The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear the case of Ernest Fenwick MacIntosh, a former Nova Scotia businessman whose convictions for sex-abuse against boys were overturned last year.
The decision prolongs a controversial legal saga that involves historic allegations. As is customary in this situation, the court offered no reasons for its decision.
Weldon MacIntosh Reynolds, one of the complainants, is pleased the country's highest court will hear the case.
"Best news ever," said Reynolds, who asked a court to remove a publication ban on his name.
"It will mean it will take another little while for it to go on, but we got a battle to fight here and continue on with it and hopefully everything will go the way it's supposed to go."
Defence lawyer Brian Casey said his client has put his life on hold while the legal saga drags on.
"He's been back in Canada for several years and he'd like to be able to get on with his life," Casey said of MacIntosh.
MacIntosh was initially charged with more than 40 counts of sexual abuse from nine complainants, all of them young boys at the time. They alleged they were abused between 1970 and 1977, when MacIntosh lived and worked in the Port Hawkesbury area.
Some of the charges against MacIntosh were dismissed at the preliminary inquiry stage. The remaining charges were heard in two separate trials.
In the first trial, MacIntosh was convicted on 13 of 26 charges and sentenced to four years in prison. In the second, MacIntosh was convicted on four of 10 counts and sentenced to 18 months, on top of the four-year sentence he received in the first trial.
However, MacIntosh appealed his convictions, and in December of last year, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal quashed the convictions, and entered a stay of proceedings. The Appeal Court accepted arguments from MacIntosh's legal team that the case had taken too long to come to trial — almost 14 years.
That included time MacIntosh spent living and working in India.
The Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service appealed that ruling by Nova Scotia's highest court, leading to today's decision by the Supreme Court of Canada. In its brief to Canada's highest court, the Crown had argued there was heightened public interest in sexual abuse cases.
Jennifer MacLellan, a senior Crown attorney with the service's appeals branch, said they believe this case is of national interest.
"We also felt that it was important for the Supreme Court of Canada to look at the issue of delay in the context of an accused who stays outside of the country on their own volition," she said Thursday.
1st complaint in 1995
The case against MacIntosh started in 1995, when one boy went to police, complaining he'd been assaulted between 1970 and 1975. He said the assaults included fondling and oral sex at various locations around Port Hawkesbury, including MacIntosh's car.
Other boys then came forward later with their own allegations of abuse.
MacIntosh moved from Port Hawkesbury to Halifax around 1981. By 1984, he'd moved to India to set up an office for a company he worked for. As the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal noted in its decision: "When he left Canada there were no charges. No one had even complained to the police."
Police were able to track MacIntosh down in India, but he indicated he had no intention of returning to Canada. The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal said, "there is no duty on an accused to bring him or herself to trial."
In October 1997, the RCMP posted alerts at airports and customs to try to apprehend MacIntosh. He also received notice that his passport was being revoked. But by April of 1998, one of MacIntosh's lawyers was able to get the airport alerts and passport suspension overturned.
MacIntosh was not arrested and returned to Canada until the spring of 2007. His trials did not take place until 2010.
There is no word on when the Supreme Court of Canada will schedule a hearing in this case.