Mother of innocent man murdered in B.C. gang war devastated by high court's ruling
Eileen Mohan was preparing for this day, knowing the Supreme Court of Canada would rule on a case involving one of the men found guilty of killing her son more than 15 years ago.
Christopher Mohan was killed along with five others in Surrey, B.C., in October 2007. He was one of two innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire of a bloody gang conflict that set off a years-long legal saga.
The high court ruled Friday that one of the men found guilty of murder will have a chance to provide evidence of police misconduct and mistreatment in prison, potentially allowing him to walk free.
In a unanimous decision, the top court agreed with the B.C. Court of Appeal that it was a mistake to dismiss applications to have all of that evidence heard.
Eileen Mohan said in an interview after the decision that she had hoped the Supreme Court of Canada would "squash it all away" and uphold the convictions of gangsters Cody Haevischer and Matthew Johnston, who were found guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy in 2014.
While Johnston died of cancer in prison in December, the high court ruled Haevischer's matter should be sent back to the B.C. Supreme Court, where he "will have the opportunity to argue all the allegations" of police misconduct that he claims tainted the investigation and prosecution.
Haevischer's lawyer told the Supreme Court of Canada in October that prosecutors were trying to "trivialize serious police misconduct" to preserve the murder convictions and avoid a hearing into new evidence.
"The state misconduct in this case was remarkable," Johnston's submission said. "It involved torture of the respondents (Haevischer and Johnston), state-funded sexual exploitation of vulnerable witnesses, and police officers who lied about it all."
But Mohan said it wasn't the police who killed her son.
"They don't have Christopher's blood stains on their hands."
Mohan said her son's death destroyed her life, and the Supreme Court of Canada's ruling has left her "totally devastated" with the prospect of one of the killers could be released on a technicality.
"I've just lost faith in the system now because it just feels like it's a revolving door."
Mohan said she was grateful to police who worked diligently to bring her son's killers to justice, and it was unfair to tar every investigator on the case with the same "misconduct brush."
The officers whose misconduct gave rise to the appeal have been dealt with, she said, and she remains grateful to the officers who respected her son and what happened to him.
"They all cried with me."
The B.C. Court of Appeal ruled in 2021 that Haevischer and Johnston should be allowed to seek a stay of proceedings for abuse of process and ordered another hearing, but it stopped short of overturning their guilty verdicts.
Prosecutors appealed, but the Supreme Court of Canada agreed that "in light of both the seriousness of the offences and the seriousness of the abuse … no category of offence is beyond the ambit of the abuse of process doctrine."
The Crown claimed Haevischer and Johnston's bid for a stay was "manifestly frivolous" in a case involving multiple murders, but police misconduct during the investigation included revelations of drunken sexual escapades between police and female witnesses.
Brock Martland, who represented Johnston up until his death, said Friday's ruling is significant, and a new hearing will shed light on police tactics that tainted the prosecution.
"There are a whole host of big-picture issues that are going on with this country's approach to policing, and in particular the approach of the RCMP," Martland said.
"The evidence that will emerge about police misconduct in this murder investigation may well show there (are) deeper problems than simply one or two or three bad apples, but rather something of a more systemic nature."
The original trial heard one person was supposed to die in the gang turf war, but five others were in the apartment at the time, including Edward Schellenberg, who was servicing a fireplace.
Chris Mohan, 22, lived across the hall and his body was also found in the apartment.
Simon Buck, who represents Haevischer, said the Supreme Court of Canada's decision was ultimately about fairness and preserving the rule of law.
Buck said his client's ultimate goal is to get a stay and be released from prison, though he understands the difficult position of the victims' families.
"There may not be a stay of proceedings and (the families) may get what they want.
"So, let the procedure run its proper course and, although it's painful for them, hopefully they can see that that's what should happen in every case, including their own."
Martland said his client was determined before he died to get a hearing into evidence of police misconduct and his treatment in prison.
Martland said he is hesitant to claim a victory, since the grief of the victims' families remains.
"The convictions, the findings of guilt have been established and they have not been upset," he said. "I think there's a ruling on procedure that matters across the board for how criminal cases get run in the country, but I don't see this as any sort of a victory in that sense."
The B.C. Supreme Court will now hear about new evidence that the defence said came to light after the trial in a statement of former RCMP officer Derek Brassington.
He was charged with obstruction of justice and breach of trust for mishandling witnesses during the investigation.
Defence lawyers told the high court that Brassington's plea agreement contains information of police misconduct that wasn't known at the time of their clients' trial.
Dan McLaughlin with the B.C. Prosecution Service said in an email that the B.C. Supreme Court will set a date for the hearing in the coming weeks.
Because the matter was before the court, he said, the service wouldn't comment further.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 28, 2023.
Darryl Greer and Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press