Changes to the Criminal Code of Canada have further complicated an already difficult court case involving a former teacher facing 91 historical sex-related offences.
At issue is whether Michael Patrick McNutt, 66, should be allowed to have a judge determine whether the Crown has sufficient evidence to go to trial, otherwise known as a preliminary inquiry.
“Courts are struggling to understand how we should transition these new rules with existing cases and that’s the essence of this two-week delay that the defence requested,” said Mark Heerema, a Crown attorney.
McNutt was a volunteer coach in the 1980s and was employed as a teacher with the former Halifax Regional School Board until the mid-1990s.
The sex-related offences with which he’s accused date back to the early 1970s and late 1980s.
He also has several civil lawsuits filed against him through Nova Scotia’s Supreme Court that were launched by individual plaintiffs, who claim that McNutt sexually assaulted them while they were under his care, either as students or athletes on teams that he coached.
On Monday, McNutt’s lawyers were supposed to enter a plea for the charges, but instead requested a two-week adjournment to consider how Bill C-75 may impact McNutt’s right to a preliminary inquiry.
Heerema says the window will hopefully provide guidance on how the amendments introduced in the bill affect court cases that are currently in progress.
He adds that some of McNutt’s offences may be entitled to a preliminary inquiry if they carry a penalty of 14 years and that questions around the issue are currently being heard by the Ontario Court of Appeals.
“I think that’s the wisdom in seeking a two-week break today is to ensure that we get the benefit of the Ontario Court of Appeals guidance, if it’s released, because obviously with the amount of charges before the court, we certainly don’t want to encounter any further procedural issues with this case,” Heerema said.
“It’s going to be complicated enough as it is with the amount of charges, so we’re looking to do this carefully and cautiously.”
Bill C-75 was originally introduced by former attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould and includes several amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada, including measures that will strengthen the criminal law’s response to intimate partner violence and improve jury selection to increase impartiality and fairness.
The bill also aimed to improve the efficiency of criminal cases moving to trial, restricting the availability of preliminary inquiries only for offences carrying the most serious of penalties.
That’s where McNutt’s offences may come into play.
“Some questions remain. So, for example, if an offence is for 14 years but on the information there are offences that don’t require punishment of that degree, are they entitled to a preliminary inquiry?” Heerema said
McNuttt didn’t appear in the Dartmouth Provincial courtroom. He is free on conditions and his next appearance is scheduled for Nov. 12.