The former mayor of Norman Wells has been convicted of possessing cocaine despite arguing his Charter rights were violated following a traffic stop in 2017.
Nathan Watson, 49, was pulled over by Norman Wells RCMP on the evening of Oct. 6, 2017 after he failed to stop at a stop sign. A Mountie noticed an odour of alcohol coming from the vehicle, and conducted a roadside test with an approved screening device, which Watson failed.
Watson was arrested for impaired driving and taken to the RCMP detachment for further breath samples. Once at the detachment, Watson removed the jacket he was wearing – bearing the words “Norman Wells’ and Watson’s name – and an officer found two bags containing 3.2 grams of cocaine inside its pockets. A marijuana pipe was also seized by police.
Watson, who served as the mayor of Norman Wells for two years up until 2017, was subsequently charged with possessing cocaine.
He was not the mayor at the time of his arrest.
He challenged the charge, arguing the search of his jacket was without a warrant and unreasonable, and therefore violated his Charter rights.
Watson denied the cocaine belonged to him, and claimed he had no knowledge the drugs were even in his pocket when he was searched.
Watson and his lawyer, Scott Cowan, sought to exclude the evidence, arguing it was gathered on unlawful grounds.
A trial was held on the admissibility of the evidence in Norman Wells, with Watson and two RCMP officers, both involved in his arrest, taking the stand to testify.
Watson told the court he attended a party at a residence in town on the night he was arrested, where he left his jacket unattended.
One of the two arresting officers testified the sole purpose of searching Watson’s jacket was to take inventory of his personal effects – not to look for drugs – because the officer knew Watson would be spending at least some time in RCMP cells while paperwork was prepared.
The Crown argued the search was incidental to arrest and Watson being in custody, submitting police have the right to take inventory of personal effects.
Search didn’t violate rights, judge rules
In NWT territorial court on Friday, Judge Garth Malakoe ruled the search of Watson’s jacket did not breach his Charter rights, saying inventory collecting is part of the booking process once someone is lodged in RCMP cells.
That left Malakoe to rule on another question: Did Watson possess the cocaine found in his jacket?
Turning to Watson’s own testimony, Malakoe said the former mayor was “simply evasive” when answering a number of questions. Malakoe noted Watson admitted to smoking marijuana before legalization, but became evasive when grilled about where and how he’d acquired the drug.
Malakoe said it “makes no sense,” that someone could “mistakenly or inadvertently” place drugs in a such a “distinctive” jacket. Nor, said Malakoe, was it plausible someone did it “purposely to get him in trouble.”
Watson, Malakoe said, referenced his position as mayor during his testimony and alluded to disagreements with people in town. Malakoe said there was no evidence to suggest someone framed Watson by placing the drugs inside his jacket, adding legal battles between Watson and others in town began after his drug arrest.
“Why two baggies? One would do,” said Malakoe, stating that if someone wanted to frame Watson, a single bag of cocaine would suffice.
Malakoe concluded he did not find Watson to be a credible witness and found him guilty of possessing cocaine.
Two impaired driving charges against Watson were stayed by the Crown, due to a technicality. Watson blew well over the legal limit twice, but the breath samples were collected by an officer who, although trained, hadn’t yet been “gazetted” to carry out the testing.
Watson, who did not appear in the Yellowknife courtroom Friday, is due in court on March 12 to set a date for sentencing.