Beyond the Headlines

The slow road to justice

Posted: Jul 20, 2012 2:10 PM ET Last Updated: Jul 20, 2012 2:10 PM ET
Two court cases this week remind us once again, just how frustratingly slow our justice system is, and how painful it can be for the victims of crimes and their families.
 
Just ask Connie Whitman.
 
On May 13, 2009, more than three years ago, Whitman's daughter, Chelsea, and another employee of the Beazley Bowling Alley, were kidnapped shortly after leaving work, and forced to return to the alley to open the safe. They were forcibly taken away and left in a remote area.
 
Thursday, Whitman was in courtroom 302 at the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia to see Coulton Downey, one of the five men arrested in this case, sentenced for his crime.
 
She left bitterly disappointed.
 
The case was adjourned because Downey's lawyer, Lyle Howe complained he only received the six page pre-sentence report a half hour before court, and he needed time to review it with his client.
 
Outside court, a "stunned" Connie Whitman said she's had enough.
 
"Every time I come here it's put off. There's no end to it and we're tired of it," said Whitman. "These men have more rights than we do, we don't have any rights in this."
 
Chief Justice Joseph Kennedy offered some sympathy for the Whitmans saying the justice system, "sometimes forgets that peoples lives are involved."
 
But no one seemed to ask the obvious question: why was the six page pre-sentence report only delivered to Downey's lawyer the day of the hearing, even though the date had been set for weeks?
 
Was its author negligent or simply over-worked? Where is the accountability?
 
Unfortunately these kinds of delays are more the rule than the exception. It's not unusual for a case to take months, and more often years to wind its way through the justice system.
 
You don't have to look far to find them.

 In that same court - 302 - Thursday morning, MLA Trevor Zinck was supposed to have dates set for his trail on charges of fraud, theft and breach of trust.
 
The three-minute hearing ended with no trial date. Instead the lawyers will hold a pre-trial conference in August and then they'll be back in court in September to finally set a date for trial, a date lawyers for both sides agree probably won't be until sometime late in 2013. That means, even if there are no further delays, Zinck's trial won't start until two and-a-half years after he was charged.
 
In the meantime, Zinck  -- who steadfastly maintains his innocence --  walks around with a cloud over his head. And his alleged victims, Nova Scotia taxpayers, can only watch as Zinck continues to collect his MLA salary and contribute to the pension plan, with no idea whether he is guilty or not.
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About the Author

Brian DuBreuil is a veteran journalist with CBC News. He has won two Gemini awards for his work, and neither involved dancing or singing on a reality show.

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