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Accused in murders of Calgary woman and her daughter denies the killings

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CALGARY — A man accused of killing a Calgary woman and her daughter says he didn’t do it.

Edward Downey, who is 48, has pleaded not guilty in the deaths of Sara Baillie and her five-year-old daughter Taliyah Marsman.

Downey, taking the stand in his own defence, was asked twice whether he was responsible for their deaths — both times he replied no.

His answers prompted Taliyah’s father to yell obscenities and storm out of the courtroom.

Downey testified he was in Baillie’s apartment with two other men doing a drug deal on July 11, 2016, the day she was found dead.

He said Baillie and one of his friends seemed to be arguing with each other in her bedroom.

Downey told court that his friend asked for some tape and the third man passed over a roll and Downey ripped off a strip about half a metre long.

The trial heard earlier that two of Downey’s partial fingerprints were found on duct tape that had been wrapped around Baillie’s head and neck.

Baillie, who was 34, was found dead that evening. She had been stuffed into a laundry hamper in her daughter’s closet.

Downey said he heard from his then-girlfriend — Baillie’s best friend — that Baillie was dead.

“She said something happened to Sara. I can’t remember how exactly she said it,” Downey testified Wednesday. “She said, ‘She’s gone.’ I asked her what she was talking about. She said Sara was dead.

“That’s how I found out.”

Downey testified he and the two other men got separated on the way to a location where they were supposed to finish off their drug deal. He said he drove past the city’s eastern edge to see if they might be at a potential drug stash site.

It was near where Taliyah’s body was found three days later. The trial previously heard that police used cellphone traffic to zero in on the girl’s location. Downey testified he was using his phone at the time.

It was getting late, so Downey decided to turn around in a school parking lot and pick up his then-girlfriend from work, he said.

The girlfriend, who cannot be identified because of a publication ban, told him she hadn’t been able to contact Baillie all day, Downey testified. They went over to her house and noticed police were there.

“I was wondering what was wrong.”

Downey’s lawyer Gavin Wolch told court the last time Downey saw Taliyah, alive and well, was earlier that day.

Jurors have heard Baillie and her daughter died by asphyxiation.

Downey said he found out at the police station days later that Taliyah was dead and he felt “bad” about it.

Wolch asked why.

“An innocent little girl dead,” Downey replied.  

Wolch told jurors that if he accomplishes anything, “let it be that there are still unanswered question about what actually happened to Sara Baillie and Taliyah Marsman.”

Downey testified he came from a large family in Nova Scotia, where his father owned a barber shop and his mother worked in a bakery.

Wolch took Downey through his criminal record — which dated from 1990 to 2006 — and included charges related to pimping, firearms and drugs.

Downey testified he was selling drugs in the months leading up to Baillie and Taliyah’s deaths to make money.

The Crown has suggested Downey blamed Baillie for the breakup of his relationship with her best friend and for his girlfriend’s refusal to work for him as an escort. Prosecutors have also suggested Taliyah may have witnessed her mother’s death and could have identified Downey.

Downey testified both he and his ex-girlfriend came up with the idea that she should work as an escort. She testified earlier in the trial that she could not go through with it in the end.

Downey said he slept at her townhouse the night before Baillie was found dead, even though she had texted him telling him to pack his bags earlier in the day.  

Wolch asked Downey whether he expected their relationship to continue.

“Not really ’cause I was looking elsewhere.”

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press


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COVID-19

Court martial planned for soldier who criticized vaccine mandate, led march to Ottawa

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By Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa

The Canadian soldier who recently led a protest march to Ottawa is now facing a court martial for having spoken out against the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine requirements while wearing his uniform.

Warrant Officer James Topp was recently notified that he will be allowed to have his case heard in a military court instead of by his chain of command, according to the army reservist’s civilian lawyer.

Phillip Millar says the decision represents a second about-face after the military initially offered his client a court martial when he was charged in February, only to rescind the offer and send his case to Topp’s unit commanders.

“It’s hard to know what they’re doing, because I don’t think they really know what they’re doing,” said Millar. “But now they’re saying it’s a court martial.”

The decision raises the stakes for Topp, according to military law experts, as courts martial are allowed to impose heavier sentences against Armed Forces members than if they are tried by their chain of command in what is known as a summary trial.

Yet it also means he will be allowed to have legal representation at trial, which wouldn’t have necessarily been the case if he was tried by his commanding officer, while his trial will receive much more public attention.

“The stakes are obviously going to be increased in a public-relations context,” said retired lieutenant-colonel Rory Fowler, who is now a lawyer specializing in military law in Kingston, Ont.

The Department of National Defence did not respond to questions about whether Topp’s case was changed from a court martial to summary trial and back again.

Topp was charged in February with two counts of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline after the army reservist appeared in uniform in two online videos criticizing vaccine requirements for military personnel and other federal employees.

Canadian Armed Forces members are severely restricted in the comments they can make while in uniform, particularly when it comes to criticizing government policies, in large part to protect the military from any perception of politicization.

