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Court delay kills dial-a-dope case

Drug ring suspects go free after four-year wait ruled unacceptable

A North Vancouver judge has tossed out charges against three people accused of running a dial-a-dope ring under the guise of a medicinal marijuana service, ruling the case has taken too long to get to trial.

Judge Joanne Challenger ruled recently the almost four-year delay between when charges were laid and when the trial was to start violates the accuseds' right to be tried "within a reasonable time."

Crown prosecutor Peter Eccles said afterwards he wasn't surprised by the decision. "Forty-seven months is an extremely lengthy delay," he said.

Defence lawyer Kirk Tousaw asked the judge to toss the case out in September, arguing the time it's taken to grind through the courts is well beyond standards established by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Similar arguments have resulted in a number of B.C. cases being thrown out in recent years.

Jason Thon, 43, Kevin Moriarity, 42, and Debra McDonald Myers, 32, were all charged with trafficking marijuana in November 2008.

The charges followed a lengthy investigation stemming from a Sept. 2007 CrimeStoppers tip. The tipster told police a club that said it was providing medical marijuana to sick people was actually a dial-a-dope operation. The group had been operating under the name the Compassion Association.

Following the lead, police searched the home of Thon, the alleged kingpin of the group, in Vancouver, as well as a storage locker. They seized nearly six kilograms of marijuana.

When the case was originally set for trial, the accused were expected to argue their actions shouldn't be considered criminal because they were selling the marijuana to people who needed it for medical purposes. Prosecutors contended the Compassion Association was a front for a drug trafficking business that made more than $800,000 annually in gross sales.

But when the case got to court, it was plagued with delays. Public records show between 20 and 30 court appearances were scheduled and two previous trial dates were adjourned.

Outside the court, Eccles said one of the lengthiest delays arose after police provided a 160-page forensic accounting report to prosecutors just one month before a trial was to start. That prompted defence lawyers to get the trial adjourned. Eccles said after that, there wasn't room to fit the trial back into the court schedule for almost another two years.

Tousaw told the judge the delays have caused significant hardships for his clients. While waiting for their trial, they have had to live under bail restrictions, have been unable to find work and have suffered anxiety and embarrassment, he said.

Following the ruling, Eccles said the case wasn't a wasted effort, despite the time and money that have gone into it.

"It's not gone nowhere when police have essentially shut down a dial-a-dope operation," he said. He added the dismissal doesn't mean they are off the radar with other agencies like Revenue Canada.