OTTAWA – The federal government says it will conduct an internal review of its involvement in the case of Ernest Fenwick MacIntosh, but the Cape Breton man’s lawyer says a public inquiry is really what is needed.
Brian Casey represents MacIntosh, a former businessman who had 17 sexual abuse convictions thrown out when the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ruled in 2011 that his case took too long to get to trial.
The Supreme Court of Canada upheld that decision earlier this year, saying the 14-year delay was unreasonable.
Casey said Friday two other internal reviews have already been completed — one by the RCMP and another by Nova Scotia’s Public Prosecution Service — but plenty of questions remain.
“Instead of getting a peek behind the curtain at whatever the minister of justice decides we should see, we actually want to find out what the whole story is,” Casey said in an interview. “Another internal review is better than nothing, but it’s far short of what everybody wants.”
Casey said his client wasn’t available for an interview.
He said a public inquiry, unlike an internal review, would require public officials to explain their actions.
“Sometimes there’s a good explanation for why something took six weeks or six months,” Casey said.
MacIntosh was in India working as a consultant when the sex abuse allegations first surfaced in Nova Scotia in 1995, but he wasn’t extradited to Canada until 2007 and his first trial didn’t start until 2010.
Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay issued a statement Friday saying the case has concerned him for years.
“Our government takes offences involving child abuse very seriously and it is important to review this matter to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again,” he said.
MacKay said the review, to be conducted by his department, would look into the extradition process and issues surrounding passport and border control. The review’s findings will be made public by Oct. 31, he said.
Ross Landry, Nova Scotia’s justice minister, said he was pleased with MacKay’s announcement.
“In July, I went to the federal government to ask them to do their part,” he said in an interview. “It was clear to me there were many issues there and gaps that contributed to the delay and dismissal of the convictions. … We all have to do our part.”
As for Casey’s call for a public inquiry, Landry said he had to be diplomatic about telling the federal government what to do.
“But if a federal review finds the basis for a public inquiry, Nova Scotia will fully co-operate,” he said.
The review by Nova Scotia’s prosecution service earlier this year found the delays in the case were partly caused by the heavy workload facing a Crown attorney in Nova Scotia and two unexplained passport renewals that allowed MacIntosh to stay in India for years before he was extradited.
MacIntosh’s passport was renewed in 1997 and in 2002, despite the fact he faced outstanding charges and a warrant had been issued for his arrest.
Passport Canada said in July that it has revised its policies as a result of the case, saying it wanted to minimize the “risk of a recurrence of a similar incident.”
Casey has said his client didn’t try to hide from Canadian authorities during his time in India, adding that the police officer in charge of the case had MacIntosh’s address as early as February 1995.
As well, he has said his client lived within three blocks of the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi, where he went regularly to renew his passport.
In May, MacIntosh wrote a letter to the provincial justice minister saying he maintains his innocence and would welcome a public inquiry into the case as long as it went beyond examining what caused the delays to bring his matter to trial.