More ur­gency needed on court trial de­lays

The Niagara Falls Review - - OPINION -

Canada’s crim­i­nal courts have long been plagued with un­rea­son­able de­lays — so much so that, last sum­mer, the Supreme Court of Canada used a case known as R vs. Jor­dan to set hard lim­its on how long tri­als can take.

This promptly spi­ralled into a ma­jor cri­sis, as hun­dreds of cases across Canada, in­clud­ing some in­volv­ing se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions such as mur­der, were stayed — mean­ing those charged were freed with­out trial.

Hun­dreds of ap­pli­ca­tions for stays have been made coun­try­wide; and in On­tario, the Crown at­tor­ney as­so­ci­a­tion wor­ries as many as 6,000 cases could ul­ti­mately be af­fected.

Jus­tice au­thor­i­ties are scram­bling for so­lu­tions. On­tario At­tor­ney Gen­eral Yasir Naqvi wants the fed­eral govern­ment to elim­i­nate pre­lim­i­nary hear­ings in all but the most se­ri­ous crim­i­nal cases. But the Cana­dian Bar As­so­ci­a­tion op­poses this.

In Al­berta, prose­cu­tors are now “triag­ing” cases — that is, aban­don­ing some, in hopes that the most vi­o­lent and se­ri­ous of­fences won’t be stayed for de­lays.

Oth­ers urge that cer­tain crim­i­nal cases, such as drunk driv­ing, be treated as “ad­min­is­tra­tive” charges, re­mov­ing them from the crim­i­nal court sys­tem.

This prob­lem is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of every­one in the jus­tice sys­tem, but the fed­eral govern­ment, based on what Jus­tice Min­is­ter Jody Wil­son-Ray­bould told a Se­nate com­mit­tee re­cently, seems to be pin­ning its hopes on a case that will come to Canada’s top court in April. Wil­son-Ray­bould said James Cody vs. R, will be fol­lowed “very closely” by her of­fice.

Benjamin Per­rin, a Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia law pro­fes­sor, said the Supreme Court might de­cide to use Cody, a drug-traf­fick­ing and weapons case, to clar­ify how lower courts should as­sess de­lays for the crim­i­nal tri­als that were al­ready in the sys­tem be­fore the fate­ful Jor­dan rul­ing.

“All it takes is one of those ma­jor­ity judges to go, ‘This was a big mis­take,’ and have a com­pletely dif­fer­ent ap­proach taken, so you could see a re­ally quick re­ver­sal from the court it­self,” said Per­rin.

Sen. Vern White, on the Se­nate com­mit­tee, doubts the court will even par­tially re­verse it­self. “I don’t think they see the prob­lem.”

Anne Lon­don-We­in­stein, pres­i­dent of the De­fence Coun­sel As­so­ci­a­tion of Ot­tawa, noted the Cody case is unique, which could mean its broader ap­pli­ca­tion is lim­ited. Maybe the Cody case will help. But there’s no sil­ver bul­let for fix­ing court de­lays. Mean­while, pub­lic out­rage will only mount.

The fed­eral govern­ment should work with the prov­inces to clear back­logs. Any­thing else is un­fair to vic­tims and the ac­cused.

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