the same standards and they aren’t prosecuted to the same level as normal citizens.”

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Karl Gowenlock is a criminal defence attorney in Winnipeg.

In what was described as a plea bargain, Const. Bradley Louden pleaded guilty last week to a single count of speeding for the October 2021 crash and was fined $780. Charges of dangerous driving causing bodily harm and misusing emergency equipment were stayed by the Crown.

Court was told Louden and his partner were in the Garden City area, running late for a surveillance assignment in St. Boniface when Louden, without just cause, activated his Winnipeg Police Service cruiser’s emergency lights and sirens as he weaved through traffic at speeds up to 110 km/h in a 60 zone before T-boning a Chevrolet Cruze as it turned into his lane of traffic at College Avenue and Main Street.

The driver of the car, a woman in her 20s, was taken to hospital with serious injuries that included three broken vertebrae and fractured pelvis and shoulder.

Prosecutor Brigitte Dupuis told provincial court Judge Ray Wyant the Crown and defence reached a plea bargain in the case after they had “difficulties” securing four consecutive trial dates before the 18-month time limit for cases to be tried in provincial court. Defence lawyer Josh Weinstein said the fact Louden had the right of way at the time of the collision also factored into the deal.

The 2016 Supreme Court of Canada “Jordan” decision addresses the issue of delay and sets strict timelines for cases to be resolved: 18 months after charges are laid for provincial court matters and 30 months for matters in superior courts.

Dupuis on Monday declined to elaborate on the reasons for the plea deal. A Manitoba Justice spokesperson said the potential for a successful delay motion was a significant factor in the consideration to resolve the matter.

“At a time where there is a real concern about the ability of police to be held accountable by systems when they do commit crimes…. I think it really risks feeding into that perception that for whatever reason, police are not held to the same standards and they aren’t prosecuted to the same level as normal citizens.”–Defence lawyer Karl Gowenlock

Gowenlock argued the Louden case doesn’t even meet the accepted standards of a typical plea bargain, as the Crown was in a strong position to prove the offence of dangerous driving.

“A plea deal is when each side gives something up; the defence may agree to plead guilty (if) the Crown will limit what they are asking for on sentence,” he said. “This doesn’t really seem to be a plea bargain, because the defence didn’t really admit to anything that the Crown wasn’t able to easily prove.

“The idea that they dropped the charges in exchange to a plea for the speeding is not really a plea deal,” Gowenlock said. “What happened is the Crown dropped the charge and that’s what was left.”

While an inability to secure consecutive court dates is not ideal, it should not be used as a reason to stall a prosecution, he said.

“I’ve set non-consecutive trial dates on dozens of occasions because those were the only available court dates,” he said. “It’s happened to other defence counsel numerous times that they’ve been forced to set trial dates even when they aren’t available because of Jordan timelines.”

Absent a more detailed explanation for the plea deal, the public is likely to reach its own negative conclusions about the justice system and how it treats police officers, he said.

“The fact is, we have a recent history of police being charged when there is, I think, strong evidence of criminal wrongdoing and then, for various reasons, these prosecutions have not been successful,” he said.

“I don’t want to infer, suggest or imply that there is some sort of malfeasance or wrongdoing on the part of the Crown’s office. Certainly, every case has its own circumstances that are unique… but I do know what I think it looks like to the public. I think there is a very real risk that the public loses confidence in the administration of justice.”

As is the practice when members of the justice system are on trial, Louden was prosecuted by a Crown from outside Winnipeg — in this case Thompson — to avoid the appearance of conflict.

That’s not enough, said University of Manitoba law professor Brandon Trask, who argued prosecution duties in such cases should be assumed either by Crown attorneys from outside the province or private bar lawyers from within Manitoba.

“A plea deal is when each side gives something up; the defence may agree to plead guilty (if) the Crown will limit what they are asking for on sentence. This doesn’t really seem to be a plea bargain, because the defence didn’t really admit to anything that the Crown wasn’t able to easily prove.”–Defence lawyer Karl Gowenlock

“Crowns wear a number of hats, and part of their role is giving advice to police officers,” Trask said. “Even the perception that Manitoba Prosecution Service would have Crowns giving advice to that officer, from a public perception perspective, that is arguably not a good look.”

Louden isn’t the only Winnipeg officer to make headlines recently for alleged criminal acts. Last year, following two separate trials, Const. Sean Cassidy was found not guilty of assaulting a man following a prolonged highway chase and, in a separate incident, not guilty of trying to fix his own speeding ticket.

Last February, Const. John Misiewicz-Buzahora pleaded guilty to one count of dangerous driving after he sped through a stop sign at the intersection of Aberdeen Avenue and Salter Street and collided with an SUV, injuring two of its occupants, as well as his partner. Provincial court Judge Robert Heinrichs fined Misiewicz-Buzahora $1,500, but rejected a Crown recommendation he be suspended from driving for six months.

Court heard Misiewicz-Buzahora was speeding to assist other officers attempting to arrest a suspect he believed to be armed with a weapon and did not realize there was an intersection at the crash scene until two to four seconds before impact. He did not activate his emergency lights and siren before the collision.

dean.pritchard@freepress.mb.ca

Dean Pritchard

Dean Pritchard
Courts reporter

Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.

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