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Court security gets beefed up

Casey Lessard
Northern News Services
Published Monday, June 18, 2012

Responding to security concerns from the judiciary, lawmakers passed a legislation June 8 that will see enhanced security measures implemented in Nunavut courts.

Among them, there will be minor modifications to the layout of the Nunavut Court of Justice, and sheriffs will get enhanced training and authority to deal with safety issues in the courts.

"In the law enforcement field, there's what's called a use-of-force continuum and you start out with verbal commands and talking to somebody," Justice Minister Daniel Shewchuk said. "They will be having verbal judo training, they will be getting pepper-spray training and they will be getting handcuff and baton training, (and) self-defense training."

Sheriffs will not be trained to use guns, Shewchuk said.

The law was passed to ease concerns from Chief Justice Robert Kilpatrick, who delayed proceedings against manslaughter suspect Colin Makpah, who is accused in Donald James (DJ) Gamble's stabbing death, which happened on Aug. 14, 2010, in Rankin Inlet. As Makpah and co-accused Abraham Nakoolak are free on bail, the RCMP did not provide court security for the proceedings. With Gamble's family attending, Kilpatrick refused to allow the case to go forward without better security.

"We have to ensure we protect the rights of witnesses," Akulliq MLA John Ningark said in support of the law. "Whenever a person is a witness in our court system, we can't place them in a dangerous situation. We also can't place any legal worker in a dangerous situation as this applies to all of the people in the system."

Rankin Inlet North MLA Tagak Curley raised concerns that when cases are delayed, as this one was, it can take a toll on the participants.

"We heard of several delays in court proceedings here in Iqaluit," Curley said. "Many people who were to appear before the courts, defendants, witnesses including family members of the accused were all affected with the deferral of these cases. An accused person has the right to be tried within a reasonable time. We are starting to hear from all over Nunavut that the continual deferral of cases can result in the accused making hasty decisions and, in some cases, ending their lives."

Makpah's case will be heard in December, nine months after the security concerns were raised. Now that the law is in effect, sheriffs will receive the training they need to secure the courts, director of court services Dwayne Twerdin said.

"Some of our sheriffs have non-violent crisis intervention training, some have tactical training, one-on-one tactical training, negotiations training," he told legislators. "All of our sheriffs but two have baton, pepper spray and handcuff training. Unfortunately the training itself has lapsed and they're required to attend an update on several modules to ensure they have the credentials to actually carry out their function."

Those dates and costs are currently being negotiated, he said.

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