For Montreal mother of slain teen, waiting for justice adds to shock, pain

The backlog in the court system has added to the emotional toll on Marlène Dufresne, whose daughter was found dead in a motel room in 2014. Dufresne was mistakenly called to serve as a juror at the trial, which is still months away.

'It's too much,' says Marlène Dufresne after being called for jury duty at trial of daughter's alleged killer

Marlène Dufresne holds up a photo of her daughter, Gabrielle Dufresne-Élie, who was found dead in 2014. (Sean Henry/CBC)

It's been more than two years since Marlène Dufresne's 17-year-old daughter Gabrielle was found dead in a motel in Montreal's east end.

The teen and her then 18-year-old boyfriend, Jonathan Mahautière, were out celebrating her high school graduation when she was killed.

She had hoped to become a nurse. 

Mahautière's trial for Gabrielle Dufresne-Élie's second-degree murder is still months away.

As it has for many families in Quebec and across the country, the backlog in the criminal justice system has added to Dufresne's emotional toll.

"It's almost like there's no end," she said in an interview.

"It's too much."

Called to serve as juror at alleged killer's trial

A staggering mix-up last month made things even more painful for Dufresne.

She received a summons to serve on the jury at Mahautière's trial. The request was dropped after she called the Crown prosecutor's office in shock. 
Jonathan Mahautière is charged with 2nd-degree murder. (Gabrielle Dufresne-Élie/Facebook)

A trial date could be set at Mahautière's next court appearance on Dec. 14. Dufresne is hoping that, after multiple delays, the trial will go forward in February or March of next year. 

Canadians deserve a system that is far more accessible and efficient.- Senate report on legal delays

It has already been more than 30 months since charges were laid, raising the concern the accused could apply for a stay of proceedings under a Supreme Court judgment this summer outlining what constitutes a reasonable delay in the justice system.

The high court ruled that the time between when an accused is charged and the conclusion of that person's trial should be no more than 18 months in a provincial court case — or a maximum of 30 months if there is a preliminary hearing or if the case is heard by a Superior Court.

Mahautière's lawyer, Marie-Hélène Giroux, told CBC News she had no comment on her legal strategy in the case.

She is the third lawyer to represent Mahautière, having taken over the case last month.

Situation is critical, Senate report says

Regardless of whether Giroux seeks a stay of proceedings for her client due to unreasonable delays, the lengthy wait time has added to Dufresne's sorrow and points of a larger problem playing out in overburdened courts across the country.

Gabrielle Dufresne-Élie was 17 when she died in 2014. (Facebook)

A Senate committee report released in August 2016 found that the median time from the laying of a charge to a case's final disposition was 451 days for a homicide case, 321 days for a case of sexual assault and 314 days for an attempted murder case.

"The situation is critical," the report states.

"Canadians deserve a system that is far more accessible and efficient."

The delays create other uncertainties for victims and their families, too. In Dufresne's case, she has booked off time from her job as a blue collar worker with the City of Montreal in anticipation of a trial — only to see the date pushed back. 

Nancy Roy, who represents a Quebec-based victims advocacy group, said the emotional and financial strain of a long court process compounds the tragedy of losing a loved one.

"Their life needs to be readjusted each time they get ready for the trial," said Roy, general manager of the Association des familles de personnes assassinées ou disparues.

"They are forced to revisit the tragedy each time."

Quebec promises hires, influx of cash

In an attempt to address the province's case backlog, the Quebec government announced details Wednesday of a four-year, $175.2-million plan.

The province said it will hire nearly two dozen new judges, as well as 69 more Crown prosecutors and 114 support staff.

The changes will allow the province to handle 10,000 additional cases a year, Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée said.

Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée announced the plans to address the backlog in the criminal justice system. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

In addition to the influx of cash, Vallée said there's a need for a "culture shift" within the justice system.

"There is still a lot more to do address the delays," she said.