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Man accused of kidnapping, raping women in Calgary opts for uncommon French trial

A man accused of kidnapping and sexually assaulting five women in Calgary has opted for a French-language trial, which is relatively uncommon in the Alberta Court of Justice but legally required if requested.

Richard Robert Mantha, 59, faces numerous charges that include kidnapping, forcible confinement, sexual assault with a weapon, sexual assault causing bodily harm and administering a noxious substance.

Mantha, who has ties to Quebec, was denied bail last summer and has been in custody since he was arrested in April 2023.

His French-language trial, set for four weeks, is to begin Monday before a judge in provincial court, which was renamed the Alberta Court of Justice last year.

“I wouldn’t say they’re particularly common,” Court of Justice spokesperson Olav Rokne said in an interview. “We have about a couple dozen requests for French trials each year.”

The right to a French trial is guaranteed by Section 530 of the Criminal Code, which provides for an accused person to request a trial in one of Canada’s official languages.

“Given the jeopardy anyone charged with a criminal offence could face, it is imperative that they understand fully the charges they are facing and the evidence being called to support the charges,” said Rokne. “They must also be assured that all the evidence, including any defence that may be advanced by the accused person, is fully understood by the presiding justice.

“We have judges who are fully bilingual who would be assigned to these matters. There are clerks who are fully bilingual and there would even be sheriffs who are fully bilingual.”

Crown prosecutors and defence lawyers would also be fluent in French, he added.

Statistics from the Alberta Court of Justice from 2010 to 2022 show there were up to 25 French trials requested annually, though fewer than that went ahead. There were four French trials held in 2022, five in 2021, five in 2020, 17 in 2019 and 10 in 2018 — amid thousands of criminal trials held in each of those years.

Exterior image of the Calgary Court Centre.
From 2010 and 2022, up to 25 French trials were requested annually in the province, according to statistics from the Alberta Court of Justice. (Meghan Grant/CBC)

Justice Canada said in a statement that neither it nor Statistics Canada collect data on the language of trials across the country.

The federal department noted, however, that it and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada conducted a study in 2017 looking at access to justice in both official languages for criminal jury trials, which are held in superior courts.

The study, published in 2018, said there was no noted increase in demand for French-language or bilingual juries.

“In Yukon there has never been a request,” said the report. “In Manitoba, there have been no requests in the last two decades.”

Ontario could not provide numbers because of unreliable data in its case-tracking system. New Brunswick had stable demand since 2012.

“British Columbia noted a dramatic decrease in French-language jury trials with only one reported French-language jury trial since 2012,” the report said.

The report said Quebec reported a slight increase in English-language or bilingual jury trials.

It said there have also been unsuccessful attempts. Charges in one case in the Northwest Territories were stayed after a bilingual jury couldn’t be found, Newfoundland and Labrador saw a case proceed by judge alone because it couldn’t find enough French-speaking jurors, and New Brunswick saw a mistrial because it couldn’t find enough bilingual jurors.

Justice Canada said federal courts and federal departments also provide services for alleged victims during trials. 

“Services provided by provincial courts or offices are not subject to the federal Official Languages Act, but provincial language laws would apply,” said the statement.

For Mantha’s trial in Calgary, an interpreter has been appointed to translate the testimony of any witnesses who only speak English into French.

It’s not yet clear whether an interpreter would also be provided for alleged victims or their families during the court proceedings, but the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service said it’s aware of a potential issue.

“The need for interpreters has been flagged for the courts,” the service said in a statement. “The conduct of the trial is the court’s responsibility including addressing any language requirements.”

Rokne said the Criminal Code includes a provision for translation to be provided to the accused, to counsel and to witnesses, which could include victims.

“While giving testimony, a witness will be provided with an interpreter if the trial is in French and they do not speak French,” he said in an emailed statement. “The Crown may make an application to have an interpreter stay and continue providing translation services for that witness or the victim, but the Code does not require that.”

The Calgary police’s Victim Assistance Support Team is to provide support to the women during the trial, but a spokesperson said that doesn’t typically include translation services.

Police have said the women alleged they were approached by a man, then drugged and taken to another location, where they were physically and sexually assaulted.

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