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 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.