Sexual interference charges against Iqaluit man dropped after Crown admits lack of evidence

An Iqaluit man accused of sexual interference and breach of undertaking is a free man after the court found the RCMP had little ground to charge him in the first place.

Charlie Ningeok had pleaded not guilty and was set to go to trial. But on Wednesday, his lawyer, Joseph Murdoch-Flowers, filed an application to contest the legality of Ningeok being held in jail — formally known as habeus corpus, a part of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms rarely used in Nunavut.

But Murdoch-Flowers didn't even have to stand in court to make his arguments. The application was enough for Crown prosecutors to revisit the case, and determine it didn't have a reasonable prospect of conviction, and asked the judge to stay the charges.

But Justice Paul Bychok raised concerns with whether the Crown had the authority to stay them if Ningeok was, in fact, wrongfully charged. Murdoch-Flowers had moved for the charges to be quashed altogether, and Bychok obliged.

The issue then turned to why Ningeok was charged in the first place.

According to notes by RCMP Cpl. Mary-Beth Dunphy, as part of an affidavit filed by Murdoch-Flowers, Dunphy had spoken with the alleged victim and the family on the night in question.

She noted how the person who called police to report the alleged incident was "very intoxicated," to the point where officers couldn't get a statement.

Dunphy also took a 23-minute statement from the alleged victim at the hospital.

By night's end, Dunphy determined police didn't have enough evidence to charge Ningeok, but noted a trained interviewer should take a statement from the alleged victim and another family member later.

"To date, there are not sufficient grounds to lay a charge under section 151 [of the Criminal Code] on Charlie," the note read. "Police have third hand information only. Further investigation is needed."

Ningeok was charged two days later.

Accused 'denied his liberty'

In court on Wednesday, Crown prosecutor Doug Garson said police "jumped the gun" on laying charges. He told the court the RCMP had an interview scheduled with the alleged victim, and in anticipation of getting it, went ahead and charged Ningeok.

"Of course, we know that's not correct," Garson said, adding he would be talking to the officers involved in the investigation.

"I want to bring them back to first principles. That on that information [the document which formally lays charges with the court], when it says you're swearing that you have reasonable and probable grounds, it's not just administrative paperwork. Those words mean something."

Justice Paul Bychok agreed.

"This case is one that has stood out to me that I have to go speak to them," Garson continued.

"I want to revisit these principles with them, and make sure that they fully understand their foundational importance to the administration of justice."

Bychok then quashed the charges and put Ningeok on a peace bond, ordering him not to have contact with the alleged victim or go to the home. Those conditions are in place for three months to let the police finish its investigation.

"We do have an individual who has been denied his liberty, on the basis of a document which appears had not ought to have been issued," Bychok said.

The RCMP may still charge Ningeok, pending the results of its investigation.