CODE COVID: What the pandemic has taught us about long-term care
SaltWire Selects: Stories you don't want to miss
What you need to know about COVID-19 today
Continuing coverage: Mass shooting in Nova Scotia
Business Tool Kit 2021
Have you heard about the SaltWire News app?
Daily forecasts and weather facts from Cindy Day
The Heroes of 2020
Judicial reform needed now, say demonstrators outside the court as Doug Snelgrove is arraigned once again
Just about every day for the past 10 days, Heather Elliott has taken to the steps of the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court building on Duckworth Street for at least a couple of hours. At this point her knees aren’t happy with her, but that, she says, is what Advil is for.
On Monday morning, Elliott was joined by a dozen other demonstrators, lining up with handmade signs in a silent call for judicial reform as inside the courthouse RNC Const. Doug Snelgrove was arraigned for a third time on a charge of sexual assault.
Snelgrove, 43, is charged with sexually assaulting a woman while he was on duty in St. John’s in 2014. He has pleaded not guilty and originally went to trial in 2017, when a jury acquitted him. The Crown appealed and the province’s Court of Appeal — and later the Supreme Court of Canada — ruled the trial judge had erred in her instructions to the jury by not explaining to them a part of the law pertaining to consent, specifically, the fact that a person cannot legally give consent to sexual activity to someone in a position of power, trust or authority if that someone abused their position to induce it.
Snelgrove’s acquittal was overturned and a new trial was ordered, and took place last month. It ended with a mistrial after a second judge erred: instead of dismissing two alternate jurors by drawing random numbers before sequestering the jury to begin verdict deliberations, he told jurors No. 13 and No. 14 they were free to leave.
"Tthe No. 1 trend right across the board is how many people don’t report (they have been assaulted) because they don’t believe the justice system is going to do anything." — Heather Elliott
Monday morning, Snelgrove didn’t attend his arraignment in person but was represented by one of his lawyers, Jon Noonan.
“We’d like a trial date as soon as possible. We’re ready to go ASAP,” prosecutor Lloyd Strickland told Chief Justice Raymond Whalen.
Whalen offered Nov. 30 and Dec. 7 as possible dates for the two-week jury trial, but Noonan indicated he and co-counsel Randy Piercey would be tied up with other trials until the end of February. Snelgrove’s trial was set for March 29, 2021.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the court has only one space available for jury trials in St. John’s: the former School for the Deaf, which the court has rented as a temporary auxiliary building, since it offers enough space to allow trials to proceed while maintaining social distancing and abiding by other public-health directives. A number of trials are scheduled to happen there between now and March.
Upon learning the new trial date, Elliott and others outside the courthouse expressed their frustration at the delay, and concern for the complainant in the case. Having testified at Snelgrove’s two trials and a preliminary hearing, the woman, 27, is set to take the stand for the fourth time.
“It’s one thing to know that you have a trial date coming up where you’re going to have to face this all over again, but it’s another thing to have to wait until next year to have to go in front of the court. That puts a lot of additional strain on her that shouldn’t happen," Elliott said.
“Every time she has to retell this story it’s another moment she doesn’t get to move forward in her life.”
Bearing signs with sayings such as, “Third time’s the charm should not apply to rape trials,” “Do better,” and, “This is why we don’t report,” the demonstrators waved at passing drivers who beeped their support, and thanked passersby for their encouragement. Another public rally, organized by others, is planned for Confederation Building today at 2:30 p.m.
Elliott said judicial reform and a trauma-centred approach by the courts are desperately needed.
“I’ve talked to so many survivors and victims of sexual assault in the last 10 days that I’ve been standing out here and the Number 1 trend right across the board is how many people don’t report because they don’t believe the justice system is going to do anything,” she said. “If your job is literally to help us when we are wronged, but no one thinks you can do that? The justice system has a big problem on its hands.”