Child sex assault stayed in Manitoba due to trial delay
Published Thursday, January 26, 2017 10:33AM EST
Charges against a Manitoba man accused of sexually assaulting a child were stayed this week due to what the presiding justice called an unreasonable delay.
It is believed to be the first time a Criminal Code matter in Manitoba has been dismissed since Canada’s Supreme Court set a new framework last year for ensuring a person’s right to a timely trial. But some are concerned that in light of the ruling, more cases could crumble.
Last July, the Supreme Court ruled that a person’s trial must be concluded within 30 months of a charge being laid.
The sexual assault case dates back to October 2006, when a Winnipeg Police detective began investigating complaints against the accused by his former common-law partner’s daughter. The allegations against the man stem from between 1996 and 2003, when the complainant was between six and 12-years-old.
According to court documents, a Winnipeg Police Service supervisor failed to report the investigation to its court unit -- an error that wasn’t discovered until June 2013.
Even though the charge was authorized in August of 2013, the accused wasn’t arrested until March 2015 because according to court records, the police service didn’t communicate to RCMP that the man lived in a northern Manitoba community and didn’t forward the warrant to the Mounties.
Defence lawyer Alex Stiegerwald filed a delay motion on behalf of his client, who was charged with sexual assault in August of 2013 but whose trial wasn’t going to end until April of 2017 – a difference of 44 months.
“An individual’s charter rights will be upheld even in the face of very serious offences, if the offences are not brought to a trial within a reasonable period of time,” Stiegerwald said in an interview with CTV Winnipeg.
The Crown attempted to secure earlier trial dates, but none were available.
In his decision, Justice Robert Dewar said the delay was “simply too long and outweighs society’s interest in having the case decided on its merits.”
He also acknowledged that the delay before the accused was charged was also a factor in his decision. The Crown has 30 days to appeal the ruling.
Scott Newman, of the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association of Manitoba, told CTV Winnipeg that delays in criminal proceedings are “terrible for a person who is accused, it’s terrible for victims, it’s terrible for everyone who has to wait.”
Newman says there is a backlog of cases in the province. He says more sheriffs, court clerks and judges may be needed to process cases more efficiently.
“We have to be very proactive to try and tackle this issue now to prevent it from having big effects in the future,” Newman said.
Manitoba Justice says there have been 28 applications for delay motions since the Supreme Court ruling and approximately half have been resolved. Karen Wiebe, the executive director of Manitoba Organization for Victim Assistance worries more cases could end up getting tossed out.
“It is unbelievably horrendous for people to think that there will not be justice,” Wiebe said in an interview with CTV Winnipeg.
With a report by CTV Winnipeg’s Josh Crabb