The Mounties have been `duped' by corporate America in their raids on Canadians who sell those popular U.S. mini-satellite dishes, a judge has ruled.
In a hard-hitting decision, Judge Wallace Craig of the British Columbia Provincial Court this week ordered the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to return all seized equipment from raids in Vancouver area this summer.
He accused the RCMP of working for U.S. corporations such as DirecTV, instead of working on behalf of Canadians.
And in a very unusual move for a criminal case, the judge ordered the crown to pay the legal costs of 15 people raided by the Mounties.
None had been officially charged. The case was back before the courts this week because the RCMP sought an extension to hold on to the seized goods -- such as dishes, computers, and cash -- longer while continuing the investigation.
The RCMP had little to say about the judge's remarks.
"We just brought it before the courts, and the court has made its decision", said Sergeant Dave Long, of the RCMP's Vancouver office. "There's nothing more I can add."
The ruling comes only days after Industry Minister John Manley issued a Canada-wide government pamphlet warning Canadians that it could be illegal to sell or buy U.S. satellite dishes such as those from DirecTV and EchoStar.
At least 200,000 Canadian homes are estimated to have these small dishes picking up U.S. programming.
The judge noted no Canadian service is available as an alternative, and said "satellites cannot distinguish borders".
The court case deal with RCMP search and seizure procedures, not the government's threatened satellite crackdown.
Nonetheless, satellite dealers are hailing the ruling as a victory in allowing Canadians to choose what they want to watch on TV without the state sticking its nose into it.
"The judge was annoyed, furious", said Ian Angus, a lawyer who represented 6 of the 15 defendants in Vancouver.
"It's clear he did not think using the RCMP as DirecTV's lackeys is proper and beneficial to Canadians", Angus said.
The raids aimed at seizing the so-called pirate cards that allow viewers to tap into DirecTV programming without paying the company's monthly fees. No consumers were charged.
Judges in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick have also sided with the satellite dealers, but Craig came down most harshly against the Mounties.
"I wonder if this investigation is in the public interest of Canada or really in the interests of News Datacom and DirecTV", Craig told court on Tuesday, adding he thought RCMP investigators were `duped' by the Americans.
DirecTV, the unit of General Motors Corp. producing a popular satellite service, uses News Datacom Inc. for security and to keep tabs on computer hackers producing `smart cards' to pirate DirecTV programming. Canada has become a hot-bed for the cards.
In a series of cross-country raids in June, the Mounties seized satellite and computer equipment they believed were being used to hack into DirecTV's signal.
The RCMP had previously told The Star that some of the investigation costs were being paid by DirecTV.
Craig said DirecTV "sparked" the investigation. He called it a "bizarre affair".
The judge said the Americans were taking evidence seized in Canada across the border for testing without the RCMP's approval and were using information from the Mounties for civil court actions in the United States.
"The sharing of information was very one-sided", Craig said.
"I am satisfied the search was elephantine", the judge said. "It should have been more specific."
Crown attorney Sandy MacDonnell could not be reached for comment on whether the government planned to appeal the decision.