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Killer of 13-year-old Burnaby girl allowed to attend sentencing by video

Ibrahim Ali, 34, is scheduled to be sentenced on June 7 for first-degree murder in the death of a girl found dead in Central Park on July 18, 2017.

The family of a slain 13-year-old girl whose body was found in Burnaby's Central Park nearly seven years ago will not get a chance to confront her killer face to face at his sentencing next week.

Family members of the young teen, whose name is protected by a publication ban, will travel from China to deliver their victim impact statements in person at Ibrahim Ali's sentencing hearing on June 7, but Ali and his lawyers will appear only on a video monitor.

A B.C. Supreme Court jury found Ali guilty in December of first-degree murder in the death of the girl, whose partially naked body was found in the bush off a Central Park trail on July 18, 2017.

The Crown's theory, accepted by the jury, was that Ali had grabbed her on the trail, pulled her into the bushes and strangled her to death in the course of sexually assaulting her.

Ali's lawyer, Kevin McCullough, applied to the court last month for Ali and his defence team to be allowed to appear remotely.

McCullough cited safety concerns.

He had previously told Justice Lance Bernard that the victim's father had brought a gun to court on the day Ali was convicted.

While no charges were laid, the father was issued a five-year weapons ban in a Surrey court in April after two licensed guns were seized from his home.

Under the Criminal Code, the court needs the Crown's consent before it can allow an offender to appear at a sentencing hearing remotely – and the Crown in Ali's case initially said it would not consent.  

At a court appearance on April 26, Crown prosecutor Isobel Keeley pointed to the seriousness of Ali's crime, "societal and victim considerations" and the "repute of the justice system."

Keeley also noted a secure court room has been booked for Ali's sentencing – Courtroom 20, a $7.2-million, bullet-resistant courtroom built for the Air-India bombing trial in 2003.

But Ali's lawyers indicated they were prepared to challenge the constitutionality of the Criminal Code section that requires Crown consent for offenders to attend sentencings remotely.

That raised concerns about more delays in the case, which has yet to conclude more than five years after Ali was charged in September 2018.

Keeley said the Crown was prepared to present 18 pages of written submissions in a bid to find a solution to the impasse, but Justice Lance Bernard first proposed a break in the hearing for the Crown to consider whether it would be open to simply giving its consent for Ali to appear remotely.

He asked the Crown to consider Ali's and McCullough's safety concerns, the fact Ali's sentence won't be determined by the court but by the mandatory minimum in the Criminal Code (first-degree murder comes with an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years), the risk of further delays, and the "clear recognition" in the Criminal Code that offenders aren't required to attend sentencings in person in all situations.

After a break, Keeley announced that, in light of Bernard's comments, the Crown was ready to give its consent to Ali appearing remotely after all.

She noted McCullough had also said there was "very real potential" Ali might "significantly disrupt" the proceedings if he was at the sentencing in person.

"We know that appearance by video as opposed to appearance in person by Mr. Ali will be upsetting for (the victim's) family and friends," Keeley said, "but the Crown, in considering the potential significant detrimental effect on the public and the family if such disruptions were to occur, as well as the potential damage to the repute of the administration of justice, will consent to Mr. Ali appearing by video."

Ali's sentencing is scheduled for June 7.

Among the victim impact statements will be a pre-recorded video of the girl's father reading out a statement in English.

The man will not be allowed to attend the hearing in person.

With files from The Canadian Press.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on X/Twitter @CorNaylor
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