The man accused of shooting and killing a puppy on Quadra Island will find out Wednesday if charges will be dropped due to ongoing trial delays.
The high-profile case of Cody Wellard also illustrates the serious lack of court time in Campbell River due to a lack of judges.
“There used to be two sitting judges here to take care of these things,” said Judge Peter Doherty who normally serves the Comox Valley, but is frequently sitting in Campbell River.
Wellard, 33, has pleaded not guilty to shooting the 14-week-old Jack Russell pup in September 2008 and careless use of a firearm. The case is slated for trial on May 25, but Wellard and his lawyer were in Campbell River provincial court on Monday, asking the judge for a judicial stay of proceedings.
Defence lawyer James Hormoth told the court that Wellard lost his job and has faced threats and intimidation as a result of the charges and the extensive media coverage of the case.
Hormoth also said the lengthy delays has prejudiced Wellard and he should be entitled to have the charges dropped, citing decisions from the Supreme Court of Canada.
But Crown prosecutor David Fitzsimmons disagreed. He said Wellard can still offer a defence, “regardless of the passage of time,” and the trial should go on because it’s something the public wants.
“It’s a case people care about,” Fitzsimmons said.
The charges stem from a Sept. 13, 2008, incident on Quadra Island. According to the RCMP report, on Sept. 13, 2008, two hunters were walking through a partially-wooded residential area on south Quadra Island, when a Jack Russell puppy from a nearby residence approached them. It is alleged that Wellard shot the pup and then fled the island.
The dog, Seymour, belonged to Max Rose, a 12-year-old cancer survivor. The boy and his father, Nick Rose, were cutting wood nearby when they heard a shotgun blast and then found their dying dog.
Three days later, Wellard turned himself in at the Westshore RCMP detachment near Victoria. According to police, Wellard said the shooting was an accident, but he was subsequently charged.
Wellard’s first trial, expected to last two to three days, was scheduled for August 2009. However, Wellard was granted an adjournment so he could spend time with his partner who was in hospital following the pre-mature birth of their child.
The trial was rescheduled for June 24, 2010. On that day, both the Crown and the defence were ready to proceed, but the judge was not.
Judge John Joe is a part-time judge who doesn’t sit on the bench for the summer months and for just two months in the fall.
He only had one day left in Campbell River and wasn’t prepared to hear just part of the evidence, leave for several months, hear the remaining evidence and then render a decision.
Judge Joe said the delay was an imposition on everyone involved in the case, but adjournments are a “part of doing business” in B.C.’s provincial court system, he said.
As a result, the only time available was in May 2011, a delay of 11 months which Fitzsimmons called “troubling” at Monday’s hearing. He also pointed out it is virtually impossible to “fast track” cases in Campbell River due to a lack of judges.
Another prominent Campbell River defence lawyer, Doug Marion, said the delays go beyond a lack of judges, citing cutbacks to court registry employees and sheriffs, and too few Crown prosecutors. Speaking outside the courtroom, Marion said he’s had charges stayed on at least six cases in the last two months, all due to court delays.
“The judges made significant comments about the state of the judicial system. In my view, the public needs to be alerted that there’s a malaise setting in,” Marion told the Mirror.
Nick Rose is also troubled by the ongoing delays in the Wellard case. During a phone interview on Monday, he said his son has been patiently waiting for justice which he may never get.
“It’s a joke – the system doesn’t serve the victim,” he said. “This is a mockery of the law.”
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