One of the men charged in an elaborate coke-smuggling scheme failed to convince a judge he's spent too long in jail awaiting trial.
Salvador Ascencio-Chavez, a Mexican national, and two Canadians are accused of conspiring to smuggle 97 kilograms of cocaine inside the steel drums of a fruit grinder in September 2010. He applied for a judicial stay on grounds that he will have spent 33 months in custody when his trial ends this spring.
After listening to two days of arguments, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Alison Beames dismissed the application on Thursday. She ruled the Crown prosecutor was not responsible for the delay and blamed the other accused men for contributing to the wait.
"The case is complex, involving very serious conspiracy charges relating to the importation of a significant amount of cocaine.
"A significant amount of the delay is attributable to the co-accused," she said.
The standard timeline for trials to begin, based on rulings by the Supreme Court of Canada, is 15-24 months.
Clifford Roger Montgomery, Tariq Mohammed Aslam and Ascencio-Chavez were arrested in the fall of 2010. Montgomery and Aslam originally asked to be tried by a provincial court judge. They later re-elected to B.C. Supreme Court, which cost them their trial date in provincial court.
Ascencio-Chavez, now 44, waived his right to the hearing so he could go straight to trial in B.C. Supreme Court. He has requested a speedy trial since he was extradited to Canada from the U.S.
The Crown refused to try him separately. Prosecutor Chris Greenwood plans to call nearly 40 witnesses and the trial is scheduled for six weeks. Beames agreed that trying Ascencio-Chavez separately would amount to two lengthy trials.
"I've concluded the overall delay in this case is not so unreasonable so as to justify the stay of proceedings," she said. "As the seriousness of the case increases, so does the societal demand for the accused to be brought to trial."
Vancouver border agents discovered the contraband in the summer of 2010. Police say the accused men shipped the fruit-grinding machine from Argentina to Kelowna. Officers estimate the drug's street value at $4 million. RCMP said the suspects fled when they realized the drugs had been removed from the machine by police.
U.S. border agents arrested Aslam and Ascencio-Chavez a month later near San Diego Calif. Ascencio-Chavez spent four months in jail there before consenting to his extradition to Canada. He was later denied bail.
Montgomery and Aslam are out on strict bail conditions. Their trial is set to begin April 29.