Nathan O'Brien case: Lawyers complain to police about Douglas Garland 'perp walk'

A group of Calgary lawyers says a "perp walk" of accused murderer Douglas Garland earlier this week trampled his presumption of innocence.

Defence lawyers say 'media circus' unfair when suspects are considered innocent until proven guilty

Douglas Garland arrives handcuffed at the Calgary arrest processing centre. 0:34

A group of Calgary lawyers says a "perp walk" of accused murderer Douglas Garland earlier this week trampled his presumption of innocence.

Garland is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder in the deaths of five-year-old Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents, Alvin and Kathy Liknes.

In a complaint to Calgary's chief of police, the Criminal Defence Lawyers' Association expressed "profound revulsion" with what it describes as a "media circus."

Douglas Garland is escorted into a Calgary police station in connection with the disappearance of Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents in Calgary on Monday. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

For one minute and 17 seconds, Garland was walked handcuffed, with his head down as reporters peppered him with such questions as, "Mr. Garland, can you tell us what happened to Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents?"

The group says that walking him from a police car to Calgary’s Arrest Processing Unit in front of the media was "not far from putting an arrestee in stocks in a public square."  

'We got the guy'

Alan Pearse of the Criminal Defence Lawyers' Association likens it to humiliation in the public square.

"It seems like fundamentally that you would be presupposing that he would be guilty, like ‘we got the guy,'" he said.

"I'm sort of drawing on medieval times, right? People walking a gauntlet, people throwing tomatoes at him."

Nathan O'Brien, centre, and his grandparents, Kathy and Alvin Liknes, have not been seen since Nathan's mom left the Liknes' home on June 29. (Calgary Police Service)

Pearse suggests the police were showing off, attempting to "shore-up" a weak prosecution.

"If they happen to be innocent, you know, this could devastate their reputation,” said Pearse.

In some places, suspects are kept out of the public eye, transported underground in tinted vans. In Calgary, they are routinely walked in public.

Psychologist and lawyer Patrick Baillie says the situation isn’t ideal.

"I think that CPS would rather prefer that there be a short walk because of not wanting to contaminate recollections of any witnesses who may have seen this individual in the community or maybe establish an alibi for him."

The Calgary Police Service says it has no comment on the complaint filed by the defence lawyers' association.  The CBC ombudsman's office confirmed it has also received a complaint about the CBC's coverage of the walk. CBC News will review and respond to the complaint. 


  • A previous version of this story said that the ombudsman's office would review the complaint if warranted. In fact, the ombudsman will review the matter only if the person who raised the complaint is unhappy with the response of CBC News.
    Jul 19, 2014 5:37 PM MT