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B.C. women's shelter slams 'incompetence of the justice system' after domestic assault trial falls apart

Legal delays in domestic abuse trial shakes faith in Kelowna, B.C., justice system
The Kelowna Law Courts.

The failure of the local justice system to bring a man accused of domestic abuse to trial in Kelowna, B.C., deals a blow to women everywhere trying to escape violence, says a community advocate.

Earlier this month, a Kelowna judge stayed charges of domestic assault and obstruction against Jeffrey Maclean due to excessive court delays. Maclean was arrested and charged following an incident on Nov. 27, 2021.

The judge ruled that delays related to Crown disclosure resulted in Maclean’s Charter right to a speedy trial being breached.

Allison Mclauchlan, executive director of the Kelowna Women’s Shelter, says she “can’t imagine” the impact this has had on the alleged victim in the case.

“To have it go this far and then fall apart, right at the last minute for, basically, a technicality or incompetence of the justice system, which is supposed to protect vulnerable people.”

Mclauchlan noted most domestic abuse cases never reach criminal court.

“So the fact that [this] one did, would lead me to assume that there is… pretty strong evidence to support criminal charges, which is a scary thought that potentially there is an abuser who has basically no consequences for their actions against the victim in this case.”

She noted many women are reluctant to come forward in the first place.

“Cases like this will just further set the movement back for trying to get women to report, stand up and get justice. Cases like this put us back so many years.

"The underestimation of the severity of the abuse by legal professionals, the inconsistent sentencing of perpetrators and the absence of comprehensive measures to ensure survivor safety also underscore the systemic failures that demand urgent attention," Mclauchlan continued.

"While the principle of 'innocent until proven guilty' is a cornerstone of justice, the consequences of prolonged court delays can undermine this principle and compromise the pursuit of justice for victims of domestic violence."

She said an "unfortunate reality" exists where the justice system fails domestic violence victims, "perpetuating their trauma and leaving them without the closure and protection they deserve."

Maclean was initially scheduled for a three-day trial to start on Monday, but that never took place because the charges against him were stayed on Aug. 17.

The Supreme Court of Canada’s 2016 Jordan ruling orders that provincial court matters must be resolved within 18 months of charges being laid. The total delay from the charge to the end of Maclean’s scheduled trial was 21 months and three days, well over the limit.

Prosecutors tried to argue COVID-19 and the defence caused the delays, but the judge did not agree.

There were six judicial stays issued over court delays in B.C. in the fiscal year 2021/22, according to the BC Prosecution Service’s most recent annual report.

That's the lowest figure since the Jordan ruling imposed the limits.