Iqaluit armed robbery trial to include evidence from police search, despite charter breach
Infringement of rights outweighed by broader interests of society, judge concludes
Evidence collected by the Nunavut RCMP while searching an abandoned boat on Iqaluit’s waterfront will be admitted during the trial of a youth accused of the armed robbery of two taxi drivers in the fall of 2018.
The defendant’s lawyer brought a pre-trial motion to court, arguing that the search violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms—specifically, the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure.
The accused, identified only as A.B. in the judgment because he was a young person at the time of the alleged crime, lived in the abandoned boat at the time of the robberies.
Justice Susan Charlesworth ruled in an April 20 judgment, following a voir dire hearing—a trial within a trial, held to test the admissibility of evidence—that the accused’s charter rights had, in fact, been infringed. But she concluded that this infringement is outweighed by the broader interests of society of including this evidence at trial.
The police searched the boat in the hope of finding the firearm used during the robberies. The judgment doesn’t say what the police found during the search, but it suggests that what was found is important to the case. “The evidence found on the boat was physical evidence that may be connected to the robberies charged by evidence of the victims; it is quite reliable,” the judgment states.
Other evidence collected by the RCMP for the case had earlier been ruled inadmissible at trial. The accused made two statements to police that were later found to be involuntary, and a third statement was “tainted because of the illegality of the first two,” according to the judgment.
At an earlier pre-trial hearing, Justice Earl Johnson found that an RCMP officer’s decision to not arrest the accused when he had grounds to do so meant the officer had “avoided taking extra steps to ensure the statement was voluntary.” Johnson said this put the officer in conflict with the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which says accused youth must be given reasonable opportunities to consult with lawyers.
Charlesworth wrote that she would have had to similarly exclude the evidence found on the boat “if the admission of it at the trial would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.”
To decide whether this had happened, she considered the seriousness of the charter infraction, the impact of the charter breach upon the accused, and society’s interest in seeing the case resolved based on its merits.
Charlesworth found that the seriousness of the charter breach was mitigated by how “the officers tried to do the right thing” by seeking a search warrant before entering the boat, and “the officers were urgently searching for a firearm in a busy area of town and had legitimate public safety concerns.”
Still, she found that the search warrant was “unlawful,” because it was based on the accused’s inadmissible statements.
Charlesworth found the impacts of the charter breaches caused by the search to be “on the lower end.” The accused should expect some privacy in the abandoned boat, but not as much as in a home. “Anyone walking along the beach could have decided to climb up on the boat and take a look inside. A.B.’s privacy interests were not undermined to a great extent,” she wrote.
And the police were likely to have found out about the boat independent of the statements made by A.B., through talking to family members or the co-accused, Charlesworth wrote.
Last, while considering society’s broader interests, Charlesworth said she had to consider whether the administration of the justice system could be brought into disrepute by her excluding evidence, if this prevented the truth from being known and resulted in the public perceiving the trial as having been unfairly conducted.
“In this case, because the object of the search was a firearm likely located in an insecure area of town and a search warrant was obtained in an attempt to safeguard A.B.’s interests, I find that the balance of concerns favours admission of the evidence found.”