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Beginning of a trial in French for sexual assault in Alberta

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Very few requests for trials in French have been rejected in the past, according to Olav Rokne , senior communications advisor at the Alberta Court of Justice.

  • Laurence Taschereau (View profile)Laurence Taschereau

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The trial of Richard Robert Mantha begins Monday at the Alberta Court of Justice in Calgary. The accused, who faces 20 charges – including sexual assault on seven women – requested that his trial be held in French, which was granted.

The 59-year-old man, known as Poncho to alleged victims, is accused of multiple sexual assaults against Calgary sex workers between 2020 and 2023. They claim they were drugged and, in some cases, kidnapped, then sexually assaulted.

None of the accusations x27;has again been proven in court.

Pursuant to section 530 of the Criminal Code, an accused has the right to a trial in one of the two official languages ​​of his choice, regardless of the province in which he is located.

Such a right is crucial, as explained by criminal justice professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Doug King. An accused has the right to understand the procedure he is facing.

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If there is a language barrier that results in a misunderstanding of what the Crown is saying, what the evidence suggests or your ability to present your arguments, if there is a problem [in terms of ] language, this endangers your right to a fair trial.

The senior communications advisor at the Court of Justice of the Alberta, Olav Rokne, is of the same opinion.

Given the significant repercussions [that] a person faces when charged with a criminal offense, it is imperative [that] they fully understand the charges against them.

A quote from Olav Rokne , Senior Communications Advisor at the Alberta Court of Justice

Potential procedural barriers could not be invoked to refuse a request for trial in French, underlines Mr. Ravi Prithipaul, a bilingual criminal law lawyer in Edmonton.

At the request of an accused whose language is one of the official languages ​​of Canada, made no later than the time of the accused's appearance during which the trial date is set, a judge, a judge of the provincial court, a judge of the Nunavut Court of Justice or a justice of the peace orders that the accused stand trial before a justice of the peace, a judge of the provincial court, a judge alone or a judge and jury, depending on the cases, who speak the official language of Canada which is that of the accused or, if the circumstances justify it, who speak both official languages ​​of Canada.

He has defended cases in both languages ​​and cites as an example a trial in which he took part, which was initially scheduled to take place in Fort McMurray, but which was moved to Edmonton, to facilitate the search for a French-speaking jury.

In the event that there are witnesses who speak English, as will be the case in the trial of Richard Robert Mantha, interpreters will translate the testimonies, explains Olav Rokne.

Professor of criminal justice at Mount Royal University Doug King also specifies that the Alberta Court of Justice and the Court of King's Bench, both courts Alberta provincial courts that hold criminal trials have lists of French-speaking or bilingual judges.

It is not a problem to find a judge who speaks and understands French.

A quote from Doug King, professor of criminal justice at Mount Royal University

The most complicated thing is the criminal cases which are heard before a jury, because it is not simply a question of finding 12 people who speak French, argues the lawyer. The Crown and defense have the right to examine people who may serve on a jury, and can have people excused from jury duty.

Richard Mantha's trial is not before a jury.

With a trial in French in a predominantly English-speaking province comes the risk, for journalists and English-speaking people who attend the trials, of not understanding what is being said.

The president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, Brent Jolly, fears that such a trial, the content of which is of public interest by its nature and scale, will not be adequately covered by the Alberta media .

Many observers have noted this over the years: When the Court speaks, who listens? It's the job of journalists to fill this important information gap.

A quote from Brent Jolly, President of the Canadian Association of Journalists

According to him, the Court should take additional steps to ensure that journalists have the resources they need, in particular to provide fair and accurate coverage of the trial and, more generally, to respect their broader objective, which is to maintain public confidence in the legal system.

The general rule , is that every criminal case is open to the public, but the public does not necessarily have the right to demand a translation of what is said by the lawyers.

A quote from Ravi Prithipaul, bilingual criminal law lawyer

For Me Prithipaul, the notion that prevails is the right to a fair and equitable trial for the accused, even if, in a predominantly English-speaking province, some people cannot understand how the trial will unfold.

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