Many charges dropped due to police woes, lawyers say
Crown insists that impact of KRPF swearing-in irregularities is “very minimal”
About one in five Nunavimmiut arrested during 2005 and 2006 may receive an unexpected reprieve, say defence lawyers in Nunavik.
They maintain crown prosecutors with the travelling court are saying they lack evidence when some cases come to court.
That’s most likely because the investigating police officers from the Kativik Regional Police Force weren’t properly sworn in at the time of the arrests.
At the Kativik Regional Government’s recent council meeting in Kuujjuaq, Ivujivik mayor and regional councillor Adamie Kalingo asked Luc Harvey, the KRPF’s interim chief, whether many cases handled by KRPF before the irregularities were uncovered could be declared “null and void.”
Harvey assured Kalingo that this wouldn’t occur.
But defence lawyers in Nunavik estimate 30 to 40 cases on the Ungava coast and as many on the Hudson Bay coast have been dropped due to a lack of evidence in cases where KRPF members who opened the files and made arrests were not properly sworn.
John Tymchyk, chief prosecutor for the region, said he feels that these numbers are “exaggerated.”
Tymchyk said few files were withdrawn due to the irregularities around the swearing-in of KRPF members. The overall impact on files was “very minimal due to the reason that the police officers were not sworn in,” he said.
But if the arresting officers had been police according to the letter of the criminal code, there should have been adequate evidence to make the charges stick, lawyers say.
Take the case of a woman from Kangiqsujuaq who was charged with possession for the purposes of trafficking.
Her summons alleges that between Dec. 1, 2004 and June 4, 2005 she was dealing drugs after she was found with more than $7,000 in her possession.
Another woman from Kangirsuk was also charged with possession of marijuana for the purposes of trafficking in May 2005.
In both these cases, the charges were recently dismissed for lack of evidence.
Charges most likely to be dropped include impaired driving, escaping from the custody of a police officer, assault on a police officer, obstructing justice and some drug-related ones.
Frédéric Bénard, the legal aid lawyer in Kuujjuaq, has 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 often don’t stick.
Charges that now pass scrutiny are probably 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.
Because any citizen can make arrests in certain situations, some of the charges made by KRPF officers, regardless of their status, stand.
And other cases, already caught up in the court process before the irregularities came to light, are also unlikely to be rejected now.
Quebec’s justice department has said it will fight any dismissal of cases sought on the grounds that KRPF weren’t true police.
So far, the cases have simply been dropped without specifically referring to this turn of events.