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Alberta Relatives of woman, girl killed in Calgary raise concerns about court delays

Surrounded by family members of murder victims Sara Baillie and her daughter Taliyah Marsman, MPs Michelle Rempel, centre, and Michael Cooper, centre left, take part in a news conference about federal judicial vacancies in Calgary on March 3, 2018.

Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press

The family of a mother and daughter who were killed in Calgary nearly two years ago has raised concerns the case could be jeopardized by court delays.

Scott Hamilton, a relative of Sara Baillie and five-year-old Taliyah Marsman, has sponsored a petition calling on Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to immediately fill vacancies on the bench.

“We will be attending a trial 29 months after the alleged murderer was charged with the murders of Sara and Taliyah,” he said Tuesday in Calgary. “We are entitled to trials without undue delay.”

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the justice system can do better, he said.

“Let’s see you do better. Let’s see the minister of justice do better.”

Ms. Baillie, 34, was found dead in her home on July 11, 2016. Taliyah’s body was found days later in a rural area east of the city.

Edward Downey is charged with first-degree murder and is scheduled to stand trial Nov. 26 – one month shy of the time limit set out by the Supreme Court.

The top court said in its 2016 Jordan decision that those charged with a criminal offence have the right to have their cases tried within a reasonable time – 18 months in provincial court and 30 months in Superior Court.

Hundreds of cases have since been thrown out and governments have been under pressure to deal with the backlog.

As of last month, there were 56 vacancies for federally appointed judges across Canada.

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Conservative MPs Michelle Rempel and Michael Cooper said the Trudeau government is failing victims of crime and their families. Ms. Rempel said the family of Ms. Baillie and her daughter approached her with concerns that Mr. Downey’s case could be thrown out.

“Every day that the government drags their feet increases the pressure on our courts, adds stress to victims and their families and allows the opportunities for those accused of serious crimes to have their cases stayed or dismissed,” she said, standing alongside Hamilton.

Mr. Cooper is calling on the Commons justice committee to examine the issue.

“The failure of the minister to fill judicial vacancies in a timely manner is not only an abdication of her responsibilities as minister of justice, it is completely inexcusable in light of the Jordan decision,” said Mr. Cooper.

Mr. Hamilton said it’s too late for Ms. Rempel and Mr. Cooper’s efforts to help his family.

“However, with enough support we can all assist families of victims in the future,” he said.

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Liberal MP Marco Mendicino, parliamentary secretary to Ms. Wilson-Raybould, said the Trudeau government has made 160 federal judicial appointments since it took office in 2015 and 100 of those were in 2017 alone.

He said appointments are made as quickly as possible.

“But we also have to be prudent because these are important positions within the court system and we place a lot of faith and confidence in our judges and we have to be sure they’re the right people.”

Mr. Mendicino suggested more jobs will be filled soon.

“Expect some news in the very, very short term, particularly as it relates to the province of Alberta.”

Gavin Wolch, the lawyer defending Mr. Downey, said everyone involved in the case is doing their best to move it along and the trial is on track to wrap up within the Jordan time frame.

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“Our intention is to defend him in a courtroom, where he will have his day in court and people will decide his fate based on evidence, not on tag lines in press conferences.”

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