The Crown's attempts to prosecute a Sri Lankan man accused of killing his wife in Quebec five years ago faces a major setback after Canadian border officials deported him to his home country.
Sivaloganathan Thanabalasingham's second-degree murder charge was stayed earlier this year after a Superior Court justice ruled it had taken too long to get to trial.
The Crown was in the process of appealing that decision when he was deported. Canada does not have an extradition agreement with Sri Lanka.
When asked why the federal government didn't appear to step in, Scott Bardsley, the press secretary for federal Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale, wrote in an email that "Canada's legal mechanisms to force someone to remain in Canada against their will are limited."
Bardsley cautioned he couldn't comment on a specific case due to privacy reasons.
"In terms of foreign nationals who are not incarcerated by the justice system and who wish to return to their home country, immigration detention cannot be used to prevent them from leaving," Bardsley wrote.
The case is an indication of the lengthy backlog in the Quebec justice system and the far-reaching consequences of the Jordan ruling, a Supreme Court decision issued last July that imposes strict limits on wait times for trials.
The Quebec Bar Association called on the federal government again Thursday to move swiftly to appoint more Quebec Superior Court justices in order to avoid similar cases in future.
"It's a painful reminder of the one-year anniversary of the Jordan ruling for us. It's never something you want to see happen and I can understand the public being frustrated about it," Paul-Matthieu Grondin, the organization's president, said in an interview.
"Jordan has been a reminder for all of us to work really hard at what we do, and for me to send one really clear message: we need more Superior Court judges in our province, and we need these nominations right now."
Federal Department of Justice spokesperson David Taylor said in an email that an additional 15 Superior Court positions were created in the budget for the entire country and will be allocated to jurisdictions based on need.
But Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée is pushing for the federal government to create eight new Superior Court justice positions and two more Appeal Court judges, ten in all, to address delays in the province.
Thanabalasingham was the first Quebecer charged with murder to have his case stayed because of the Jordan ruling.
He was ordered deported in April because of an earlier conviction on domestic abuse charges involving his wife, Anuja Baskaran.
The assaults predated Baskaran's killing at the apartment she shared with her husband in August 2012. Thanabalasingham was charged with second-degree murder. He pleaded not guilty.
Deportation sought by accused
Thanabalasingham, who came to Canada as a refugee, initially appealed the deportation order, but a month later asked to be returned to Sri Lanka as soon as possible.
Quebec's Director of Penal and Criminal Prosecutions (DPCP) appealed the stay of the murder charge and, last week, Appeal Court Justice Nicole Duval-Hesler agreed to expedite the case and hear arguments in September.
Jean-Pascal Boucher, a spokesperson for the DPCP, said Thursday the prosecution plans to continue with the appeal process even though Thanabalasingham has left the country.
If the appeal is granted, Boucher said the DPCP would work with the federal Justice Ministry "to see what we could do."
"For now, it's too soon because we have to respect the Court of Appeal, we have to respect the authority of court, we will do what we have to do in the appeal that is pending right now, and we will see what is happening with the decision at the end," he said.
Judith Gadbois-St-Cyr, a spokesperson for Canada Border Services Agency, declined to comment directly on the case, citing privacy legislation.
She added, however, that the CBSA is legally bound to enforce removal orders.