An arson charge against a man accused of burning down a Thompson restaurant has been stayed because it took too long to bring him to court.
A commercial arson charge against Skyler Dean Smith, 31, accused of setting fire to Butter Chicken Express in the parking lot of the Thompson Plaza in 2019, has been thrown out due to an unreasonable delay in bringing the case to trial, the Winnipeg Free Press reported Sept. 4.
Provincial court Judge Geoffrey Bayly entered a judicial stay of proceedings in a decision delivered in Thompson Sept. 4. He said the delay was more due to Thompson RCMP taking too long to complete required paperwork and the Crown prosecutor’s inability to be available for an earlier court date than the COVID-19 pandemic slowdown.
A 2016 decision by Canada’s Supreme Court found that a delay of more than 18 months between a charge being laid against someone and their trial’s expected conclusion is an unreasonable delay in provincial courts.
Butter Chicken Express was set on fire July 18, 2019. One firefighter received minor injuries battling the blaze and police issued a press release asking the public to help identify and locate a man who filled a small bottle with gasoline at a nearby gas station around the time of the fire.
The Free Press reported that Smith was charged on July 27 and a warrant issued for his arrest. He was arrested in October 2019, though police did not announce that publicly, but failed to appear in court the following February. He was arrested again by March 2020 but police didn’t formally enter the information on the charge of failing to appear until late April as COVID-19 was slowing down court proceedings. He appeared before a judicial justice of the peace in June of last year.
Bayly said that the RCMP’s failure to complete the paperwork more quickly coincided with the pandemic but did not agree that it had no effect on how long the case took to get to trial.
The judge also said the Crown should have made efforts to be available earlier since they knew they were about to exceed the 18-month deadline.
“One would have expected Manitoba Prosecution Service to have prioritized the applicant’s prosecution, given how long it had been in the system,” Bayly said in his decision.
A 2011 sexual assault charge against a former Thompson resident was stayed in August by a judge who ruled that police and the Crown hadn’t taken necessary steps to ensure the matter came to trial within a reasonable timeframe.