HARPREET Singh Vaid, who was charged with 14 counts relating to seven victims for drive-by pellet or BB gun shootings targeting pedestrians on July 25 and 26, 2015, in Abbotsford has been acquitted of all charges by Provincial Court Judge Edna Ritchie.
According to court documents, with one exception, the victims were on foot. They were shot at more than once. In some cases minor physical injuries occurred.
“Through information from the victims and witnesses and through diligent police work, a suspect vehicle was quickly identified. The police located the vehicle at Basant Motors Ltd. in Surrey and determined that Harpreet Vaid had traded in the vehicle on July 30, 2015. A search of the vehicle found hundreds of BB’s and pellets,” noted the judge.
Vaid was arrested and charged. With respect to each incident, he was charged with discharging an air or compressed gas gun at the victim with intent to wound, maim, or disfigure. He was also charged with assault with a weapon with respect to each incident.
Ritchie said that the Crown’s case against Vaid was circumstantial.
She noted: “It is clear that the victims were shot at as alleged, and that those shots were fired from Mr. Vaid’s vehicle. Video surveillance and eyewitness testimony satisfy me that the 2006 Chrysler Sebring, bearing licence number AV5 33M, belonging to Mr. Vaid was the vehicle from which shots were fired in all the incidents before me.”
The judge agreed with the with the Crown’s submissions that the civilian witnesses were credible. She added: “They were careful in giving their evidence and the minor inconsistencies, where they occur, do not cause me concern. Based on the evidence of those witnesses, I find beyond a reasonable doubt that the complainants were all shot at. I also find that the only reasonable inference on the evidence is that the shooter or shooters intended to assault the complainants and that they intended to wound, maim, or injure the complainants. There is no other rational conclusion.”
Ritchie said: “The Crown also submits that anyone in the subject vehicle is a party to the offences charged. The evidence proves that there was more than one occupant in the vehicle during at least some of the incidents we are dealing with. Based on the evidence that the subject vehicle slowed down and then sped off, I am satisfied that both the shooter and the driver of the vehicle were parties to the offences.
However, the judge pointed out, the real issue was whether or not there was evidence that satisfied her beyond a reasonable doubt that Vaid was in the car when any of the offences occurred.
She said that the circumstantial evidence that she had to consider on this issue included:
- Vaid was the owner of the subject vehicle.
- Vaid was the principal driver of the subject vehicle.
- Vaid’s vehicle had an “N” sticker on the back. Several witnesses noticed an “N” sticker on the back of the suspect vehicle and it was captured on one of the videos.
- Vaid had, at least recently in relations to the incidents, owned a pit bull. A pit bull like dog was in the vehicle during at least some of the shooting incidents.
- Vaid traded in his vehicle (in Surrey as opposed to Abbotsford where he lived) shortly after pictures of his vehicle were released by the Abbotsford Police Department.
- Hundreds of BB’s and pellets were found in the vehicle.
- Vaid has a teenaged brother, a girlfriend and other friends.
- Vaid’s neighbour associated the subject vehicle with Vaid.
- The neighbour saw Vaid spray painting his taillights and tire rims.
- Upon inspection at Basant motors, the appearance of the subject vehicle had clearly been altered.
- On July 27, 2015, the neighbour heard popping noises coming from outside. He looked through his living room window and saw Vaid and another male standing in Vaid’s driveway, laughing. Vaid was holding a gun-shaped object in his hand. Later that same evening, when the neighbour went outside he noticed black dots on the gates into Vaid’s back yard.
The judge noted that in considering whether the evidence could support reasonable explanations other than guilt, she had to consider other plausible theories as opposed to speculation.
The Crown submitted that the only conclusion that could be drawn with similar fact evidence present in the various incidents, and the alleged “guilty conscience” act of disposing of the subject vehicle after the police press release combined with the circumstantial evidence was that Vaid was guilty.
The defence submitted that the ruling in “R. v. Villaroman”, makes it clear that other plausible explanations do not have to arise from the evidence and the Crown must negate those plausible explanations before the court can make a finding of guilt.
Ritchie said: “In the circumstances before me, I am satisfied that some person or persons used Mr. Vaid’s vehicle while committing cowardly, senseless drive-by pellet gun shootings of innocent citizens of Abbotsford. The evidence about Mr. Vaid’s dog and about the dog in the car during at least some of the shootings is not definitive enough to find that it was the same animal.
“I am also satisfied that Mr. Vaid was aware of the offences having been committed when he disposed of his vehicle on July 30, 2015. It is probable that Mr. Vaid was involved in the offences but I do not think it is safe to convict Mr. Vaid on the evidence I heard. I find that there is another reasonable scenario of someone else using Mr. Vaid’s vehicle with his permission but not in his company.”
Vaid was acquitted on all counts.
The judge also said: “I hope that whoever was involved in these offences has matured enough to realize in hindsight how pathetic their actions were. I also sincerely hope that any of the victims who were traumatized by these senseless acts are able deal with that trauma so that it does not continue to adversely affect their day to day lives.”