B.C. Mega Trials Funnelling Through B.C. Criminal Courts

  • April 19, 2012

Source: The Huffington Post
Byline: The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER - The six accused are escorted by sheriffs into Vancouver's newly renovated Courtroom 67, each walking to his designated seat while rubbernecking at the few spectators in the gallery.

The men — several shaved bald with arms so big they don't touch their sides — sit with their wide backs to the thick Plexiglas separating them from the gallery.

They are sitting in the city's newest high-security courtroom, built at a cost of almost $3 million, to accommodate one of four high-profile mega trials clogging Metro Vancouver's court system for the next year.

B.C. Crown prosecutors' spokesman Neil MacKenzie didn't want to comment about the specific cases because they're before the court or are about to go to trial.

But he said the prosecutors' office is working on producing a major case-management model that incorporates what members have learned in other large trials, such as the Robert Pickton serial-murder investigation.

He said the model looks at such issues as staffing, the prosecution team, administrative support, technical staff and plans and practices for disclosing information to defence lawyers.

"I guess it goes without saying that the larger the case, the more complicated the prosecution is, so the more detailed the planning has to be," he said.

The trials come at a time when B.C.'s courts are in crisis, with cases being dismissed because they’ve taken too long to be heard due to stretched resources. Meanwhile, federal tough-on-crime legislation is expected to increase the number of offenders being pushed into the system.

Paul Pearson, co-chair of the criminal section of the Canadian Bar Association, B.C. Division, said indictments that have many accused and hundreds of different charges could be a recipe for disaster.

Pearson has no connection to the four mega-trials.

"The larger the apparatus, the more likely it's going to break down. The reality is we can only expect so much out of our jurors to be sitting and spending their lives judging cases."

MacKenzie said a single large case can be a more efficient use of resources, rather than breaking up a case and litigating the same issues in several trials.

The case underway in the new fish-bowl of high security in Courtroom 67 is set to go to trial in September. It features a darkly colourful group of characters including a former wrestling champ known as both Johnny K-9 and Bruiser Bedlam.

In real life, Ion or Jon Croitoru is charged — along with Daniel Russell, Barzan Tilli-Choli, Karwan Saed, Dilun Heng and Young Sung Lee — of conspiring to murder Jonathan, Jarrod and Jamie Bacon and their Red Scorpion gang associates.

Police allege the accused men are linked to the rival United Nations gang.

Outside the courtroom, sheriffs run bags through airport-like security while spectators walk through metal detectors and are checked over again by another sheriff with a handheld metal detector.

All four massive trials are alleged to have some kind of gang connection to either the Red Scorpions, the UN gang, the Greeks or the Sanghera crime group. Some of the charges stem from arrests during a gang war in the Vancouver area that resulted in brazen executions of gang members and innocent bystanders.

Also in September, the trial into the deaths of six people in Surrey, B.C., is set to begin in September in a high security courtroom in New Westminster, B.C.

Jamie Bacon, Matt Johnson, Cody Haevischer and Michael Le all face first degree murder charges in connection to the deaths, including a young man who lived in the apartment across the hall and a fireplace repairman. Sephon Sek faces a manslaughter charge in connection to the same case.

A murder and manslaughter trial started last April in Vancouver's other high-security courtroom involving five members of an alleged gang from Vernon, B.C., a group the police dubbed The Greeks. The jury has been told the case would take about year. It's being conducted in the same courtroom where multi-millions were spent for the trial of two accused terrorists in the Air India case.

Up a few floors in the same courthouse, five alleged members of the so-called Sanghera crime group face a raft of charges.

Boby, Navdip, and Savdip Sanghera, along with Charanjit Rangi and Jaspreet Virk, are accused of a variety of weapons charges ranging from possessing prohibited weapons, occupying a vehicle knowing there was a firearm inside and failing to comply with a recognizance order.

Such trials require a massive effort and organization by the courts, the Crown, defence lawyers and legal aid.

Pearson said the prosecution decides when to link charges, usually because it wants to see a consistent end result among co-accused and so the Crown must only produce evidence and run a trial once.

"This, unfortunately, has the effect of having sometimes five, six, eight, 10 people on trial, each of which will have specific issues they'll want to deal with, and while that specific issue for that specific accused is being dealt with, everyone else is sort of sitting around waiting."

Pearson said he isn't sure why more cases like this are going through the court, but said the Crown might believe that if it has cases such as alleged criminal conspiracies they might want to put all the accused on trial at the same time.

"But from my perspective we should be using really good judgment on whether we're trying to stretch too far and create a trial that is just too unwieldy and collapses under it's own weight."