The Supreme Court of Canada has reinstated the second-degree murder conviction against Kelly Ellard in the 1997 death of B.C. teen Reena Virk, putting an end to a legal case that spanned more than a decade.
In an 8-1 decision released Friday, the top court overturned a B.C. Court of Appeal decision that threw out Ellard's conviction on the grounds that the trial judge did not properly instruct the jury.
The Supreme Court disagreed, saying "the absence of a limiting instruction in this case did not amount to a legal error."
Writing for the majority of the Supreme Court, Justice Rosalie Abella said the statements in question should not have been admitted in evidence, but were essentially harmless.
Justice Morris Fish dissented, saying he would have ordered a new trial.
Ellard was 15 when the 14-year-old Virk was beaten by a group of teenagers and drowned in a park in Saanich, near Victoria, in November 1997.
Virk's death sparked a national outcry over the issue of bullying and the treatment of immigrants; Virk was the daughter of Indian immigrants.
Ellard was convicted of second-degree murder in 2000, but the decision was set aside on appeal and a new trial ordered.
A second trial in 2004 ended in a hung jury.
Ellard was again found guilty of second-degree murder in a third trial in 2005, but the result was thrown out by the B.C. Court of Appeal. The Crown appealed that ruling and argued before the Supreme Court in April.
It's not clear what happens next for Ellard, who has already spent roughly seven years in prison.
Ellard's future up to Correctional Service of Canada
Kelly Ellard was sentenced to seven years in prison when she was convicted as a juvenile of the murder of Reena Virk, and it's estimated she has served about that much time as her case proceeded through the courts.
Patrick Storey, a spokesman for the National Parole Board, said Friday it's now up to the Correctional Service of Canada to calculate when Ellard is eligible to be released.
"If she's close to — or past — her eligibility date, it simply means she is in a position to apply for a conditional release," Storey said, adding that doesn't necessarily mean she will be released.
The parole board will look at a number of factors in Ellard's case, including psychiatric assessments and her behaviour while in prison, he said,
"Usually what an applicant has to demonstrate is that they have changed in some way from the person they were at the time of the offence to the person they are today," Storey said.
The Correctional Service of Canada wouldn't comment on the Ellard file specifically, but a spokesperson did say parole calculations can take anywhere from a few hours to days.
She was originally sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for seven years. The National Parole Board will decide whether Ellard will be paroled.
'Inordinate' amount of time: Virk's father
Ellard's family refused comment on Friday's decision.
Virk's father, Manjit Virk, said 11 years is an "inordinate amount of time" for a case to work through the legal system.
"Thirty-five jurors have convicted her, out of 36 [jurors], and the defence just keeps beating the system to this day and the system allowed it," he said.
He hopes lawmakers will learn from his daughter's case.
"Is it worth it to drag a case that long, keeping everybody's life in limbo, at the expense of taxpayers?"
Six other girls, aged 14 to 16, were convicted in 1998 of assaulting Virk and given sentences of up to a year in jail.
Warren Glowatski was convicted in 1999 of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for at least seven years. He was granted day parole in 2007.