Halifax defence lawyer Lyle Howe has sexual assault charge dropped
Crown prosecutor Dan Rideout says complainant unwilling to testify at second trial
The sexual assault case against Halifax defence lawyer Lyle Howe has been officially dropped.
Crown prosecutor Dan Rideout went into Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Thursday morning and announced he would be calling no evidence. Justice James Chipman then dismissed the case.
Outside court, Rideout said the decision was taken because the complainant did not want to testify again. The woman, who was 19 at the time of the incident, testified at a preliminary inquiry and endured days of gruelling testimony at Howe's original trial in 2014.
Howe was convicted at that trial and sentenced to three years in prison.The conviction was overturned in September on appeal and a new trial was ordered.
"In some cases we do compel the witness to testify again," Rideout said outside court.
"And this case, we had to consider the unique nature of the case, including several days of testimony, gruelling testimony that she had to go through the first time, as well as other things that would have influenced her decision."
Howe told reporters outside court he wasn't happy because the case put his family through hell. But he said the fact he's not facing a second trial has lifted a weight off his shoulders.
'Zero judges that are African Nova Scotian'
Howe also said his case exposed racism.
"Several [potential jurors] admitted to the judge under oath that they couldn't see past their own racial biases," Howe said.
"In other words, they indicated that they couldn't judge the matter impartially based on the fact that I was black and the complainant is white."
Howe said it appears Nova Scotia hasn't made much progress in combating racism since the release of the report into the Donald Marshall Jr. case 26 years ago.
Marshall was a Mi'kmaq man who spent 11 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. A subsequent commission report exposed systemic racism in the Nova Scotia justice system.
"We're standing in a building where there's been zero judges that are African Nova Scotian," Howe said at the Law Courts.
"There's zero at the Court of Appeal, there's zero at the Supreme Court. I appear every day, regularly, in front of the provincial court in Halifax and Dartmouth, zero African Nova Scotians. I have a huge issue with that."
Supreme and Appeal Court justices are appointed by the federal government. Nova Scotia Justice Minister Diana Whalen said Thursday she recently met with her federal counterpart and that Ottawa is aware of the issue.
Whalen said provincially, the government is always trying to ensure diversity in appointments.
"The premier has spoken to me about ensuring that we have diverse candidates so it's very much on our mind," she told reporters. She would not speak specifically to the Howe case.
Howe's legal practice is also under investigation by the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society. The society placed restrictions on his licence while he was awaiting the outcome of a new trial.
Darrell Pink, the executive director of the society, said a restriction that prevented Howe from representing people charged with sexual assault no longer applies. However, Howe is still under restrictions to ensure there are no conflicts of interest or bad record-keeping at his practice, Pink said.
The society started a public disciplinary hearing just before Christmas. That hearing ended abruptly last month, with Howe and the society agreeing to continue discussions in private.