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Girl denied justice due to costs and delays: Turpel-Lafond

Mar 30 2012

A man charged with sexually and physically abusing his daughter avoided trial two years ago because police refused to spend $40,000 to translate and transcribe witness statements into English, a new report says.

A judge stayed all 13 charges against the man in 2010, ruling that police failure to translate key evidence had led to unnecessary court delays and denied the immigrant father of seven his right to a fair and timely trial.

B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, who issued a report on the case Thursday, criticized Crown prosecutors and police for denying the girl and her family access to justice.

“Allowing budgetary considerations to outweigh the plight of the vulnerable children involved in this case is shocking, unacceptable and should never happen again,” she said.

Turpel-Lafond said senior police and Crown managers should have intervened to prevent the case from going off the rails. But despite repeated delays and the vulnerability of the alleged victim, nobody did anything, she said.

“What message does this outcome give to a vulnerable youth who disclosed repeated physical and sexual abuse?” Turpel-Lafond asked. “Undeniably, it tells her that her allegations had insufficient priority for police and the Crown to act decisively to deliver the documents needed for a timely court trial. It tells her that she didn’t matter enough.”

Justice Minister Shirley Bond said she was “devastated” by the way the file was handled. Police are required to provide translation and transcription services, and there is no excuse for the decision to let it slide in this case, she said.

Bond promised to act on all of Turpel-Lafond’s recommendations, including establishing a policy that requires senior Crown lawyers to make child abuse cases a priority. The representative also urged the Justice Ministry to ensure there is reliable access to translation services, and recommended the ministry produce an annual report on cases in which a child is the victim of violence — including those in which charges are stayed.

The girl disclosed the alleged abuse to a school counsellor in January 2008, the report says. The counsellor alerted police and, that same month, Crown approved 13 charges, including counts of sexual assault and incest. The trial was set for June, but Crown asked for an adjournment because they had yet to receive translations of two videotaped statements. Senior police managers refused to cover the cost, the report says.

The trial was reset for March 2009, then January 2010. One month before trial, Crown sought another adjournment, because the transcripts still were not ready. The judge refused and stayed the charges.

The judge did prohibit the father from contacting his wife and children.

When the family learned that the charges had been stayed, they asked if someone in the justice system had been bribed, Turpel-Lafond said. “This was a common occurrence in their former homeland and a telling commentary on their own experiences with the Canadian justice system.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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