IQALUIT, Nunavut – A Nunavut judge has acquitted a prosecutor and an RCMP officer of criminal contempt but says their joint actions in the arrest of a man outside a courtroom were a “direct and public insult to the integrity of the Nunavut Court of Justice.”
In a written decision, Justice Paul Bychok says Cpl. Andrew Kerstens and prosecutor Emma Baasch were “reckless” and their actions in the arrest of Robert Campbell inside the courthouse “reveal a stunning lack of judgment,” but not to the extent required for a criminal conviction.
Kerstens arrested Campbell in Iqaluit’s courthouse and took him into police custody on July 13. Campbell had been set to stand trial that morning, along with two other co-accused, on a charge of assaulting a correctional officer.
The Public Prosecution Service of Canada states Campbell was arrested after it was alleged he had interfered with a witness set to testify at the trial.
Bychok wrote in his decision that when Campbell did not show up for his trial, Baasch, in requesting an adjournment, stated in passing that he was in custody. The judge said it was only when he questioned Campbell’s lawyer that he learned the man had been arrested outside the courtroom that morning.
After returning Campbell to court more than an hour later, Kerstens told the judge he felt it had been in the public interest to arrest the man.
Bychok wrote that he did not learn about the prosecutor’s involvement in the arrest until a contempt hearing for the officer in August. Kerstens’ lawyer said the prosecutor had discussed the matter with the officer and they mutually agreed Campbell should be charged and arrested when he arrived at the courthouse.
Bychok said the actions of Baasch and Kerstens violated Campbell’s right to be present at his trial and were “a flagrant and public interference with, and violation of, the court’s active jurisdiction over him.”
“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,” he wrote.
The judge added that the prosecutor, on the day of the trial, failed to give the court a “candid and full accounting and explanation” for her actions, or justification for Campbell’s arrest and trial adjournment.
“I am disappointed that nowhere in your affidavit or in your lawyer’s pleadings do you recognize that you failed in your ethical duties to the court,” he wrote.
In a statement, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada said it fully supports Baasch and “is of the view that the prosecutor acted ethically at all times.”
The RCMP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Court records show Campbell did stand trial on the assault charge but Bychok has not yet issued a verdict.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 6, 2023.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.