Extortion charge stayed due to court delays

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has stayed an extortion charge against a Nanaimo man because it was taking too long to get the matter to trial.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has stayed an extortion charge against a Nanaimo man because it was taking too long to get the matter to trial.

Robert Frederick Widdifield, charged along with three other men with allegedly attempting to induce someone to pay back a claimed debt, applied for a judicial stay of proceedings on the grounds that his right to be tried within a reasonable time had been breached.

Judge Robert Johnston agreed.

His written reasons for judgment, released June 3, noted that with a trial scheduled to start in October and expected to take eight weeks to complete, it will be more than 37 months from the end of October 2010, when the charges were first laid, to the anticipated end of the trial.

The Crown alleges that between February and October 2010, the four accused joined together in attempts to compel the complainant – referred to by Johnston as “Mr. H” – to repay a debt he owed and that during the process, all or some of them inflated the alleged debt.

The Crown also alleges that Widdifield and another of the accused are full-patch members of the Nanaimo Hells Angels and that the other two accused are “at minimum fellow travellers, who perhaps act as enforcers,” reads the decision.

Johnston found that a delay was caused by the Crown when it asked the defence to return some disclosure materials. When former counsel for one of Widdifield’s co-accused did not reply promptly to the request, the Crown should have applied for an order for its return, but instead the Crown did nothing for months except repeat its requests then seek to enlist the court to add some persuasive weight to the request, he wrote.

Johnston also found that the Crown should have proceeded to trial against Widdifield alone when adjournment applications were made by co-accused last November.

Johnston’s decision also notes that Widdifield has been unable to travel to the U.S. with his wife, the November adjournment cost him an additional $25,000 in legal fees and Widdifield has “sworn to the stress and anxiety he has felt, as has his wife, as a result of the outstanding charges, and the cost of defending them.”