Calgary case tossed out after too much time passes

As his impaired driving charges dragged on in a Calgary court for nearly two years, a truck driver got behind the wheel drunk and smashed his semi-trailer into a parked fire truck on a major Ontario highway.

Jetandar Pal Dhillon pleaded guilty in September and was sentenced to four weeks in jail in connection with the incident on Highway 401 east of Toronto this past summer.

But last week a judge tossed the charges by Calgary police laid 21 months earlier out of court, after the prosecutor failed to disclose key evidence and the defence lawyer alleged undue delay.

Witness Tammy MacPherson said the shock she felt when the case was stayed turned to anger after a Herald reporter told her the 31-year-old had been convicted elsewhere.

“I showed up twice to testify in hopes of getting this guy off the road,” she said in an interview.

“It’s ridiculous that while this case ground along he was involved in another drunk driving incident.”

Opposition critics say the case is the latest example of how Alberta’s overburdened courts and overworked prosecutors are allowing alleged criminals to escape justice.

“It’s another instance where Crown attorneys are dropping the ball and I suspect it’s due to a lack of resources and not incompetence,” Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson said.

“It’s amazing someone didn’t get killed because of this.”

MacPherson said she was driving home from work in January 2011 when a tractor trailer ran a stoplight and drove over a road median at the intersection of 50th Avenue S.E. and Barlow Trail.

“The truck would have hit me if I hadn’t slammed on the brakes,” she said.

“I followed it, phoned 911 and gave the licence plate to police when the truck stopped at a rail crossing.”

The CTX Logistics vehicle drove off after the train had passed, but McPherson said police phoned back later that evening to say they had apprehended the driver.

Court records show Dhillon was charged with two counts of impaired driving in February 2011. The breathalyzer test result, later entered into evidence, indicated he had over two times the legal limit of alcohol in his blood when he was arrested.

CTX president George McAllister said Dhillon was immediately terminated as per his company’s policy.

His trial was originally scheduled for October 2011, but it had to be adjourned for seven months because prosecutor Brian Hadford arrived in court unprepared to proceed.

“Brian showed up in court that day on a completely different file,” said Jonathan Hak, the Crown attorney who heads Calgary’s criminal driving unit.

“The case had been assigned to him four months before, but for whatever reason he was unaware of that.”

At the next trial date this past May, there were more problems.

MacPherson’s testimony was interrupted and the trial adjourned again for another seven months because the Crown’s office had failed to provide her witness statement to the defence in advance.

Dhillon’s lawyer, who had already argued unsuccessfully that his client’s constitutional right to a speedy trial had been infringed, then filed a renewed application to have the charges stayed.

But before arguments on that application could be heard in court last Thursday, Hak said Hadford asked the judge to stay the charges because he mistakenly thought the witness statement still hadn’t been sent to Dhillon’s lawyer.

“Brian was ill that day and he went to work anyway because he knew another adjournment would be fatal to the case,” he said.

“This illustrates that prosecutors are human, too, and make mistakes.”

Under new rules introduced in Alberta on July 1, Dhillon would have received an indefinite suspension of his licence while he awaited trial on the impaired driving charges.

But back in 2011, the sanction was only 90 days long and it would have disappeared from his licence abstract — a document normally checked by commercial trucking firms before they hire drivers — after it was served.

Surjit Parmar, president of Grace Road Lines, said he was unaware that Dhillon was awaiting trial on the Calgary charges when he hired him last May.

“He was hard-working and polite,” said Parmar, “but there’s no way we would have hired him if we had known.”

In the midst of a cross-country run two months later, Dhillon collided into the rear of a fire truck that had been parked on the highway near Port Hope, Ont., to protect emergency personnel at the scene of a prior accident.

“Our firefighters were in disbelief as they watched this transport ignore the warning lights telling drivers to move left,” said Rob Collins, the city’s fire chief.

“Two of our guys in the vehicle were pretty shook up, but it could have been a lot worse.”

Dhillon was arrested and charged with impaired driving, dangerous operation and possession of cocaine. This past September, he plead guilty to the impaired charge and was given 28 days in jail and a two-year prohibition on driving.

Still, the delayed justice in the Calgary case has MacPherson wondering why she even bothered to call police when she spotted the tractor trailer being driven erratically.

“For whatever reason, the prosecutors clearly didn’t have their ducks in a row,” she said.

“My faith in our justice system is gone.”

Source: The Calgary Herald


Last updated on: 2012-12-06 | Link to this post