Nunavut youth’s sex charge trial wasn’t unduly delayed, judge rules
Territory's circuit court faces many exceptional circumstances, court finds
The trial of a Nunavut youth on two sex charges should go ahead as scheduled, even though the accused has been waiting for the case to be dealt with in court since September 2015, Justice Paul Bychok ruled in a recent judgment.
A youth from Coral Harbour, named as “I.N.,” was arrested in on Sept. 8, 2015 and on Dec. 21, charged with two sex offences, Bychok’s judgment said.
But after multiple delays, the Nunavut court didn’t schedule a trial until last month: on March 5, 2018.
That prompted the defence lawyer, Patrick Smith, to file an application seeking a stay of proceedings, on the grounds that the youth’s right to a trial within a reasonable period of time had been violated.
The Supreme Court of Canada, in a ruling called the Jordan decision, said that for summary conviction offences, a trial must be held within 18 months after a charge is laid—except for delays created by the actions of the defence, or by exceptional, unforeseeable events.
The trial of I.N. was originally set for trial on Sept. 28, 2016, about seven months after he had pleaded not guilty on Feb. 29, 2016.
In September 2016, the youth’s lawyer asked for the trial to be adjourned until March 6, 2017 in Coral Harbour.
Because of a blizzard that month, the court circuit to Coral Harbour was cancelled, and the trial was rescheduled until Sept. 20, 2017.
The trial was delayed again until March 5, 2018—for a total delay of about 30 months after the charges were sworn, a period of time that exceeds the Jordan decision’s limit of 18 months for summary offences.
But after doing some arithmetic, Bychok ruled that most of the delays in the trial of I.N. are attributable either to the defence, or to exceptional circumstances that are part of life in Nunavut, such as the March 2017 blizzard that wiped out an earlier trial date.
He found that the “net delay” amounted to only 164 days, or about 12 months.
“In Nunavut, blizzards not only happen, they are a way of life. Planes go mechanical. Witnesses and accused persons are often absent on medical travel. Seasonal hunts are a part of the traditional way of life for many Nunavummiut,” Bychok said.
Another exceptional factor in Nunavut is the circuit court schedule, Bychok said.
“There is no culture of delay in the Nunavut Court of Justice. Despite innumerable challenges, this court has an enviable and consistent record of timely case disposition,” Bychok said.
In making that remark, he cited a national criminal justice system report card that found Nunavut has one of the shortest median trial delay records in the country.
Bychok then ruled that the trial of I.N. should go ahead on March 5, 2018.
The written decision, which was published April 9, doesn’t state the outcome of the trial.
Under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the names of youth offenders may not be published or broadcast in the media.
Bychok, in an judgment this past February in another case called R. v. Anugaa, had found that Nunavut’s difficult environment makes it hard to apply the Jordan ruling in a strict manner and that the territory’s exceptional circumstances must be taken into account when assessing pre-trial delays.