No action to be taken against judge who visited Saskatchewan Indigenous protest camp

No action is to be taken against a judge who visited a protest camp on Saskatchewan's legislature grounds two days after ruling the Metis man who set it up could stay there.

The Canadian Judicial Council says it received five complaints last year after Court of Queen's Bench Justice Graeme Mitchell was shown posing for photographs and accepting ceremonial gifts at the camp. It did not say who filed the complaints.

Tristen Durocher sought to draw attention to high Indigenous suicide rates when he walked more than 600 kilometres from northern Saskatchewan, set up a teepee on the legislature grounds in Regina and started a fast.

A five-member review panel appointed by the judicial council decided that Mitchell's conduct was "inconsistent with the ethical obligations judges are sworn to uphold," but the matter wasn't serious enough to warrant his removal.

"In considering the matter, the review panel expressed concerns that through his actions, Justice Mitchell put himself in a position that was inconsistent with the obligation to remain and appear neutral," the council said in a statement Tuesday.

"While the review panel indicated that judicial reconciliation with Indigenous people is and will remain an important goal of the judiciary, it can only be pursued and achieved while respecting judicial independence and impartiality."

The provincial government tried to force Durocher to leave the legislature grounds, arguing he was violating park bylaws that ban overnight camping and that his presence posed a safety risk. Durocher's lawyer argued that the ceremonial fast was protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Mitchell heard the case and said in his ruling last September that park bylaws failed to provide exemptions to allow for "constitutionally protected political and spiritual expression"' and must be changed. He also ruled that the legislature grounds are, in effect, a public square where dissent is legitimately expressed.

Mitchell visited Durocher in his teepee two days later as the man's 44-day hunger strike came to an end.

The judicial council said the panel looked favourably upon Mitchell's efforts to educate himself further on the need to appear impartial and it accepted his expression of remorse and vow to never put himself in a similar situation in the future.

It said the matter is to be closed with no further action.

By Lauren Krugel in Calgary.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 13, 2021