October 26, 2016 3:58 pm
Updated: October 27, 2016 7:11 pm

‘Murderers will be released’: Canadian senator describes justice system in crisis

WATCH ABOVE: A Canadian senator says our justice system needs an overhaul and warns hundreds of criminals could walk free because of “unreasonable delays” in the court process. Experts say the floodgates have been opened, and if changes aren’t made soon, justice could be lost in thousands of cases. Nancy Hixt reports.

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A Canadian senator says the justice system needs an overhaul and warns hundreds of criminals could walk free because of “unreasonable delays” in the court process.

“We cannot continue with a system of justice in Canada in which a murderer is released without going to trial when undoubtedly the person committed the crime,” Senator George Baker told Global News.

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READ MORE: Only one-third of recently appointed Alberta justices have a criminal law background

Baker is the chair of a standing committee focusing on court delays and the impact of R. vs. Jordan, a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision. The committee has been holding meetings across the country interviewing judges to get a better understanding of the state of the system.

“You have hundreds — perhaps thousands of cases — of murderers, people who have committed very serious crimes, that are just going to be released because the court system is not operating fairly and is violating the constitutional requirements of Canada.”

The Jordan decision set new rules for how long a case can take from start to finish. Any applications citing the ruling are now called “Jordan applications.”

“In essence, the floodgates are open for any accused person now that we know specific time periods to work from that,” former prosecutor and criminal defence lawyer Balfour Der said.

Already in Alberta, a first-degree murder case has been thrown out after it took more than five years to go to trial.

READ MORE: Alberta murder case thrown out over trial delays; experts warn system on verge of collapse 

A sexual assault case has been thrown out in Fort McMurray — also because of “unreasonable delays”.

Two other murder cases are now at risk in the province: one is the 2014 murder of Susan Elko. Scott Monroe Ferguson has been ordered to stand trial for second-degree murder, however his lawyer has now filed a Jordan application.

The other is the Calgary case of three men convicted in the swarming death of 18-year-old Lukas Strasser-Hird.

“These people are guilty and it was a savage, brutal, merciless killing and what we’re talking about is letting them get away with it because it took too long,” Strasser-Hird’s father Dale Hird said.

READ MORE: Convicted killers in swarming death of Lukas Strasser-Hird make new bid for freedom 

His son was beaten, kicked and stabbed to death outside of a downtown Calgary bar on Nov. 23, 2013.

Hird thought he would finally find some peace last June when the jury convicted three people in the case. But the three defence lawyers have since filed to have the convictions thrown out, citing unreasonable delays.

Hird has an app on his phone that flashes “1066” days—the amount of time that’s gone by since his only son was killed.

With every day that goes by before the three are sentenced, he worries justice could be stolen away.

“It’s scary the Supreme Court can make a ruling like this knowing full well the avalanche it’s going to cause,” Hird said.

Just how many accused will walk free because of “unreasonable delays” remains to be seen.

READ MORE: 3 Alberta sex assault cases rescheduled for 2017 due to judge shortage

The Senate committee has found the problem is the worst in Quebec and Alberta—compounded by a shortage of judges.

“A great deal of it has to do with bringing the matter into modern times, in other words, start scheduling things like hospitals do,” Baker said. “They don’t have empty operating rooms.

“It takes ten times longer in Canada to hear a similar criminal trial than it does in Australia. Ten times longer…why? Well that’s what our report is trying to get to the bottom of.”

Baker said they will be making recommendations. He said the courts need to be prepared to institute the changes immediately.

“As every day goes on there are more persons being released without a trial taking place…very serious crimes, and it’s going to get worse,” Baker said.

The committee will release a comprehensive report on court delays in 2017, but will be recommending action be taken based on an interim report that’s already been published.

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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