Judge finds Nunavut lawyer, RCMP officer not guilty of contempt of court

Courthouse arrest was ‘direct and public insult’ to integrity of Nunavut’s court, judge says

A Nunavut judge has ruled that a lawyer and an RCMP officer’s actions are not contempt of court over an arrest at the Nunavut Court of Justice last summer. (File photo)

By Nunatsiaq News

A Nunavut Crown lawyer and an RCMP officer’s actions during and after the arrest of a man at the Iqaluit courthouse last summer do not amount to contempt of court, a Nunavut judge has ruled.

Judge Paul Bychok held a contempt of court hearing for lawyer Emma Baasch and Cpl. Andrew Kerstens on Dec. 14. He released a written decision Thursday afternoon.

On July 13, Kerstens arrested Robert Joseph Campbell inside the courthouse and took him into custody. Campbell, with two other co-accused, was there to stand trial that day on charges of assault causing bodily harm.

When Campbell didn’t show up in front of Bychok for trial that day, Bychok said Kerstens could be found in contempt of court for disrupting proceedings by arresting Campbell.

At the time, Kerstens said he believed it was in the public interest to arrest Campbell. Robb Beeman, Kerstens’ lawyer, also said Kerstens had arrested Campbell that morning for allegedly intimidating a witness.

Bychok ordered the police to return Campbell to the courthouse immediately, and in his decision was critical of the time it actually took.

“Although the police detachment is only a few minutes’ drive from the courthouse, the police did not return Mr. Campbell until more than an hour later,” Bychok wrote.

He also said Baasch’s actions that day would be considered for contempt of court because she had discussed Campbell’s arrest with Kerstens, and it was understood Campbell would be arrested upon entering the courthouse.

“It was a direct and public insult to the integrity of the Nunavut Court of Justice,” Bychok wrote.

The judge said that while he believes Baasch and Kerstens “interfered improperly with the court’s ability to continue to deal with Mr. Campbell’s case, and in the process, openly and publicly violated the integrity of the Nunavut Court of Justice,” they are not guilty of contempt.

“Your actions were indeed reckless, and they reveal a stunning lack of judgment; but not to the extent required to convict you of criminal contempt,” he wrote.

“I am satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that each of you gave no more thought or reflection to your actions, their implication, and ramifications, than you would have had you considered having Mr. Campbell arrested in Northmart or inside the Legion.”

Contempt of court is the offence of being disobedient or disrespectful to the court and its processes, and can be either criminal or civil.

Bychok said in this case, the court was considering criminal contempt.

“If our courts are to maintain the respect and support of the communities we serve, judges must defend the courts and the administration of justice from all assault and infringement of their authority,” he wrote.

Bychok said Campbell was lawfully in the courtroom July 13 and that it is criminal contempt to prevent an accused, witness or complainant from participating in a judicial proceeding.

“Short of emergency or a court request for assistance, the police — who we remind ourselves are armed agents of the state security apparatus — have no business, no place, and no role to assert any purported authority in a courtroom,” he wrote.

Baasch, Kerstens, their lawyers and the RCMP could not be reached Thursday afternoon for a reaction to the judge’s decision.

 

 

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(25) Comments:

    • Posted by Read the decision on

      Have you read the judge’s decision? It’s a civics lesson that Canada is not a police state and that we only enjoy our freedoms because we have an independent judiciary. Thank you Justice Bychok for reminding us that no one – especially the police and prosecutors – is above the law.

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      • Posted by Read on

        I did read it. In my view, an over zealous judge with an ego problem who took this opportunity to waste the time of a court that doesn’t have time to waste.
        Finding them not guilty then trashing them with baseless accusations… cool move judge.

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      • Posted by Contradictions on

        “It was a direct and public insult to the integrity of the Nunavut Court of Justice”

        But intimidation of a witness is ok?

        The disruption in the court’s schedule is nothing in terms of preserving the integrity and protection of the witness.

        If the Judge were so concerned about the courts time and public resources he would have not dragged this out

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  1. Posted by wasting time on

    Typical judge on a power trip. Tell me, who REALLY just wasted the court’s time??? Shame on the system for trying to penalize the RCMP for doing their job. SHAME!!!!

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    • Posted by John W Paul Murphy on

      I am a one hundred percent supporter of the RCMP.
      However, I would suggest you read this SHORT article and try to understand what happened and what the Judge said.
      The RCMP are not allowed to interfere in the courthouse and prevent the accused from following a court order to appear in court.
      Really quite simple.
      Unless of course, you are in the habit of criticizing our judicial system.

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      • Posted by ummmm on

        Mr. Murphy, he was following the orders of the Crown. Who told him to arrest Robert.
        Justice Bychok does like to flex his judge muscles.

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      • Posted by lol on

        I guess when someone shows up to court for crime A and is on the run or suspected for crime B the police should just let them walk around in the courthouse? Ya right Paul.
        .
        The NCJ does not take court orders seriously. It’s so commonplace it’s basically licensing complacency: Was the db dad ordered to file his financials on a child support case 3 months ago but fails? No problem, take another 3 months – the kids will get along without it for now.
        .
        How about failing to meet filing deadlines like Anne Crawford did over a year on the Land Guardians appeal case? The court dismisses a motion to hold them accountable!
        .
        There are everyday cases judges like Justice Bychok and the rest could be more strict on everyday. Not this nonsense.

