Manitoba

Supreme Court upholds dismissal of Manitoban's sex assault conviction over trial delays

A Manitoban whose sex assault conviction was overturned due to lengthy court delays will remain a free man, after Canada's top court upheld a stay of proceedings in his case.

37 months from the time Marlin Vandermeulen was charged until his trial concluded

On Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed an application to appeal the case of Winnipegger Marlin Vandermeulen, whose sexual assault conviction was overturned last year. (Albert Couillard/CBC)

A Manitoban whose sex assault conviction was overturned due to lengthy court delays will remain a free man, after Canada's top court said it will not hear the Crown's appeal in the case.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed an application for appeal in the case of Marlin Vandermeulen.

Vandermeulen was convicted in 2013 of sexual assault causing bodily harm, uttering threats and assault causing bodily harm, among other charges, and sentenced to 3½ years in prison.

However, his case took 37 months from the time the last charges were laid in February 2010 to the conclusion of his trial in March 2013.

His lawyers appealed, arguing the delays were unreasonable.

The Manitoba Court of Appeal agreed, ruling in September 2015 that the delay breached Vandermeulen's charter right to a trial within a reasonable time. It determined the only remedy would be to dismiss the case, along with the sentence.

That decision stands following the top court's refusal to grant an appeal. As is standard for the Supreme Court of Canada, no reason was given for the dismissal of the application.

There were many factors behind the pretrial delays in Vandermeulen's case, from the Crown and defence not finding agreeable court dates to the judge overseeing the preliminary inquiry suddenly taking time off.

Supreme Court set new rules

Last month, the Supreme Court set new rules for what constitutes a reasonable period of time before a trial. Provincial court trials must now be completed within 18 months of charges being laid, or 30 months if there is a preliminary inquiry.

Any delays beyond these time frames are "presumptively unreasonable" and violate the accused's charter right to be tried within a reasonable time, the court stated in its decision.

A Senate committee's interim report on delays in the Canadian criminal justice system, released last week, found delays persist even though crime rates have been declining since the early 1990s.

The committee called on the Liberal government to address a shortage of judges immediately and develop a more effective judicial appointments system.

After the report was released, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said her government would share the details of a new judicial appointment process in the near future.

With files from The Canadian Press

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