R. v. Vassell(Constitutional law — Charter of Rights — Right to be tried within reasonable time)

On appeal from a judgment of the Alberta Court of Appeal (Watson, Rowbotham and O’Ferrall JJ.A.), 2015 ABCA 409.

V was charged along with six other individuals for possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking. The Crown prosecuted the seven accused jointly but eventually proceeded to trial against V alone. The delay to trial was over three years. V applied for a stay of proceedings due to the delay. The trial judge dismissed the application and convicted V. A majority of the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal.

Held (7-0): Held: The appeal should be allowed, the conviction set aside and a stay of proceedings entered.

V’s right to be tried within a reasonable time under s. 11(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was infringed. When a s. 11(b) violation is raised, courts must be careful not to miss the forest for the trees. In this case, V waited three years for a three-day trial. Significantly, he did not cause any of the delay; rather, he took proactive steps throughout to have his case tried as soon as possible. Despite his efforts, substantial delay was caused by his co-accused, and the inability of the system to provide earlier dates. In these circumstances, a more proactive stance on the Crown’s part was required. The Crown chose to prosecute all seven accused jointly, as it was entitled to do. But having done so, it was required to remain vigilant that its decision not compromise their s. 11(b) rights. V’s trial was adjourned twice, and the Crown and the system failed to respond proactively enough to these adjournments to avoid unreasonable delay.

Reasons for judgment: Moldaver J. (Cromwell, Karakatsanis, Wagner, Gascon, Côté and Brown JJ. concurring)

Neutral Citation: 2016 SCC 26

Docket Number: 36792