A dangerous driving incident that ended in the eventual death of an elderly woman more than five years ago was to go to trial this fall.
The long delay though, in the end, proved to be the case’s undoing in B.C. Supreme Court in late August.
On Sept. 27, 2014, Margarete Obermann, 91, was badly injured in a head-on collision on Highway 19A between Union Bay and Fanny Bay. Traveling with a friend when the accident occurred, she had to be hospitalized with multiple injuries and remained in hospital where she died three-and-a-half months later.
A driver allegedly involved in the accident, Brandy Dawn Bishop, was later charged with multiple counts related to impaired driving, dangerous driving and causing an accident.
The case had been in the courts for several years, with occasional delays, for example, to obtain new counsel, and there was a preliminary hearing in March 2019 to determine if there was sufficient evidence to go to trial.
The Aug. 27 date in Nanaimo Supreme Court was to have been a pre-trial conference for trial in October. However, Justice Douglas Thompson issued a stay of proceedings on all charges against the accused.
Dan McLaughlin, communications counsel for the B.C. Prosecution Service, said the issue came down to the delay in bringing the matter to trial, which was considered to be constitutionally unreasonable and a breach of Bishop’s charter rights.
In 2016, a well-known case in the Supreme Court of Canada, R v. Jordan, examined the length of time that cases remain in the court system – in that case, the accused was charged for narcotics possession and trafficking in December 2008, but the trial was not concluded until early 2013.
“That’s what set the benchmark for essentially what constitutes a reasonable time for bringing matters to trial,” McLaughlin said.
As a result, cases are to go to trial within 18 months in provincial court or 30 months in superior courts such as B.C. Supreme Court.
Since it was issued, the Jordan decision has affected numerous cases across Canada, with charges being stayed in many cases over trial delays. According to information from the Library of Parliament, there had been more than 1,700 applications for stays of proceedings within roughly the first year of the decision.
In the Bishop case, while the alleged offences took place in 2014, the charges were not sworn until 2016, so any provisions from the Supreme Court of Canada for existing cases were not relevant.
“There were provisions built into the ruling, but it’s apparent they didn’t apply to this case,” McLaughlin said.
Any decision to appeal, he added, would only come after a careful consideration of the facts of the case and of the circumstances in which Crown could initiate an appeal.
‘There is that possibility and we are reviewing the case,” he said. “There’s limits on our grounds for appeal.”