MLAs let Nunavut courtrooms beef up security
Sheriffs to be allowed handcuffs, pepper spray, batons
Expect tightened security in Nunavut courtrooms later this year.
The Nunavut Legislative Assembly passed an amendment to the Judicature Act June 8 to give court sheriffs more tools for ensuring courtrooms in Nunavut are safe.
Court sheriffs will now be allowed to carry handcuffs, a baton, and pepper spray during court proceedings.
Sheriffs also have the authority to inspect those who look suspicious, based on the person’s demeanor, and search them for anything that could be used as a weapon — from more traditional weapons like knives, to unconventional weapons like sharpened toothbrushes.
The amendments won’t take effect until after training is conducted with sheriffs in the territory, which is expected to happen in late August or early September.
Negotiations are taking place with the British Columbia Justice Institute to fly instructors to Nunavut to train staff on how to use the new equipment, how to search for items, and on using verbal skills to de-escalate tense situations.
The training will require up to 10 full-day sessions.
Most courtrooms in Canada have sheriffs with similar security features in place, and B.C. is considered the best institute in Canada for safety in courtrooms.
Until this new amendment, training wasn’t necessarily required of Nunavut court sheriffs.
“In order to hire a sheriff right now, you have to be in good physical shape and have a clean criminal record. There is no requirement to have certain hands on training,” said the acting director of court services, Dwayne Twerdin.
However, many do have a background in combat or security, Twerdin said.
“The reality is that this type of training needs to happen every few years to ensure that sheriffs have the up-to-date training needs for them to do their jobs,” said Twerdin.
He said this is a good thing, as an incident is bound to happen sooner-or-later.
“There are no stats on the increase of security threats in courts. But there is an increase in crime,” said Twerdin.
“We have the highest crime rate per capita in Canada. It’s just a matter of time before something is going to happen. We want to ensure that we’re ready when something happens,”
Changes to the Judicature Act come after the appointment of Justice Robert Kilpatrick as senior judge in 2009, after Justice Beverly Browne left the Nunavut court.
“Under [Brown’s] reign, she wanted more of an open court setting and was reluctant to have tight security. With the new judge, Justice [Robert] Kilpatrick, he’s more proactive than reactive,” said Twerdin, who was a court sheriff in 2000.
“He wants to ensure that he is safe, the judges are safe, and more importantly, any member who walks into the court facility is safe,” he said.
For Kilpatrick, this has been a long time coming.
On March 26, Kilpatrick demanded adequate security in the court at the start of a preliminary hearing in a homicide case.
Kilpatrick halted proceedings on the grounds that the justice department did not provide adequate security for the courtroom.
“The courtroom, of course, is often a difficult and a volatile environment. This is particularly true in proceedings involving homicides where the family of the deceased can be expected to attend,” said Kilpatrick in a transcript released to the media.
He went on to say “enough is enough” and called on the Government of Nunavut to fix the problem.
“Government has a constitutional obligation to ensure that this court, Nunavut’s only trial court, is adequately resourced,” said Kilpatrick.
The amendments had been in the works since before that incident, Justice Minister Dan Shewchuk said.
Rankin North MLA Tagak Curley was critical of Kilpatrick’s decision to halt proceedings.
“To hear out of the blue that there were security concerns was one that I don’t think was appropriate for Justice Robert Kilpatrick to actually use the victims and the whole court participants as a pawn to settle a dispute with the Department of Justice officials,” Curley said in the legislative assembly June 6.