Beyond the Headlines

Falling through the cracks

Posted: Apr 23, 2013 1:32 PM ET Last Updated: Apr 23, 2013 1:32 PM ET

Nova Scotia's justice system is battered and bruised.  

Two high-profile cases, both involving the alleged sexual assault of young people, have sorely tested the public's confidence in both the people who investigate the crimes and the people who prosecute them.

In each case officials are scrambling to restore the public's trust by ordering reviews of how police and prosecutors dealt with the complaints.

The first, of course, is the sad story of Rethaeh Parsons. Facing a tsunami of public pressure -- much of it on social media --  police re-opened their investigation.  The  NDP government is promising an independent review once that investigation is completed.

There are a number of troubling questions that review needs to answer.

Rehtaeh's mother, Leah, says it took police a year to complete their investigation, and it was 10 months before officers took their first statements from the teens allegedly involved. Police won't comment on the specifics of their investigation,  but you have to wonder why it took so long. This wasn't "CSI: Cole Harbour."  Police immediately knew the names of the boys, where they lived and where they went to school.

So why did it take ten months to interview them? Did investigators consider a complaint about sex between a bunch of teens drinking and partying to be a low priority? Or are investigators so overworked that they simply didn't have the time to handle it quickly? Did the long delay affect the quality of evidence they collected - evidence Crown attorneys said wasn't strong enough to obtain a conviction in court?

Another case floundered and finally died this week because of delays that lasted more than ten years.

On Monday, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ruling that quashed 17 convictions of gross indecency and indecent assault against Ernest Fenwick MacIntosh.

The country's top judges ruled the 10 years it took justice officials to finally begin extradition proceedings violated MacIntosh's charter rights to be tried within a reasonable time.

So far, no one has offered any explanation why it took more than a decade to bring MacIntosh back to Canada to face trial.

No one has been able to explain why in 1998, two years after he was charged, Canadian officials suddenly withdrew their application to revoke MacIntosh's passport.

No one has explained why MacIntosh was allowed to fly back and forth from New Delhi to Montreal, without anyone attempting to arrest him.

No one has explained why the completed extradition documents sat on someone's desk in Ottawa for five years -- from 2001 to 2006 --  before the formal request was made to India to extradite MacIntosh.

The men who came forward to accuse MacIntosh of sexually abusing them as boys are demanding a public inquiry. So are the province's opposition parties.

Following the Supreme Court of Canada ruling, Martin Herschorn, Nova Scotia's Director of Public Prosecutions, ordered an internal review of how the case was handled. But given the years that have gone by, the records that have been lost, and the number of government agencies involved, both provincial and federal, it's doubtful that review will produce the answers MacIntosh's alleged victims deserve.

As one complainant described it to the CBC, they believe they have  "fallen through the cracks" of the justice system.

Unfortunately, there is a growing perception among many in Nova Scotia, that they are not alone.
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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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