A man repeatedly claimed he had Covid-19 as he coughed toward an RCMP officer following his arrest last month, a Territorial Court heard.
Wayne Lesley Basil, 44, later told a cellmate he didn’t have the virus and subsequently apologized for his behaviour, which he blamed on alcohol intoxication.
His defence lawyer said Basil was dealing with personal tragedies too severe “for many people to even imagine.”
“Imagine the concern, consternation, and dismay that would have caused to the officer,” said Judge Donovan Molloy on Thursday.
“At the end of the day, any sort of assaultive behaviour toward the police must not be condoned.”
On April 14, at 11:56pm, RCMP received a report of a male and female yelling at each other on 51 Street in downtown Yellowknife.
When officers arrived, Crown prosecutor Nakita McFadden told the court, they found two intoxicated people and ended up taking Basil into custody for causing a disturbance.
It was in the holding area where Basil coughed toward an officer – stating “I have Covid-19” – and coughed in the direction of the officer’s face while a few feet from him, McFadden said.
“Based on the extreme danger of the virus, [the officer] wanted to prevent the risk of further contamination and took control of Mr Basil’s face and jaw and pushed him against the wall.
“[The officer] then took Mr Basil to the ground and delivered two distracting knee strikes to Mr Basil’s rib area in an effort to gain control of him.”
No officers present that night tested positive for the virus.
‘A victim of significant trauma’
In a plea arrangement with the Crown, Basil pleaded guilty to obstructing a police officer and breaching a bail condition on April 21 to reside at the Salvation Army overnight.
Other charges were withdrawn.
The Crown asked for a 45-day jail sentence for assaulting the peace officer and 15 days to run concurrently for the bail condition breach.
“It would be an appropriate sentence under the circumstances, as it appropriately reflects the gravity of the offence and the need to address denunciation and deterrence,” said McFadden, noting Basil’s lengthy criminal record was also taken into consideration.
“Coughing on [front-line workers] and suggesting you have Covid-19 is a serious action that needs to be met with a meaningful consequence during a pandemic where front-line workers are already strained.”
Defence lawyer Peter Harte acknowledged his client has been in trouble with the law but noted he had gone for a significant time without getting into trouble.
“Unfortunately, Mr Basil finds himself before the courts as a victim of some significant trauma,” said Harte.
Originally from Łutselkʼe, Basil is one of 12 children and has four children of his own.
Problems with alcohol and homelessness started when his relationship fell apart, the court heard.
“He tells me that, growing up, his parents would fight and would end up intoxicated and it seemed, at times, the entirety of his family was intoxicated and involved in a brawl,” said Harte, noting food was often scarce during Basil’s childhood.
Harte said Basil’s family had faced several tragic events, with three of his siblings dying in separate incidents.
“One died in a Ski-Doo fire; the Ski-Doo blew up … Wayne was eight and he described to me that his brother was burned to a crisp,” said Harte.
“[Another] was run over by a car and crushed.”
Basil was repeatedly sexually assaulted between the ages of nine and 11 by a man, said Harte, noting it was at this time that his client started drinking alcohol.
“He was kicked out of school at 11 for showing up at school intoxicated,” said Harte.
Basil has tried to get counselling and now hopes to be approved for residential counselling outside the NWT to deal with the effects of trauma.
“At this point, he will be continuing to live on the streets of Yellowknife, but he is hoping … that he can get out [of the territory] for counselling,” said Harte, asking for a jail sentence of 30 days in total.
“At the end of the day, you are dealing with an addiction history for what Mr Basil dealt with as a child.
“To say that Mr Basil was exposed to some traumatic events is an understatement. He certainly experienced some personal tragedies that are beyond the pale for many people to even imagine.”
Judge Molloy sentenced Basil to 35 days for assaulting a peace officer and 30 days concurrently for breaching his bail condition. He will also be subject to 18 months’ probation, during which he will have to keep the peace, report to a probation officer, take any counselling as directed, and – subject to approval – participate in an approved treatment program for impacts of exposure to trauma.
Given the remand credit Basil had built up, that sentence would have amounted to time served. However, as he still faces unrelated charges of sexual assault and obstructing a peace officer following a May 20 incident in downtown Yellowknife, he was remanded in custody pending an appearance in bail court.
A decision on his release will be made on Friday afternoon.