Hunter charges dismissed

JANE SIMS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:36 AM ET

London Knights coach Dale Hunter will be behind the bench at tonight's playoff game against the Soo Greyhounds without the weight of last summer's impaired driving charges on his shoulders.

All charges were dismissed against the former NHL player and Memorial Cup-winning coach yesterday. The judge said he has the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to thank.

"Mr. Hunter, perhaps you should bake a cake, because the charter has served you well," Justice Deborah Livingstone said after she dismissed the charges, pointing out next week marks the charter's 25th birthday.

Livingstone said Hunter's rights were breached when he was detained unlawfully in an apartment building parking lot and when he was unable to contact the lawyer of his choice after he was arrested early in the morning on July 24, 2006.

"Trial fairness has, in my view, been significantly jeopardized by the cumulative effect of these breaches," Livingstone said.

A charge of impaired driving and one of having more than 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood were dismissed. Breath samples taken from Hunter were ordered excluded from the case.

The charges stem from last July, when Hunter was detained by a London police officer in the parking lot at Springbank Drive and Wonderland Road.

Const. Roy Allen was investigating possible burglaries in the area. He saw Hunter's pickup truck leave the apartment building parking lot, then circle a church driveway before returning to the lot.

Allen found the truck straddling two parking spaces and Hunter getting out. Allen said he could smell alcohol, Hunter's eyes were bloodshot and he was slow to answer. He fumbled through his wallet for his licence.

But Allen didn't arrest Hunter. He told him to wait at the back of the truck while he called a supervisor, delaying the arrest by about 20 minutes.

Allen had testified he wanted to know if he could use "discretion" in the investigation because of Hunter's position in the community. He was told by a sergeant he should treat Hunter as he would anyone else.

Livingstone said once Allen's investigative focus was on impaired driving, he either had the grounds to arrest Hunter or not. "He was not entitled, in my view, to detain Mr. Hunter while he waited for a second opinion."

Livingstone said there was no evidence of bad driving.

Hunter, who said he had been drinking at a pool party earlier, explained why he had bloodshot eyes -- from an old hockey injury -- and a videotape of his booking showed he was able to answer questions. He said he had returned to the apartment to use a washroom. He showed how hard it is to pull cards out of his crammed wallet.

Livingstone said the evidence indicated Hunter was drinking and driving, but "it does not prove, in my view, to any standard that Mr. Hunter's ability to operate his motor vehicle was impaired by the consumption of alcohol."

At the police station, Hunter made it clear he wanted his lawyer, Patrick Ducharme of Windsor, to be contacted.

He gave police Ducharme's number from the speed dial on his cellphone. The booking officer, Sgt. Lynn Sutherland, made the call, but didn't record and use a 24-hour paging number referred to in Ducharme's office message.

Hunter said at the time he understood he had two hours to provide a breath sample, but Sutherland told him he had only 10 minutes before they would continue getting a breath sample.

Sutherland was incorrect, Livingston said, but Hunter was encouraged to call another lawyer from a list on the wall, based on Sutherland's information.

Livingstone said the law is clear -- the charter includes the right to retain a lawyer of one's choice.

Hunter had no comment yesterday, but Ducharme praised Livingstone's "well-reasoned" decision, adding he and Hunter would not criticize the police investigation.

"Yes, it was an infringement of Mr. Hunter's rights, but believe me, Mr. Hunter and I feel absolutely no ill will towards the London police."

The investigating officer "thought he maybe was going to help Mr. Hunter. We think that officer did what he thought was right at the time. It turned out it was a mistake in law, but it certainly wasn't a mistake of the heart."

Police Chief Murray Faulkner said in an interview there was no indication Hunter benefited from favouritism.

"I think the community should be more upset if they found out there was discretion used," he said. "The fact is the right thing was done according to the circumstances."

Faulkner said police will look at the two-hour limitation for breath tests. He added officers have to understand "that it's their investigation on trial, not necessarily the accused."

Both the arresting officer and the booking sergeant have learned from the arrest, he said, "and maybe even though Mr. Hunter's charges were dismissed, there may have been a lesson there as well."


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