ALBERTA

Alberta Sexual Assault Charges Dropped, Alberta Justice Explains Case Dropped Due To Court Delays

11/02/2012 03:22 EDT | Updated 01/02/2013 05:12 EST
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CALGARY - Alberta's premier says she won't rush to judgment about a decision to dismiss charges against a man accused of sexually assaulting a girl because the case took three years to go to trial.

The case involves a 27-year-old woman who says she was sexually assaulted by her former stepfather from age nine until she was 17. She came forward six years later and charges were laid in September 2009.

The Opposition Wildrose raised the case Thursday in the legislature, blaming the judge's decision on a shortage of Crown prosecutors.

"I am pleased the MLA raised this issue," Redford told reporters Friday in Calgary. "If someone has been impacted we want to make sure we know the full facts.

Redford said she has asked a high-ranking Justice official to look into the case.

"I'm not going to make any more comments on this because I don't think it's appropriate right now for this to be considered a political issue," she added.

Greg Lepp, associate deputy minister of justice, said the judge's decision to dismiss the charges cannot be appealed. He said delays were caused by bad weather, illness prevented witnesses from attending court and new evidence came forward.

"The charges are finished and there is no way of breathing life back into them," Lepp said Friday from Edmonton.

"The prosecutor who was responsible for this case did not disagree with the defence that it had taken too long. And in the final result, the Crown did not oppose the application to have the charges terminated because that is what the law provided."

Under the Charter of Rights an accused has the right to a trial within a reasonable amount of time.

The girl's mother said Thursday her daughter is very upset that charges have been dropped.

"She was very angry. She wanted to go out and help other people and tell them the right thing to do is to go to court and charge these people, don't let them get away with it. And now what can she tell them? She's devastated. What does she do now?"

Lepp said the delays shouldn't have happened and the alleged victim has a right to be frustrated. He added that the government is conducting a review in the hope that it doesn't happen again.

He also said a shortage of prosecutors had nothing to do with the charges being dismissed.

"I really hope the public doesn't conclude from this result that we don't take these allegations as seriously as we should," he said.

"This is very disappointing for the prosecution service. We prosecute tens of thousands of criminal charges a year. A very, very small number end up like this one did."

Redford said she doesn't see a need to have an independent investigation into the matter outside of government.

"At this point in time we're all sort of speculating on what the circumstances are. Until we know what those circumstances are, there is nothing that we should take further steps on."

Redford wouldn't comment on the circumstances of the case but said she is proud of the work the Alberta government has done in making communities safer.

"That is so important to me, to make sure vulnerable people are not being sexually exploited or sexually abused."

— With files from John Cotter in Edmonton.

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