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Ex-police officer says he's 'scapegoat' for failure of leadership

Former Victoria Police officer Robb Ferris resigned from the department after being accused of misconduct. He says he is now being used as a scapegoat by the department to avoid scrutiny of decisions that others made. (Submitted by Robb Ferris - image credit)
Former Victoria Police officer Robb Ferris resigned from the department after being accused of misconduct. He says he is now being used as a scapegoat by the department to avoid scrutiny of decisions that others made. (Submitted by Robb Ferris - image credit)

A former Victoria police officer who left the force during a disciplinary investigation claims he's now being used as a "scapegoat" by the department to avoid scrutiny of leadership decisions, which led to the collapse of a major drug prosecution.

In a statement to CBC News on Tuesday, Robb Ferris said the events, which resulted in Crown counsel staying charges against three men accused in Project Juliet, all occurred after he was no longer an active member of the force.

Ferris — who was suspended from the department's Strike Force in June 2020 — took issue with Victoria Police Department Chief Del Manak's attempts to pin blame for what happened on him, pointing to a B.C. Supreme Court judgment, which he says proves otherwise.

"The downfall of Project Juliet was a result of the members and the leadership/management of Strike Force at the time," the 51-year-old said.

"The Victoria Police Department is using me as a scapegoat for the failure of Project Juliet."

Restarted, rebranded as Project Juliet

Ferris's statement follows the release last week of a judgment written by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Murray, detailing attempts by his former colleagues to "obscure" the role Ferris played in the initial probe that would later be restarted as Project Juliet.

According to Murray's decision, Ferris was part of the first investigation into a fentanyl trafficking ring from mid-May until June 2020, when he was arrested following allegations of misconduct.

Victoria Police congratulated themselves on the success of Project Juliet, a joint investigation that resulted in three arrests and the seizure of $30 million worth of fentanyl. But the case later fell apart because of alleged police misconduct.
Victoria Police congratulated themselves on the success of Project Juliet, a joint investigation that resulted in three arrests and the seizure of $30 million worth of fentanyl. But the case later fell apart because of alleged police misconduct.

Victoria Police congratulated themselves on the success of Project Juliet, a joint investigation that resulted in three arrests and the seizure of $30 million worth of fentanyl. But the case later fell apart because of alleged police misconduct. (Victoria Police)

The investigation was later restarted, rebranded as Project Juliet and as Murray puts it, officers set out to "relearn anything that they had learned before."

But the report to Crown counsel that followed the arrests of three suspects — including a paroled murderer — made no mention of Ferris or any investigative action preceding June 2020.

The judge said an officer tasked with writing applications for search warrants "concealed" the existence of previous authorizations obtained in the investigation.

And when a defence lawyer stumbled on an earlier date in the documentation, the lead investigator told Crown counsel it was an administrative oversight.

'Investigators misled the Crown'

After serving more than a decade, Ferris resigned from the force before he could be fired, following an Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner investigation that substantiated 19 acts of misconduct under the Police Act.

His alleged wrongdoing included providing details of an ongoing investigation to his wife and mother. Ferris was never criminally charged.

Victoria Police Chief Constable Del Manak talks about the ongoing case of Michael Dunahee, the 4-year-old boy who went missing from a playground at Blanshard Park Elementary School on March 24, 1991 after the family released an age-enhanced sketch of Michael during a press conference at the Victoria Police Headquarters in Victoria, B.C., on Wednesday, March 24, 2021.

Victoria Police Chief Constable Del Manak insisted his officers did not mislead the court, despite Justice Catherine Murray's findings. Former officer Robb Ferris says the chief is making him a 'scapegoat.' (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

Ferris told CBC he has accepted the outcome of the disciplinary process and has lived with the fallout.

But he balked at Manak's characterization of the demise of Project Juliet at a hastily called news conference last week.

Despite Murray's finding that Project Juliet investigators "misled the Crown, defence and issuing justices," Manak told reporters "that at no point in time was there any attempt to try to derail the process or to mislead the court."

Instead, he put all the blame on Ferris.

"This was an individual, a corrupt officer and as a result of his actions and inactions resulted in the file ending up where it is with Crown," Manak said.

"I'm extremely confident in saying that the actions of all the other officers and the outfall that you've seen would not have occurred if it wasn't for the actions of Const. Ferris."

Who is accountable?

Murray's judgment makes no suggestion Ferris did anything wrong during the investigation preceding Project Juliet — nor is there any indication disclosing events prior to June 2020 would have impacted a trial, had one been held.

Ferris said his involvement may have been the "catalyst" that led investigators to mislead Crown counsel — but he said those officers should be held accountable for their own actions.

Murray's ruling notes that the lead investigator of Project Juliet is herself now the subject of a Police Act investigation — being conducted by Delta Police.

Victoria police heralded the seizure of drugs, weapons and cash as part of Project Juliet in December 2020. But charges against the three men charged have since been stayed.
Victoria police heralded the seizure of drugs, weapons and cash as part of Project Juliet in December 2020. But charges against the three men charged have since been stayed.

Victoria Police heralded the seizure of drugs, weapons and cash as part of Project Juliet in December 2020, but charges against three men have since been stayed. (Submitted by the Victoria Police Department)

The judge said the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner (OPCC) also initially ordered an external investigation into the officer who was in charge during the initial probe — and who decided to let Ferris take part despite the fact he was under criminal investigation at the time.

But Murray said that investigation was dropped when the OPCC learned the officer had no involvement in Project Juliet "after November 2020 and was not involved in disclosure or any decision making around disclosure."

In an email to CBC Tuesday, the OPCC said an investigation into the handling of Project Juliet was set to resume — but could not say if it would extend beyond the lead officer.

A spokesperson said they were "not able to specifically say which officers will be under scrutiny but we acknowledge the findings made by Justice Murray in their decision which is an important consideration as it relates to the scope of the investigation."

In a statement Tuesday, Manak noted the Victoria police department was responsible for "proactively" notifying the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner in the first place when they learned of problems with the file.

"They made the complaint admissible and assigned an external, independent investigator," he said.

"We respect the processes of the OPCC and will continue to fully support and co-operate with this ongoing investigation. There could be a request for additional investigations, but it's important that we allow this investigation to take its course."