Court of Appeal Ordered Two Jail Guards to Stand Trial for their Role in Inmate’s Death

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

On March 5, 2014, corrections officers, Leslie Lonsbary (“Lonsbary”) and Stephen Jurkus (“Jurkus”), were charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life following the death of inmate, Adam Kargus (“Kargus”).

Kargus was beaten by his cellmate at the Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre (“EMDC”) and was found dead in a jailhouse shower stall on November 1, 2013.  Anthony George pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison (with no possibility of parole for 10 years) last year for beating Kargus to death.

The Ontario Court of Appeal has recently reversed an earlier decision made by Justice A.K. Mitchell of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.   At that time, charges against the two guards were dismissed as a result of too much time having passed since they were charged.

LOWER COURT DECISION

At the time of Kargus’ beating and subsequent death, Lonsbary and Jurkus were both employed by the Ministry of Correctional Services at EMDC and on duty.

Following a four month investigation by police, the two men were arrested and charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life to Kargus thereby endangering his life contrary to section 215(1)(c) of the Criminal Code of Canada.

In February, 2017, Lonsbary and Jurkus brought an application before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice arguing that their constitutional rights had been infringed due to the delay in bringing their case to trial.

A three week jury trial was scheduled to commence on May 8, 2017. The guards submitted that the delay from arrest to the expected completion date of trial would be 1,178 days or 39.3 months. They attributed the delay to the Crown prosecutor and the court.

Applying the formula for delay as set out by the Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) in the R. v. Jordan (“Jordan”) decision, the lower Court found that the accuseds’ right to be tried within a reasonable period of time was breached. The Court stayed the charges against Lonsbary and Jurkus as the case against them had surpassed the 30-month time limit for trials as set out in the Jordan decision.

WHY IS THE JORDAN DECISION RELEVANT TO THIS CASE?

We have previously blogged about access to justice issues and, more specifically, the commonly criticized length of time it takes for a case to get to trial. The SCC in 2016 set strict time limits for the completion of criminal cases, where there are no exceptional circumstances.

The SCC released its decision in R. v. Jordan on July 8, 2016. In this case, the accused had faced several delays while awaiting his preliminary inquiry and trial. Jordan was eventually convicted of five drug-related offences after 49.5 months. At the beginning of his trial, Jordan brought an application requesting a stay of proceedings due to his constitutional rights being infringed by an unreasonable delay. His application was dismissed. Jordan’s appeal to the Supreme Court of British Columbia was also dismissed.

Jordan proceeded to appeal to the SCC. His appeal was granted, his convictions were set aside and the proceedings were stayed. In this decision, the SCC clearly set out a formula to calculate the amount of time between the initial charge and the actual or anticipated end of trial. The SCC set a ceiling for unreasonable delays at 18 months for cases tried in provincial courts and 30 months for cases to be tried in provincial and superior courts after a preliminary inquiry, except under exceptional circumstances that were reasonably unforeseen or unavoidable.

ONTARIO COURT OF APPEAL

Crown prosecutors appealed the lower court decision to stay proceedings against Lonsbary and Jurkus to the Ontario Court of Appeal (“ONCA”). The Crown argued that the lower court Judge made errors in applying the time frame rules.

According to Justice Fairburn, writing on behalf of the ONCA, delays that were caused by the defence or by “exceptional circumstances” (which can include specific incidents or the general complexity of the case) do not count toward the 30-month ceiling for criminal proceedings.

In conclusion, the ONCA found that there was “no unreasonable delay” and ordered Lonsbary and Jurkus to stand trial.

The two jail guards have the right to appeal the Ontario Court of Appeal ruling. We will continue to follow this case and report on any developments as they take place in this blog.

If you have been charged with a criminal offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We have a 24-hour phone service for your convenience. We are available when you need us most.