No-knock raid found no illegal drugs, led to no charges, but left residents shaken
Judy Trinh, Zach Dubinsky · CBC News · Posted: Apr 12, 2022 4:00 AM EDT | Last Updated: April 12, 2022
An Alberta couple targeted in a no-knock drug raid where an armoured vehicle smashed through their living room window and tear gas was fired into their home has filed a $1.5-million lawsuit against the RCMP and Calgary Police.
Joshua Bennett and Jennifer Hacker initiated the civil claim after an internal police review found that the officers’ actions were justified.
The lawsuit, filed March 30, alleges police breached Bennett and Hacker’s rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by “unlawfully and arbitrarily arresting and forcibly confining [them], and using unnecessary and unreasonable force.”
Police mistakenly assumed the couple were operating a drug stash house at their rented home just outside Calgary when tactical officers raided the property two years ago. Police found no illegal drugs at the house, in an operation that caused tens of thousands of dollars in damages to the premises.
“Totally gratuitous violence was visited upon both my clients,” said Tom Engel, the pair’s lawyer.
“The consequences to these two people are just terrible. I mean, they’re going to suffer probably for the rest of their lives because of what was done to them.”
The raid was conducted by a provincial joint-forces agency called ALERT, or the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams. It was led by a Calgary police officer and executed by RCMP tactical police.
RCMP review no-knock entry in case
Following the raid on April 1, 2020, the couple’s landlord Glen Burgess filed a complaint directly to the RCMP seeking compensation for $50,000 in damages to his property, including broken windows, doors and siding. The RCMP conducted an internal review and found that there were “significant risks associated with conducting this high risk warrant.”
The RCMP review considered the search warrant, photos of the damage from the scene and the tactical plan. The review said RCMP officers involved in the raid had been attempting to prevent the destruction of potential evidence, and it acknowledged they deployed chemical munitions and used a mechanical arm attached to an armoured tactical vehicle to break windows.
Police said they announced their presence through a megaphone and with emergency lights and sirens.
In June 2021, more than a year after the botched raid, RCMP Supt. Gord Corbett said, in a letter to Burgess, “These actions were necessary, acceptable and effective based on the risk present at the time.”
However, a 2021 CBC investigation revealed that detectives relied on bad information from a confidential informant that was used as the basis for the search warrant granted by a judge.
Among other things, the search-warrant application said undercover officers spotted Bennett leaving the house of an acquaintance, who was suspected of being involved in the drug trade, with a black garbage bag. Officers assumed the bag had drugs in it, but Bennett and Hacker told CBC News last year it was just some used clothes Bennett was picking up.
During the raid on their home, police accused them of operating a meth lab, the couple say. They were never charged with anything, and were eventually released after four hours in custody.
In the lawsuit, the couple claims that the heavily armed officers used “unnecessary violence” that damaged their property and caused them both physical and psychological injuries. The lawsuit says at least one helicopter, two armoured vehicles, 10 police vehicles and more than 20 officers were involved in the dawn raid.
According to the claim, the two now suffer from PTSD, anxiety, fear and distrust of law enforcement and tarnished reputations. The impact of the raid also resulted in the break-up of their relationship, and has taken a toll on their ability to work.
‘Cruel and unusual treatment’
Hacker and Bennett told CBC News last year that police didn’t knock and announce themselves before the raid. Instead, the couple says, they were awakened by their home alarm after police started firing projectiles at their house.
Their claim alleges police carried out a “negligent and malicious” tactical plan. As the couple was running out of the house, the battering ram attached to the police armoured vehicle smashed through their living room window, nearly striking Hacker in the head, it alleges.
“It’s cruel and unusual treatment. There’s the tear gas. There was the flash bang. There’s the ram. It’s pretty much [police] using every toy they have. And they don’t seem to really care about the consequences to the occupants,” Engel said in a Zoom interview last week.
The couple do not have video evidence of what happened, they said, because police destroyed four security cameras attached to the house.
According to the lawsuit, Hacker was recovering from a hysterectomy at the time of the raid and asked police to be gentle with her. Instead, “one or more of the RCMP members unlawfully grabbed Hacker, aggressively turned her around by her shoulder, pushed her to the ground, and handcuffed her… and grabbed her by the neck,” the lawsuit alleges.
Police committed several breaches of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms including the right to liberty and security of person, Engel said. He says officers also executed the search warrant in an unlawful manner and arbitrarily detained his clients without telling them why they were being arrested, nor did investigators inform them of their right to a lawyer.
The lawsuit names the Calgary Police officer in charge of the operation, more than 20 RCMP officers, the Calgary Police chief, ALERT and the attorney general of Canada.
An RCMP spokesperson said that as of Friday, the force hadn’t yet been served with the statement of claim. He had no other comment.
Calgary police also said they had yet to be served with the lawsuit.
Challenging legal battle for compensation
Toronto-based lawyer Davin Charney has filed more than 100 lawsuits against police forces for abuse of power and misconduct. He’s not involved in this case, but said he considers Bennett and Hacker “victims of the war on drugs,” and said it will be a long and difficult battle for them to get compensation through the courts.
“They can expect years of continued trauma and difficulties with this lawsuit and the denial of any responsibility,” Charney said, “and they’re going to be re-traumatized through the whole process.”
Charney said he has had lawsuits against police drag on for as long as a decade that resulted in compensation amounting to just a fraction of damages his clients initially sought. In reviewing the Bennett-Hacker case, Charney said the challenge will be in convincing a judge what price should be put on the physical and psychological harm experienced by the two.
“Canada values these rights, but when it comes to awarding civil damages pursuant to the Charter or the common law, it does not appear that there’s much value … when those rights are infringed,” he said.
Charney said in his experience, these types of claims rarely result in compensation beyond tens of thousands of dollars.
Both Charney and Engel said the law needs to change, so that once a judge or justice of the peace signs off on a search warrant, police don’t effectively have carte blanche in deciding whether to execute it as a so-called “dynamic entry” — the police term for a no-knock raid.
“That should need to be authorized, because that would probably lead to greater scrutiny of the warrants,” Charney said.
“You know, maybe some judges or JPs are thinking the police are going to go and knock on the door and do a search. And they’re not necessarily anticipating that it’s going to be this tactical, military type raid. So that’s a problem.”
In seeking accountability, Engel said Benett and Hacker are also demanding that the officers named in their lawsuit be investigated for offences under Alberta’s Police Act.