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EDITORIAL: Time keeps on ticking as Canadian justice system slows down

Scales of justice.
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Well, it was a nice Christmas Eve present for one Torontonian facing drug and weapon charges.

But it’s also a clear sign of lingering problems in Canada’s justice system.

In a decision released on Dec. 24, Ontario Court of Justice Judge Paul Thomas O’Marra stayed all charges against David Ansah, who was charged with a series of drug and weapons related charges on Aug. 28, 2018, after police located a loaded 9mm semi-automatic handgun, additional ammunition and drugs after chasing Ansah into a Brampton backyard and over a fence.

Though even the Crown prosecutor in the case admitted the case was a relatively simple one, it took 26 court appearances to finally set a date for a trial — May 11, 2020, meaning there would have been 20 months and 17 days between the date when charges were laid and the expected completion of Ansah’s trial on May 15, 2020.

And, after a Supreme Court of Canada decision known as the Jordan decision, that’s just too long a delay. As the saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied.

The Jordan decision put set time limits on delays between when an accused is charged and when a trial takes place: if those time limits are overshot, the prosecution has to prove that the delay is justifiable.

In Ansah’s case, the key to the charges being halted was a 93-day delay that occurred because the Crown failed to show up for a court date. The defence, meanwhile, argued that there were other substantial delays — a seven-and-a-half month delay for the defence to even obtain a copy of the information used to get a search warrant in the case, for example, and the fact that copies of police officers’ notes weren’t handed over for nine and a half months..

The Crown’s office had an excuse for not showing up for the court date that many could perhaps sympathize with: updated computer software. As the judge explained it, the Crown’s office claimed the lawyer was “‘immersed (in) the procedures around the refreshing of the computers to incorporate Office 365’ and lost track of the matter.”

The Crown said that the 93 days of delay that resulted from the missed court date shouldn’t be counted as an institutional delay: the judge disagreed, saying, “The technological problem may have prevented the assigned Crown Attorney from accessing his calendar. … I am more than satisfied that the assigned Crown Attorney was aware of the date of the hearing and simply lost track of the time … and forgot about it that morning.”

It’s not just wasted time for the defendant. It’s also wasted time and wasted money for the police and the entire justice system. And in a system short of resources, cases like this are happening all too frequently.

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