RCMP officer could be found in contempt over courthouse arrest

Officer arrested man who was set to stand trial in Iqaluit court

An Iqaluit RCMP officer will face a hearing to determine whether he will be found in contempt of court for arresting a man in the Iqaluit courthouse who was set to stand trial. (File photo)

By Emma Tranter

An Iqaluit RCMP officer could be found in contempt of court after he arrested a man inside the Iqaluit courthouse where the man was set to stand trial on an unrelated matter.

Cpl. Andrew Kerstens arrested Robert Joseph Campbell on the morning of July 13 inside the Iqaluit courthouse and took him into RCMP custody.

Campbell, along with two other co-accused, was set to stand trial that day on charges of assault causing bodily harm.

The charges the officer arrested Campbell for were not related to those he was preparing to stand trial for.

In a statement, Nunavut RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Pauline Melanson would not comment on what the new charges are because “the investigation is still ongoing.”

Contempt of court is the offence of being disobedient or disrespectful to the court and its processes. Courts have the power to control their own processes. Punishment for being found in contempt of court could result in fines or in some cases jail time.

When court opened July 13, lawyers in the room noted Campbell was not present because he had been arrested at the courthouse earlier in the morning.

According to a recording provided by the court, judge Paul Bychok asked who had taken Campbell into custody. Campbell’s defence lawyer replied that the RCMP had.

“I wish I had been told that earlier,” Bychok said.

He then called the courthouse’s manager of court operations and the head sheriff into the courtroom.

“I would like you very much to call the local detachment and indicate to them that Justice Bychok orders, orders them to return Robert Campbell immediately to the courthouse,” he said to the manager.

The court then recessed.

When it resumed, neither Campbell nor Kerstens were in the courtroom.

Bychok asked the Crown to check in again with the RCMP, which had been ordered to bring Campbell back immediately.

“Well, immediately was over an hour ago,” Bychok said.

A few moments later, Kerstens appeared in the courtroom with Campbell.

“Can you tell me please why you arrested a person who was lawfully in the courthouse and in the jurisdiction of the Nunavut Court of Justice?” Bychok asked the officer.

Kerstens said he made the arrest because he had reasonable grounds to do so and had consulted with Crown counsel. He said he did not make the arrest on the direction of another officer.

Kerstens said Campbell was outside the courthouse when he saw him that morning, but continued walking past the officer and was eventually arrested inside.

“I had no understanding he was under the protection [of the court],” Kerstens said.

When Bychok asked if Kerstens was aware Campbell had been required to attend court that morning by order of the court, the officer replied that he was.

“I ordered him to be here this morning at 9:30 … and you elected to override my order and arrest him and remove him from the building,” Bychok said.

“As far as I was aware, sir, at that point in time I thought it was in the public interest,” Kerstens said.

Bychok ordered Kerstens to return to court that afternoon to allow him time to decide whether he should hold Kerstens in contempt of court.

“Do you appreciate the seriousness of this matter, Corporal, because your demeanor does not reflect what’s going on here this morning,” Bychok said.

Kerstens replied: “My apologies for that, sir. I don’t mean to demean anything that’s going on here. I just know that I wasn’t anticipating this.”

Kerstens told Bychok he does not have any experience with contempt of court and asked to speak with a lawyer before proceeding.

A hearing to determine whether Kerstens will be found in contempt of court is set for Aug. 2 at the Iqaluit courthouse.

 

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(8) Comments:

  1. Posted by How interesting on

    I find this article to be ‘sensational’ reporting. The reporting is almost word for word, apparently, what the judge said. “orders, orders….”. How is this news, for Pete’s sake?

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  2. Posted by JOHNNY on

    Some guys in uniform , just ooze of power.

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  3. Posted by Yes interesting on

    I find this piece interesting because in western world democracies there are 3 arms to government (legislative, executive, judicial) and the executive branch (incl police) should not interfere with the judicial branch as the role of the judicial branch is to protect citizens from the excesses of the executive branch. I do not know the details of this situation (and if the police officer was trying to prevent an imminent crime for example) but reporting words exactly as they were said is not sensational (except maybe in some cases if taken out of context).

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  4. Posted by This Is Very Much News on

    Contemptuous misbehaviour by our police services is not news?

    It is news because too many of our RCMP officers get in the habit of operating without much in the way of accountability or repercussions for their actions. This is particularly evident among those who’ve spent a lot of time in the smaller communities, where they are often a law unto themselves.

    It seems that this corporal made the mistake of bringing that attitude to the doorstep of Justice Bychok, and was rightly slapped down for it.

    I would also rather have the word for word reporting of what the judge said, you know actual news, than the editorializing masquerading as news that is so common in Nunatsiaq News, you know?

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  5. Posted by David Webber on

    It is an interesting story in that it enlightens many of us about the role and authority of the courts and the accountability that the police must display. Lessons learned all way around. The officer at the centre of this reporting may have not fully understood the implications of his actions. Should he have? Yes, of course. Possibly the RCMP had better educate the members on their role in society with responsibilities and limitations. I am sure the corporal has paid a dear price for a lesson, I hope, he will not forget.

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  6. Posted by Tulugaq on

    What the story doesn’t say is whether there was a warrant for Campbell’s arrest. If there was an arrest warrant, then that also is an order of the court. If the arrest was done without a warrant, the officer would have to explain why the arrest was made since the Criminal Code restricts arrests without a warrant only for specific reasons.

    As well, when people are summoned to appear in court for a trial (or any other proceedings) that doesn’t mean they are under the court’s protection. If a person fails to appear, then the court may issue an arrest warrant but until this is done, the person is at large, only under a court order to appear and an existant arrest warrant for other offences is valid and can most certainly be executed.

    When police are executing arrest warrants, they act on behalf of the courts and they are part of the judicial system and must obey any orders made by the courts. This situation here may become an abuse of power by the court and the judge might have been in a better position if he had all the facts in hands instead of going on a limb for something he didn’t know much about.

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  7. Posted by Make Iqaluit Great Again on

    One of the great life lessons that my father taught me and I’m sure his father taught him is: When a person does something wrong without knowing it was wrong, do not rush to punish that person or threaten him or her with punishment. Instead, take the time to educate the person, warn him or her not to do it again, and then move on. That is how adults deal with these kinds of situations and I’m glad my father educated me on that by example so many years ago.

    It’s clear from the article that Cst. Kerstens did not know what he was doing was wrong. He acted in good faith and even sought the advice of a crown attorney. Why couldn’t the judge just have handled it using my Dads tried and true advice: EDUCATE cst. Kerstens about why what he did was wrong. WARN cst Kerstens not to do it again, and MOVE ON once you have educated and warned him.

    That is how reasonable adults handle these types of situations and frankly it’s a shame that the judge has chosen instead to threaten him with contempt of court. We need to bring basic rules of Inuit Qajumaajatuqangit into our courtroom. That means you don’t throw the book at people who made a mistake acting in good faith like this officer did.

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    • Posted by Question on

      What did he do wrong? This person commited a crime and then he was arrested.

      This judge is upset because his schedule was upset. How many people miss court? What if this person was arrest at 7am at his home?

      The implications of this are huge. Think about this… If someone is being assaulted in court will the RCMP just sit outside and wait for the suspect to walk out?

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