Justice Minister Marian Horne “compromised” the independence of the courts when she publicly praised the RCMP on a case that is still before the courts, says New Democrat Steve Cardiff.
“It’s really uncommon for a minister of Justice to comment publicly on something that’s a matter of criminal proceedings,” said Cardiff. “There’s supposed to be a separation between the judiciary, the judges and the legislative assembly.”
Cardiff pointed to Horne’s unexpected press release, in which she publicly praised the RCMP in the aftermath of the biggest cocaine bust in Yukon history, as the basis for his charges.
“On behalf of the Yukon government, I applaud the RCMP’s efforts in addressing substance abuse in our communities,” Horne said in the release, issued on February 21.
“Through their efforts over the weekend the RCMP has significantly reduced the amount of drugs — and the harm that they do — in Yukon communities.”
Her praise for the Mounties came following news that the RCMP had stopped a van on the Alaska Highway just south of Whitehorse and seized nearly five kilograms of cocaine and 41 kilograms of marijuana.
It was the biggest drug bust in the territory’s history: the five bricks and eight bags of cocaine found in the truck — discovered in food produce boxes — had a potential street value of up to $500,000.
And the marijuana discovered exceeds the Yukon RCMP’s 2004 total pot seizure by a staggering 34 kilograms.
Forty-six-year-old Jacob Kwong Sang Lee, who worked as the kitchen and restaurant manager at the Gold Rush Inn, is charged with one count of possessing marijuana with the purpose of trafficking, and one count of possessing cocaine with the purpose of trafficking.
His passenger, 48-year-old Frank Yat Fan Tse of Vancouver, faces the same charges.
Both appeared in territorial court on Wednesday.
Tse is scheduled to appear in court next on April 25; Lee is in court next on May 2.
Horne made her comments about a case even though it has yet to go to trial.
And that raises concerns, said Cardiff.
“There’s supposed to be that independence there, and I think it compromises the proceedings when the minister of Justice comments on something like that,” he said. “It prejudices the proceedings that might come afterwards.”
Horne’s praise of the RCMP also came just a few weeks before the judgment on a voir dire in territorial court by Judge Karen Ruddy.
Ruddy found the RCMP compromised the charter rights of six men accused of running marijuana grow operations in Whitehorse.
Horne has refused to comment despite several requests for an interview.