Self represented man gets assault charges stayed

A Whitehorse man who won a self-represented appeal of his own assault conviction last year has had his charges stayed. John Kaswandik was given a new jury trial.

A Whitehorse man who won a self-represented appeal of his own assault conviction last year has had his charges stayed.

John Kaswandik, an American citizen living in Whitehorse, was given a new jury trial after he successfully argued his original trial had been unfair because of an RCMP officer’s improper testimony.

Kaswandik had been charged with assault after an incident in the fall of 2009 or early 2010 during which his then-wife, Leet Meuller, alleged Kaswandik attacked her, forced her onto a bed, pressed his knees against her chest and put his hands around her throat for about 10 seconds.

Kaswandik, in response, asserted that it was Meuller who had been frequently violent and was responsible for this particular incident. He had, he said, merely been defending himself.

The two met in the U.S. in 2008 and have a four-year-old daughter.

At the trial in 2012, an RCMP officer gave testimony that Kaswandik had been violent in the past, an assertion Kaswandik disputed. Further, he argued on appeal that the officer’s testimony should not have been included in the trial because the claim of a violent history was based only on brief interviews with Meuller.

Prior to going to trial, Kaswandik’s legal aid lawyer suggested that he agree to go through the Yukon’s Domestic Violence Treatment Option, which would have required a peace bond between Kaswandik and Meuller, but no admission of criminal responsibility on either part. Kaswandik refused, opting for a jury trial instead.

After his conviction, for which he was given a one-year conditional sentence, Kaswandik dismissed his legal aid lawyer and fought a self-represented appeal.

After winning his appeal, Kaswandik claimed that the Yukon justice system treated him unfairly because he is an American and a man.

“If I was either a Canadian or a woman, this wouldn’t be happening to me,” he told the News in July. He declined to comment for this story.

“Basically it was a he-said-she-said. I was arrested and presumed guilty just on what my ex-wife had said and no evidence of any sort. Normally, charges would not even be brought. Because I’m American, they were,” he said.

On top of the problems with his trial, Kaswandik said that it took 14 months to come to trial in the first place, and that he was on probation the whole time.

“There is no point in a new trial. I’ve already served a severe sentence relative to the offences of which I have been charged,” he said.

He applied to have the charges stayed prior to his new trial.

Yukon’s legal aid director, Nils Clarke, said his organization did everything it could to make sure Kaswandik was treated fairly, including pursuing the domestic violence treatment resolution that would have been the best outcome for all parties.

Contact Jesse Winter at jessew@yukon-news.com