Edmonton defence lawyer cited for contempt after refusing to wear mask in court

One of Edmonton’s longest-serving and most respected lawyers has been cited for contempt of court after refusing to follow a judge’s direct order to wear a mask in her courtroom.

Peter Royal got into a war of words with provincial court Judge Marilena Carminati on July 21 at the start of a three-day sex assault trial.

According to the official transcript, Carminati told Royal he would have to wear a mask. Royal told the judge he wouldn’t:

Royal: I don’t wear a mask in the courtroom.

Judge: You will have to wear one. We are not spending three days together in a small courtroom in a poorly ventilated building with counsel not wearing a mask. 

Royal: Well I’m not going to wear one, so what are you going to do about that? 

Judge: Well perhaps you can speak to counsel about whether you will be held in contempt of court … I will adjourn to let you think about it.

Royal: I don’t intend to follow your direction. We’re more than six feet apart. I’ve been doubly vaccinated. 

Judge: Are you saying you are free to disobey a ruling of the court or a direction of the court if you think the reasons for it aren’t great?

Royal: I do. 

Royal, who has been practising law for nearly half a century, told Carminati he wears a mask inside the courthouse and when he enters the courtroom, but takes it off once he sits at the defence table. 

“Every judge in this courthouse has never directed me to wear a mask once I’m ahead of the bar,” Royal said, according to the transcript. “My understanding from Judge [Steven] Bilodeau was when you’re ahead of the bar, you have the right to remain maskless.” 

Carminati adjourned for a few hours to give Royal time to make written submissions.

“You are putting the court in a very difficult position, Mr. Royal,” Carminati said, according to the transcript. “You are senior counsel, you are well respected, but you bring the administration of justice into disrepute when you blatantly disregard a direction from the court without providing any kind of reason or justification for doing so.”

Restricted public courthouse access 

In mid-June, the provincial court issued a practice directive outlining procedures for a return to in-person hearings for criminal cases during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“These measures are designed to gradually resume the safe operation of the court,” the directive said. “All safety measures — masking, physical distance, capacity limits and plexiglass remain in place.”

When Royal appeared before Carminati again later the same day, still without a mask, he argued that the court’s pandemic practice directives had unfairly and illegally restricted public access to the courthouse. 

“In the absence of public accessibility to the courthouse, these directives are simply lacking in constitutional merit,” Royal said. “They all deserve to be ignored, in my respectful submission.”

Crown prosecutor Kevin Komosky pointed out that the mask debate had stalled the sexual assault trial, which had already been adjourned three times.

Carminati then ordered Royal to wear his mask “so that we can start this trial,” the transcript shows:

Royal: And I’m not going to. And, Your Honour, I have to say I was surprised that you took this position. No other judge in this court has taken the position you’re taking, none. 

Judge: I have asked if there is any compelling reason for you not to wear the mask. You have provided me only with disrespect.

Carminati said she would order a transcript and provide it to the chief judge for him to decide whether it should be shared with the Law Society of Alberta.

Royal declined comment for this story. The law society and the court’s media spokesperson also declined comment, as did Justice Minister Kaycee Madu’s press secretary and the president of the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association. 

Royal’s contempt of court citation hearing is set for Sept. 9, using an out-of-town judge and Crown prosecutor.

Under Alberta’s rules of court, a person found in civil contempt of court could face up to two years in jail and/or a fine.

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