Publication ban denied for former Newfoundland police officer facing rape allegation

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — A former Newfoundland police officer alleged to have sexually assaulted a colleague in 2014 will not be protected by a publication ban, according to a decision released Monday from a provincial Supreme Court judge.

Retired Royal Newfoundland Constabulary sergeant Robert Baldwin asked the court in June to grant him a publication ban in connection with a civil suit filed against the provincial government. The suit alleges Baldwin raped a fellow Constabulary officer while on duty in 2014 after offering her a ride home, and it claims that the provincial government is vicariously liable for his alleged actions.

In a written decision dated last Thursday, Justice Peter O'Flaherty dismissed Baldwin's application.

"A publication ban would prevent the press from providing reports about this civil action that included the identity of a central figure," O'Flaherty said. "It would also discourage persons with information about these or similar allegations from coming forward."

The allegations against Baldwin have not been tried in court, and he denies them "in their entirety," according to court documents.

The civil suit was first filed in January by St. John's lawyer Lynn Moore. The plaintiff's name is protected by a publication ban, as is common in cases involving sexual assault. The government of Newfoundland and Labrador — responsible for the provincial police force — is named as the sole defendant.

Moore filed a separate suit in September on behalf of seven women alleging they were sexually assaulted by one or more Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers. Baldwin is the only officer in that suit identified by name. His lawyer, Glenda Best, has said those claims are also false. The allegations have not been tried in court.

In his publication ban application, Baldwin argued that the continued public disclosure of his name in connection with the case would have "significant social, psychological and emotional impact on him and on his family," adding that it would cause "irreparable damage to his reputation," O'Flaherty's decision said.

Baldwin argued that he had not been investigated as a result of the plaintiff's allegation, nor had he been criminally charged or internally disciplined by the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. He said that in this case, the principle of protecting the innocent outweighed the principle of maintaining an open court.

The retired officer also argued that any publication ban granted should remain in place even if the court found the allegations against him to be true.

O'Flaherty said the benefits of a publication ban for Baldwin's personal privacy interests were clear. But Baldwin wasn't seeking to shield himself from public scrutiny for conduct in his personal life, but for the "conduct of a police officer while on duty," the judge said.

"The administration and supervision of our police force is of general public interest," O'Flaherty wrote. "While (Baldwin's) privacy interests are significant, they are less so."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 7, 2022.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press