Sex assault case stayed against teacher due to 31-month delay
EDMONTON -- A judge has stayed the case of an Edmonton-area teacher accused of sexual offences with a female student after ruling the Crown breached his Charter rights by taking too long in bringing his case to trial.
The trial for Graeme Patrick Forsyth was to have started later this month, but the stay prevents the Crown from further prosecuting the case.
In July 2017, Forsyth was charged with sexual interference, sexual exploitation, invitation to sexual touching, and sexual assault.
It was alleged the former Elk Island Public School Division teacher committed the offences between May 1, 2015 and Sept. 1, 2015 against a female student.
But, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Doreen Sulyma issued the stay in court on Tuesday, noting crown prosecutors have spent 31 months without bringing the case to trial, outlasting the established legal precedent of 30 months.
"In this case, the constituent parts of the Crown have each failed in their respective duties to bring Mr. Forsyth to trial within a reasonable time," Sulyma wrote in her Feb. 4 ruling.
"The failure of the Crown in handling this case has led to a violation of Mr. Forsyth's section seven and section 11 Charter rights."
Section seven of the Charter addresses life, liberty and security of the person. Section 11 deals with the right to be tried "within a reasonable time."
"Crown counsel have a duty to advance their prosecution in a timely manner," Sulyma wrote.
The Elk Island Public School Division declined to comment.
Crown representatives have responded to CTV News emails but have yet to offer comment.
The ruling outlines a series of delays in getting Forsyth's case to trial.
He initially faced charges relating to a victim under the age of 16. Two months later, it was determined the student was over 16 when the crimes were alleged to have happened, leading to an updated set of charges.
The same month, police obtained the student's iPhone containing text messages between her and Forsyth.
But, the phone wasn't sent for a forensic exam until six months later in March 2018. The subsequent report wasn't made available to the defence until Aug. 2, 2019, less than a month before the planned Aug. 28 trial date.
By law, prosecutors must share any potentially relevant material with the defence. But, the judge ruled prosecutors repeatedly took too long, resulting in delays of court appearances and trial dates.
A trial set for Sept. 30 was adjourned after "a large volume" of evidence was shared with the defence "on the eve of the trial."
Sulyma also rejected the Crown's argument that the delay only amounted to 29 months given the updated set of charges stemming from the confusion over the student's age.
"The complainant remained the same complainant and acts as alleged initially remained the same, that the prejudice to the accused remained or reflected the same," she wrote.
"This is clear systemic delay and a failing of the Crown."
"There was a breach of my client's constitutional right to have his trial held in a reasonable amount of time," said Scott Kurie, Forsyth's lawyer.
"My client has maintained his innocence throughout. Our law presumes an accused is innocent until proven guilty," Kurie told CTV News.
He declined to comment on Forsyth's future plans.
The Alberta Teachers' Association can launch an investigation if it receives a disciplinary complaint.
"Typically, in cases where a teacher is charged by police with an indictable offense, the complainant also files a request with us for that teacher to be investigated by the Alberta Teachers’ Association," Roberta Mazzotta with the ATA wrote in an email to CTV News.
As a conviction would automatically be deemed unprofessional conduct, the ATA waits unitil legal proceedings are concluded to launch any investigation.
The Crown has until March 5 to file an appeal.