Brampton decide tosses organized crime-linked gambling case over ‘egregious’ 12-day watch for bail listening to

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Citing “long-standing and glaring systemic issues,” in Brampton’s bail court, a judge has stayed a string of serious criminal charges, including 10 gambling and 53 illicit gaming counts, against two men who waited 12 days for a bail hearing.

In a damning ruling released last week, Superior Court Justice David Harris said he reviewed more than two dozen cases and found “pervasive” bail delays had occurred with “alarming frequency” in violation of accused persons’ charter right to a bail hearing in a reasonable amount of time — typically within 24 hours or three days for more complex hearings requiring a special bail hearing.

“It is most regrettable that it has come to this,” Harris wrote. “Sadly, the long-standing nature of this problem and the profoundly detrimental effect on countless others not before the court, coupled with the virtually inevitable perpetuation of delays into the future, requires a stay.”

In his ruling, Harris slammed a culture of indifference and complacency. “The alarm bell has been sounding for decades now. But at least in Brampton, no progress seems to have been made. A blind eye has often been turned to the delays. Maybe it is hoped the problem will go away on its own,” he wrote.

Ministry of the Attorney General spokesperson Brian Gray declined to comment on the judge’s findings, saying “as this matter is within the appeal period, it would be inappropriate to comment.”

In his ruling, Harris cited a memo written by a Peel Crown attorney acknowledging significant and persistent systemic problems in scheduling special bail hearings in Brampton.

“The specific concern of the Peel Crown Attorneys’ office is the delay in scheduling these hearings beyond the three-day remand allowed in the Criminal Code without the explicit consent of the defence,” wrote Crown Darilynn Allison. “However, because of the volume and resourcing issues, this is precisely what is taking place on a near-daily basis in the bail courts.”

The case at the centre of Harris’s ruling involved Raffaele Simonelli and Michael Simonelli, cousins who were arrested on Dec. 12, 2019, along with two dozen others after a two-year police investigation known as Project Hobart. The Simonellis had been facing a slew of charges related to allegedly operating an illegal gaming house in Mississauga as part of a criminal organization — charges Harris called particularly serious due to the aggravating factor of their alleged links to organized crime.

According to transcripts presented to Harris by defence lawyer Sonya Shikhman, 26 Brampton special bail hearings conducted in 2019 had delays ranging from five days at the low end to 35 days at the high end. The average delay was approximately 13 days; none was conducted within three days, Harris wrote.

In the Simonellis’ case, lawyers for both men were ready to proceed with special bail hearings on Dec. 13, 2019, the day after their arrest, but the Crown, emphasizing the complexity and seriousness of the matter, asked for it to be adjourned until Jan. 3, 2020.

The police had “ample time to prepare the paperwork necessary for the Crown and defence to conduct a bail hearing” and to alert the court more resources would be needed that day. But instead of an executive summary focused on three grounds for bail, the police provided a 95-page synopsis that was of “little real assistance in the conduct of a bail hearing,” Harris wrote.

The justice of the peace agreed to the three-week adjournment sought by the Crown, citing a variety of factors including lack of courtroom availability

“I can’t speak to the issue of resources other than they do not exist,” the justice of the peace said, in response to an outcry by numerous defence lawyers in court that day.

Harris called the three-week delay over the holidays “egregious.”

As a result of an application filed by Shikhman, the bail hearing was held 12 days later, on Dec. 24, 2019. Ultimately, both men were released on bail, with strict house arrest conditions.

Shikhman told the Star that although Brampton stands out for the frequency and length of delays, it is a systemic problem seen provincewide.

“The system needs a remember that if you let things fall through the cracks and don’t keep up with the growing population and the amount of resources required, then you’re violating constitutional rights of a systemic nature,” Shikhman said.

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Last May, the Ontario Court of Justice issued new directives to speed up special bail hearings during the COVID-19 pandemic, which began after the Simonellis’ hearing. However, Harris wrote, no evidence was provided by the Crown to show these measures have had any effect on reducing delays.

“Whether the problem is scarcity of resources, inefficient use of available resources or both in combination, the evidence adduced shows that nothing significant has been done to address the situation besides Ms. Allison’s memo and the practice directions,” Harris wrote. “These efforts have failed to wrestle with the root of the problem or lead to meaningful change.”

Jason Miller is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering crime and justice in the Peel Region. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach him on email: [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @millermotionpic