Supreme Court rules Fort McMurray man's charter rights were violated during murder investigation

·3 min read
The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that police violated Nigel Lafrance's right to counsel twice, resulting in a confession that is now inadmissible in court. (Michel Aspirot/CBC - image credit)
The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that police violated Nigel Lafrance's right to counsel twice, resulting in a confession that is now inadmissible in court. (Michel Aspirot/CBC - image credit)

A Fort McMurray man who was convicted of second-degree murder in 2018 will get a new trial after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the police violated his right to counsel twice, resulting in a confession that is now inadmissible in court.

Nigel Lafrance was 19 when a team of police entered his home in March 2015 with a search warrant. He was suspected to be involved in the death of Anthony Yasinski, which had happened two days earlier.

Police ordered Lafrance to get dressed, asked him to come to the station for an interview and took his fingerprints and DNA. At the station, he was interviewed for over three hours.

He was not informed he had the right to a lawyer during the interview.

The Supreme Court decision was 5-4, saying Lafrance should have been informed of his right to counsel upon arrest and detention.

Justice Russell Brown found that in the first interview with police, Lafrance could have reasonably perceived that he "was not free to decline to speak or leave." Though the police had not arrested Lafrance, he would have likely perceived that he was being detained. The police officer did state that Lafrance was under no obligation to stay.

Brown found that during this interaction, the police were required to inform Lafrance of his right to a lawyer.

In April 2015, police arrested Lafrance, let him call Legal Aid — a call that lasted about 15 minutes — and then questioned him for several hours. At this point, Lafrance asked to call his dad, to help him retain a lawyer.

Lafrance told police that speaking to his father was his "only chance of getting a lawyer," and he said Legal Aid had recommended he get a lawyer before he continued speaking to the RCMP.

But the interviewing officer said Lafrance couldn't have a lawyer in the room with him. The officer noted Lafrance had already spoken to Legal Aid.

The officer continued with the interview and Lafrance eventually confessed to killing Yasinski.

Brown found that on the day of the arrest, Lafrance needed "renewed legal consultation" so he could decide whether or not to cooperate with police.

"The police breached his right to counsel by refusing to provide him with another opportunity to consult with a lawyer," wrote Brown.

Therefore, Brown says the evidence must be excluded.

Brown said the two separate breaches were "serious" and impacted Lafrance's rights.

Lafrance wanted the confession excluded from trial, saying the police detained breached his charter right to a lawyer.

But the trial judge did not exclude any evidence and Lafrance was convicted by a jury of second-degree murder.

Lafrance then brought his case to the Alberta Court of Appeal. There, the majority of the court of appeal found that the trial judge made a mistake by saying Lafrance's charter rights hadn't been breached.

The appeal was allowed and the court ordered a new trial, but the Crown then brought the case to the Supreme Court to overturn the decision.

Because the Supreme Court upheld the appeal, the Crown will not be able to use the confession or evidence from the March and April 2015 police encounters in a new trial.

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