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Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould eyes measures to reduce court delays

Kim Bolan, Vancouver Sun

Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.  (Kim Stallknecht/Postmedia File Photo)

Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould. (Kim Stallknecht/Postmedia File Photo)

Canada’s justice ministers plan to tackle court delays by reducing the number of preliminary inquiries, changing bail rules and reforming mandatory minimum sentences.

Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould laid out the proposals Friday at a Vancouver news conference after a meeting here with her provincial counterparts.

“Ministers agreed that there was a need for substantive action to reform the preliminary inquiry regime to increase efficiencies, in the bail regime to address challenges created by the high number of administrative justice offences,” Wilson-Raybould said. “We discussed the reclassification of some offences to provide greater flexibility to use simpler and faster court processes.”

And she said the ministers also discussed how to better manage cases before the courts “to ensure the prioritization and careful balancing of court resources.”

The proposals stem from the Supreme Court of Canada's “Jordan” ruling last year that set limits of 30 months for the completion of prosecutions at the Supreme Court level and 18 months for provincial court cases unless there are “exceptional circumstances.”

Since then, dozens of people in B.C. have filed applications to have their charges stayed over delays.

Some have been successful. Others have not.

A Kelowna Supreme Court judge dismissed a Jordan application from the accused killers of gangster Jonathan Bacon despite the trial continuing more than four years after their arrest.

Justice Allan Betton said in a ruling released last week that “exceptional circumstances” existed in the case because a number of key witnesses close to the murder plot agreed to testify only after initial trial dates had been set, delaying the prosecution.

Earlier this month, high-profile B.C. Hells Angel Larry Amero was released by a Quebec judge after his cocaine conspiracy case was thrown out because the case took almost five years to get to trial.

Wilson-Raybould couldn’t say exactly how the ministers’ proposals would speed up complex organized crime prosecutions that usually proceed by way of direct indictment, meaning there is no preliminary hearing.

But she said generally the proposed changes would “ensure that cases that are before the court proceed in as expeditious and as fair of a process without unreasonable delays.

“This is the intention of all of the measures that we talked about in order to ensure that we are taking those bold steps to reduce the delays,” she said.

Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said organized crime remains a top priority for the RCMP.

“Obviously we need to make sure that the RCMP have the resources and the tools to be effective in their investigations,” Goodale said, adding there is “a huge judicial challenge” converting intelligence gathered by law enforcement to “usable as evidence in court.”

“There is a criminal law challenge that we all need to work on together which involves all jurisdictions and all levels of government and all law enforcement agencies,” he said.

Goodale also said that implementation of new cannabis legislation will take billions out of the pockets of organized crime.

“If we are able to put together a system as we are discussing … that stops or at least substantially reduces the flow of that magnitude of money into the pockets of organized crime, that in itself would be a very significant step forward,” he said.

B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said he expects the battle against organized crime beyond the pot industry will be on the agenda of future meetings with his counterparts.

He said the broader role of organization crime “has been a topic in British Columbia for quite some time.”

“It is something we have to pay further attention to,” Farnworth said.

kbolan@postmedia.com

Twitter: @kbolan