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Former Toronto cop who ate pot edibles on duty pleads guilty to attempting to obstruct justice

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A former Toronto police officer “deeply regrets his actions” after consuming cannabis-infused chocolate that had just been seized during a dispensary raid in January — an on-duty incident that prompted an emergency police response and sent three officers to hospital.

Former constable Vittorio Dominelli pleaded guilty to attempting to obstruct justice in a College Park courtroom Friday where a detailed account of the high-profile incident was read out and a segment of the emergency call Dominelli made that night was played.

“Send an ambulance,” Dominelli, 36, told an emergency dispatcher on Jan. 27, shortly after consuming part of a hazelnut-flavoured chocolate bar infused with cannabis while on-the-job and armed.

“What’s going on?” the dispatcher responds.

“I think I’m going to pass out … I’m just light-headed,” he responds.

The officer, a married father of three who had been with the Toronto police for 13 years, has resigned in the wake of the incident, which also saw him charged with criminal breach of trust, a charge withdrawn Friday. His lawyer, Peter Brauti, said his client recognized he had “lost the trust of the policing community and the public to the point where he could no longer be a police officer.”

“The first place to start is to say I’m sorry, sorry for my actions, my judgment and for being to inconsiderate,” Dominelli wrote in a letter submitted as evidence, apologizing to the public, the Toronto Police Service and his family.

“My actions were wrong and the community that I served deserves that I be held accountable for those actions,” the officer wrote.

His partner that night, Const. Jamie Young, was not present in court Friday. She is still facing one count of criminal breach of trust and attempting to obstruct justice The charges against her have not been proven.

In an agreed statement of facts read out by Crown Prosecutor Philip Perlmutter, court heard Dominelli had been helping seize evidence following a raid of Community Cannabis Clinic on St. Clair Ave. West — part of which included unpacking large boxes of edible cannabis.

During the course of cleaning up, he found three full cannabis chocolate bars that had not been loaded into an evidence bag, and put them in his pocket. Court heard he soon regretted taking the evidence, and thought about disposing them at a nearby pizza place, where he had gone for a bite to eat.

According to the agreed statement of facts, Dominelli told Young that he was in possession of the evidence and discussed throwing them out at the pizza shop with her, but Young advised him that they bars should not be disposed of in a public place because someone could find them and consume them.

Later, while reassigned to work surveillance, Dominelli and Young began discussing marijuana and how they were both glad it would soon be legal so they could they could focus on more serious issues, such as guns. It was then, according to the agreed statement, that the pair discussed how neither had tried cannabis before and decided to try the chocolate.

“I’m down if you are,” Young is alleged to have told Dominelli, according to the agreed statement of facts.

Dominelli assumed it would be a “minor mellow,” court heard. The packaging contained eight chocolate segments and had warnings instructing consumers to take a small portion and wait 40 minutes — the package was later found completely empty.

Within 15 to 20 minutes, the cannabis hit Dominelli “like a ton of bricks,” court heard. He began sweating heavily and — worried that the chocolate had been laced — became suddenly concerned he could die and began thinking about this wife and kids, two 6-year-old twin girls and a 7-year-old daughter.

“My heart was pounding. I felt like it was going to come out of my mouth,” Dominelli says in a will-say document submitted as an exhibit. “I realized instantly what a stupid thing I had done … At that point, I did not care any more about the prospects of getting caught or the professional consequences, I just wanted medical help.”

He made a 10-33 radio call, which means an officer needs assistance, which summoned police to the scene. In a segment of the call played in court, Dominelli did not report the details of what had happened, saying only that he needed an ambulance and was going to pass out.

One of the officers racing to scene slipped on the ice, sustaining a head injury that caused a serious concussion. Nearly a year later, she is still off work and is experiencing “significant difficulties with speech and vision,” Perlmutter said. She has to wear sunglasses all the time and has difficulty maintaining her balance, he said.

Dominelli, Young and the officer were all taken to hospital. While there Dominelli threw up, after which time he quickly recovered and began to feel normal. A blood test confirmed the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound in cannabis.

Court heard Dominelli is deeply ashamed of the incident, which has taken a significant toll on his mental and physical health. He has lost weight, has sunken eyes from lack of sleep, shakes when he speaks and is “often reduced to tears when he talks about the situation,” Brauti said.

