Critics slam commendation for RNC officer on trial for assault

·3 min read
Const. Noelle Laite is charged with assaulting her partner on multiple occassions since September 2020. (Name withheld by CBC/Facebook - image credit)
Const. Noelle Laite is charged with assaulting her partner on multiple occassions since September 2020. (Name withheld by CBC/Facebook - image credit)
Name withheld by CBC/Facebook
Name withheld by CBC/Facebook

A police constable on trial for multiple assault charges earned a police commendation last week, and critics say it's a baffling move by the force.

Const. Noelle Laite, accused of choking and beating her partner over an almost two-year period, was one of 20 officers awarded the Chief of Police Commendation by the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary last week.

Jenny Wright, a counsellor, educator and activist for women's issues, told CBC News that people are "still reeling" from recent allegations of sexual assault by RNC officers.

"All of this news, including this latest news, comes without any statement or accountability by the chief, nor have they announced that these revelations are going to prompt any kind of internal review or significant changes in the RNC."

The award is presented as a recognition of a "distinguished, commendable act of police duty or outstanding contribution to the RNC," according to the police force's website, which does not provide specific reasons the 20 officers were selected.

In May, Laite pleaded not guilty to four charges: assault, assault with a weapon, and two counts of assault causing bodily harm, one of which involves alleged choking. She's scheduled to go to trial in October.

Wright said a lack of accountability leaves the public with a lack of trust in the RNC. Trust in the police is critical, she said, because they're usually the first point of contact for people reporting domestic or sexual violence.

Paul Daly/CBC
Paul Daly/CBC

"Of course, yes, we do have the presumption of innocence and that is great but we must not lose sight of the fact that this case went to … a police oversight body who believed there was enough evidence to lay several violent charges against this officer," said Wright.

"I'm unaware of any other position of trust where you would be able to keep your job when you had such charges laid against you," she added, and said it's a blow to Laite's alleged victim. "It's a complete dismissal of what she endured and it's this kind of flagrant show of support by the police for [Laite] that I have concerns that, frankly, may even sway the outcome or the decisions of the trial."

Laite remains on the job but is assigned to administrative duties.

'Serious allegations'

Lawyer Lynn Moore, who represents sexual assault survivors, said it's strange to give an award to a police officer accused of crimes.

She said offences as serious as the allegations against Laite follow the RNC's public complaint investigation process that would require a decision by RNC Chief Pat Roche, or a designate, on whether any discipline should be imposed.

"It seems very peculiar to me that the person who may end up in a position where they are making a disciplinary decision about an officer on the one hand, is on the another hand offering an award for meritorious service," Moore said.

"These are serious allegations and it does seem to me that a police officer, even though they're not on duty, they still hold the office of police officer and they can be disciplined for actions in their private lives."

Neither Roche nor the RNC would comment on Laite or the award.

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