The Capitol Theatre has been transformed into a courtroom for the trial of Const. Jason Tait that started on Sept. 28 and is expected to last five weeks. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

The Capitol Theatre has been transformed into a courtroom for the trial of Const. Jason Tait that started on Sept. 28 and is expected to last five weeks. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Trial of RCMP officer begins in Nelson’s Capitol Theatre

Jason Tait is charged with manslaughter after an incident in 2015

Justice Catherine Murray looks like the lead actor in a stage play.

She is professionally lit, the sound is clear, she speaks her lines confidently and clearly, and the set designer has done a good job of replicating the furnishings and technology of a courtroom.

The other actors on the stage do a convincing job of portraying two prosecutors, two defence lawyers, court staff, and an accused person on trial.

The audience is small: just 13 people, spaced far from each other throughout the ground level of Capitol Theatre seating.

But those people are jurors, and this is no play. It’s the manslaughter trial of RCMP Const. Jason Tait that began on Sept. 28, taking place in the Capitol Theatre over the next five weeks because the regular courtroom at the Nelson Courthouse could not accommodate a physically distanced jury in a pandemic.

“The only venue that met the requirements of a court facility (including counsel stand down rooms, jury box, public gallery, judges chambers and other considerations including proximity to accommodation and possible jury deliberation sites, courthouse, security etc.) was the Capitol Theatre,” a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office told the Star last month.

Another part of the “audience” for this courtroom drama are members of the families of Tait and the man who died, Waylon Edey. They are seated at either end of the raised back section of seats in the theatre.

Otherwise there is room only for the media and a handful of members of the public, who are carefully screened on entry by staff of the B.C. Sheriff Service, and whose route in and out of the building is strictly mapped out.

Every member of theatre and court staff is wearing a mask, as are most of the people on stage most of the time. The witness table on the stage will be disinfected by court staff between witnesses.

To begin the trial, prosecutor Cory Lo outlined to the jury the case the prosecution intended to prove.

He said that on Jan. 29, 2015, the RCMP was given the licence number of a pickup driven by an intoxicated person near Castlegar. Police identified the driver as Edey, a prohibited driver with multiple convictions for impaired driving.

Tait located the vehicle, followed it with his siren on, passed it, and then pulled his car across the westbound lane, blocking the pickup. He then got out of his car and stood in the eastbound lane with his gun aimed at Edey’s vehicle.

Edey did not stop, but drove into the eastbound lane, Lo said. Tait fired four shots at Edey’s vehicle, one of which struck Edey in the head.

“Policing can be a dangerous and difficult profession,” Lo told the jury. “And the law recognizes that police officers sometimes need to use force in the execution of their duty. However this allowable use of force is not unlimited. Police officers may only use force in a manner that is reasonable, necessary and proportionate to the circumstances.”

Lo conceded that Tait had a duty to respond to the impaired driving call, and that Tait knew Edey had a criminal record. But Tait’s actions were contrary to police policy, he said.

“It was extremely dangerous for Const. Tait to use his own vehicle to unexpectedly block Mr. Edey . . . This was dangerous to Mr. Edey, to other users on the highway and to Const. Tait himself.

“Furthermore his decision to confront Mr. Edey on foot, which led directly to the shooting, was unnecessary. Const. Tate’s actions, when viewed as a whole, are unreasonable and unjustified and not permitted by law.”

Lo said the prosecution will provide evidence to back up this theory during the trial, including photos, diagrams, documents and a police dash-cam video.

Witnesses for the prosecution, he said, will include investigators at the Independent Investigations Office, RCMP officers, RCMP trainers, drivers who witnessed the event, experts in traffic collision and reconstruction, experts in assessing appropriate use of force, a firearms analyst, and a pathologist.

“My comments are not to be taken as evidence by themselves,” Lo told the jury. “It is your duty to examine the evidence that is called and come to an independent determination of the facts.”

One of the reasons this matter has taken so long to come to trial is that it was investigated by the Independent Investigations Office (IIO), which investigates any situation in which a person is injured or killed by a police officer. IIO investigations and decisions are famously slow.

After its investigation the IIO recommended to Crown that Tait be charged with manslaughter.

Justice Murray told the jury that she had chosen 17 jury members in the anticipation that the numbers might drop, and that in fact now there were only 13 because three had reported suspected COVID-19 symptoms. She said there is still one to spare, and that at the end of the trial only 12 will be allowed to deliberate on the verdict.

She instructed them in the COVID-19 protocols of the courtroom and in how to approach the evidence. Her main message was not to jump to conclusions during the trial, but to keep an open mind until the end.

She explained that if they find Tait guilty it must be beyond a reasonable doubt.

“Probably guilty” does not meet that standard, she said.

She explained that Tait is now considered innocent, and that it is the Crown’s job to prove his guilt.

“Const. Tait does not have to prove anything,” she said.

Crime

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Caroline Lafond is a Recreation Fish and Wildlife student at Selkirk College. Photo: Submitted
Ecological Comment: Help keep the goats of Gimli wild

A column written by Recreation Fish and Wildlife students at Selkirk College

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: B.C. lawyer

‘An employer must make the case’ using expert science, explains lawyer David Mardiros

Interior Health reported 79 new cases of COVID-19 and two new death in the region Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)
79 new COVID-19 cases, two deaths reported in Interior Health

Both of Friday’s deaths were both recorded at long-term care homes

Nelson Police responded to 802 calls last year they say had an element of mental health. File photo
Nelson Police: 802 mental-health related calls in 2020

That accounts for 12 per cent of total calls for service

Several large trees came down in the recent windstorm and destroyed a part of the building that houses Camp Koolaree’s showers and boy’s washroom. The camp has served generations of Kootenay families since 1931 as the Nelson area’s longest running children’s summer camp. Photo: Submitted
Camp Koolaree’s wash house destroyed by January windstorms

The camp is in need of donations to make repairs

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

An Uber driver’s vehicle is seen after the company launched service, in Vancouver, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Several taxi companies have lost a court bid to run Uber and Lyft off the road in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Taxi companies lose court bid to quash Uber, Lyft approvals in British Columbia

Uber said in a statement that the ruling of the justice is clear and speaks for itself

A 75-year-old aircraft has been languishing in a parking lot on the campus of the University of the Fraser Valley, but will soon be moved to the B.C. Aviation Museum. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vintage military aircraft moving from Chilliwack to new home at B.C. Aviation Museum

The challenging move to Vancouver Island will be documented by Discovery Channel film crews

A video posted to social media by Chilliwack resident Rob Iezzi shows a teenager getting kicked in the face after being approached by three suspects on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (YouTube/Rob i)
VIDEO: Security cameras capture ‘just one more assault’ near B.C. high school

Third high-school related assault captured by Chilliwack resident’s cameras since beginning of 2021

Most Read