Former N.W.T. teacher loses bid to have sexual assault charges dismissed

Neil Barry is facing sexual assault and sexual exploitation charges for incidents that allegedly occurred in the summer of 2009, during the 2010 Arctic Winter Games tryouts. (Luke Carroll/CBC)

A former teacher in the Northwest Territories has lost his bid to get sexual assault and sexual exploitation charges against him thrown out.

RCMP initially announced charges against Neil Alexander Barry in June 2021, alleging he sexually exploited a youth during the Arctic Winter Games tryouts in Yellowknife in the summer of 2009. Barry worked as a teacher in Tulita and Fort Simpson, N.W.T., between 2007 and 2017.

Since those charges were announced, other alleged victims have come forward. Barry is now facing six counts of sexual assault and five counts of sexual exploitation.

According to a written decision the N.W.T. Supreme Court issued Monday, Barry applied to have all of his charges dismissed because of how long it’s taken for him to be brought to trial. Accused people have a constitutional right to be brought to trial within a reasonable amount of time.

The courts have established a guideline limit of two and a half years from the time a person is charged. Until he asked to have it adjourned to allow for his lawyer’s parental leave, Barry’s trial was scheduled to begin April 22, 2024, two years and 10 months after he was initially charged.

He has since requested and received an adjournment to accommodate his lawyer’s parental leave. Barry’s trial is now scheduled for April 2025, but that additional time is not counted as a delay because he requested it.

The prosecutor argued that much of the delay in bringing Barry to trial is due to the pandemic and the backlog of cases that piled up while the courts postponed almost all jury trials to comply with public health orders around social distancing and gatherings. No jury trials were held in the N.W.T. from March 2020 to May 2022.

According to Monday’s written decision, by the time the N.W.T. Supreme Court returned to holding jury trials the backlog had grown to 63 unscheduled jury trials. Fifty of those cases were older than Barry’s.

“Despite the challenges presented by the lack of facilities and the volume of unscheduled jury trials, the Court has dealt successfully with the backlog,” wrote Justice Karan Shaner in her decision. As of Jan. 2, 2024, all of the jury trials that arose before or during the pandemic had either been scheduled, heard or otherwise resolved.

In dismissing Barry’s application, Justice Shaner said the effects of the pandemic on court proceedings didn’t end when the World Health Organization declared the pandemic over.

“I am satisfied based on the evidence presented by the Crown that it is reasonable to attribute 12 months of the delay in this case to the pandemic and its effects,” wrote Shaner.

If that’s subtracted from the total amount of the delay (minus the year Barry requested to accommodate his lawyer) Barry’s trial would have been held within 22 months of his initial charges. Shaner dismissed the application.

Richard Gleeson, CBC News

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