North

'Vindication,' lawyers say as assault charges stayed for RCMP officers on trial in Yellowknife

There has been a stay of proceedings in the trial of two RCMP officers standing trial in Yellowknife this week on charges of assault. 

2 officers had been charged with assaulting a prisoner in 2020

Cst. Francessca Bechard with her lawyer, Robb Beeman (left) and Cpl. Jason Archer (right) enter the Yellowknife courthouse. (CBC News)

A stay of proceedings against two RCMP officers on trial this week in Yellowknife is a "complete vindication" of the officers' actions, their lawyers say.

The trial began in territorial court on Monday. RCMP Const. Francessca Bechard and Cpl. Jason Archer were each charged with one count of assault for their use of force against prisoner Tracella Romie in 2020 at the Yellowknife detachment.

Court proceedings were interrupted Wednesday when Crown prosecutor Greg Lyndon told the court they don't have a "reasonable prospect of conviction." Lyndon refused to comment further. 

The charges against Bechard and Archer have been stayed, and not withdrawn. That means they could be reactivated in the future.

But lawyers for the two officers celebrated the decision. 

"I'm obviously very pleased with the stay of proceedings," said Robb Beeman, who served as the defence lawyer for Const. Bechard. 

"I sort of view this to be a complete vindication of her actions." 

Robb Beeman served as the defence lawyer for Const. Bechard. 'I sort of view this to be a complete vindication of her actions,' he told CBC News. (Emma Grunwald/CBC)

Ravi Hira, who acted as the defence lawyer for Cpl. Archer, echoed that.

"Absolutely vindicated," Hira said.

The trial was focused on what happened after Romie was arrested at a Yellowknife liquor store on Oct. 14, 2020.

Court heard this week from two other officers who made the arrest that night and brought Romie to the detachment, where she was met by Bechard and Archer. In their testimony, those officers described how Bechard and Archer used force against Romie. 

The Crown played several videos that show what happened inside the detachment's booking area. The Crown has refused to provide copies of those videos to CBC News.

Police group 'happy with the outcome'

The officers were charged after a recommendation by Alberta RCMP, who reviewed the case in order to provide outside independent oversight. Crown prosecutors then also recommended charges.

"We're pleased by [the] outcome," Kevin Halwa, regional director for the National Police Federation, who observed the trial, told CBC News. 

"Policing by its very nature in Canada is subject to an immense amount of oversight and scrutiny, and we support that," Halwa said. "But at the end of the day, we're happy with the outcome.

"Our members are … incredibly well trained in dealing with agitated and high-risk situations," Halwa said. "And this is one of those situations where our members were forced to make a split-second decision to protect themselves." 

Halwa said he did not believe the stay of proceedings would affect public confidence in the RCMP.

Beeman said his client, Bechard, is a caring police officer who was put in a difficult situation with an individual who was "obviously grossly intoxicated" and "quite violent."

"Police officers are entitled to use reasonable force to protect themselves," Beeman said. "And that's what happened in this case.

"I just feel very badly for everyone involved."

Father and son Ravi and Ryan Hira acted as defence lawyers for RCMP Cpl. Jason Archer, who stood trial this week in Yellowknife on a charge of assault. The charges were then stayed. (Emma Grunwald/CBC)

Hira, defence lawyer for Archer, also noted that policing is a difficult job, and said "the vast, vast, vast majority of policemen or policewomen in Canada are excellent and beyond reproach."

"The number of policemen and women that are ever convicted of any wrongdoing is infinitesimal in Canada compared to anywhere else in the world," he said. 

Hira also said he valued police oversight. 

"And this case shows that there was oversight," he said.

Ryan Hira, who also acted for Archer, said policing is a difficult job and "they aren't held to standard of perfection." 

"They aren't superhumans and nobody did anything wrong," Ryan Hira said.

Corrections

  • This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Francessca Bechard's given name.
    Jun 07, 2022 3:39 PM CT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hilary Bird

Reporter

Hilary Bird is a reporter with CBC North in Yellowknife. She has been reporting on Indigenous issues and politics for almost a decade and has won several national and international awards for her work. Hilary can be reached at hilary.bird@cbc.ca

now