Jeremy Skibicki's lawyers argue rule about Crown consent to change from jury trial is unconstitutional
A Winnipeg man accused of killing four Indigenous women last year is arguing he should have the right to a trial by judge alone, instead of the jury trial currently scheduled.
Jeremy Skibicki pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder on the first day of pretrial motions in his case on Monday morning.
Skibicki appeared in a large courtroom packed with family members of the women he's accused of killing and their supporters, many wearing ribbon skirts or shirts with the women's faces on them and hugging or leaning on each other for support.
He's charged in the deaths of three First Nations women — 26-year-old Marcedes Myran, 39-year-old Morgan Harris and 24-year-old Rebecca Contois — and a third unidentified woman who has been given the name Mashkode Bizhiki'ikwe, or Buffalo Woman, by the community.
Police have said they believe that woman was Indigenous and in her 20s.
Skibicki's trial was automatically slated to be heard before a jury because it involves first-degree murder charges. The accused instead wants his trial to be heard only by a judge — but making that change requires the consent of the Crown, which prosecutors will not provide.
Crown attorney Chris Vanderhooft said there's a high level of public interest for the case to be decided by a jury.
Alyssa Munce, a lawyer for Skibicki, argued before Manitoba Court of King's Bench Justice Glenn Joyal that the requirement for Crown consent is arbitrary, and the section of the Criminal Code that includes that requirement is unconstitutional.
Outside court after the proceedings adjourned for the day, defence lawyer Leonard Tailleur said Skibicki's counsel is arguing an accused should have an unfettered right to choose which kind of trial they want, no matter what they're charged with.
Tailleur said only a few offences under section 469 of the Criminal Code require the consent of the Crown for an accused to be tried without a jury.
"There's really no basis for it," he said. "The accused has a perfect right to re-elect and not be fettered by the Crown. And that's the problem that we have."
Charles Murray of Manitoba Justice's constitutional law branch, who spoke on behalf of the Crown, told Joyal there is no constitutional right to have a trial by judge alone.
Monday's court proceedings featured several Indigenous traditions. Tobacco tied in red cloth was handed out before people entered the room.
The courtroom itself was also smudged before the pretrial motions began and had a coloured tie on each of its walls to signify the four directions.
A red dress with yellow ribbons was placed on a seat in the front row, and a buffalo headdress was placed near where the lawyers were seated to represent the unknown woman, Mashkode Bizhiki'ikwe.
Pretrial motions in the case will continue on Tuesday to determine the admissibility of Skibicki's statement, but the details of everything moving forward will be under a publication ban, court heard.
Skibicki's trial is scheduled to begin at the end of April.
Support is available for anyone affected by details of this case. If you require support, you can contact Ka Ni Kanichihk's Medicine Bear Counselling, Support and Elder Services at 204-594-6500, ext. 102 or 104 (within Winnipeg), or 1-888-953-5264 (outside Winnipeg).
Support is also available via Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak's Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Liaison unit at 1-800-442-0488 or 204-677-1648.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Caitlyn Gowriluk has been writing for CBC Manitoba since 2019. Her work has also appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press, and in 2021 she was part of an award-winning team recognized by the Radio Television Digital News Association for its breaking news coverage of COVID-19 vaccines. Get in touch with her at email@example.com.
Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca