Editorial: Mitchell Wilson deserves day in court

It was one of the saddest stories Ontarians have seen in some time.
Last month, Craig Wilson of Pickering, Ont., told the story of his 11-year-old son, Mitchell, who had committed suicide after suffering bullying at school.

So many things about the story were tragic: Mitchell’s struggles to walk after his diagnosis with muscular dystrophy; the alleged attack by two boys last year who wanted his iPhone and knocked him to the ground; and the subsequent bullying by the accused’s friends at school as the victim prepared to testify in court.

Adding to the horrendous circumstances, Mitchell, anxious and depressed at the prospect of going to court, took his own life as he got ready for the first day of school. Making matters worse, the case against the alleged attacker appeared likely to fall apart given that Mitchell could no longer testify.

As Mitchell’s father pointed out, there likely were many factors behind the boy’s decision to commit suicide. But the fact that Mitchell suffered so much that he took such a drastic step is an obvious indicator of a societal failure. To then have the criminal case fall apart would be a cruel outcome.

It’s good, then, to see that the justice system is at least doing its best to resurrect the case. At a hearing late last month, Ontario Court Justice Teresa Devlin adjourned the matter so the Crown could prepare its case.

While Mitchell’s family initially thought there was little prospect of going ahead, it appears the Crown may try to use an affidavit the boy wrote prior to his death as part of the case.

According to an article in the National Post, Mitchell’s stepmother Tiffany Usher is now the key Crown witness given that she chased down the assailants in the attack after she rushed to the scene.

The Crown, of course, has a duty not to proceed if there’s no reasonable prospect of conviction. It’s hard to say what the likelihood of that is at this point as it will depend in part on the strength of Usher’s eyewitness testimony. But at least the Crown and the court are making efforts to find a way to go forward.

It’s tempting in cases like this to take an aggressive approach calling for strict punishment of the accused. But regardless of one’s view on the merits and effectiveness of cracking down on crime, Mitchell, even though he can’t be there, deserves his day in court.

On principle, it’s only right that the accused should have to appear in court given the traumatic circumstances. While a trial ultimately might not result in a conviction, it would at least demonstrate that people have to accept some consequences by facing the victim’s family in court.

More importantly, it would go some way to honouring Mitchell and send a message to society about bullying. In addition, if the court does find the accused guilty, there would be an opportunity for some sort of restorative justice remedy that Mitchell’s relatives have said they’d like to see.

Ultimately, it’s the law that should govern what happens, regardless of the emotions involved. But Mitchell’s case is an exceptional one, so the courts should do their best to allow for a just result.
— Glenn Kauth

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