Leef’s handcuff controversy reflects poorly on all involved

It is not every day that the Yukon makes national news, but when it does the stories always seem to be bizarre.

It is not every day that the Yukon makes national news, but when it does the stories always seem to be bizarre. Whether it is news that someone swallowed the sour toe in Dawson City or that time we all freaked out and shut down the capital on 9/11, we have an unfortunate tendency to produce news stories that make us seem strange to the rest of Canada.

The kerfuffle surrounding Ryan Leef’s citizen’s arrest of a sign-destroying vandal who detailed her account in this paper has provided the rest of the country with an opportunity to have yet another chuckle at our peculiar way of doing things up here.

Now is the time for some obligatory “of courses.”

Of course it was wrong for Carrie Boles to vandalize Leef’s signs. This is a point that is overwhelmingly obvious and Boles’s claim to not know that what she was doing was illegal is perplexing.

We may disagree with a particular candidate or their party, or just take exception to them blocking our view of the trees with their propaganda (a view I have a lot of sympathy for). But we do live in a democracy with private property rights, and we should all respect that.

But aside from a small number of people who have bought into the misguided notion that “civil disobedience” is not only virtuous but ought to be consequence-free, of course most reasonable people agree that vandalizing election signs is wrong and support proportional punishments for those caught in the act.

And of course there are circumstances when, for various reasons, some degree of force in protection of person and property is justifiable and legal. We are not expected to stand idly by while our stuff is vandalized.

But acting within the letter of the law is setting the bar of proper behaviour pretty low, especially for a public official. And this may or may not have been one of those circumstances where such force was wise, prudent and demonstrative of good judgment. Questions ought to be asked.

Unfortunately there is a tendency among some people to believe that criminals inevitably get what they deserve, and all questions surrounding the appropriateness of a response to a crime is viewed as off-limits. We see this phenomenon every time there is a questionable police take-down, or a court case where evidence is excluded because of an egregious illegal search.

But for those of us who can walk and chew gum at the same time, it’s possible to simultaneously criticize two parties to the same incident. If you fall in this camp, you may have questions for Leef regarding his decision-making on the night in question.

Was it good judgment on Mr. Leef’s part to execute a citizen’s arrest? Would it not have been more prudent to take some pictures, maybe follow the individual for a little while and otherwise leave the matter to the police? One social media commenter noted that a loud “hey you” from the dark woods probably would have even been enough to discourage this person from engaging in this destructive behaviour again in the future.

The federal Justice Department’s website, while acknowledging that we have a legal right to perform such an arrest in defence of property, tells citizens to ask themselves: “Is it feasible for a peace officer to intervene? If so, report the crime to the police instead of taking action on your own.” Did Leef ask himself that question before taking the matter into his own hands?

There is also the question of whether the level of force was appropriate in the circumstances. Legal or not, would a regular police officer have forcibly handcuffed a 110-pound vandal caught in the act if the person was neither fleeing nor resisting? Did Leef even give Boles the option of voluntary compliance? Were the handcuffs really necessary considering that there were two people there to facilitate this citizen’s arrest?

And the question on many people’s minds is what was Leef doing carrying around handcuffs in the first place? When it sounded like he may have been on some sort of stakeout the fact that he handcuffs was understandable. Odd, but understandable. But when Leef denied that this took place in the context of a covert operation he raised more questions than he settled.

Does he carry handcuffs often? All the time? Does he encourage all citizens to carry handcuffs “just in case” they find themselves in the position of needing to make a citizen’s arrest? Is that the kind of society we want to live in?

I’m not sure what was going through Leef’s mind that night. Maybe he was hoping to tap into a sense of local frustration with a recent spike in vandalism and property crime. Maybe he finds that his new career in politics lacks the excitement of his previous jobs in law enforcement.

Whatever it was, his statements on the incident at the moment, while clarifying his version of the facts, have failed to answer some larger questions. They’ve also done little to quell the sense of embarrassment of having this story associated with our community.

Kyle Carruthers is a born-and-raised Yukoner who lives and practises law in Whitehorse.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Two people walk up the stairs past an advance polling sign at the Canda Games Centre on April 4. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
April 12 is polling day: Here’s how to vote

If in doubt, electionsyukon.ca has an address-to-riding tool

Yukon Party leader Currie Dixon addressing media at a press conference on April 8. The territorial election is on April 12. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Getting to know Currie Dixon and the Yukon Party platform

A closer look at the party leader and promises on the campaign trail

Yukon NDP leader Kate White, surrounded by socially distanced candidates, announces her platform in Whitehorse on March 29. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Getting to know Kate White and the Yukon NDP Platform

A detailed look at the NDP platform and Kate White’s leadership campaign this election

Crystal Schick/Yukon News
Sandy Silver announces the territorial election in Whitehorse. Silver is seeking a second term as premier and third term as Klondike MLA. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Getting to know Sandy Silver and the Yukon Liberal platform

Yukon Liberal Leader Sandy Silver is vying for a second term as… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
This week at city hall

A look at issues discussed by Whitehorse city council at its April 6 meeting.

Point-in-Time homeless count planned this month

Volunteers will count those in shelters, short-term housing and without shelter in a 24-hour period.

The Yukon’s new ATIPP Act came into effect on April 1. Yukoners can submit ATIPP requests online or at the Legislative Assembly building. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News file)
New ATIPP Act in effect as of April 1

The changes promise increased government transparency

A new conservancy in northern B.C. is adjacent to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (Courtesy BC Parks)
Ice Mountain Lands near Telegraph Creek, B.C., granted conservancy protection

The conservancy is the first step in a multi-year Tahltan Stewardship Initiative

Yukon RCMP reported a child pornography-related arrest on April 1. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press file)
Whitehorse man arrested on child pornography charges

The 43-year-old was charged with possession of child pornography and making child pornography

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The postponed 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been rescheduled for Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
New dates set for Arctic Winter Games

Wood Buffalo, Alta. will host event Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023

Victoria Gold Corp. has contributed $1 million to the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun after six months of production at the Eagle Gold Mine. (Submitted/Victoria Gold Corp.)
Victoria Gold contributes $1 million to First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun

Victoria Gold signed a Comprehensive Cooperation and Benefits Agreement in 2011

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speaks to media in Whitehorse on October 30, 2020. Hanley is now encouraging Yukon to continue following health regulations, noting it could still be some time before changes to restrictions are made. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
No active COVID cases in Yukon

Hanley highlights concerns over variants, encourages vaccinations

Most Read