Lack of judges could let go of man accused of molesting daughter

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Imagine you are a young girl who has been sexually abused by her father for years and finally has the courage to come forward, tell someone what happened and get the police to press charges. But instead of seeing your father stand trial before the judiciary, he leaves court not because a judge or a jury of his peers acquits him, but because the government has not appointed enough judges.

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This is the story of a Toronto girl who is awaiting the deadline for her father’s release due to a lack of judges to hear the case.

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In January 2021, then 12-year-old Alexandra (all names have been changed) told a therapist about abuse at the hands of her father. The therapy session was scheduled because of Alexandra’s behavior, she was showing signs of depression, vomiting food and having convulsions, according to her mother.

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When Alexandra spoke to the therapist, she went into detail about the psychological and sexual abuse she had endured for years. The revelations first shocked the therapist, then her mother when some details were shared.

This also resulted in the therapist reporting the abuse to the authorities, as required by law.

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In part, Alexandra described how her father deprived her of food and sleep and verbally abused her. Even worse was the sexual abuse from her father, who forced her to sleep with him naked, restricted her use of the toilet, made her striptease for him, and forced her to touch him sexually.

The abuse began shortly after her parents separated and continued until she had the strength to report it.

In the phone conversation with her mother Lisa, the emotions, anger, frustration and fear of the system are palpable. The process of meeting with the police and speaking to detectives and prosecutors has been an ordeal for the family, but now it could all be for naught if the case is dismissed for lack of a judge.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms upholds the ancient right that we all have the right “to be brought to justice within a reasonable time”. This was not the case in Canada’s court system, and so in a 2016 case known as the “Jordan Decision,” the court laid down rules, including allowing a hearing to take place within 18 months in smaller cases and in more serious cases must take place within 30 months.

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That 30-month window is what Lisa and Alexandra are now staring at as they await news of a trial.

A hearing was scheduled for early May, but when no judge was available that morning, they were told to come back after lunch to see if a judge could be found. This bizarre process lasted three days until they were told they would have to wait for another trial date.

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They are currently considering the possibility of not getting a trial date until 2024, and even then a judge may not be available. The real concern is that if the trial does not begin by the end of August, the case will be dismissed as it has already passed 30 months since charges were filed.

Lisa feels that the justice system she believed in so strongly has failed her family.

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Canada’s Justice Crisis

Canada has long had problems bringing cases to court within a reasonable time; That led to the Jordan decision.

Peter MacKay was Justice Minister in the Conservative Harper government from 2013 to 2015. He acknowledges that the then-government can struggle to fill vacancies in the judiciary, but says the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision should have been a wake-up call.

“It was a clear signal from the top courts to all governments that they needed to improve capacity and hire more judges, but it didn’t come to that,” MacKay said.

He said the Jordan decision was a symptom that a system was in trouble, but added that things had gotten worse, not better, since the decision was announced. MacKay does not allege that the court has developed guidelines to ensure the right to a reasonable time trial is preserved. He accuses the government of not doing enough to meet the demands made by the court almost seven years ago.

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Toronto criminal defense attorney Ari Goldkind sees the problems in the court system on a daily basis. He agrees that judgeships need to be filled, but that’s not the only problem.

“There are dozens of good candidates waiting to be appointed and dozens who don’t apply because it’s very political,” Goldkind said of the arduous application process for the judge’s position.

However, he said that even if all judges’ posts are filled tomorrow, there will still be problems.

“It’s not about judges, judges, judges, it’s about court staff, it’s the return to stationary facilities that court clerks and others don’t like, and it’s the lack of a bar,” Goldkind said.

Too many trial lawyers are leaving the practice to make more money as QCs and not enough is being invested in a proper legal aid system, stalling the court.

And in the end, the innocent get hurt.

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