Montreal·Exclusive

After 4 years of waiting, her alleged abuser was finally brought to trial — then charges were stayed

An exclusive interview with a sexual assault victim who waited four years for her alleged abuser to be tried, only for a judge to stay the charges, citing the controversial Jordan ruling.

How 1 victim in Quebec is dealing with the Jordan decision

"Magali" (not her real name) accused her stepfather of sexually assaulting her. But the Jordan ruling spared him facing a trial. (Mathieu Bolduc/Radio-Canada)

In December 2010, Magali walked into a Quebec City police station to accuse her stepfather of sexual abuse.

It was another four years before the case came to trial; Magali grew angry and frustrated at the delays.

"You feel powerless, and you want to do something," said the 29-year-old mother of two. "I would have liked to go talk to the judge and say 'Hey, do you understand how difficult this is? Why is my case taking so long?'"

That was two years ago. She faced an even bigger shock this spring. The man she accused of hurting her, at whose trial she had twice testified, was granted a stay of proceedings.

Judge René de la Sablonnière said he came to the conclusion "reluctantly," but a Supreme Court decision known as the Jordan ruling left him no choice.

"It's as if [the court said] 'It doesn't matter he abused you, we couldn't care less,'" Magali told CBC News in a recent interview. CBC agreed to use a pseudonym to protect her identity. 

"Magali" as she looks over the judge's decision to issue a stay of proceedings. (Mathieu Bolduc/Radio-Canada)

Abuse at hands of the 'angel'

The Jordan ruling — delivered by a divided Supreme Court in 2016 — places strict limits on trial delays. It has caused havoc on the Quebec justice system; hundreds of defence lawyers have applied for stays citing the decision.

So far, three murder suspects in Quebec have avoided trials by appealing to the Jordan ruling. Dozens of other suspected criminals have also had their charges stayed.    

These decisions have left victims like Magali in the lurch, waiting for justice that may never come.

Before the charges were stayed, her stepfather's trial lasted long enough for Magali to have twice taken the stand. She told the court that the abuse began when she was 14 years old.  

After the first alleged assault, in a camper truck behind their home, Magali told her stepfather it would never happen again.

But when she was 16, and at the age of consent, her mother got involved. She told Magali she had someone for her to meet, and told her it was "Daniel," an angel.

Magali said she laughed out loud when she saw it was her stepfather, speaking in a slightly different voice.

"Can this wrap up at some point?" the judge asked amid numerous delays. (Mathieu Bolduc/Radio-Canada)

Magali's mother said the angel had the power to give her confidence, but that it could only be transferred through sex.

"I was 16, but it was manipulation," said Magali. "I wasn't mistreated or violated, but the mental manipulation was just as bad as physical violence." 

Between the ages of 16 and 22 — through her first pregnancy with her boyfriend at the time, even after she moved out — Magali would "accept" to have sex with the "angel." She alleged she was assaulted hundreds of times.

"There isn't a single night I didn't go to bed crying," she said. "I wrote in my diary, I tried to stay happy with friends … but you can't forget."

Magali's mother eventually pleaded guilty to sexual exploitation and served slightly more than half of her 42-month sentence in prison. 

"It's an injustice," said Magali. "Yes, my mother was negligent, but the physical and psychological abuse wasn't her, it was [my stepfather]."

A particular case

Defence and Crown lawyers shuttle in and out of the practice division room at the Quebec City courthouse all day.

That's where Quebec Court judges take pleas, where clients choose if they want to go before a judge or face a jury and where lawyers set dates for their client's next visit to the courthouse.

Maxime Roy, a prominent Quebec City defence lawyer, told CBC that it's possible for defendants to have just one scheduling appearance. Magali's stepfather had 29. 

"There were so many incidents in that particular case," said Roy, who was aware of Magali's case but did not represent any of the parties.

"I think probably each and every postponement from the judge was granted correctly, but as a whole, it's unacceptable."

​Each one of those court appearances lasted no more than a handful of minutes. But that's all it took to postpone the case weeks, months and eventually years.

Magali's stepfather — who was charged with sexual exploitation and sexual assault — declined an interview request, after initially accepting. He also instructed his lawyer not to talk about the case.

The Supreme Court's Jordan ruling has resulted in Quebec investing more money in its justice system. (Albert Couillard/CBC)

Waiting 'like living in hell' 

In an interview with Radio-Canada, Sabin Ouellet, chief of prosecutions, said Magali's case was "exceptional." The Crown decided it would not appeal the judge's decision to stay the proceedings.

​Ouellet declined to speak about the specific delays in this case, but said new measures implemented earlier this year mean that kind of delay will never occur again.

In his ruling, Judge de la Sablonnière found Magali's stepfather was responsible for an entire year's worth of delays. He changed lawyers three times, missed court dates and only once showed any interest in moving the case forward, the judge said.

When the stepfather hired a fourth lawyer, de la Sablonnière said in court that he had the impression the accused was doing everything he could to stall the proceedings.

"There are victims in this case who want to move on. Can this wrap up at some point?" asked de la Sablonnière. He added that waiting must be "like living in hell" for the victim.

But in deciding to stay the charges, he said the bulk of the delays were not the fault of the accused.

De la Sablonnière blamed the justice system for not having enough courtrooms available, and the Crown for doing too little to shorten each postponement.

His written decision ended by saying the Jordan ruling is delivering a short-term "electric shock" to the justice system to ensure an end to the culture of "complacency."

As for Magali, she says she's speaking out now because there are others like her, who overcame their fear and went to the police.  

And she said she's happy for those who will benefit from the ruling in the future.

She also doesn't regret anything because the man she accused is no longer in her life, and will never come near her two daughters.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Catou MacKinnon started working for CBC in New Brunswick as a reporter and then as the Maritime Noon correspondent. Since 2004, she's been reporting on stories from all over the province of Quebec.

now