Judge apologizes to Michael Nehass

A Yukon Supreme Court Justice has apologized to a Whitehorse inmate who was naked during a video appearance in court earlier this year.

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


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

Just Posted

Team Yukon skip Laura Eby, left, directs her team as Team Northern Ontario skip Krysta Burns looks on at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary on Feb. 22. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)
Team Yukon reports positive experience at Scotties

Team Yukon played their final game at the national championship in Calgary on Thursday afternoon

A sign indicating a drop-off area behind Selkirk Elementary school in Whitehorse on Feb. 25. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Parking lot proposal for Selkirk Elementary criticized

Parents and school council are raising concerns about green space and traffic woes


Wyatt’s World for Feb. 26, 2021

Josi Leideritz, the executive director for the Yukon Quest International Association (Canada), poses for a photo in Whitehorse on Oct.1, 2020. The Quest announced plans for its 2022 race to start in Fairbanks on Feb. 5. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
2022 Quest planning gets underway

Race would begin Feb. 5 in Fairbanks

Ken Anderson’s Sun and Moon model sculpture sits in the snow as he carves away at the real life sculpture behind Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre for the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous festival in Whitehorse on Feb. 21, 2018. Yukon Rendezvous weekend kicks off today with a series of outdoor, virtual and staged events. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Rendezvous snowpad, live music and fireworks this weekend

A round-up of events taking place for the 2021 Rendezvous weekend

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

Most Read