It's still rare for criminal cases to be dropped over court delays in Manitoba.

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This article was published 20/4/2018 (1274 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It's still rare for criminal cases to be dropped over court delays in Manitoba.

Nearly two years after a Supreme Court decision cracked down on delays and set new trial timelines that forced courts across Canada to figure out ways to speed up the process, less than seven per cent of unreasonable delay arguments have been successful in the province.

Of 76 delay motions filed by defence lawyers in Manitoba since the July 2016 ruling known as the Jordan decision, only five have resulted in charges being stayed, according to Manitoba Justice. Seven delay motions — two of them in murder cases — are still pending before the court, but that could just be the tip of the iceberg now that it's been more than 18 months since the Supreme Court's decision was released, said Scott Newman, spokesman for the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association of Manitoba.

The decision, named after a B.C. man named Barrett Richard Jordan who waited more than five years for his trial to wrap up on drug and weapons charges, set an 18-month deadline for criminal trials in provincial court and a 30-month deadline for superior court trials such as those held in Manitoba's Court of Queen's Bench. There was a transition period for cases that were already going through court when the new deadlines came into effect, but this month marked the first time in the province a criminal case was stayed under the rules set out in the Jordan decision.

"We’re in a position right now where we’re seeing the tip of the iceberg. Only starting in January are we seeing that 18-month window hit. We know that courts and Crown attorneys are now very alive to Jordan, as are defence counsel. Nobody wants to see cases thrown out because they took too long, but we also don’t want to lose sight of the fact that an 18-month trial shouldn’t be seen as acceptable either. The goal should be to have trials resolved in a far timelier fashion than that," Newman said.

"Barely constitutional shouldn’t be what we’re aiming for here."

On April 10, a Manitoba man accused of several firearm-related offences had his charges dropped because of unreasonable delay. The initial 33 charges against 43-year-old Trevor Ewanochko were laid by RCMP just 18 days before the Supreme Court's decision, but provincial court Judge Lee Ann Martin decided most of the institutional delay — 21 months and 21 days' worth — happened after the new deadlines were set.

There were a variety of reasons for the delay in Ewanochko's case, and just one of the factors was that lawyers had to get permission to move the case from Beausejour to Winnipeg to try to get an earlier court date.

The lawyer who handled Ewanochko's delay motion was previously successful in having chop-shop allegations stayed because of a 42-month-long court process that ended last October. Both cases happened to come out of rural Manitoba, where court doesn't run as frequently as in urban centres. That means getting timely and consecutive trial dates can be a challenge, particularly if the trial is expected to take longer than one or two days.

"In both cases, they ended up in Winnipeg because Winnipeg has enough court resources to do multiple-day trials," said Kyle Morgan, an associate lawyer at Brett Gladstone Law Corporation. "It's hard to get that in a rural jurisdiction."

Still, Morgan said he considers Ewanochko's case an "outlier," and not necessarily a signal of a larger problem.

"I think it's a case where you can't point to one thing that resulted in the overall delay," Morgan said, noting a variety of factors the judge listed in her 20-page decision.

"I don't think it's very common to have delay motions, and even less so that they're successful."

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @thatkatiemay

Katie May

Katie May
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Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.

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