The Supreme Court of Canada ruled a man accused of murdering his wife in 2012 will never stand trial because of excessive delays bringing the accused killer to court. (See SCC’s 2016 decision in R. v. Jordan)
In 2004, Sri Lankan refugee Sivaloganathan Thanabalasingam landed in Canada to start a new life.
At some point, date unknown, he married Anuja Baskaran and, over the course of their marriage, Thanabalasingam was convicted for assaulting her three times, once with a weapon.
Despite spending time in prison for repeatedly abusing his own wife, Thanabalasingam didn’t learn his lesson.
When he was released from prison after his third conviction for domestic abuse, he decided to finish what he started.
In 2012 he murdered his wife.
In August 2012 police arrested him and he spent the next 56 months in jail awaiting trial.
After he was imprisoned, but before his case came to trial, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that, barring exceptional circumstances, if a federal case did not go to trial before 30 months elapsed all charges would be stayed.
The decision, R. v. Jordan, said that once a case hits this 30-month ceiling, the delay is considered excessive and violates the defendant’s right to trial in a reasonable time.
In 2017, Canada Border Services Agency arrested him before he was released from jail and he was deported back to Sri Lanka on July 5, 2017. Thanabalasingham did not object to the deportation order.
Why Bother with SCC Ruling if Killer was Deported?
The Supreme Court’s Jordan decision made it clear no case was safe from being stayed if there are excessive delays.
By ruling unanimously that Thanabalasingham’s case must be dropped, Canada’s highest court put their money where their mouth was back in 2016.
They also did so in a way that didn’t leave a murderer walking free on Canadian soil.
In 2017, a Quebec judge ruled the alleged killer must be set free since almost five years elapsed since he was arrested – exceeding the time frame specified in Jordan by almost double.
The Crown appealed the decision. By a majority of 3-2, the Quebec Court of Appeal upheld the trial judge’s decision that the case must be dropped.
From the Supreme Court decision R. v. Thanabalasingham, 2020 SCC 18:
The bulk of this case occurred before the release of this Court’s decision in R. v. Jordan, 2016 SCC 27,  1 S.C.R. 631. The facts leading to the respondent’s s. 11(b) challenge are indicative of the culture of rampant and long-standing systemic delay — and complacency towards that delay — that had grown up in our criminal justice system. The manner in which these proceedings were conducted epitomizes this culture.
Since most of the delay in this case accrued before Jordan was released, we must consider, as the courts below did, whether the transitional exceptional circumstance justifies the delay (see Jordan, at para. 96).
Here, it bears repeating that the vast majority of the lengthy delay in this case stemmed from systemic delay that had reached epidemic proportions across many parts of this country — a key factor that motivated this Court’s decision in Jordan. Indeed, as the trial judge noted, this problem had “plagued the criminal justice system in the district of Montreal” specifically (para. 40).
With respect to the nature of the charge, the trial judge recognized that the offence charged was “very serious” and that “a woman lost her life in tragic circumstances” (para. 36).
Jordan sought to put an end to an era where interminable delays were tolerated, and to the complacent, “anything goes” culture that had grown up in the criminal justice system. The clear and distinct message in Jordan was that all participants in the system are to take proactive measures at all stages of the trial process to move cases forward and bring accused persons to trial in a timely fashion.