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      • Posted by Make Iqaluit Great Again on

        I would suggest that any fair and reasonable assessment of this sad affair should lead to the following conclusions:
        1. The RCMP in consultation with the crown made a mistake in arresting the person before his court appearance.
        2. While the RCMP and crown made a mistake, it was clearly made in good faith and without any intention whatsoever to publicly assault the integrity of the court. It was a unique situation and mistakes can happen in unusual situations when people are trying to do the right thing.
        3. The judge completely and wrongly overreacted when faced with this situation. He unfairly questioned the motives the police and crown. He unfairly impugned their competence and ethics.
        4. People with good common sense and life experience know that when people make good faith mistakes, you respond by educating them and not rushing to punish them! You deal with the matter in a constructive as opposed to a destructive way which this judge did!!

        I agree with the first comment that this sad affair was a waste of everyone’s time and Nunavut deserves better from this judge!

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        • Posted by Read the decision on

          In reading the court’s transcripts, the judge in this case gave ample opportunity to the Crown prosecutor and the RCMP to explain to the judge what they had done – the RCMP, on the (bad) advice of the Crown, arresting Campbell in the courthouse before a trial that he (Campbell) was supposed to appear at. This judge was not on a power trip, as has been suggested by many, but, in fact, was trying to get the first case resolved but Campbell was nowhere to be seen – because the police, on the (bad) advice of the Crown, had arrested him when he (Campbell) was calmly sitting in the courthouse, awaiting his trial. It is incomprehensible (and disgusting) to me that there are so many armchair judges out there, deeming that their superior legal wisdom (without knowing, or choosing to ignore, all the facts) refutes what actually happened. SMH.

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    • Posted by S on

      The power-trip was by the RCMP. The judge put them in their place, rightfully. Shame on the RCMP, again and again throughout Nunavut.

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  2. Posted by DudeTown on

    Would it have made more sense to have done the arrest while Campbell was leaving the court house rather than while entering?

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    • Posted by John K on

      Yes.

      Let him attend court as ordered then arrest him after.

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    • Posted by So on

      So you would want him to be able to be at the court house after intimidating a witness testifying against him?

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  3. Posted by Confused on

    “If our courts are to maintain the respect and support of the communities we serve, judges must defend the courts and the administration of justice from all assault and infringement of their authority,” The judge should ask himself how long it takes the court to process a person; an hour seems reasonable for the RCMP. Perhaps the judge should maintain confidence in the legal system by not thinking he is a god and merely a cog in the process.

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    • Posted by A Cog Yes, But… on

      He is a cog, yes. He is a big cog, and the RCMP are small cogs – they often forget that.

  4. Posted by Big dumb fish in a small pond on

    The fact that this judge decided to waste tax payer dollars like this instead of… I don’t know… having a conversation with these two people?! It shows a sincere lack of judgment. And that’s the last thing you want from a judge.

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  5. Posted by sentencing on

    How about actually sentencing violent and sexual offenders appropriately and actually protecting the victims? Wouldn’t that be a novel idea instead of wasting time on this..

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  6. Posted by Well Done on

    Good, the errant RCMP officer and prosecutor needed a good lip lashing.

    They could have arrested him when he was leaving or liaised with the judge to arrange something. Usurping a court appearance is not the role of our law enforcement services.

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  7. Posted by Principles on

    I just read the decision, it is not very long. It is available at https://www.canlii.org/en/nu/nucj/doc/2022/2022nucj47/2022nucj47.html?resultIndex=1. I think it deals with an important principle in our democratic system, the independence of the judicial system. If judges do not nip interferences like that in the bud, the executive branch may start taking some liberties they should not be allowed to take. Principles are important even if the practical implications in this specific case may not be great (but it seems only because the judge demanded the return of Campbell right away and he was returned to the court thanks to that). And the judge did recognize that there may be situations in which arresting someone in court may be appropriate but they would be exceptions. This is our democratic institutions working well. It is heartening. Western democratic institutions are imperfect but they work.

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  8. Posted by Tulugaq on

    Interesting decision about a storm in a teapot. First of all, the decision does not address the power to arrest with or without a warrant. In the former case, a warrant is issued by the court and is a court order; in the latter it is a power clearly defined by the law, the Criminal Code that the courts have a duty to apply. So, was the arrest lawful? No mention other than the supposed right of sanctuary in a court house.

    Does this right of sanctuary in a court house exist (as opposed to a church for instance)? There is no case law or regulation that forbids the authorities to arrest an individual that committed a criminal offence in a court house. At best, here we have two conflicting lawful exercise of the law: on the one hand the onus on the accused to obey his bail conditions and appear before the court at a given day and time and, on the other hand, the police power to arrest an individual either under a warrant for his arrest or based on reasonable grounds to believe the person committed a crime.

    Here, the judge was obviously upset that the case he was seized with could not proceed as he wished but this situation clearly derailed at one point and the decision to cite the officer and the crown prosecutor for criminal contempt of court was made under strong emotions but poor judgment in the application of the law. Yes, there is a fundamental principle in respect of the independence of the judiciary but this independence must be exercised in harmony with the other powers, the executive that is responsible for the enforcement of the law. The decision to arrest Campbell was misguided but could have been resolved that day in a few minutes through an argument between the judge and the crown but the judge decided to make it much more than it really was and that is an unfortunate exercise of judicial power.

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  9. Posted by John K on

    Tell me you aren’t a lawyer without telling me you aren’t a lawyer.

    Oh. You all did! Thanks, lol.

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