R. V. LI, 2020 SCC 12

Court reiterated that the police is required to have “reasonable suspicion” over suspected individual/phone number while investigating a dial-a-dope operation.

The present case is an appeal filed by Mr. Li against the verdict of lifting stay and remitting the matter for sentencing passed by Court of Appeal for British Columbia. During the trial, appellant before the court had pleaded guilty to trafficking in cocaine but also pleaded that he was entrapped by the police to commit that crime, thereby seeking a stay on the proceedings. Police had received a tip from anonymous crime-stopper providing a phone number that was used in a dial-a-dope operation, location and vehicle type with licence plate number.

Principle of entrapment by investigating authority is well settled in R. v. Mack, [1988] 2 S.C.R. 903, where the Canadian Supreme Court had recognized in case police stretches investigation to the level of inducing crime, that crime will be the result of “entrapment” by the police and that investigation won’t have the backing of the law. Entrapment can result either when the investigation wing provides an opportunity to accused to commit crime prior to forming a reasonable suspicion and entirely acting in male fide manner or when the investigation wing has reasonable suspicion and acting in bona fide manner but exceeds its limit to provide an opportunity to the accused, thereby inducing him to commit an offence.

Hence, primary question was, whether the police had “reasonable suspicion” before they provided Li with an opportunity to commit crime i.e. sell drugs. At the outset, the Court noted that the “reasonable suspicion” standard is not an onerous test. In some of the cases, the Court has held the standard was not met if the police solely acted on some anonymous tip without any investigation when the tip was of indeterminate credibility. While in many cases, the Court has held that even very limited evidence collected by police confirming the veracity of a tip of uncertain credibility will be sufficient to form “reasonable suspicion”. Reasonable suspicion is simply more than mere suspicion but it can be less than reasonable and probable grounds.

Regarding tip, the Court held that tip has to be seen as a whole rather than separating the information contained in it into separate parts. The Court while judicially reviewing the police’s action can’t seek proof which is entirely independent of the tip so that it can link various parts of the tips to corroborate its veracity. In present case, some of the elements of the tip i.e. licence plate number and the type of vehicle, the involvement of vehicle owner in the dial-a-dope racket were confirmed by the police through preliminary investigation. Based on these elements, the Court dismissed the appeal by relying on verdict of R. v. Ahmad, 2020 SCC 11 and held that it was justified on the part of police to attach considerable weight to the tip, thereby giving rise to “reasonable suspicion”. The Court added the caveat that if while conversation with the accused during dial-a-dope operation, accused acted in a manner which was inconsistent with a dial-a-dope operation terminology then the police should abandon investigation there and then.