April 21, 2017 4:58 pm
Updated: April 21, 2017 6:01 pm

Trial delays derail ‘extremely serious’ sex assault case against N.S. professor

An "extremely serious" sexual assault case against a Nova Scotia professor has been tossed out due to unreasonable delays.

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A women’s activist expressed outrage Friday after an “extremely serious” sexual assault case against a former Nova Scotia professor was tossed out due to unreasonable delays.

Behrang Foroughi-Mobarakeh was a St. Francis Xavier University professor when he was charged with sexually assaulting a woman in 2014.

In a decision released Thursday, Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Patrick Murray stayed the proceedings against him after the case took three years to go to trial.

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Lucille Harper, executive director of the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre, warned the ruling could discourage survivors of sexual assault from coming forward.

“It reinforces the message that there is no justice within the criminal justice system for survivors of sexualized violence,” she said Friday. “It tells women not to bother coming forward or reporting crimes.”

The decision comes in the wake of a Supreme Court of Canada ruling last July setting strict limits for trial lengths.

The judge blamed the delays in part on the RCMP’s failure to “act on a timely basis,” pointing out it took police two years to send evidence to a forensic lab.

But Harper said the ruling puts the rights of the accused ahead of the victim.

“For three years, this woman’s life was in limbo,” she said. “And now the man that perpetrated this act of violence against her in one of the most invasive and intimate ways is walking away.”

Despite tossing the case, the judge referred to the sexual assault charge against Foroughi-Mobarakeh as “extremely serious.”

He was arrested on March 31, 2014, and charged the next day with sexual assault.

Although Antigonish police seized evidence from his home before releasing him on a recognizance, it took two years for RCMP to send the evidence to a forensic lab in Ottawa for testing, according to a statement of facts included in Murray’s decision.

The delay led to an adjournment of the trial set for last May, as the forensic lab needed more evidence to provide “meaningful results.”

Police were then told to obtain a warrant for more samples but “significant delays” meant the police did not send the evidence to the forensic lab until September.

The judge said the delay in submitting the samples meant the results came back too late for the defence to properly respond and prepare for trial.

“No explanation has been given for the police actions resulting in delay,” Murray said in his decision. “The actions of the police show only that they failed to act on a timely basis, without regard for the law.”

RCMP Cpl. Dal Hutchinson said Friday the Mounties have set up a working group to reduce unnecessary delays in investigations.

“We’re working to make sure situations like this don’t happen again,” he said. “Investigations of this nature are extremely complex. The steps that the investigators took in this situation took longer than any of the justice partners anticipated.”

The judge said in his decision that the Foroughi-Mobarakeh case wasn’t particularly complex.

“I questioned the defence at some length as to the complexity of this case,” Murray said. “Their response is that while aspects of the evidence may be complex, the case itself is not. The Crown agrees the case is not one that is extremely complex.”

Although the judge blamed some delay on the police, there were also issues with disclosure of information, which he said came in “bits and pieces.”

In particular, he noted that the complainant in the case delivered the wrong electronic device to the police. Even after the correct device was given to police, however, it was not immediately searched, he said.

The Supreme Court said cases in superior courts should be heard within 30 months from the date charges are laid until the expected end of the trial.

While the total delay in this case was 38 months, the Crown argued three months was due to the defence’s delay, and the preliminary inquiry led to an extra four-month delay.

As such, the Crown argued that the delay was not unreasonable and the trial should proceed. The judge disagreed, however, and issued the stay of proceedings.

St. Francis Xavier University spokeswoman Cindy MacKenzie said Foroughi-Mobarakeh was an employee in the Adult Education department. He is currently an Arizona State University assistant professor in the School of Community Resources and Development.

© 2017 The Canadian Press

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