North Sydney residents Joe Yorke and Diane Loisel review a recent court decision that rejected a Crown bid to have a charge re-filed against a man charged with assaulting Yorke. The charge was dismissed at the outset of a scheduled trial and two attempts to have it reinstated were denied. The couple now say the justice system failed them and they want answers why.
NORTH SYDNEY, N.S. — A core belief that truth and justice will prevail is now shattered for a North Sydney couple who must now accept no one will be held responsible for a vicious and unprovoked attack that resulted in a permanent and painful facial injury.
But as Joe Yorke and Diane Loisel try and move on from their abysmal experience with the justice system, they have turned their attention to ensuring no other victim is re-victimized.
“We were re-victimized by a system that was suppose to protect us. What kind of message does that send to the public?” said Loisel, adding the couple is now demanding answers to fully explain what happened.
“This should never have happened to us and should never happen again to anyone else,” she said.
It all began at about 9 p.m. on May 16, 2016, when someone knocked the front door of Yorke and Loisel’s home on Caledonia Street.
Yorke answered the door and was suddenly knocked backward by a single punch to the face. Loisel grabbed the phone and called 911.
Yorke suffered extensive facial injuries in the attack including a broken jaw and cheekbone. He no longer has any feeling in the right side of his face that is now supported by metal pins and bits of skin. The injuries have cost the couple some $12,000 in out of pocket expenses.
Cape Breton Regional Police nabbed a suspect, Jonas Lee MacDonald, 29, of North Sydney, and charged him with assault causing bodily harm. Neither Yorke or Loisel had any prior dealings with MacDonald and he was an unknown to them.
MacDonald was released on conditions and after entering a not guilty plea, was assigned a trial date of Feb. 22, 2017.
On the day of the trial, provincial court Judge Peter Ross asked Crown Attorney Mark Gouthro if he was ready to proceed to which he responded he wasn’t because two of his witnesses (Yorke and Loisel) were missing.
A sheriff deputy did call out their names in the hallway outside the first floor courtroom and in receiving no response, the Crown said it was offering no evidence and the case was dismissed. The accused was also not present in the courtroom at the time.
But Yorke, Loisel and the accused were indeed present at the Sydney Justice Centre but were awaiting the trial outside a courtroom on the second floor.
“On the Friday before the trial, we did a tour of the courtroom with a representative from Victim Services and were told to be sure to wait outside the second floor courtroom for our names to be called,” said Loisel, adding the incident was their first brush with the justice system.
As noted in a court decision released this week connected to the case, the Crown’s witnesses were truly not missing but simply misplaced.
Receiving the wrong information about where the trial would be held and the subsequent dismissal of the charge and a continued series of errors have only served to further erode the couple’s confidence in the justice system.
Yorke and Loisel appear to have done everything right. They were fully cooperative with police, they contacted Victim Services for information on the court process, they shared their contact information with everyone working on their case, they repeatedly told police and others they were ready and willing to testify and were anxiously looking forward to their day in court.
“Now all we get is “I’m sorry.”’ I’m tried of hearing that,” said Loisel, adding she wants answers, not apologizes.
In attempting to correct its mistake, the Public Prosecution Service filed two appeal applications – one in Supreme Court and the other in provincial court – in a bid to have the dismissal reversed.
Both applications were dismissed.
Supreme Court Justice Robin Gogan ruled she found no error by the trial judge is dismissing the charge after the Crown offered no evidence.
Judge Ross also dismissed the Crown bid.
“What is clear is that the Crown made no inquiry on the record as to the presence of the accused nor did it seek an adjournment to investigate the absence of witnesses it had compelled to testify,” said Ross.
Ross said even on equitable principals, it was not obvious the application should be granted adding the charge hung over the head of the accused for nine months during which he was subject to restrictions.
“There is an unfairness to the accused in resurrecting this proceeding,” he said.
“Mistakes and omissions can occur. Not all can be corrected. The system is not perfect and never will be. That said, while criminal justice should not seek an outcome at all costs it is important that matters be resolved with finality and with certainty,” said Ross.
Loisel said the couple wanted to attend the Supreme Court hearing on the Crown application but the case was moved to an earlier time and no one contacted them to inform them of the change. When they arrived at the courthouse, the case was over.
Loisel said they learned of the decision in the Cape Breton Post.
As for the Ross decision, the couple again learned of the decision from the Post and are still awaiting a promised call from the Crown.
“Our experience with the justice system has been nothing but mistakes,” said Loisel.
Yorke said he simply doesn’t understand how something like this can happen.
“There is nothing I can say that will change anything. It will never be over,” he said.
The couple is filing complaints with the prosecution service, Department of Justice, Victim Services and others in a bid to get some answers why their case went so horribly wrong.
Editor's note: Diane Loisel's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this article.