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Supreme Court Approves Hearing on Surrey Six Case Linked to Police Misconduct and Cruelty Claims

The Supreme Court of Canada has dismissed an appeal from Crown lawyers who were seeking to deny a hearing into claims of police misconduct and cruel in-custody treatment that allegedly tainted the convictions of the killers involved in the so-called Surrey Six murders in 2007.

It means that Cody Haevischer and Matthew Johnston — who, in 2014, were tried together and found guilty of six counts of first degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder — will be granted a full evidentiary hearing in B.C. Supreme Court over the matter.

Haevischer and Johnston, both members of a criminal organization called the Red Scorpions, tried to bring evidence at their trial alleging police misconduct and poor treatment in hopes of a stay of proceedings.

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The trial judge allowed some evidence, but ultimately concluded that even though the allegations were serious, the 2007 murders in a Surrey, B.C., high-rise — which included the killings of two innocent bystanders — were so shocking that a stay of proceedings would not be appropriate.

In the judge’s view, there was no reason to further consider the applications in a full hearing to hear all of the accused’s evidence.

Haevischer and Johnston appealed the decision.

The B.C. Court of Appeal ruled in 2021 that they should be allowed to seek a stay of proceedings for abuse of process and ordered an evidentiary hearing, but it stopped short of overturning their guilty verdicts.

Lawyers for Haevischer and Johnston argued last October before the Supreme Court of Canada that the men were wrongfully denied an opportunity to provide evidence that B.C.’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team “exploited the trust of key protected female witnesses in order to have sex with them, including girlfriends of the men they ultimately charged.”

They also claimed prison conditions were “akin to torture” and they were forced to live in cells smeared with mucus, blood and feces, leaving them teetering “on the edge of sanity.”

The case has been further complicated since those arguments because Johnston died of cancer in December 2022.

Application deemed not frivolous

On Friday morning, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the trial judge should not have summarily dismissed the applications as they were not “manifestly frivolous.”

Justice Sheilah Martin wrote about how courts must weigh the dismissal of applications that would never succeed, or waste court time, against those that protect fair trial rights.

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“If the frivolous nature of the application is not manifest or obvious on the face of the record, then the application should not be summarily dismissed and should instead be addressed on its merits,” she wrote as part of the decision.

A large square building with a green roof. In the forefront of the image, a sign reading 'Supreme Court of Canada' is visible.
The Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa. A defense lawyer says the case isn’t about Haevischer and Johnston’s innocence, since the court affirmed their guilty verdicts, but rather the conduct of investigators and corrections personnel that potentially tainted their convictions. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

Canada’s highest court stopped short of ordering a stay of proceedings, allowing B.C. Supreme Court to determine that through the evidentiary hearing. But it did address the gravity of Haevischer and Johnston’s allegations.

“While it remains to be determined whether a stay of proceedings should or should not issue in this particular case, in light of both the seriousness of the offenses and the seriousness of the abuse, I agree with the general proposition set out by the Court of Appeal that no category of offense is beyond the ambit of the abuse-of-process doctrine,” wrote Martin.

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The lawyer representing Haevischer, Dagmar Dlab, said in an email to CBC News prior to the ruling that the goal for her client is to obtain a judicial stay of proceedings through the evidentiary hearing so that he can be released from prison.

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