Clock is ticking on high profile B.C. Interior murder cases while courts contend with pandemic | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Clock is ticking on high profile B.C. Interior murder cases while courts contend with pandemic

B.C.'s courts are trying to find new ways to conduct business as restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic drag on.
April 23, 2020 - 7:00 AM

A year ago, John Brittain was arrested and later charged with four counts of murder after four people were found dead in two different locations in Penticton.

According to the law, he must be brought to trial within 30 months or a prosecution could be lost under the principle of “justice delayed is justice denied.”

The clock keeps ticking despite the fact B.C.'s court system is crippled along with most institutions under pandemic precautions and no one we contacted in government could offer any assurances about high profile trials meeting those deadlines or what plans courts have to expand the cases it will consider under these precautions.

“We don’t know at this point what future plans will be and we are not speaking to it at this time,” said Ministry of Attorney General spokesperson Tyler Hooper in an email.

He suggested something could change in coming weeks but couldn’t be more specific.

Courthouses have been closed and judges are only hearing “urgent” family matters and some criminal matters including some bail hearings.

B.C. Prosecutions Service communications counsel Dan McLaughlin said in an email the office was making every effort to ensure the constitutional rights of accused persons to fair and timely trials are met to the greatest extent possible in light of the current situation.

He said he wouldn't speculate on how the delays to trials caused by the current health crisis will ultimately be assessed by the courts.

"There is little doubt the pandemic will have the effect of creating a backlog of cases when courts resume normal service,” he said in the email.

McLaughlin said a number of the most high profile criminal matters before the courts in Kamloops and Okanagan cities have recently been adjourned to May or June when dates for the next steps in those matters will be set.

Those cases include Brittain, who is due back in court May 14 for an application to change where his trial will be held.

It also includes Thomas Kruger-Allen who was arrested and charged after a heinous assault on a stranger in Penticton that had life-altering injuries on the victim. He is due back in court June 8, 2020.

In West Kelowna, Kevin Costin is facing a murder charge after his wife was found dead in a burned home and is due back in court May 19, 2020.

In Kelowna, Ryan Watt, Joshua Fleurant, Jared Jorgenson are due back in court June 22 for charges of murder 20-year-old Michael Bonin from Prince George while Tejwant Danjou is supposed to be back in court May 19 to fix his next date for trial on a charge murdering his girlfriend.

In Kamloops, Nathan Townsend, Jaden Eustache, Darian Rohel, John Davis and Sean Scurt are scheduled to make an appearance for second degree murder in the death of Troy Gold, June 22, 2020.

British Columbia courts are trying to expand their capacity to hear cases but so far, it's a work in progress.

The provincial court of British Columbia said in a recent statement it was working on a plan for how to proceed in an uncertain future.

“We are working on expanding the types of matters that can be heard, while ensuring we continue to protect public health,” B.C. Chief Judge Melissa Gillespie said April 17.

She said the court’s present ability to make greater use of technology is limited by system capacity and investment, data security and legislation, but even with current constraints “we anticipate being able to increase court operations in a staged approach, particularly as our video and audio conferencing ability grows.”

She said the court has reached out to lawyers’ organizations and government to assist in developing a plan to hear trials in a way that respects physical distancing requirements and protects participants by using various ‘low-tech’ measures in courtrooms.

Since regular operations of court were suspended March 25, people have been strongly discouraged from attending any courthouse, even though the province’s courts remain open.


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