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  • Invisible Hostages of the Canadian Criminal Legal System:

    16th June 2013 – Invisible Hostages of the Canadian Criminal Legal System:

    If you are a victim of a violent crime1, and if you want to find justice, you will need to look in the dictionary. You won’t find it within the walls of the Canadian courtroom.

    On the 30th May 2013, after another full day spent meandering through the labyrinth of the Alberta criminal court house on 5th Street SW, Heather and I are hopefully one step closer to a deeper understanding of the Canadian criminal legal system despite the extreme levels of government secrecy, distortion and the occasional lie.

    The general public always needs to remember that the government lacks transparency, accountability and has limitless financial power.

    Why are we attending court sessions? Because of this lack of transparency and without correct information we cannot formulate true opinions and we will never really know what is happening.

    We - the victim - are putting a compassionate face to the courtroom where currently very little exists.

    On this day the first court session for the accused’s 3 charges was held in courtroom 306, Provincial Criminal Court, between 9 AM and 2 PM. This courtroom is a general docket courtroom used for general criminal cases where individuals have been apprehended for a crime and subsequently released. These cases range widely from domestic violence, shop lifting, DUI, assault, murder and are still under the umbrella of CMO (Court Case Management).

    There were 29 scheduled cases on the docket plus 3 individuals who appeared with no legal representation, putting the total of cases at 32.

    For 27 of these cases, there was no representative crown prosecutor; the attending crown was a young woman who sat at the computer and as each defense attorney stepped up to the podium to state his/her case, she pulled the corresponding crown’s case up on the screen and then stood to address the judge on behalf of the crown. This crown prosecutor was very adversarial, bordering on downright nasty. She kept duty counsel on his toes!

    Of the 32 cases that day, 22 of them did not arrive at a solution - they ended with the defense attorney’s asking for a new court date or throwing the case back to CMO; 2 cases were a “no-show”; 8 cases were brought to conclusion.

    The 2 “no-show” cases were cases represented by defense attorney, Ian Savage who was the accused’s legal representative to stand in court on their behalf. The accused did not have to attend. One of these cases was the 3 lesser charges against the person charged with manslaughter in the BLMC.

    Ian Savage didn’t show up for this court appointed session nor did he notify the court he wasn’t coming. At 1:30 the attending prosecutor sent him an email and, after receiving no response, the judge adjourned the court. By 1:45 the courtroom was vacated by all, including Madame Clerk.

    Had we not been in attendance at this session, we would never have known this. Instead Colin Schulhauser told us quite a different story, twice, later in the day.

    There are two highlights that stand out from our court attendance that day:

    1. The crown doesn’t take “no show” attendance lightly; if an accused or his representative doesn’t attend his court appointed time (9-2) at 2 o’clock, a warrant is automatically issued for the accused’s arrest.

    2. 75% of the above mentioned cases were defense attorney’s playing the “we are not ready yet” game or the “we have not received disclosure yet” game. We need more time.

    And now onto courtroom 507; same date; 2 PM – 5 PM. Courtroom 507 on Thursday afternoon is reserved for pre “preliminary hearing” examinations.

    At this time, on this date, there were 16 cases to be heard, with the BLMC being one of them. The junior crown prosecutor, Colin Schulhauser, arrived on time and took about 10 minutes to organize himself. Looking around the courtroom, he spotted Heather and me sitting in the back bench. About 2:10, he approached us and asked us “Did you just get here?”

    “No, we’ve been here since 9 o’clock in courtroom 306” was our response.

    Once he recovered from his initial shock, he told us he couldn’t attend the aforementioned session as he was busy. He then asked us what happened. We informed him that Ian Savage was the legal representative for 2 cases and he never showed up for either one of them nor did he notify the court as such.

    At this point, Mr. Schulhauser left 507 informing us he was going down to 306 to find out what happened. Upon his return from 306, he told us that Ian Savage contacted him at 2:05.

    Ian Savage finally appeared in 507 about 2:45 at which time both counsels held a hushed discussion. I believe it was at this side-bar discussion that Mr. Schulhauser informed Ian Savage that the victim’s mother and daughter were in the courtroom – sitting at the back.

    They both approached the podium and dealt first with the 3 lesser charges against the accused. The defense requested 10 months to prepare for this trial, which was granted. Mr. Schulhauser left the courtroom, going to the CMO office to book the Trial date (in DUI cases, no preliminary trial is necessary) for the 14th March 2014 in courtroom 1007.

    Upon his return, both attorneys again approached the podium to address the BLMC.

    Ian Savage argued that he could not possibly be ready for the Preliminary Hearing for at least 10 months. He stated that this charge was very serious, he had 8 civilian witnesses to interview, he still had autopsy reports to peruse, etc.

    Mr. Schulhauser was not adversarial and didn’t challenge him on any point:

    1. Schulhauser didn’t argue that the defense already had 10 months to peruse full disclosure documents (except for the autopsy reports);

    2. Schulhauser didn’t argue or press the judge for a reasonable time for the Preliminary Hearing date of August or September 2013 (which there was court time available for);

    3. Schulhauser didn’t ask of the judge to allow 3-4 months for the defense to peruse the autopsy reports;

    4. Schulhauser didn’t argue that the defense already had 10 months to interview the civilian witnesses.

    5. There was no mention of the non-civilian witnesses, such as the police.

    The judge agreed with the defense and Ian Savage left for CMO to book the Preliminary Hearing date of 1-4 April 2014.

    Heather and I left about 3:30 after speaking with Mr. Schulhauser. Since the courtroom was too noisy and other cases were being dealt with, once home, I called him at 4:25. I asked him why Mr. Savage did not show up for his first court session. Mr. Schulhauser said: my guess, he had a trial out of town.

    My next question to Mr. Schulhauser was because of this indiscretion, will a warrant be issued for the arrest of the accused.

    Schulhauser was adamant he was in contact with Ian Savage before 2 o’clock. So therefore, no arrest warrant will be issued. I was so stunned by his statement, I never challenged him on it, instead went on to my third question. Was an official Election and an official plea entered today and the answer was yes. In the BLMC, it took 13 court sessions for this stage to officially happen.

    Mr. Schulhauser was very duplicitous with us that day.

    For clarification, I want to kindly remind the reader that I have not nor am I currently asking any questions about the facts or data of the actual case. I have only ever been inquiring about the machinations of the criminal legal system as it pertains to the manslaughter case.

    Brian’s family and friends are being held as invisible hostages of the Canadian criminal legal system. Having to wait almost a year for a preliminary hearing and who know how many years for the actual trial, holds everyone’s life in limbo.

    Brian’s parents (of whom I am one) will be well into their early 70’s; there are friends and family who witnessed the actual death; there are friends and family who watched him go into medical distress in the parking lot; there are friends and family who witnessed the aftermath of head trauma in the hospital. Many people are being held hostage.

    And potentially, now the years of waiting for trial caused by the deficiencies of the Canadian Criminal Legal system, seems like another form of brutalization to victims of violent crimes.

    Author: Angela Ludwig.

    NOTES:

    1 Definition of victim: If a person dies because of a violent crime, direct victims are described as: “The deceased and his/her parents, children, spouse, common-law-spouse, brothers and sisters.”

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