'Red flags' should have prompted exhaustive investigation into Vancouver detective, lawyer argues

·4 min read

Long before former Vancouver police detective James Fisher was charged with abusing young victims of sex trafficking, there were numerous "red flags" that should have led to a more exhaustive investigation into his misconduct, a B.C. courtroom has heard.

That argument came from Thomas Arbogast, a lawyer for convicted pimp Reza Moazami, who appeared before a panel of judges at the B.C. Court of Appeal on Monday morning.

Arbogast is arguing that Fisher's behaviour with victims and witnesses during the investigation into Moazami's underage prostitution ring caused an abuse of process and miscarriage of justice that warrant a new trial for Moazami.

During Monday's hearing, Arbogast asked for fresh evidence to be admitted — evidence that he said includes "red flags that we believe should have caused a much more thorough investigation."

Those red flags include a young person who told police interrogators that she "knew about Fisher" and the Facebook account he used to contact girls, "brazen" behaviour like allegedly kissing a young sex trafficking victim inside VPD headquarters, as well as evidence he was trying to obstruct the investigation into his crimes, Arbogast told the court.

"He asked the complainants to delete Facebook messages and delete text messages. He also appears to have been deflecting inquiries into himself," Arbogast said.

Fisher pleaded guilty in 2018 to sexual exploitation and breach of trust for kissing a 21-year-old victim in Moazami's case as well as a 17-year-old girl who'd been exploited by another pimp, Michael Bannon.

But Moazami's legal team has repeatedly alleged that Fisher's sexual and professional misconduct was much more extensive, involving nine of 11 victims and two witnesses in the Crown's case against Moazami.

Only four of those victims and one witness gave formal statements to investigators about Fisher, and some never even spoke to police, Arbogast told the court Monday.

CBC
CBC

He said he was particularly concerned about the involvement of Fisher's fellow officers in the Vancouver Police Department's small Counter Exploitation Unit at the outset of the probe into Fisher's conduct.

"One of the real issues ... was that it appeared that CEU was investigating themselves at the beginning of this timeframe," Arbogast said.

"We will make reference to issues that occurred with some of those investigators appearing to be helping Mr. Fisher cover up some of his misconduct."

Allegations that CEU constables Adam King, Silvana Burtini and Zach Guy committed misconduct during the investigation into Fisher were probed by Alberta RCMP, but a special prosecutor ultimately decided not to approve charges. The three still face a conduct investigation under the Police Act.

'A brazen approach by Mr. Fisher'

During Monday's hearing, Arbogast detailed allegations of sexual assault and inappropriate behaviour by Fisher in the time before, during and after Moazami's sex trafficking trial, claims that are based on text messages, Facebook conversations, court documents and hearsay evidence.

Those allegations include asking young women for oral and manual sex, touching their breasts, giving them money, providing advice about how to escape criminal charges and enticing them with something he called "the Earls experience" — apparently a reference to the chain restaurant.

"There's a pattern of misconduct that is attributable to Mr. Fisher relating to persons who were involved in this trial," Arbogast

"What it demonstrates is what appears to be a brazen approach by Mr. Fisher that was expanding in terms of the type of misconduct that he was engaging in all the way back to the fall of 2011, and it escalated over time."

In two instances, Arbogast said the evidence of misconduct was too disturbing to read out in full for the court.

"It's not only sexual assault, it's extremely predatory in nature," he said about one of those occasions.

The Crown has admitted that Fisher abused two other young women connected to Moazami's case. Fisher was originally charged with sexually assaulting both of them, but those charges were stayed when he pleaded guilty to sexual exploitation and breach of trust involving two other victims.

However, in statements of fact submitted to the appeal court, the Crown has denied that Fisher's misconduct interfered with Moazami's trial, saying "there is no evidence that it altered the testimony or materially affected the credibility of the complainants to the extent of reasonably affecting the result or causing a miscarriage of justice."

Hearings in Moazami's appeal continue on Tuesday morning.