KRPF criminal charges may not stick
“It’s obvious that if the police had been police according to the Criminal Code, there would have been adequate evidence.”
KUUJJUAQ – Scores of criminal charges may be thrown out of court because investigating police officers weren’t properly sworn in, says Kuujjuaq’s legal aid lawyer.
Frédéric Bénard points to last month, when four Nunavimmiut charged with possession and trafficking had their cases dismissed.
The Crown prosecutor declared there was not enough evidence to proceed. Charges were reduced in six other cases.
In all these cases, Kativik Regional Police Force officers who opened the files and made arrests were not properly sworn in, Bénard said.
“They’re not saying so directly, but it’s obvious that if the police had been police according to the criminal code, there would have been adequate evidence,” Bénard said.
Other Nunavimmiut charged in 2006 may never see their case make it to court, Bénard said, if they were arrested by KRPF officers who had not undergone the rigorous background checks and swearing-in process Quebec law requires.
Charges most likely to be affected include impaired driving, escaping from the custody of a police officer, assault on a police officer, obstructing justice and some drug-related ones.
Charges which would pass scrutiny are those where the police officer was fully qualified to make an arrest, or the officer was an actual witness to the kind of crimes in which any citizen can make an arrest.
Bénard was the first to realize many KRPF members hadn’t been sworn in when he noticed some of them heading down to a judge’s office last May to take their oaths.
“I did my research and I realized that most of them were not proper officers,” Bénard said.
In September, Bénard informed the Kativik Regional Government of his findings, shortly before the Sûreté du Québec provincial police force took over the region’s policing until all KRPF members had undergone background checks and taken their formal oath of office.
Early on, Bénard also saw that the lack of following procedure could carry legal implications for some of his clients.
Bénard has since looked up decisions from other judges across Canada, which show that if an arrest isn’t made by a fully-qualified police officer, the charges don’t stick.
However, any citizen can make arrests in certain situations. That’s why some of the charges made by KRPF officers, regardless of their status, will stand. And other cases, already caught up in the court process before the irregularities came to light, are also unlikely to be rejected now.
Béland hasn’t been able to cite any jurisprudence he found in a Nunavik court because the charges made by questionable cops haven’t yet passed by Crown prosecutors into court.
However, Quebec’s justice department says it will fight any dismissal of cases sought on the grounds that KRPF weren’t true police.
John Tymchyk, the chief prosecutor for northern Quebec, said that the impact of KRPF irregularities would be minimal.
“To date, I’m not worried. It has had a very small effect,” he said. “Not many people will escape justice, and we’ll do evaluations case by case.”
As for the future, Bénard said he plans to keep an eye on the status of KRPF officers.
By Feb. 22, the KRPF needs to fully train its half-trained police, called “supernumeraries” in Quebec. These police are currently allowed to serve on short-term contracts, but the KRPF needs to fully train them or seek an extension from Quebec’s public security minister to allow them and other non-Inuit police hired on short-term contracts to continue.
At the same time, the KRPF must plug any holes left by departing full members of the force.
If the KRPF can’t do all this, the number of arrests in Nunavik may fall due to a lack of qualified manpower.
Fewer arrests is in fact one of the force’s objectives, in order to save money, interim police chief Luc Harvey recently announced to the Kativik regional council.