REGINA — Saskatchewan's top court has overturned the conviction of a man sent to jail for weapons possession after it found his rights were violated under a federal law that prevents someone from being arrested for drug possession while reporting an overdose.
Paul Wilson was sentenced to eight years in jail after police found him in possession of modified handguns, firearm parts and ammunition while responding to a 911 call that someone he was with was overdosing on fentanyl.
The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act prevents police from charging individuals who seek help for themselves or for someone else experiencing an overdose with drug possession if substances are found in the area.
An RCMP officer found what was believed to be crystal methamphetamine outside the truck Wilson was travelling in and arrested him, along with two others, for drug possession.
Later, after searching the vehicle, officers rearrested Wilson when they found weapons and drug trafficking paraphernalia.
Judges with the Court of Appeal determined Wilson's arrest was unlawful because it went against provisions set out in the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act.
"Because Mr. Wilson could not be charged with simple possession of a controlled substance, his first arrest was unlawful. This means that his rights … were violated by the search that was incidental to it," Saskatchewan Court of Appeal Justice Robert Leurer wrote in a Sept. 8 decision.
"I am also satisfied that the admission of the evidence obtained because of the unlawful search would, in the circumstances of this case, bring the administration of justice into disrepute."
Wilson was in a truck with a group of three others during the morning of Sept. 20, 2020, in Vanscoy, Sask., when one of the individual's in the vehicle went unconscious after using fentanyl.
Everyone remained at the scene while they waited for first responders to arrive after calling 911.
When police arrived, Wilson and two others were arrested after an officer from the Warman detachment found a clear bag containing a white substance believed to be crystal methamphetamine on the ground near the driver's side of the truck.
Wilson denied the substance was his, but did present a case that contained syringes and other drug paraphernalia.
Officers then searched the truck and several bags in the vehicle, eventually finding modified handguns, firearm parts and ammunition, along with paraphernalia that suggested evidence of drug trafficking.
Wilson was arrested again, along with two others, for trafficking and gun offences.
The drug charges against Wilson were eventually dropped.
"As it turned out, Mr. Wilson was not charged with possession of a controlled substance … despite that being the offence underlying his initial arrest," said the decision.
It said Wilson should never have been charged with drug possession, as it undermines the provisions set out in the act and discourages people in similar situations from reaching out for medical and police assistance.
The Court of Appeal found that the initial arrest lead to the discovery of Wilson's backpack with the weapons, and was "incidental" to his arrest.
"Mr. Wilson's first arrest was unlawful. It follows that his rights were violated," wrote Leurer.
Wilson argued at his trial his Charter rights had been violated. The trial judge did not agree.
Leurer said the trial judge "erred" in his conclusion.
"Mr. Wilson's appeal must be allowed and an acquittal of the charges against him must be entered."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 13, 2023.
— by Brittany Hobson in Winnipeg.
The Canadian Press