Courthouse not off limits for arrests: RCMP
Police, prosecution service react to judge’s contempt of court finding that called officer and lawyer ‘reckless’ for arresting man awaiting trial
Police in Nunavut will arrest people at the Iqaluit courthouse “in appropriate circumstances,” despite a judge’s contempt of court decision that called a lawyer and RCMP officer “reckless” for arresting a man scheduled to appear before him last July.
“The courthouse is a public place and is not exempt from the Criminal Code,” said RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Pauline Melanson, when asked if the contempt hearing will affect police conduct in the future.
In his decision, Judge Paul Bychok ultimately concluded Cpl. Andrew Kerstens and Crown prosecutor Emma Baasch were not guilty of criminal contempt of court when they arrested a man who was at the courthouse to stand trial on another matter.
Melanson said Kersten’s duties with the RCMP will not change following the contempt hearing, which was held in December and whose decision was issued Jan. 5.
On July 13, Kerstens arrested a man who was at the courthouse to stand trial for an assault charge.
Before the trial started, the man was arrested for allegedly intimidating a witness, and taken into police custody.
When the man didn’t appear before Bychok on the assault charge, the judge said he could hold both arresting officer Kerstens and prosecutor Baasch in contempt of court for disrupting the court’s proceedings.
Bychok called the arrest “a direct and public insult to the integrity of the Nunavut Court of Justice.”
In his decision later, Bychok called Kerstens’ and Baasch’s actions “reckless.” He said the two showed a “stunning lack of judgment,” but concluded it didn’t amount to criminal contempt.
Contempt of court is an offence related to being disobedient or disrespectful to the court.
The union representing Kerstens and 20,000 RCMP officers said it takes exception with the judge’s “overblown commentary” that accompanied his decision.
It was “unnecessary and damaging” to Kerstens’ reputation, said Chris Voller, a director with the National Police Federation, in a statement issued a week after Bychok’s decision.
Public Prosecution Service of Canada issued its own statement, saying it “fully supports” Baasch.
Bychok made comments “that called her integrity and ethics into question,” PPSC’s statement said. However, Baasch “acted ethically at all times,” according to the statement.