Nfld. & Labrador

Snelgrove verdict: Andrew Parsons says he has duty to ensure confidence in justice system

Newfoundland and Labrador's justice minister said he stands by his tweet regarding people's reaction to the outcome in the trial of Const. Doug Snelgrove.

Justice Minister's tweet following Snelgrove verdict criticized by criminal lawyer Bob Buckingham

Protestors outside the Supreme Court building in downtown St. John's Friday night, following the not guilty verdict in the sexual assault trial of RNC Const. Doug Snelgrove. (Twitter/@robertleamon)

Newfoundland and Labrador's justice minister said he stands by his tweet regarding people's reaction to the outcome in the trial of Const. Doug Snelgrove.

When I sit back and see people protesting, it's my job to ask questions.- Andrew Parsons

Snelgrove, a 10-year veteran with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, was found not guilty on Friday of sexually assaulting a woman shortly after giving her a ride home from downtown in a police cruiser in 2014.

The verdict caused much public outcry — especially in St. John's — where protestors immediately began demonstrations outside the Supreme Court. Others took a more extreme route, throwing eggs at the court building and painting explicit graffiti, including threats against Snelgrove's life, throughout the downtown.

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons told CBC that he accepts the jury's not guilty verdict in the Const. Doug Snelgrove trial, but that he has a duty to ask questions in the wake of protests over the outcome. (CBC)

On Saturday, Justice and Public Safety Minister Andrew Parsons sent out a tweet that stated "While history has taught us the presumption of innocence is paramount, public confidence in our system is critical as well."

Criminal lawyer Bob Buckingham criticized Parsons's tweet, saying it undermined the legitimacy of the jury process.

"I think that's quite a narrow view," Parsons said Monday on the Corner Brook Morning Show. "You have to take what Mr. Buckingham says with a grain of salt perhaps, given that he ran for an opposing party in the last election. There may be a partisan side to it."

Duty to ask questions

Parsons said his tweet was not meant to disagree with the jury's not guilty verdict, but that as minister he has a responsibility to ensure there is public confidence in the justice system.

"When I sit back and see people protesting, it's my job to ask questions as well," he said.

"I hear what the public is saying, and there's a lot of upset out there and we have to continue on and not be afraid to ask questions."

Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Const. Doug Snelgrove was found not guilty of sexually assaulting a woman shortly after giving her a ride home from downtown in a police cruiser in 2014. (Glenn Payette/CBC)

Parsons said the justice system should be able to withstand the rigours of public questioning and scrutiny, and that both the public and the justice department should be allowed to look at a verdict with a critical eye.

Confidence in police

Besides some loss of confidence in the judicial process, Parsons is also hearing about loss of faith in the RNC following the Snelgrove verdict.

He doesn't want to go into specifics about Snelgrove's future with the force, as the RNC's disciplinary process has to run its course to determine whether having sex with the woman while on duty was unethical.

Parsons said he still has faith in the RNC to serve and protect.

"We can't let the actions of one tarnish the actions of many," he said. "But we will not tolerate unethical behaviour, especially from those who are in positions of power."

With files from Corner Brook Morning Show