Louisa Dorion was sitting with her three daughters — ages seven, eight and 10 — when the Prince Albert police came calling at her home on the morning of Jan. 30, 2019.

No warning, no knock. Instead, she says, about half a dozen members of the Integrated Street Enforcement Team (ISET) broke through her front door with their weapons drawn.

They pointed their guns at everyone, Dorion claimed in an interview, including her children. “They traumatized my girls, especially the youngest one,” she added.

Const. Jonathan Wilde and his fellow officers were looking for an “unknown black male” dealing drugs. They arrested a young man who was a tenant in Dorion’s basement and they found 32 grams of crack cocaine.

Prince Albert police charged him with possession for the purpose of trafficking, and, as was their practice, they also charged Dorion with the same offence.

She spent a night in jail, was evicted from her home because of the damage caused by police and was temporarily left homeless. Later, she’d be told without explanation or apology that the drug charge against her had been stayed.

Just over two months later, Dorion was sitting on the couch in her new apartment with a friend, Mustafe Hussein — a different Black man than the one arrested in the first raid. They heard someone outside fumbling with the front door lock.

With a piece of pizza in one hand, Hussein opened the door with the other and was shocked to see four members of the Prince Albert ISET team burst in. He was grabbed by an officer, forced to the kitchen floor and handcuffed. This time, the raid netted 35 grams of crack cocaine.

Once again Wilde led the raid. The tip came from Wilde’s confidential informant, who told the officer another “unknown black male” was dealing drugs from Dorion’s address.

It wasn’t much of a tip — no name, no nickname, no identifying description of the dealer other than skin colour, not even an apartment number. And the officer, a judge would find, did barely any police work to corroborate it.

Wilde received the tip just before 9 a.m. By 9:37 a.m., a justice of the peace had issued a search warrant. At 10 a.m., the police were standing outside Dorion’s front door.

Once again, she was also arrested and charged with the same offence as the “unknown black male” suspect — possession for the purpose of trafficking.

This time she spent two nights in jail, was again evicted and again discovered later that the charge against her was stayed.

This was all too much for Judge Felicia Daunt of the Provincial Court of Saskatchewan.

When Hussein’s case came before her in February 2020, she excluded the evidence found during the raid. That killed the prosecution’s case and Hussein was found not guilty.

The judge blasted Prince Albert police for their systemic pattern of violating people’s protected rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms when they barge into people’s homes based on paper-thin tips.

“In this case, there was no urgency to warrant such a hasty investigation,” Daunt ruled. “No hostage was tied up in a closet waiting to be rescued. No one was in danger.

“Further troubling is the evidence that ISET routinely arrests everyone they find in a residence without really considering whether those arrests are justified or necessary.”

Const. Wilde, she pointed out, had taken part in over 100 searches and drafted more than 30 search warrant applications, called an Information To Obtain (ITO). Most of them would have been in the span of two years.

“If the ITO before this court is typical of those investigations, it is disturbing to think so many private homes might have been searched in such a short time on such insubstantial evidence,” Daunt stated.

It appeared Hussein had been arrested, the judge noted, because he happened to be a black man standing at the doorway of a residence that was about to be searched.

According to police, Hussein “fit the description,” she stated. “So, of course, would every other black male in the city.”

Wilde declined to comment. Hussein could not be reached. But his lawyer, Chris Koban, said Hussein’s case is part of a pattern of police conduct that doesn’t appear to be changing in Prince Albert.

Prince Albert was one of nine police services across Canada that had a systemic problem of officers violating people’s Charter rights, Torstar found after an extensive investigation of court decisions in recent years.

These were not one-off cases or excusable mistakes by officers. The courts found these police services continued to flout the law despite judges having already raised concern about officers’ conduct.

These systemic abuses are found among the more than 600 court rulings over the past decade where judges concluded that officers committed serious Charter violations. Since 2017, the rulings have occurred at a rate of two per week, a Torstar investigation found.

A spokesperson for Prince Albert police said the service has taken steps to address the systemic issues identified in the search warrant cases, including administrative reviews, consultations with the Crown, other experts and neighbouring police agencies.

“The police service is concerned with systemic issues identified through the courts and continues to work to address concerns cited by the courts or the public,” said Charlene Tebbutt, media co-ordinator for Prince Albert police.

“Our police members regularly participate in training and information sessions aimed at upgrading their skills and knowledge around police procedure and processes,” she added.

In Edmonton, a provincial court judge estimated in 2018 that 13 per cent of people arrested by police had their Charter rights violated by being detained for more than 24 hours — a “systemic and ongoing” problem the judge described as “egregious.” (A spokesperson for the Edmonton police said the service is aware of the ruling and has been working with the Crown and other stakeholders to address the issue.)

Some judges have become so exasperated with repeated breaches that they order prosecutors to bring their scathing decisions directly to the chief. In one such case involving Toronto police, Ontario court Justice Fergus O’Donnell threw out drunk driving charges against the accused after concluding officers at 32 Division were routinely subjecting short-term detainees to illegal strip searches.

“One wonders if the Toronto Police Service ever becomes aware of the various decisions of this court … and, if so, at what level of command that awareness resides,” O’Donnell said in his 2010 ruling, in which he gave the prosecutor 10 days to inform the chief. (Crown lawyer Brett Cohen, who was the prosecutor on the case, told the Star that he complied with this order “immediately following the judgment.”)

It didn’t solve the problem. Torstar identified two subsequent rulings, in 2012 and 2016, where judges chastised officers at Toronto’s 32 Division for failing to learn from these earlier violations.

