A Yukon Supreme Court Justice has apologized to a Whitehorse inmate who was naked during a video appearance in court earlier this year.
Justice Leigh Gower says he should have had Michael Nehass removed from the room as soon as he realized he was naked, according to a letter from the Canadian Judicial Council.
“I sincerely apologize to Mr. Nehass for the embarrassment I caused him by not acting to improve the situation sooner,” Gower is quoted as saying in the letter signed by the council’s executive director.
According to the Nov. 18 letter obtained by the News, Nehass’s father claimed his son was subject to “inhumane and degrading public exposure.”
The complaint led to a review by Robert Pidgeon, the vice-chairman of the council’s judicial conduct committee.
What happened is also the subject of a human rights complaint that has received national attention.
On January 22, 2014 Nehass was scheduled to appear in court via video. According to the letter, he refused.
Gower has said he was concerned about delays in Nehass’s case and knew that his fitness to stand trial may be an issue.
“Justice Gower therefore requested the presence of the director of legal aid in the hope that some arrangement could be made to provide counsel for Mr. Nehass,” the letter states.
“Justice Gower felt a further non-appearance would result in more delays and would do nothing to advance the prospect of resolving Mr. Nehass’s situation. Justice Gower requested that Mr. Nehass be brought to the video conference room.”
The hearing began at 10 a.m.
Nehass was pinned to the ground and the guards were in riot gear, according to a transcript filed with the human rights complaint.
When Nehass first arrived he was incomprehensible, and the judge was unaware of why he was being restrained, the letter says.
Nehass asked to sit and talk with the judge, but said he couldn’t “with my face twisted into the fucking floor,” according to the transcript.
Gower said that if the guards were comfortable with the idea, Nehass could be brought to a standing position.
“I’m naked; how can I stand up with my naked body in front of a camera? I want to be sitting up in a chair so I can address the court fucking simply,” Nehass said, according to the transcript.
Eventually it appears he was seated.
From 10:09 to 10:16, Nehass was visible on the screen naked from the waist up. He was never visible below the waist, the letter says.
“It was when Mr. Nehass sat that Justice Gower had confirmation that he was naked, at least from the torso up,” the letter says.
“Once sitting Mr. Nehass became quite vocal and sometimes difficult to comprehend. Justice Gower tried to engage into a conversation but failed and he ordered Mr. Nehass’s removal and the end of the video link,” the letter says.
Pidgeon believes Gower “acted in good faith with the intent to advance the matter and avoid delays that might be detrimental to Mr. Nehass.”
It was not an ideal situation, the letter says. The judge didn’t have visual contact with Nehass immediately and had difficulties understanding him.
Pidgeon is satisfied Gower learned from the experience, the letter says. The file was closed.
The Canadian Judicial Council is responsible for investigating whether a recommendation should be made to the minister of justice that a judge be removed from office.
That could be in situations where a judge can no longer perform their duties for reasons including misconduct, old age or infirmity.
Meanwhile, Nehass remains in jail. He has been there for nearly three years.
The human rights complaint filed in May alleges he has been kept in solitary confinement for 28 months, though the Yukon Department of Justice denies that.
In recent court appearances Nehass has appeared alarmingly thin. He continues to insist that his incarceration is part of a grand government conspiracy.
In November, he pleaded guilty to five territorial court charges he has accumulated while in jail, though he said he did not agree with the Crown’s version of events.
He still faces Supreme Court charges. He has said he plans to fight those at trial.
Contact Ashley Joannou at