An NWT jury trial supposed to start on Monday was cancelled after a Covid-19 infection in the defence lawyer’s family stopped him travelling from Edmonton.
Evan McIntyre told officials on Saturday he was experiencing symptoms of the disease, pausing the retrial of a Yellowknife man whose 2017 conviction for sexual assault of a child was overturned last year.
Hundreds of potential jurors were told by the sheriff’s office they need not show up for jury selection.
The accused, who cannot be named to avoid identifying the child, is charged with two counts of sexual assault in connection with allegations of multiple attacks – including rape – from 2003 to 2010, starting when the child was seven.
A jury’s finding of guilt delivered in May 2017, which resulted in a sentence of six and a half years in prison, was overturned in October 2020 by the NWT Court of Appeal.
The appeal court found the accused’s lawyer’s behaviour in “ignoring … instructions and not even attempting to interview an identified, potentially relevant witness was incompetent.”
In NWT Supreme Court on Monday morning, the case went “back on the list,” with McIntyre and the Crown saying they hoped to have potential dates for a new trial by the end of this week.
Court cases in the Northwest Territories are extremely backlogged after repeated postponements since a pandemic-related public health emergency was first declared in 2020.
While the situation is worse in NWT Territorial Court, there are between 75 and 80 pending Supreme Court jury trials.
Concern is rising over the delays as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms calls for those who break the law to be tried in a timely fashion.
NWT chief prosecutor Alex Godfrey told Cabin Radio on Monday the Public Prosecution Service of Canada is aware of the situation and “will make every effort to maintain public confidence in the administration of justice.”
In January, the closure of Yellowknife’s multiplex in the face of rising Covid-19 cases delayed by three weeks the start of another jury trial in a murder and robbery case.
The Crown had to reschedule witnesses. Some 700 potential jurors received new jury duty notices.