Topp, who is now in the process of being released from the military, later led a months-long march from Vancouver that ended in Ottawa last week and was supported by many of the same organizers as this year’s “Freedom Convoy.”

He has since become a symbol of sorts for Canadians opposed to vaccines, vaccine mandates and perceived government overreach. Some Conservative MPs have also hitched their wagon to him, including leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre.

While Millar questioned the military’s back and forth with his client, and said he planned to question the way Topp’s charges were handled, he nonetheless welcomed the latest decision to allow a court martial.

That is because Topp will now be allowed to have a lawyer present during his trial, where Millar said he plans to call expert witnesses to question the need and efficacy of the military’s vaccine requirement.

The requirement imposed by chief of the defence staff Gen. Wayne Eyre late last year remains in place even though a similar mandate for most other federal public servants has now been suspended.

“It opens the door for us to call witnesses about the decision to charge him,” Millar said. “It opens the door for us to call experts on whether or not there was any science behind the mandate.”

While the shift from a summary trial back to a court martial means Topp will be afforded an independent trial with legal representation, Fowler said it also means the army reservist faces potentially stiffer penalties if convicted.

Under a summary trial, commanding officers are largely restricted to handing down reprimands and fines. If he is found guilty by court martial, however, Topp faces the threat of dismissal from the military with disgrace and up to two years in prison.

Retired colonel Michel Drapeau said while there may be a number of reasons why the military opted to change the case from a summary trial back to a court martial, he believed the latter was the appropriate venue for hearing Topp’s case.

“It provides for a trial in an open court with all Charter legal guarantees,” Drapeau said in an email. “It also provides for the provision of free legal support to the member.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2022.

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COVID-19

Tamara Lich breached conditions by appearing with fellow convoy leader: Crown

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By Erika Ibrahim in Ottawa

The Crown is seeking to revoke bail for Tamara Lich, a leader of the “Freedom Convoy,” after she appeared alongside a fellow organizer in an alleged breach of her conditions.

Lich was charged in February with mischief, obstructing police, counselling others to commit mischief and intimidation for her role in the massive protest against COVID-19 restrictions that gridlocked downtown Ottawa for more than three weeks.

She was released the next month with a long list of conditions, including an order not to communicate with key convoy organizers except through counsel or in the presence of counsel. She was also banned from using all social media.

Crown prosecutor Moiz Karimjee told an Ottawa court on Tuesday that Lich breached one of her conditions by being seen with fellow protest leader Tom Marazzo at a recent gala, where she accepted an award for organizing the protest.

He argued that she should be detained.

Lich’s lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon, said he will contest the revocation of Lich’s bail and seek her release with conditions.

Ottawa police Det. Chris Benson, who is the lead on Lich’s case, told the court he reviewed video of Lich and Marazzo appearing together at the awards gala.

Greenspon asked Benson if he knew of any other evidence that Lich and Marazzo communicated before or after the brief interaction in the video, which took place in “less than three seconds.”

He asked the detective if he was aware that some lawyers from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms were present, some of whom are acting as her lawyers in civil matters.

Benson said he believed a photograph showing Lich, Marazzo and others posing together at the award ceremony shows that she breached her conditions due to her physical closeness to him.

Lich monitored the hearing remotely from an Ontario detention centre, watching on video conference and listening in from a cellphone, her blond hair in a high bun.

Both Marazzo and Lich were key spokespeople of the winter convoy protest. Marazzo is also a leader of a group called Veterans 4 Freedom, which staged several rallies in Ottawa over the Canada Day weekend.

Police sought a Canada-wide arrest warrant for Lich for the alleged breach of her bail conditions and she was arrested last week in Medicine Hat, Alta., where she lives.

Benson said he oversaw Lich’s transport from Alberta to Ottawa after she was arrested.

Lich’s surety, whose identity is protected by a court-ordered publication ban, said they became aware of the photo of Lich and Marazzo a few days after the event, and immediately contacted Lich about it out of concern that a possible violation of bail conditions took place.

The surety explained that Lich assured them that legal counsel was present at the gala.

Greenspon pointed out the evidence brought against Lich to argue she broke the bail condition consists of a very brief congratulatory interaction between her and Marazzo, adding lawyers approved the photo and were just off-camera.

He argued Benson didn’t provide any evidence that contradicted the terms of the bail conditions.

“These actions were so minimal as to amount to not being prosecuted, let alone convicted,” he said.

The purpose of the bail condition was not to preclude the brief interaction and photo that took place, Greenspon said — rather, it was to prevent a similar event to the one that took place in Ottawa earlier this year. He argued the interactions in question do not risk reoffence.

The matter should have been brought to a judicial referral hearing or some other recourse rather than the Canada-wide warrant that has led to Lich being detained for nine days, he said, noting an email showing the Crown sought the expansion from an initial Ontario-wide warrant.

Justice of the Peace Paul Harris reserved his decision until the next court appearance on Friday.

Lich is charged for her role in the “Freedom Convoy” along with a co-accused, Chris Barber, who remains out on bail.

On Tuesday morning, Barber’s lawyer was granted a publication ban on court documents showing Barber’s cellphone communications, except for those with Lich.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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