A Lambton OPP officer has been freed nearly three years after criminal charges surfaced


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An Ontario Provincial Police officer in southwestern Ontario who illegally used a police database to investigate the teenage girl he mentored in a First Nations leadership program Nations and her ex-boyfriends got a release.

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Craig Johnston, a Lambton OPP officer charged nearly three years ago following an internal investigation, showed little emotion when a top Sarnia judge read his decision Friday afternoon on Zoom.

“Accordingly, discharge will be granted absolutely to Mr. Johnston with respect to this offence,” Superior Court Judge Michael McArthur said.

But Johnston, 34, did not escape unpunished, the judge noted, as he still faces possible disciplinary action under the Police Services Act and the embarrassment of being a convicted policeman in his hometown.

“I’m ashamed to be here,” Johnston said.

The Sarnia High School and Lambton College graduate, who has worked for the Lambton OPP since 2010, pleaded guilty to a single charge of accessing police databases without authorization and in a manner without relation to his duties.

The court heard Johnston was tasked with mentoring an 18-year-old selected from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation to participate in the OPP West Region Police Ethnic and Cultural Exchange Program (PEACE) during the summer of 2017. Between July 1 and August 31, he searched the database for the young woman’s name four times.

He also searched two other men three times, including her then-boyfriend, and showed him the results.

“This information, along with Craig Johnston’s encouragement, were factors that led her to decide to end her relationship, believing it was good for her goal to become a police officer,” the assistant district attorney said. the Crown, Brian White.

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Agents need a username and passwords to access these databases, and are warned that they can only be used for “specific and lawful purposes,” White said. They are also not supposed to show the information to other people.

Defense lawyer Nick Cake said his client did not believe a full background check was carried out on the young woman before she was accepted into PEACE.

“Const. Johnston was concerned about that,” Cake said. “He didn’t know who this young woman was before the program.

“He really didn’t know who was sitting next to him.”

But she did “nothing” to arouse his suspicions, Cake added.

If there were any concerns about the candidate, White said, it was “very” clear that Johnston was supposed to contact the program coordinator.

“Instead, the officer made four inquiries on four separate occasions,” White said. “It’s not a momentary mistake.”

White also called the incident a breach of trust related to the program, which aims to build trust between the police and the First Nation.

Cake countered that his client wanted to help the young woman become an “ideal” candidate for the OPP, so he “wrongly” used the system to show her how it worked and to demonstrate how social media and relationships can affect career opportunities.

“It was definitely a misguided use involving access to information,” McArthur said.

The judge, however, also gave Johnston credit for taking advice himself over the past three years.

“You did a great job of fixing the issues,” he said.

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McArthur sided with Cake, who asked for an absolute discharge, as opposed to White, who asked for parole on probation and Johnston not contacting the woman or the two men.

Despite the release, Cake stressed there will be a “collateral impact” for his client, as he remains the subject of an ongoing lawsuit under the Police Services Act.

“Const. Johnston is not off the hook yet,” Cake said, noting that the officer faces the potential for demotion, suspension or even termination.

“I want to continue being a police officer,” Johnston said.

Spokespersons for Lambton OPP and West Region OPP were asked on Friday about the status of the Police Services Act charges and whether Johnston is able to return to work, given the release, but they n haven’t responded by press time.

Johnston has been suspended with pay since February 2018. His salary was nearly $104,000 in 2019 and more than $105,000 in 2020, according to sunshineliststats.com. Ontario is the only province in Canada that does not allow chiefs of police to suspend officers without pay.

The breach of trust and obstruction of justice charges first brought in November 2018 were dropped after he pleaded guilty to the other charge.

[email protected]

@ObserverTerry

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