New Brunswick

Trial starts for Riverview man accused of violating pandemic rules at protest

A Riverview man's trial began Wednesday morning on an allegation he broke the province's pandemic rules during a protest outside Moncton city hall last year.

David Robert West accused taking part in gathering while not distanced, masked in 2021

David Robert West of Riverview shown outside the Moncton courthouse on Feb. 17. He stood trial Wednesday on an allegation he violated the province's pandemic restrictions last year. (Shane Magee/CBC)

A Riverview man's trial began Wednesday morning on an allegation he broke the province's pandemic rules during a protest last year.

David Robert West is accused of taking part in a gathering of five or more people while not wearing a mask and being less than two metres apart. 

This was a restriction in place at the time of the Jan. 24, 2021 protest outside Moncton city hall.

West was among five arrested for allegedly violating the rule and issued a ticket under the Emergency Measures Act and the first of that group to go to trial.

Crown prosecutor Logan Landry said at the outset of the trial that the Crown wouldn't oppose the judge imposing no punishment if West pleaded guilty. West, self-represented, opted to go ahead with the case. 

An RCMP officer shown among protesters near Moncton city hall on Jan. 24, 2021. West was among five arrested and is the first to stand trial. (Guy LeBlanc/Radio-Canada)

Codiac Regional RCMP Sgt. Christopher Mackenzie-Plante was the first of four police witnesses to testify. He said police had been alerted to the planned gathering and that a group of people, including West, who were previously warned or ticketed would be attending. 

The officer testified that police decided if those people were part of the Jan. 24 gathering, they would be arrested. He testified the crowd size varied, at points reaching about 30 people. He said West was there and less than two metres from others. Mackenzie-Plante arrested West. 

Photos taken by another officer show West and others at the protest.

"I don't see any crimes here," West said as the photos were shown to Mackenzie-Plante. 

While cross-examining Mackenzie-Plante, West suggested officers "profiled" him and others. 

"You had some agenda that day?" West said.

Mackenzie-Plante said given a history of previous violations, police had decided arrests were necessary to stop offences from continuing.

West questioned the officer about how he was handcuffed, suggesting the officer used excessive force. The officer said he cuffed West like he would anyone else. 

Another officer, Cpl. Bruno Labbé, testified about processing West at the Codiac RCMP detachment. Labbé said he was familiar with West from an earlier incident involving not wearing a mask. West asked if Labbé was aware he had a mask exemption.

Labbé testified that the exemption didn't seem valid, saying it appeared to be a printout from a doctor in Ontario that "anyone could have printed out or made."

Provincial court Judge Luc Labonté stopped further questioning since that previous incident is the subject of a separate case. 

Another officer testified about taking photos of West, while a third testified he was helping with an RCMP drone surveilling the protest and saw West and two others arrive.

The morning trial had a rocky start, with West arriving late and telling the judge he was there under "threat and duress." He questioned whether the judge would uphold his oath.

West wanted three supporters to be able to represent him for the trial, saying they had power of attorney. The judge rejected that, but he was allowed to occasionally consult with them.

One, Britney Green, began objecting and after a back-and-forth with the judge she was almost taken into custody by a court sheriff. 

Green and her partner were among those arrested at the protest last year. Their trials are scheduled for May. Two others arrested that day have pleaded guilty to violating the emergency order. 

Judge rejects 'non-negotiable conditions'

Much of what was supposed to be a half-day trial was spent with the judge laying out the trial process and rules of court. Early in the proceedings, West told the judge he had a list of "non-negotiable conditions" for the trial.

Most were things not permitted under the rules of court, like being able to record video of the trial, or having it heard by a jury. That's not an option for provincial court cases. He also wanted the province's attorney general to lose his law license if West's conviction is overturned on appeal. 

Labonté rejected the demands, saying West was putting forward "pseudo-legal arguments." 

"There's an unfortunate trend by people who are influenced by what they find online," Labonté said, telling West that there are mechanisms like appeals if he believes the trial was flawed.

Later, West asked one officer whether he follows all laws and orders, leading the Crown to object.

West argued that if the government orders people to wear helmets because the sky is falling, he wants to know if the officer would enforce the order. 

You have some arguments that I think have merit, but whenever you bring up the pseudo-legal stuff you lose credibility.- Judge Luc Labonté

The judge said he understood West's argument, but that peace officers are required to uphold the law. 

"You have some arguments that I think have merit, but whenever you bring up the pseudo-legal stuff you lose credibility," the judge said. 

"Did you know that slavery was once legal?" West asked an officer a few minutes later. 

The Crown closed its case just before noon. 

The trial is expected to continue May 24 with West able to call witnesses and present evidence. West indicated he will seek to challenge the validity of the provincial emergency order. 

West was to be tried on a separate alleged violation of the Emergency Measures Act on Wednesday afternoon, though the Crown withdrew the ticket.