On Watch

Justice Delayed

Posted: Apr 18, 2013 4:53 PM ET Last Updated: Apr 18, 2013 4:53 PM ET

I spend a lot of time in Nova Scotia courtrooms. Usually, I come away with a pretty good story.

Too often -- more times than I care to count -- the case I'm following is derailed. You can usually see the signs in the moments before proceedings get underway: the lawyers huddle at the side of the courtroom. Then they approach the court clerk and the three of them consult tablets and datebooks. They're looking for the next available spot in the docket, which is often weeks or even months away.

This is just a minor irritation for me. After all, I get paid regardless. The only challenge for me when a case is delayed is to find another story to tell.

But I'm not alone in the courtroom. Usually, the family and friends of the victims are there as well. They're not consulted about another delay. Occasionally, they're not even informed.

Take the case of Steve Saunders.

He's accused of driving drunk one night in January 2012, plunging his vehicle into an icy pond in Hants County, drowning his girlfriend, Mechelle Duncan, in the process.

Saunders was due in provincial court in Windsor back in January. Mechelle Duncan's family was there in force, including some who'd made the trip from Massachusetts just to see justice.

Saunders himself did not appear. He sent his lawyer instead, to request yet another adjournment.

Duncan's family was blind-sided by the move. I was the only person around, so they started questioning me. I could tell them what had happened. I could tell them what was likely to happen next. I couldn't begin to tell them why any of it was -- or was not -- happening.

This week, another family with the same frustration.

"Time doesn't seem to matter to them guys," Jody Illingworth said to me. "And it does to us, because we don't have no closure at all."

It took Illingworth three weeks to put his frustration into words. It's been three weeks since Illingworth was told that the trial of the man accused of killing his sister was being put off again.

Tina Eisnor was gunned down in the parking lot of a grocery store in New Germany in June, 2010. Her estranged husband, Wayne Eisnor, is charged with first degree murder in her death. But Wayne Eisnor is also accused of turning the gun on himself in what appears to be a botched suicide attempt. That gunshot wound continues to raise lingering questions about his fitness to stand trial. Those questions have prompted this latest delay.

Members of Tina Eisnor's family had arranged their spring and summer vacations around the original trial dates in May. "Friends and family had booked time to take them days because it was planned for nine days," Jody Illingworth said. "So a lot of the people that took vacations can't get that vacation time back."

Wayne Eisnor's new trial dates are in September. But there will be more discussions about his mental fitness between now and then. "I wouldn't care if he was up there drooling," Illingworth said. "He still should be punished for his crime."

If there's a poster child for delays in the Nova Scotia justice system, it's Michael Derrick Robichaud.

In August, 2007, Robichaud raped a woman, slashed her throat and left her for dead in a Dartmouth gas station.

He's admitted to his crimes. He even told the National Parole Board that he did it "to get more time." But Robichaud has yet to be sentenced.

Like Wayne Eisnor, there are lingering questions about Robichaud's mental fitness. I don't believe there's a forensic psychiatrist east of Toronto who hasn't poked their nose into his case. The Crown wants him declared a dangerous offender. The hearing to determine his fate is now scheduled for June, nearly six years after he committed his crimes.

This isn't a scientific survey. This is just a handful of cases I have witnessed first hand.

I understand that the system is properly weighted to give the benefit of the doubt to the accused. After all, they are the ones who risk losing at least some portion of their freedom if they're found guilty.

But I'm just a spectator. I'm not the one who's had a member of my family hurt or killed. I'm not the one who's had my property stolen or damaged. I watch them as they sit on the sidelines, seething and trying to grasp what's going on. As Jody Illingworth put it: "We just don't understand like, what is going on with this justice system? It is no justice system. It's like I said it's injustice system. It's no justice system no more."

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About the Author

Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 30 years in Atlantic Canada, covering everything from princes to politicians to prostitutes, and a whole lot of stuff in between. These days, he focusses on stories involving crime and public safety.

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