Violating the public’s trust is nasty business. Violating the trust of your fellow police officers is an even more heinous offence because, as in the case of Abbotsford Police Constable Christopher Nicholson, it puts their lives at risk.
On May 6th, 2013, Constable Christopher Nicholson’s criminal actions caught up with him. Nicholson was arrested and charged with ten counts of breach of trust, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to traffic a controlled substance.
“We have also served him with a notice from the Abbotsford Police Board that they intend to make the suspension without pay as soon as legally possible,” said Abbotsford Police Chief Bob Rich.
These charges came after a lengthy investigation by members of the Vancouver Police Department at the request of the Abbotsford Police Chief. When Rich learned of Nicholson’s possible criminal conduct in July 2012, he contacted Chief Jim Chu at the Vancouver Police Department and asked the VPD to investigate.
“Since we believe that Christopher Nicholson had knowledge of the drug transaction and was an active participant in the transaction, a charge of conspiracy to traffic a controlled substance has been laid,” said Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu.
“Corrupt conduct is not acceptable…”
– VPD Chief Constable Jim Chu
“I wish I could guarantee that something like this won’t ever happen in policing, that an officer would ever do what we allege has happened here. I can’t. What Chief Chu and I can do is state unequivocally, that whenever we uncover this kind of conduct, we will do whatever it takes to root it out, and hold the person responsible for their actions.”
– Abbotsford Chief Constable Bob Rich
On September 7, 2017, Christopher Nicholson pleaded guilty to a single charge of breach of trust. In exchange for his guilty plea, Crown counsel dropped all other charges against him.
On March 2, 2018, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Brenda Brown sentenced him to a 17-month conditional sentence.
 Mr. Nicholson has no criminal record. Until these events, he was an active and well-regarded member of his community and of the APD, as his letters of support show. He has experienced personal consequences as a result of these charges and conviction. He has lost his occupation with the APD, a lifelong dream. He has suffered financially. His family has suffered, as well. His reputation in the community, including the police force, has changed dramatically. There is no evidence that he gained personally from his actions which resulted in these charges.
 This is not to minimize the seriousness of Mr. Nicholson’s actions. He was in a position of trust. Society places great trust in police officers and must be able to rely on that trust. Mr. Nicholson’s breach has undermined the confidence of the public in at least the APD and perhaps police generally. His conduct reflects on his fellow officers. He has betrayed them, as well. It was not a crime of the moment. These were calculated actions. His actions led to other prosecutions being stayed. Because of his position, the consequences of his actions are widespread. The impact is much broader than it would be in a more common type of crime. Society rightly condemns this type of conduct.
 After considering the submissions of counsel, the authorities provided, the letters of support, and my knowledge of the case, I adopt the joint submission. Mr. Nicholson is sentenced to 17 months to be served by conditional sentence. I am satisfied that this conditional sentence will not endanger the safety of the public and is in keeping with the purpose and principles of sentencing. It is a longer sentence than Mr. Nicholson would serve were I to sentence him to jail. He risks being placed in jail if he breaches any of the conditions.
I don’t understand why someone who repeatedly violated both his oath of office and the public trust is allowed to evade a prison sentence. As Justice Brown noted, this wasn’t a lone lapse of judgement. This was a series of calculated and conscious decisions placing the lives of his fellow police officers in jeopardy.
I believe Christopher Nicholson deserved a prison sentence, just like former VPD officer Peter Hodson and former VPD detective James Fisher.
So why not Christopher Nicholson?
I clearly struggle with these choices by judges and Crown prosecutors.
Am I alone in thinking this way? Or do you agree that cops who break the law should be held to a higher standard and, therefore, pay a higher price?
At the other end of the spectrum, I commend Abbotsford Police Chief Bob Rich for acting without hesitation. The moment he heard a member of his department might be breaking the law he called the VPD and asked them to investigate. How many other police chiefs take the easy road? We’ll never know, but I’m proud of Chief Rich for refusing to take it.
lynn cournoyer says
Why is it when police officers or the PM break the law they either get conditional sentences or are not charged at all? It seems that if you hold a position of importance the law does not apply and can be changed to fit the persons who commit these crimes. I was not aware that there are two sets of laws in this country. Beats the hell out of me.
Christopher di Armani says
I call this the police sentencing double-standard and I have an entire category devoted to this nonsense.
Rick Ulmer says
If a person who is held to a higher standard then Joe Shmuck commits a crime they should receive a heavier sentence then Joe Shmuck. Unfortunately it seems to work the other way around.