Don’t blame police alone on this one

Defence, Crown didn’t view all taped interviews so why is Police Services under such criticism?

Published on August 21, 2014

A Charlottetown Police Services officer sits in his patrol car as he guards the house where the stabbing occurred in this Guardian file photo.

©Guardian photo by Brian McInnis

We hope there was something lost in the translation when a provincial court judge was told this week that police felt the job of transcribing some 30 video statements concerning a court case was too costly or time consuming. It wasn’t just any ordinary case; it involves first-degree murder, a charge rarely coming before any P.E.I. court.

It involves a 17-year-old female and the young offender status makes the case all the more difficult. There has to be a decision made soon if one of the most serious charges in the criminal code will hold up or be reduced, and if the teen will be tried as an adult.

It’s been over five weeks since a 45-year-old Charlottetown man was stabbed to death July 11 on Brow’s Lane in a normally quiet city neighbourhood. And yet the case cannot proceed to the next step because the Crown and defence haven’t seen key evidence yet. It was all too much for an exasperated Provincial Court Judge Nancy Orr.

In the justice system, the written word still holds a paramount place among record keeping, decisions, arguments and the like. For sure, audio and video records are important, but to sit down and listen to them or watch them is time consuming. What lawyer is going to sit down and look at 30 video interviews of witnesses conducted by police? Apparently none involved in this case.

Staffing shortages and time constraints are roadblocks facing the city police department every day. It’s easy to say police are potentially jeopardizing justice in an effort to save money, and Chief Paul Smith feels his department is being unfairly criticized after the court was told about the lack of transcripts for 30 video statements. The judge was astounded while the Crown and defence attorneys were pointing fingers at the police.

Well, the defence lawyer didn’t have time to see all the tapes and it’s his youthful client who is facing first-degree murder. And it seems the Crown didn’t look at them all, so why all the finger pointing at the police who conducted the interviews and know what is on the tapes?

Chief Smith apparently expected the Crown to indicate which were the key tapes and which were the priorities and go from there. Usually, the Crown needs to present enough early evidence to support a charge and have the suspect bound over for trial where the complete evidentiary package would be presented.

Police are hit hard with vacations just like everyone else. There are also operating under budget cuts like everyone else. Perhaps the early court date was too optimistic. Should we call off protection details and escorts for the premiers during their meetings here next week so police can sit before computers terminals and start transcribing? Of course not.

But the date was set and the judge had to assume both sides would be prepared to move forward. If not, why not, and why waste the judge’s time while leaving the youthful suspect still in detention in Summerside?

The accused has the right to fair and speedy process. Are there extenuating circumstances to justify her release pending trial? At first blush it appears the accused is at least stuck in a crack and Judge Orr’s stern words should serve as a wake up call to all concerned.

Judge Orr adjourned the case to this morning, hoping that the appropriate people will make the appropriate decisions concerning the video statements. Maybe the Crown and the provincial department of justice should provide the extra clerical resources in this matter. Police seem to have done the best they could to this point.