VICTORIA - B.C.'s children's representative says one of the most horrific cases of child sexual abuse she's ever come across was thrown out of court when police and Crown officials bungled providing critical translated evidence to court.
The shocking case was revealed Thursday in a report by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, entitled "The Impact of Criminal Justice Funding Decisions on Children in British Columbia."
She said 13 sex abuse-related charges against a father were stayed in January 2010 even though family members reported the alleged incidents to authorities, provided evidence and were prepared to testify.
"These were 13 very serious criminal charges and in the scale of sexual and physical abuse cases against children, this was among the most serious that I've seen in my entire career: serious sexual violence against a child," Turpel-Lafond said in an interview.
The father was charged with five counts of assault, three counts of threatening, and one count each of assault with a weapon, touching a young person for sexual purpose, sex assault, incest and public mischief.
Turpel-Lafond's report detailed the case of the family — a husband and wife and six children — who came to Canada in 2005 as refugees. The report does not say where the family came from.
Social workers began working with the family two years later and in 2008, a daughter complained to a school counsellor that she was being sexually and physically abused by her father.
"The daughter told police that her father had repeatedly sexually assaulted her during an eight-month period, including forcing her to engage in anal intercourse and obsessively checking the status of her virginity," Turpel-Lafond wrote.
"She also told police her father had often told her that the sexual abuse was her fault, and that he had to be sure she wasn't doing anything 'bad' with anyone else."
The report said there were allegations that the father forced one of his sons to participate in physical assaults on the daughter, warning that if he didn't make his sister bleed he would be in for a beating.
The mother told police she witnessed sexual assaults on her daughter and when the mother was nine months pregnant with another child, the father beat and stabbed her when she tried to stop an assault on her daughter.
Further, the report said the father threatened to mutilate another daughter and start to abuse her.
Attorney General Shirley Bond said she is deeply concerned the family was denied justice and said she's demanded police and Crown officials take better charge of their cases to ensure a failure to translate evidence into English doesn't prevent a case from going to court.
"I'm incredibly disappointed and devastated by how this file was handled and I wish I could turn back the hands of time — I can't — but what I can do is ensure that in the future this doesn't happen again," she said.
"From our perspective, the decision not to provide those resources was a mistake and in fact both Crown and police have to do a better job at taking leadership on these files," she said.
Turpel-Lafond's report said a $40,000 bill to translate video evidence from the family into English resulted in the charges being stayed. The report said police rejected paying the translation costs and the Crown didn't push hard enough to ensure the evidence was available to the court.
Police requested funding to translate the family interviews to English, but the request was denied, the report found. As well, one month before the final January 2010 court date, police gave the Crown several hours of interview evidence from the father that were provided in two languages other than English, but the interviews sat on an officer's desk.
The report said the Crown told a pre-trial conference that funding requests to translate the father's evidence was also denied.
"The court's judgment does not record an explanation for why funding had been denied," stated Turpel-Lafond's report.
Bond said she has since clearly directed Crown and police to include translation services in their investigations.
"Looking at translation and transcription is not an option," she said. "It is part of operational work that needs to be done. It's the same as looking at fingerprints, those kinds of things."
The RCMP said the translation issue caused financial and time problems, but in hindsight, the Mounties should have ensured the evidence made it to court.
"It's a very regrettable decision and obviously one that in retrospect that we wish simply that we went ahead and made that happen," said RCMP Supt. Paul Richards of from RCMP E Division Criminal Operations.
Provincial court Judge Buller Bennett cited the lack of translation evidence in the Jan. 13, 2010 decision to issue a stay of proceedings in the case after two years of delays.
"I have to add that it is very disturbing that the value of the complainants' sexual, physical and emotional integrity is less than the cost of translation and transcription," Bennett said in her oral judgment in Port Coquitlam, just east of Vancouver.
"Regardless of what happens today in this courtroom, there is a tragedy."
Turpel-Lafond said the family was crushed when told the charges were stayed.
"The immediate response from the mother was, 'who was bribed?'" said Turpel-Lafond. "In their country of origin, bribery is part of their justice system."
Turpel-Lafond said staying charges in sexual assault cases denies victims the opportunity to publicly explain what happened to them.
"They need to have that sense of closure even though it's very difficult and painful to tell the story," she said.
The incident is perhaps the most serious of a string of cases that have been stayed due to unreasonable court delays and Turpel-Lafond is recommending the Justice Ministry increase translation services and more closely track cases involving children.
The Opposition New Democrats said the case is another example of what they said was the government's decision to "starve the justice system."
The B.C. government has appointed a lawyer to find efficiencies in the legal system, with a report due by July.