“Sadly, the evidence before me reveals that the unconstitutional strip search of (the accused) was not an isolated incident; indeed, the evidence highlights troubling systemic issues relating to strip searches at 32 Division,” Justice Heather McArthur concluded in 2016. “Officers at 32 Division still do not seem to understand the limits on their authority to conduct strip searches.”

A spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service said the force has made changes to its strip search protocol in recent years, due in part to McArthur’s decision in the 2016 case, but did not comment on why it took so long to address the issue.

The RCMP was particularly plagued with chronic Charter violations.

Four different divisions of the RCMP were cited for systemic issues — the Yukon division; the Estevan, Sask., detachment; the Langley, B.C., detachment; and the B.C. Integrated Homicide Investigation Team.

The homicide team’s “systemic, flagrant disregard” of Charter rights over a period of several years may have put the results of hundreds of murder cases in jeopardy.

In March 2021, a judge acquitted Samandeep Singh Gill of second-degree murder and attempted murder because the RCMP flagrantly mishandled evidence in the case.

Gill was charged in 2018, seven years after a road rage incident in Surrey where Gill was alleged to have shot and killed the driver of the other vehicle and shot at a passenger.

A month after the April 2011 shootings, IHIT investigators seized evidence, including a number of cellphones, which could be held for 90 days. After the evidence retention period runs out, police are required by law to apply for an extension.

Except the RCMP investigators never applied for extensions to hold the evidence for more than six years.

Worse, an RCMP investigator on the Gill case acknowledged on the witness stand that no extension orders had ever been applied for in any of the 50 to 80 homicide cases she had been involved with from 2009 to 2014.

Worse still, the court learned the IHIT unit had received legal advice from the Crown and the RCMP’s own lawyers in 2007 stating the team needed to comply with the extension order requirement but the RCMP ignored that advice for seven years.

The testimony, stated Justice David Masuhara, “indicates that there were likely hundreds of files impacted by the blanket non-compliance policy while it was in effect from 2007-2014.”

The RCMP’s rationale for ignoring its own legal advice was that triggering the extension process could alert a suspect to what items had been seized and “could compromise the integrity of the investigation,” according to an RCMP memo provided at Gill’s trial.

“The police had sought and obtained legal advice from multiple senior and experienced prosecutors who were all consistent in their advice and the advice was effectively, ‘You can’t do this. You have to comply with the law,’” Gill’s lawyer Matthew Nathanson said in an interview.

“And the police apparently ignored that advice for years.”

It’s not as if the IHIT team was faced with a “Herculean task,” said another Vancouver-area defence lawyer. Just some routine paperwork and “it’s usually a rubber stamp,” said Aman Jaswal.

“If the police had simply done their job, then they would be litigating a very serious murder charge,” Jaswal added.

The Crown appealed Gill’s acquittals and because the case is back before the court, a spokesperson for the B.C. division of the RCMP said the police service is unable to comment.

A spokesperson for the IHIT unit did say “the processes used and decisions made during the Gill investigation are not reflective of IHIT’s practices today.”

Meanwhile, the RCMP’s Langley detachment southeast of Vancouver, was found to have a systemic problem with illegal strip searches that violate the rights of arrested women.

Over a period of many years, Langley RCMP routinely required women taken into custody to remove their bras for inspection and submit to a search.

One officer testified this was RCMP policy but two different judges noted such a policy, if it existed, was contrary to the Supreme Court of Canada’s defining guidance on strip searches, which has been in place since 2001.

“This is very disheartening,” one of the judges stated.

Incredibly, two of the cases highlighting Langley RCMP’s systemic problem involved the same woman who was illegally strip searched by the same officer on separate occasions four months apart.

Jennifer Hall was arrested in January 2017 and charged with two counts of drug possession for the purpose of trafficking.

A video played in court of Hall’s strip search at the Langley detachment showed she was “quite upset and crying” during the search, according to the judge’s ruling.

Four months later, Hall was again charged with drug offences, taken to the Langley detachment and again forced to undergo a strip search by the same officer, Cpl. Terry Leslie.

In both cases, the judges issued a stay of proceedings, saying it was the only remedy to counteract the police misconduct.

Jaswal, who was Hall’s lawyer for both trials, noted the officer was a 16-year veteran of the RCMP, and in her testimony “she says, ‘This is what I do all the time,’” he said.

“She’s essentially subjected a significant amount of female arrestees to unconstitutional strip searches in complete ignorance of the law,” Jaswal said.

He said he was “taken aback” by the officer’s testimony in the second trial.

“After the first ruling,” Jaswal said, “I would have thought that at least she would have said, ‘You know what, this is what I used to do, I don’t do this anymore.’

“Far from it. She said, ‘No, I still do this. As a matter of fact, I have to do this for protocol,’ and it’s apparent she seemed to have thought that it’s national RCMP policy.”

Leslie declined to comment on the two cases involving Hall.

A spokesperson for the RCMP’s B.C. division said the Langley detachment has taken action to remedy the strip search issue.

“We confirmed with the detachment that communication was sent out to advise members of policy/procedures and the importance of articulation and authorities when conducting such searches,” said Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet.

“The B.C. RCMP has multiple checks and measures in place in order to avoid or address Charter issues,” Shoihet added.

With files from Jesse McLean

Data analysis by Andrew Bailey

Rachel Mendleson is a Toronto-based investigative reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @rachelmendleson

Steve Buist is a Hamilton-based investigative reporter at the Spectator. Reach him via email: