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

As a public place, the courthouse in Iqaluit is not exempt from the Criminal Code and police will arrest people there “in appropriate circumstances,” a spokesperson said. (File photo)

By Corey Larocque

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.


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(13) Comments:

  1. Posted by You know it’s bad when I’m supporting the RCMP lol on

    Good. I hope the RCMP and Crown jointly submit a complaint to the Canadian Judicial Council and he is removed before he takes his next power trip.

    • Posted by It Is A Shame That What The RCMP Have Done To Their Credibility on

      and I hope that our RCMP services get the remedial training that they so clearly need. It is difficult to have confidence in them after this behaviour.

      It is not the arrest at the courthouse that is the issue, it is the interfering with the judicial process.

      They need to be taken in hand and reminded of their relationship with the courts.

  2. Posted by enosamm on

    Asking for a friend, but could Nunatsiaq News check with Sgt. Melanson and see if there was a place in Canada where the RCMP could not arrest me?

  3. Posted by Arctic Wolf on

    It’s good to see statements were made. Unfortunate something more consequential can’t be done.

    There really was nothing done to “interfere with the judicial process.” The Crown advised the court it was making an adjournment application, and the accused had counsel appearing for him. He was only required to appear for the trial, not the adjournment application. If the court heard the adjournment application and granted it, the trial wasn’t happening anyway. If the court denied the adjournment application, the charges would have been dismissed because the Crown would have had no evidence to call. Either way, the accused’s absence did nothing to hinder the process or undermine the judge’s authority.

    It is important for lawyers and the police to show respect to the court. It is equally important for judges to show civility to the people who appear in court, lawyers and police officers included. What decent lawyer would ever want to come to Nunavut and risk appearing in front of a judge who is prepared to cite them in contempt for no reason other than to flaunt their own self-importance? Nothing good was accomplished in this case. The people deserve better.

    • Posted by Make Iqaluit Great Again on

      Arctic Wolfe makes an interesting argument as to why the judge was wrong and there was no problem in arresting the accused at that moment. I don’t know if I necessarily agree with the argument, but I respect it and I respect Arctic Wolfe for making it. That brings me right to the second part of Arctic Wolfe’s comment that I really like which talks about the importance of respect and civility towards others, which include police and lawyers who are just trying to do their jobs often under difficult circumstances.
      I don’t know what it is with this judge but he seems to take great pleasure in viciously attacking lawyers, police and others in his published decisions. Almost every time his name comes up in the local news, it’s about him lambasting some lawyer as incompetent, lazy, a let down to the community, unethical or whatever. This man seems to have a lot of anger in his soul which I find disturbing. Arctic Wolfe is right in saying that few people want to deal with or work with a person who is so toxic and shows such lack of civility. It’s common sense. Why try to make yourself look good by attacking others? Perhaps an intervention is needed.

    • Posted by S on

      Hmmmm, maybe Judge Paul Bychok will tell us why he regularly overturns joint submissions from prosecution and defence lawyers

    • Posted by The Bar and Bench on

      Contrary to the treatment of judges like Bychok the Bench and the Bar are equals. Respect is required both ways. It is the judge’s process to run, and lawyers owe duties to the Court, but in no circumstances is the Bar inferior or subordinate to the Bench.

  4. Posted by John doe on

    Where there is a life in immediate danger then and only then, police with the leniency automatically credited them by the public and court need to be acting within the authority of a civilian body. It is a delicate balance. As for the police culture with the RCMP, reports show things are far from perfect within the force.

    • Posted by Jane Doe on

      Yea, anyone who might be at risk of being mentally traumatized, afraid to testify, or just subject to a good beating should not be protected in the courthouse because it is not a life and death situation? Give your head a shake.

  5. Posted by Dustbin Turdlump on

    Intimidating a witness, so what, are the RCMP supposed to standby while judge twinkle toes does his job. Just because you are in court does not make you immune from continuing to act like a criminal. If you were the victim, you would be up in arms at the RCMP for not doing something!

    • Posted by Da good on

      Removing an intimidating individual from the courtroom vs arresting, there is a difference and it can be accommodated If that were the situation. The judge has to be aware of what is happening and act/rule accordingly.

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