N.S. top court upholds stay in lengthy sex offence case

The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal has upheld a decision to stay sex-related charges in a case that went to trial but didn't result in a verdict.  (Dave Laughlin/CBC - image credit)
The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal has upheld a decision to stay sex-related charges in a case that went to trial but didn't result in a verdict. (Dave Laughlin/CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia's highest court is refusing to reinstate sex-related charges that were dropped last year in a case that took too long to make its way through the justice system.

Brandon William McNeil stood trial nearly three years ago on charges of sexual exploitation, sexual interference and sexual assault related to alleged offences against two young boys.

But the trial judge, Rickola Brinton, went on leave and failed to deliver a verdict, leading to a delay that called into question whether the right to a speedy trial had been violated.

A new judge, Bronwyn Duffy, was eventually assigned to take over the case. In a decision released last May, Duffy ruled the delay in the matter was unreasonable and stayed the charges.

The appeal court has now upheld that decision.

'Very traumatic' for children

The mother of the boys at the centre of the alleged offences said in an interview the family is trying to focus on the future following the court process.

"It was very traumatic for them to handle, and we're working on moving forward with the boys now so that they have the best life possible," said the mother, who cannot be named in order to protect the identity of her children.

The boys were six and nine at the time of the alleged offences.

According to the Court of Appeal decision released Wednesday, McNeil now goes by the name Brynn Milner and uses the pronouns she/her.

The decision by the three-member appeal panel includes correspondence between the courts and the lawyers in the case as they discussed whether a verdict would be forthcoming in the months following the trial.

"With regret I am not able to say whether the decision will be rendered on Dec. 20, 2021," then chief judge Pam Williams wrote in an email.

"Judge Brinton is currently on short-term illness and I am not sure how long this may continue. I appreciate and share the concern you express in your email. It is a very unfortunate situation."

Trial judge could not be reached on leave

In a subsequent email in January 2022, Williams wrote Brinton was not permitted to work on leave, nor could she be reached and asked to deliver a decision, "even remotely."

The email said materials related to the case were believed to be in Brinton's office, but that she had not been there since the previous October.

Brinton, meanwhile, has launched a lawsuit against Williams and others over her vaccination status. In October 2021, Brinton wrote in an email to Williams that she had concerns with medical privacy when asked to disclose her vaccination status, the lawsuit revealed.

The following month, Williams said only fully vaccinated judges would be allowed to sit in courtrooms. By mid-December, Brinton was on medical leave.

In February 2022, two months after the verdict was due to be delivered, Brinton was suspended. In an email, Williams said that because Brinton would not divulge her vaccination status, she would be considered unvaccinated and unable to preside in person in a courtroom.

The boys' mother said waiting for a resolution after the trial was difficult.

"It was upsetting, it was very frustrating, it was very stressful," she said.

"There was a few times through the proceedings where it was offered that another judge could take it over, but that just kind of lagged on and didn't really ever go anywhere."

She said she'd like to see the case appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, even if the outcome is the same.

Milner was convicted in January 2015 of luring a child. A DNA sample was taken at the time and she was placed in the national sex offender registry for 10 years.