An undercover police sting in Ontario used an undercover officer of Caribbean ancestry, Andrew Cooper, to pose as an Obeah Priest in order to gain confessions from three suspects in the slaying of a drug dealer in Brampton. According to the-star.com:
Peel Region police breached the religious rights of a Jamaican Canadian family by having an officer pose as an Obeah spiritual adviser to extract information during a murder investigation, the Court of Appeal will hear Tuesday.
Evol Robinson, his brother Jahmar Welsh, and friend Ruben Pinnock are asking the court to overturn their first-degree murder convictions in the 2004 Brampton shooting of drug dealer Youhan Oraha.
The trial judge, Ontario Superior Court Justice Terrance O’Connor, erred in admitting statements made by Robinson and Pinnock to an undercover constable posing as Leon the Obeah Man, according to their claim.
The evidence was crucial to the Crown’s case against Robinson and Pinnock.
The Crown argues police did not play a “dirty trick” that would shock Canadians. “Deceit and manipulation are inherent in undercover operations,” it says in a written response.
The police officer, Andrew Cooper, donned a black robe and wore a head covering and chanted in a darkened room lit by candlelight. Most sessions were secretly videotaped.
To appear prescient, Cooper used information from police wiretaps. To demonstrate his power over evil, he had a dead crow placed on the Robinson family’s front steps. He broke open an egg at the murder scene with secretly pre-loaded red dye to look like blood.
The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines Obeah as a type of sorcery or witchcraft practised especially in the West Indies, but four defence experts at trial said it is a form of religious practice.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has intervened in the appeal, arguing that allowing police to impersonate religious advisers “shocks the conscience of Canadians.”
“People in Canada have a right to spiritual guidance and a right to a relationship with a religious advisor free from police interference,” the association states in written submissions.
A black man of Caribbean ancestry, Cooper had 17 sessions with Robinson, his mother, Collette, and/or Pinnock.
“Leon” claimed the Robinson family was cursed by an evil spirit, a “white boy” who had drawn police and the judiciary to them.
He offered Colette Robinson protection against the justice system (Babylon) and its stakeholders (judges, police — the “Beast man”) and engaged them in activities he claimed would quell the evil spirit.
The African Canadian Legal Clinic has intervened in the case, arguing the ruse preyed on the Robinson family’s deep-seated mistrust of police and the criminal justice system.
Police treated the Robinsons’ ethnicity-based belief in Obeah as a tool to extract information, assuming those beliefs are not worthy of equal respect, thus breaching their equality rights, the clinic argues.
Det.-Sgt. David Jarvis testified at trial that the Obeah idea was his. Obeah is not a religion, he said, and he would not have infiltrated Catholics, Buddhists, Muslims or Hindus.
According to authorities in Canada, Obeah is not a religion. Do Canadian authorities believe it is fine to use magicians tricks and deception to manipulate a criminal suspect in the name of an African religious Spirit – say, Eshu – but it would not be appropriate for them to use the same tactics claiming to be from a Christian Angel, or from Jesus Christ. Can an undercover police officer in Canada pretend to be a Minister of Christ, using wiretapped information to convince a suspect that they are communicating with Jesus?
The issue is not endorsing or excusing any criminal behaviour – especially a murder – but rather the ignorance surrounding the beliefs and practices of traditional African religions such as Obeah. It is good to see that the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the African Canadian Legal Clinic both took up the banner to fight not only for the rights of the suspects, but for the dignity of Obeah, its religious beliefs and its authenticity as a religion, a spiritual belief, equal and on par with a Catholic, Hindu or Muslim.
The Leader-Post added additional comments from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association:
Further, the association argued, “the failure to recognize a protection to the integrity of the relationship of trust and confidence with a spiritual adviser creates a chill on all Canadians’ right to engage in meaningful religious practices and expression.”