Criminal charge file under review

Relates to 2017 pre-grad party altercation

A decision by the Crown counsel’s office in Smithers not to file charges arising from an altercation at a May 2017 pre-grad party is being reviewed by the regional Crown counsel office in Prince George.

Three people have already been charged and sentenced stemming from the altercation at the pre-grad party held at Sunset Lake near Topley.

Houston RCMP continued their investigation into the incident, conducting additional interviews and examining evidence, the results of which were sent to the Smithers Crown counsel office earlier this year for a determination of whether additional charges were to be laid or not.

“After reviewing the report the B.C. Prosecution Service concluded on the entirety of the evidence made available to it that the charge assessment standard for initiating a prosecution had not been met and no charges were approved,” said Dan McLaughlin who speaks for the prosecution service.

Citing guidelines used to assess information provided, “charges will only be approved where Crown counsel is satisfied that the evidence gathered by the investigative agency provides a substantial likelihood of conviction and, if so, that a prosecution is required in the public interest,” McLaughlin explained.

“A substantial likelihood of conviction exists where Crown counsel is satisfied there is a strong, solid case of substance to present to the court. In this case the prosecutor concluded the test had not been met and no charges were approved.”

The report to Crown counsel sent by the Houston RCMP keyed on the prospect of additional charges related to a beating suffered by Gerald Whitford.

Two youth, who cannot be identified because of their age, had already been given conditional sentences and probation last year in relation to an assault on Whitford.

Whitford himself was at first charged with three counts of aggravated assault, eventually pleading guilty to one count of assault with a weapon, a knife. He was given a conditional sentence and placed on probation in February 2018.

Knife wounds suffered by three people were described at the time as non-life threatening and Whitford himself suffered head wounds, a broken nose and a punctured eardrum.

Mavis Goertzen, Whitford’s mother-in-law who has been advocating on behalf of Whitford and his family, asserts Whitford was beaten twice, the second time being after the knife was taken away.

“The [regional] Crown …. needs to go through everything I’ve addressed since day one because the Crown has never answered those questions just giving us their reasons for no charges — which is not enough,” she said last week.

“The only thing the Crown mentioned was there was not enough evidence in their eyes, double jeopardy and not public interest which we disagree with.”

At first, Goertzen said Whitford’s family was not satisfied with the RCMP’s investigation of the incident, believing officers were not diligent enough and thinking that at one time there may have been bias toward Whitford and her daughter who was also at the party. Both have Indigenous heritage.

That is no longer the case with Goertzen saying the family now appreciated the work of the RCMP in sending the additional report to Crown counsel.

The family has also requested, through access to information channels, both the Houston RCMP report sent to the Smithers Crown counsel office and that office’s reasoning for not pursuing additional charges.

The B.C. Prosecution Service’s McLaughlin said the family will be informed of the result of the review by the regional Crown counsel office in Prince George.

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