He said his client has immediately attempted to take responsibility for his actions, including pre-emptively performing community service, resigning from the service and providing ample information to investigators probing the incident. Denied legal coverage by the Toronto Police Association, Dominelli has had to cover his own legal costs.

In submissions on Dominelli’s sentence before judge Mary Misener, Brauti asked for a conditional discharge.

“Mr. Dominelli has literally done everything he can to try to make this right, although he recognized he never will be able to,” said Brauti, who characterized Dominelli’s behaviour as a “thoughtless act of stupidity.”

Justice Misener agreed, at one point remarking: “The conduct here, you can’t describe it as anything other than stupid.” But she reminded Brauti the behaviour is about a police officer tampering with evidence.

“On the continuum, this is on the very low end, but nevertheless this is an evidence tampering case before me,” Misener said.

Perlmutter agreed, saying that while there was no doubt that it was a “stupid decision,” it had significant adverse consequences, including the serious injury caused to Dominelli’s colleague. He also noted that the charges against the seven people charged in connection to the marijuana dispensary raid were dropped because of Dominelli’s evidence tampering.

Perlmutter also reminded Misener that Dominelli was armed with his service-issued firearm.

“The most important fact here is the completely unnecessary endangerment of life,” Perlmutter said.

Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at wgillis@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis

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Ontario allows retailers to operate up to 75 cannabis stores each amid lack of clarity over rules

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Part of cannabis laws and regulations

Cannabis retailers in Ontario will be allowed to operate as many as 75 stores each, the province said in an update on its rules governing how marijuana will be sold in bricks-and-mortar outlets this spring.

But the industry is still waiting for clarity on whether companies owned in part by licensed growers can open more than one.

Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney-General published a news release on Wednesday evening that spells out rules for how long stores can be open, where they can be built and when retailers can begin applying for licences.

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However, the province did not clarify exactly how it will limit the reach of cannabis growers. Ontario’s cannabis law, which came into effect on Oct. 17, said producers and their affiliates “may not between them hold more than one retail store authorization,” but did not explain what is meant by “affiliate.” It is still unclear whether a grower could take a minority stake in a retailer as a way to have more than one store.

The government’s news release said the official regulations would be published online. It is possible the text will address the affiliate issue. At the time of publication, the rules had not been posted, and spokespeople for the government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

James Burns, chief executive of Alcanna Inc., which operates five NOVA Cannabis stores in Alberta, said he is still waiting for clarity on whether his company can enter the Ontario market, because Alcanna is 25-per-cent owned by licensed producer Aurora Cannabis Inc.

“For us, what’s important is the definition of an affiliate,” he said. “We certainly intend to be full participants in the industry. … I don’t think I’ll be signing any leases tonight, because we still don’t know the rules.”

Growers are the most cash-flush players in the industry: They can afford to get into bidding wars and overpay for coveted space. Many of Canada’s largest legal producers of cannabis want to get into retail in what could be the country’s most-lucrative market to push their products and gain consumer insights.

Despite a lack of clarity from Ontario, would-be retailers have already been snapping up prime real estate despite not knowing whether they will qualify to open a cannabis store. Another wrinkle is that Ontario municipalities have until Jan. 22 to opt out of allowing cannabis shops, potentially putting in jeopardy store leases already signed in those markets.

Other regulations were spelled out more clearly on Wednesday. The province said it will start accepting retail applications on Dec. 17. Shops can be open daily from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. once the new cannabis retailing regime is launched on April 1. Outlets across the province have to be at least 150 metres away from a school.

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Until April, Ontarians can only buy legal recreational cannabis online. Physical stores have opened in other provinces, such as in Alberta and Quebec.

The launch of Ontario’s government-run digital store has been chaotic, with customers waiting weeks for their orders and the store blaming everything from the Canada Post strike to mislabelled packages. The shop – called the Ontario Cannabis Store – said Monday it has cleared its order backlog, processing 220,000 sales since legalization.

The regulations come nearly a month after the start of legal sales and three months since the Progressive Conservatives announced their plans to scrap the retail model planned by the Liberals. The previous government gave the Liquor Control Board of Ontario a monopoly on the sale of recreational cannabis, planning to open 40 shops in the first year. Instead, the province is turning to the private sector for in-store sales by April and plans to continue to run the online shop.

