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July 5, 2005

Deaf-mute man to stand trial, judge rules

From: CBC News - Canada - Jul 5, 2005

CBC News A Nunavut judge has ruled that a deaf and mute man will stand trial, despite objections that it would violate the man's charter rights because he can barely communicate.

Bobby Suwarak, 35, of Baker Lake in central Nunavut, was charged with sexual assault and break and enter in March 2004.

Two months ago, a lawyer acting as a "Friend of the Court" applied for the charges to be stayed, arguing that Suwarak wasn't able to get the fair trial that is guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Lawyer Tim Kavanaugh said he can't communicate with Suwarak, who can only communicate with a few people using a special system of signs and charades, and therefore can't represent him in court.

Kavanaugh also said the courts had done nothing in the past to provide a qualified legal interpreter to ensure Suwarak understood the legal proceedings.

The lawyer said a man who acted in court as Suwarak's interpreter for past offences didn't fully understand the legal process and hadn't been properly trained.

But Justice Earl Johnson of the Nunavut Court of Justice dismissed that argument, saying that the legal system had tried to improve Suwarak's ability to understand others.

In an 18-page ruling, the judge said no one could have known that Suwarak would be back in the courts.

Johnson gave the court administration until September 2006 to complete a training program for both the accused and the people who will act as his interpreters during his trial.

Crown prosecutor John Solski said he was pleased with the ruling.

"This gives everyone an opportunity to be in a position where they have their day in court," Solski said.

Kavanaugh said the decision means that Suwarak won't face trial until the fall of 2006, at the earliest – more than 2½ years after the charges were laid.

"Any delay ... is going to raise the constitutional right to be tried within a reasonable time," Kavanaugh said.

He said he'll decide in the next few weeks whether he'll appeal the ruling.

Copyright © CBC 2005