First-degree murder charges stayed after four-year court delay
Published Wednesday, November 16, 2016 12:14PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, November 16, 2016 7:49PM EST
A man charged with first-degree murder has been allowed to walk free due to lengthy delays in his criminal trial, leaving the victim's family frustrated that they will never see justice served in court.
Former Canadian Forces member Adam Picard, 33, was released on the grounds that his right to a speedy trial had been violated, four years after the alleged offence occurred in Ottawa. The Supreme Court of Canada determined in July that a reasonable delay to trial is 18 months for provincial cases and 30 months for cases before the superior court.
Picard had been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Fouad Nayel, 28, who investigators say was shot twice from behind and dumped in a remote area.
His body was found in November 2012, five months after he was reported missing.
In a landmark decision for Ontario, Superior Court Justice Julianne Parfett entered a stay of proceedings in the case, saying Picard's "right to be tried within a reasonable time" had been infringed.
"I am well aware that, in deciding to stay these charges, the family of the deceased in this matter will not see justice done as they would want," she wrote in a ruling obtained by CTV Ottawa.
The victim's parents are now upset that they will not get to see their son's accused killer tried in court.
"It's like somebody stabbed me in the heart," Nayel's mother, Nicole, told CTV Ottawa. "I trusted the system," she said. "I was counting the days, counting the moments, because I want justice to be served."
The victim's father said it's a frustrating end to the case because he and his wife will not get closure.
"I don't care whose fault it was," said Amine Nayel. "What about us? We don't count."
Picard was released after four years in jail awaiting trial.
The case comes in the wake of a scathing Senate committee report in August that deemed lengthy court delays a “critical” situation and said Canadians “deserve a system that is far more accessible and efficient.”
According to the report, the median time from laying a charge to a case’s conclusion is 451 days. For sexual assault charges, the median waiting period is 321 days.
Similar court delays have led to scrapped trials across Canada. An Edmonton man accused of first-degree murder in a prison stabbing had his charges stayed in October after a judge determined his right to a trial within a reasonable timeframe had been violated. In Calgary, a man accused of running down an elderly couple in a vehicle had his charges stayed earlier this month, 42 months after they were laid.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the federal government is aware of the situation and is taking steps to address it.
“The minister of justice is addressing that in terms of the changes in the system that can be reasonably brought forward,” Goodale said Wednesday.
The decision also drew harsh criticism in the Ontario legislature, where NDP justice critic Jagmeet Singh responded to the ruling.
“The judge is essentially saying that it’s absolutely unacceptable that there’s such a massive delay in the court systems. They’re saying that it’s an indictment of this government,” Singh said.
Judge calls Picard’s release ‘hollow victory’
In Picard’s case, the Crown had argued that the defence was to blame for the delays, because Picard changed lawyers four times. The Crown also argued that the case was complicated by the involvement of two police services and a long list of witnesses.
The judge said the Crown should have done more to move the case forward.
Picard's lawyer, Laurence Greenspon, says it's unacceptable that his client spent four years behind bars while presumed innocent. He also pointed out that the delays make it tough to ensure the best testimony possible.
"The right to a trial within a reasonable time also includes a right a fair trial, not a trial where the witnesses' memory of what happened is four years old," he told CTV Ottawa.
Justice Parfett called the ruling a "hollow victory" for the defence.
"A stay of proceedings is not the same as verdict of not guilty," she wrote.
Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi told CTV News in a statement that he is "concerned" by the matter.
"It is imperative that our criminal justice system works to protect the interests of all Ontarians, including victims, the public and the accused," he wrote.
He added that the ministry is "looking closely" at the decision, and will be conducting a review "as quickly as possible."
The Crown has told Nayel's parents it will appeal the ruling.
With files from CTV Ottawa's Catherine Lathem