With a report from Marcy Nicholson in Calgary

Available now: Cannabis Professional, the authoritative e-mail newsletter tailored specifically for professionals in the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Subscribe now.

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Toronto police investigate alleged assault involving St. Michael's students

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Police are investigating an alleged assault involving students at a prestigious Toronto private school that is believed to have been videotaped.

The Toronto police force’s 13 Division and Child and Youth Advocacy Centre – a specialized unit in the police’s sex-crimes department that looks into issues of child abuse – released a statement late on Wednesday saying they believed a video of the alleged assault was being circulated and should be considered child pornography. They advised anyone in possession of the suspected video to delete it without sharing it.

The warning came after St. Michael’s College School said it expelled multiple students.

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“This week, to our shock and dismay, we learned of two incidents that were in clear violation of our Student Code of Conduct,” the midtown all-boys school wrote in a posting on its website on Wednesday afternoon.

Toronto Police Service spokeswoman Katrina Arrogante said the force learned about the alleged assault from “numerous inquiries” from media outlets on Wednesday. Those inquiries were prompted by social-media posts about the incident in question.

St. Michael’s declined to answer questions from The Globe and Mail about why it hadn’t involved police, and how it had spoken to students about what was going on. A spokesperson did, however, confirm that the junior football season at St. Michael’s had been cancelled.

St. Michael’s conducted an internal investigation, the school’s statement said, and met individually with the students involved and their parents. “As a result, swift and decisive disciplinary action has taken place, including expulsions. We are deeply sorry that these incidents occurred.”

The statement noted the school wouldn’t be making any further comment on the case, citing police involvement and privacy issues.

“Because of the fact that there’s young people involved, we can’t release much more information than what we’ve already given,” Ms. Arrogante said, stressing that all events are allegations at this point.

St. Michael’s College has a long history in Toronto, opening in the fall of 1852 to provide a combination of what would now be considered high school and university education. The school moved into its current location at Bathurst Street and St. Clair Avenue West in the 1950s. Now, St. Michael’s students range from Grade 7 to 12, and the school describes its program as “an enriched, Catholic, Liberal Arts education” that aims to filter its students into university.

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Regulations take effect for licensing, operation of private pot stores, attorney general announces

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The Ontario government passed new regulations aimed at protecting children and youth, keeping communities and roads safe, and combating the illegal cannabis market, the attorney general's office announced Wednesday evening.

The province said this is the latest phase of its planned response to the federal government's legalization of cannabis.

Recreational cannabis became legal on Oct. 17.

The new regulations establish a minimum distance of 150 metres between cannabis retail stores and schools, including private and federally-funded First Nation schools off-reserve.

A news release from the attorney general's office said this distance buffer will help protect students and keep communities safe, while other regulations will combat the influence and participation of organized crime in the legal licensed framework.

"The purpose of these regulations is to keep kids safe and to ensure all people operating in this tightly-regulated retail system behave with integrity, honesty, and in the public interest," Attorney General Caroline Mulroney said in the news release.

"The application process for private cannabis retail store licences will begin on Dec. 17, 2018, and we will be ready with laws and regulations to protect Ontario's youth and to combat the criminal market in response to the federal government's legalization of cannabis."

Attorney General Caroline Mulroney said in the new release that the application process for private cannabis retail store licences will begin on Dec. 17, 2018. (CBC)

Other regulations established by the province include:

  • Retailers will not be permitted to allow anyone under the age of 19 to enter their stores.
  • Specific instances in which applicants will be denied a licence, including cannabis-related criminal offences.
  • A prohibition of the issuance of a licence to any individual or organization who has an association with organized crime.
  • A requirement that individuals or entities applying for an operator licence demonstrate their tax compliance status to show that they are in good standing with the government.
  • A requirement for all private recreational cannabis retail storefronts to be stand-alone stores only.

Additionally, under the new regulations, individuals with a store authorization, cannabis retail managers and all employees will be required to complete the approved training to ensure that any individual who works in the cannabis retail market is trained in the responsible sale of cannabis.

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