Crown speeds up process in blood scandal
Defence protests bypassing of preliminary hearing
CanWest News Service
Wednesday, December 24, 2003
OTTAWA - In a rare move, the criminal proceedings against
charged in Canada's tainted-blood scandal have suddenly been
put on a
Michael Bryant, the Ontario Attorney-General, has granted a
from Crown attorneys to send the cases straight to a trial,
the normal preliminary hearings that could have significantly
For years, tainted-blood victims have been crying for justice.
Yesterday, one of their spokesmen praised the decision to go
to trial, a legal manoeuvre known as a direct indictment.
"The Crown has shown a great deal of strength and
pursue this," said Mike McCarthy, a hepatitis C victim
who is a
member of the Canadian Hemophilia Society.
"If there was a delay, many people who are in the final
their disease would not be alive to see the outcome. This will
obviously reassure us that justice is moving quicker than it
the last 20 years."
Normally, an accused gets the chance to opt for a preliminary
hearing, where the Crown has to present sufficient evidence to
convince a judge the case should go to trial. At the
hearing, defence lawyers can cross-examine witnesses.
Yesterday, lawyers for the accused in the tainted-blood cases
the Attorney-General's decision denies their clients a basic
Ottawa lawyer Peter Doody, representing former Health Canada
John Furesz, said defence counsels asked the Crown why a
indictment was necessary, but were not given an answer.
"The denial of the preliminary inquiry will remove one of
protections which an accused person has in the criminal
system -- that is, to have a review of the evidence intended
presented by the Crown."
Lawyer Michael Edelson, representing the Canadian Red Cross
said his client should have had the right to decide whether to
preliminary hearing or go straight to trial.
"We have a statutory right to a preliminary
hearing," he said. "They
took years to investigate this thing and now they're saying
hurry up. Get yourselves ready very quickly to go to trial.'
Mr. Edelson said that even with the fast track, he doubts the
will start in 2004 because the Red Cross must have the time to
over 1,900 banker's boxes of documentary evidence supplied to
In 1997, a federally commissioned inquiry led by Mr. Justice
Krever blasted a range of players -- including the federal
government, the provinces and the Red Cross -- for mistakes
about 1,200 Canadians infected with blood-borne HIV and tens
thousands contaminated with hepatitis C.
That report sparked a five-year RCMP investigation, which
reams of evidence from documents and witnesses prepared to
This resulted in the Mounties laying criminal charges in
Among those charged were: Two former federal officials in
Canada (Mr. Furesz and Wark Boucher); a former senior member
Canadian Red Cross (Roger Perrault); the Red Cross itself;
Pharmaceutical Co., a U.S. firm that produced blood products,
of its former senior executives (Michael Rodell).
For the past year, the cases -- which have been split into two
distinct cases being heard in Toronto and Hamilton, Ont. --
their way through the courts slowly. The Crown began
evidence to defence lawyers for the accused. By the time court
appearances took place last June, more than 95% of the
file" was disclosed to the defence lawyers.
At that time, Crown counsel applied to the Attorney-General to
Section 577 of the Criminal Code and invoke a direct
sometimes called a preferred indictment.
In a recent posting on its Web site, the RCMP noted it is not
"This power is an extraordinary one, and is only granted
exceptional circumstances where the absence of a preliminary
will not severely prejudice the accused's ability to have a
trial, and the public interest requires a departure from the
Last Friday, Mr. Bryant, who became Attorney-General after the
Liberals' came to power in October, signed the direct
a result, the charges will go directly to trial in the
instead of a preliminary hearing in the Ontario Court of
© National Post 2003