Court orders new trial for former B.C. fire chief accused of sexual assault

VANCOUVER - The British Columbia Court of Appeal has ordered a new trial on sexual assault charges for a former fire chief of a small town in central B.C., ruling that the actions of the trial judge could be perceived as being unfair.

The former chief of the Fort St. James Fire Department was charged with three counts of sexual assault relating to three female volunteers with the department.

The trial judge rejected arguments that the man's behaviour and conduct was accepted by members of the fire department.

At the trial, the judge read a section of the Criminal Code on perjury to a witness who was favourable to the defence, and said an RCMP investigation should be launched into the witness's testimony.

The former fire chief later appealed his conviction, arguing those actions led to an unfair trial and a miscarriage of justice.

The three-judge panel in the court of appeal says in a unanimous written decision released Tuesday that based on those actions, the judge could be perceived as being unfair and a new trial has been ordered.

The judge's actions would lead a "reasonable and informed observer" to believe the judge had pre-judged the witness's evidence, writes Justice John Savage.

"That impression of unfairness is not cured by the conduct of the remainder of the trial."

There is a publication ban on some aspects of the case and the former fire chief is identified only by initials in the court of appeal decision.

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