Prosecutor slams allegations of racism

Allegations that a Crown prosecutor tried to keep First Nation people off a jury are false and should be dismissed, the Yukon Court of Appeal heard May 15.

Allegations that a Crown prosecutor tried to keep First Nation people off a jury are false and should be dismissed, the Yukon Court of Appeal heard May 15.

The court was hearing the appeal of Chris Cornell, convicted of the attempted murder of an RCMP constable and a conservation officer. A jury trial convicted Cornell of eight charges included attempted murder in October 2013.

Cornell’s lawyer, Jason Tarnow, is asking the court to overturn the conviction on the grounds the Crown prosecutor at the time discriminated against First Nation people from being on the jury.

There is simply no evidence to support that, Crown prosecutor Noel Sinclair told the court.

Tarnow accused Keith Parkkari, one of the prosecutors at Cornell’s trial, of misusing his peremptory challenges.

Crown and defence are each given 12 peremptory challenges during the jury selection process, which basically allow them to dismiss a potential juror without having to justify it.

While courts have in the past reviewed the use of peremptory challenges, the defence in this case hasn’t produced enough evidence to reach the threshold for a review, Sinclair said.

Still, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada decided to have Parkkari answer those allegations.

“(Those allegations) are so unsavoury we chose to address them head-on even though we don’t have to,” Sinclair said. “We want the public to have confidence in the jury (process) and that Cornell received a fair trial.”

He asked the court to go beyond dismissing the allegations and to issue a statement that would “vindicate Parkkari from these careless and unsubstantiated pleadings.”

Parkkari, Christina Lavidas, and trial lawyer David Tarnow all took the stand. Lavidas worked with Parkkari and David Tarnow represented Cornell during the trial.

After Parkkari dismissed three jurors, David Tarnow testified he asked for an adjournment and met with judge Leigh Gower and Parkkari in an improvised judges’ chambers.

He told Gower he was concerned Parkkari was using his challenges to dismiss First Nation people from the jury. Gower told them to proceed.

During his testimony Parkkari denied having any racial bias against First Nation people or even that he had a strategy to exclude them from the jury.

Parkkari told the Court of Appeal he wanted reasonable jurors who had life experience and were “typical members of society.”

He also wanted them to be willing to be jurors. One he sought to exclude had previously asked the judge not to be on the jury, Parkkari said.

Jason Tarnow, who is representing Cornell during the appeal, also took issue with the fact that Gower didn’t include in the record any mention of the allegations his father had raised and that the accused wasn’t present during that conversation.

“The composition of a jury is of vital interest to the accused,” he said.

But David Tarnow informed the accused of the discussion and no formal decision or application took place during that meeting, Sinclair said.

Jason Tarnow’s last ground to challenge the conviction was about Parkkari’s line of questioning during the very end of the trial.

Parkkari was cross-examining Cornell when, Jason Tarnow argued, he led him to talk about his tattoo, which read “fuck the police,” to make jurors believe Cornell was the kind of person more inclined to hurt a police officer.

David Tarnow at the time asked for a mistrial but that request was denied.

Despite the judge telling the jury members not to take it into account, Jason Tarnow argued the effect was too grave to be discounted.

That detail was Parkkari’s “ace up his sleeve,” Jason Tarnow said. When the jury heard about the tattoo, some of them found it “comical,” he said.

Parkkari himself conceded that the line of questioning was inappropriate, he said.

But Parkkari simply got sidetracked, Sinclair said, as he was planning to ask whether Cornell still held similar beliefs against the police as when he got the tattoo.

Ultimately Gower was in the best position to evaluate what impact the inadmissible evidence had on the jury, Sinclair said. He told the panel of judges the Supreme Court of Canada had ruled the Court of Appeal’s role wasn’t to “routinely second-guess” trial judges’ decisions.

Chief justice James Bauman, Justice Ian Donald and Justice Bonnie Tulloch heard the case. They reserved their decision.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at

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

Just Posted

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks at a press conference in Whitehorse on March 30. Hanley announced three more COVID-19 cases in a release on Nov. 21. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three more COVID-19 cases, new exposure notice announced

The Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Brendan Hanley, announced three… Continue reading

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: COVID-19 strikes another blow at high-school students

They don’t show up very often in COVID-19 case statistics, but they… Continue reading

The Cornerstone housing project under construction at the end of Main Street in Whitehorse on Nov. 19. Community Services Minister John Streicker said he will consult with the Yukon Contractors Association after concerns were raised in the legislature about COVID-19 isolation procedures for Outside workers at the site. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Concerns raised about alternate self-isolation plans for construction

Minister Streicker said going forward, official safety plans should be shared across a worksite

The Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, pictured at a press conference in October, announced three new cases of COVID-19 on Nov. 20 as well as a new public exposure notice. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New COVID-19 cases, public exposure notice announced

The new cases have all been linked to previous cases

Beatrice Lorne was always remembered by gold rush veterans as the ‘Klondike Nightingale’. (Yukon Archives/Maggies Museum Collection)
History Hunter: Beatrice Lorne — The ‘Klondike Nightingale’

In June of 1929, 11 years after the end of the First… Continue reading

Samson Hartland is the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines. The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during its annual general meeting held virtually on Nov. 17. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Yukon Chamber of Mines elects new board

The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during… Continue reading

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and — unsurprisingly — hospital visitations were down. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Annual report says COVID-19 had a large impact visitation numbers at Whitehorse General

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

City council was closed to public on March 23 due to gathering rules brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The council is now hoping there will be ways to improve access for residents to directly address council, even if it’s a virtual connection. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Solution sought to allow for more public presentations with council

Teleconference or video may provide opportunities, Roddick says

Megan Waterman, director of the Lastraw Ranch, is using remediated placer mine land in the Dawson area to raise local meat in a new initiative undertaken with the Yukon government’s agriculture branch. (Submitted)
Dawson-area farm using placer miner partnership to raise pigs on leased land

“Who in their right mind is going to do agriculture at a mining claim? But this made sense.”

Riverdale residents can learn more details of the City of Whitehorse’s plan to FireSmart a total of 24 hectares in the area of Chadburn Lake Road and south of the Hidden Lakes trail at a meeting on Nov. 26. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Meeting will focus on FireSmart plans

Riverdale residents will learn more details of the City of Whitehorse’s FireSmarting… Continue reading

The City of Whitehorse is planning to borrow $10 million to help pay for the construction of the operations building (pictured), a move that has one concillor questioning why they don’t just use reserve funds. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Councillor questions borrowing plan

City of Whitehorse would borrow $10 million for operations building

Most Read