Preliminary hearing delayed in human trafficking case

Court proceedings against a Red Deer couple accused of human trafficking have been delayed after a judge ordered the pair to find a new lawyer.

Court proceedings against a Red Deer couple accused of human trafficking have been delayed after a judge ordered the pair to find a new lawyer.

Varinder Sidhu, 50 and Ravinder Sidhu, 47 were charged on April 17 of last year, following a lengthy investigation by an organized crime unit based in Calgary.

They had asked that the charges be heard in the Court of Queen’s Bench with the benefit of a preliminary hearing beforehand, represented by defence counsel Will Willms of Red Deer. Preliminary hearings may be held in provincial court to test the Crown’s case before proceeding to the higher court.

Scheduled for Red Deer provincial court on Monday and today, the preliminary hearing was abruptly abandoned when Crown prosecutor Kent Brown of Calgary advised the court that he had discovered a conflict of interest involving defence counsel and a key Crown witness.

Brown told Judge Bert Skinner that a local RCMP member who was the lead investigator in the case against the Sidhus had been one of Willms’s clients roughly 10 years ago, in connection with an internal RCMP investigation. Brown said he had been unaware of the conflict until last Wednesday, when the member revealed to him that she knows Willms and that he had represented her in the past.

Willms apologized to the court for his oversight, saying he had not recalled witnesses’s business with him until after receiving notice from Brown of the potential conflict.

He said that, while the Sidhus had asked him to stay on as counsel, he felt that an aggressive cross-examination of the witness may be uncomfortable for her and could breach their attorney-client privilege.

Willms pledged to provide as much help as possible to get a new lawyer up to speed on the case.

The Sidhus are to return to court with new counsel on May 31.