A legal saga that spanned more than a decade has come to a close for an Ontario couple charged with unlawful confinement after making a citizen’s arrest, with prosecutors withdrawing the charges against them.
But one of the accused, Sylvain Lahaie, says the Crown’s decision to drop the case last week is “too little, too late,” adding the ordeal that began in 2008 has ruined his and his wife’s lives and finances.
“We spent $350,000 just in legal fees … financially I’ve been wiped out,” Lahaie said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It totally wrecked our lives.”
The experience left Lahaie, a contractor, unable to work for five years and eventually put a halt to his wife’s medical career as the stress affected her health, he said.
Court documents show the pair were charged in August 2008 after they tied up two young men who had been stealing from their Caledon, Ont., property for three nights in a row.
Jurors found them guilty of unlawful confinement, but that ruling was overturned on appeal last year after the province’s highest court found the trial judge made mistakes in his instructions to the jury.
A new trial was ordered, but a spokesman for the Ministry of the Attorney General confirmed the charges were instead withdrawn on Jan. 27. No other details were provided.
Lahaie, 49, said Tuesday it was a bitter victory, noting he hoped the case would be thrown out almost immediately after it began.
“All of a sudden my whole life is turned over, I’m thrown in jail…. I didn’t understand why they were doing this,” he said, recalling the day of the arrest.
In ordering a new trial last year, the Court of Appeal for Ontario said the trial judge failed to instruct the jury on whether the two men captured by the Lahaies had consented to their prolonged confinement, as the couple alleged.
The men testified during the trial that the Lahaies had a gun and held them hostage, assaulted them and demanded to be paid in exchange for not calling authorities.
The Lahaies, meanwhile, maintained they were not armed. The couple said they tied up the men with zip ties, at which point the two captives pleaded with them not to call police and offered to pay for the previously stolen property.
The couple testified the men agreed to stay bound until their parents came to pick them up. That, they argued at trial, amounted to consenting to an extended period of confinement.
The Crown argued at trial that the citizen’s arrest became unlawful when the couple failed to call police as soon as reasonably possible, which the law requires.
The court of appeal said the trial judge gave “inadequate” guidance on the issue of consent, and did not explain it was up to the Crown to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was no consent.
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press