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Nunavut justice delays trial over security concerns

IQALUIT (Canadian OH&S News)


IQALUIT (Canadian OH&S News)

A justice in Nunavut has adjourned a manslaughter trial in the territory’s capital of Iqaluit over what he calls an inadequate level of security inside the courtroom.

On March 26, Justice Robert Kilpatrick of the Nunavut Court of Justice delayed the trial of Colin Makpah, saying that “if the problem has not been fixed at 9:30 [am] tomorrow, it may well result in cancellation of the proceedings.” In a transcript from the trial, Justice Kilpatrick contended that the “absence of any real protection inside the courtroom exposes all justice system participants and court personnel to an obvious and very real occupational hazard.”

Makpah is charged with manslaughter and two counts of failing to comply with a probation order. However, Justice Kilpatrick notes that he was advised that the RCMP were not able to provide for a security presence at the proceeding, which they are under no legal obligation to do. For their part, the Court Services Division of Nunavut’s Department of Justice lacks the equipment and training necessary to provide adequate in-court security, he contends.

“The Nunavut Court of Justice must often conduct proceedings without an adequate level of security inside the courtroom. This is unacceptable,” the transcript says. “No other court in the country is required to sit without an adequate level of protection for justice system participants, court personnel and judiciary.”

Justice Kilpatrick notes that the Nunavut Court of Justice, the territory’s only trial court, can often be a difficult and volatile environment, particularly in proceedings involving homicides, where the family of the deceased can be expected to attend. “No other need is more basic than the need for a visible security presence to address real or potential threats to public order and personal security,” he says.

As senior judge of the court, Justice Kilpatrick notes that “the government was put on notice” in November of 2010 that the security situation was urgent and change was needed. “To this point, nothing has been done. Enough is enough. Change is needed and it is overdue.”

Security increased inside, outside courtroom

Norman Tarnow, the territory’s acting deputy minister of justice, says that the Department of Justice has increased its security with additional sheriffs inside and outside the courtroom, “however, this was not deemed to be adequate,” and the date for the proceedings was reset until April 2.

“The department recently began the process of amending legislation that will give authority to search individuals entering the courthouse. Completion of this is expected within the coming months,” Tarnow says, adding that sheriffs will also receive increased training and recertification to provide them with necessary security equipment.