Did Nunavut government do illegal searches at courthouse?

“The department has failed to meet its responsibilities in the management of its own affairs”


I have read with interest your newspaper’s coverage of the recent decision of the Nunavut Court of Justice to cancel proceedings in a manslaughter case due to inadequate security in the courtroom.

This sad moment highlights some significant problems with the Nunavut Department of Justice, notably the department’s inability to get things done or to have a healthy and functional relationship with our judiciary.

While these were obvious shortcomings illustrated by the closure, I would like to focus on another aspect, which has perhaps gone unnoticed, but is equally troubling.

We know that on Tuesday March 27, the department was scrambling to address Justice Kilpatrick’s security concerns, which it had ignored for over a year.

In scramble mode, the department acquired a metal detector “wand,” which staff used to search citizens before they could enter the courtroom.

After proceedings were ultimately cancelled March 28, acting deputy minister Norman Tarnow issued a public statement in a response to the fiasco.

In the statement, he says, “We expect that this training, along with the amended legislation giving authority to conduct searches of those entering the courthouse, will address some of the concerns that have been raised.

From Mr. Tarnow’s public statement, we now know:

• the Department of Justice had no lawful authority to search citizens for metal objects upon entering the courthouse March 27, 2012; and,

• the department conducted the searches anyway, with full knowledge that they were unlawful, in a last minute and unsuccessful attempt to appease the legitimate concerns of the senior judge.

The Department of Justice is, in effect, the central agency of the Government of Nunavut, since it has the solemn responsibility to ensure that all departments conduct their affairs in accordance with the law.

This responsibility is always important, but is especially so in difficult moments where exigent circumstances make it tempting for public officials to ignore the law to achieve a given objective.

In this respect, the department has failed to meet its responsibilities in the management of its own affairs when it succumbed to the temptation to ignore the law in attempting to get out of a tight spot.

I suggest that this turn of events should be disturbing to all citizens of the territory.

(Name withheld by request)

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