Sisters call for justice after charges stayed against sexually abusive cousin

Jun 19 2019, 7:58 pm

Three BC women who spent over a decade seeking justice after their cousin sexually abused them as children have experienced a let down from the court system.

Jeeti Pooni, her sisters Kira and Salakshana, and cousin Rajinder Rana were sexually abused as children by their older cousin, Manjit Virk, while growing up in Williams Lake, BC.

Their story was recently featured in the documentary film Because We Are Girls, which follows the Pooni sisters’ journey for justice as they eventually take the case to the Supreme Court of BC.

The sisters have pursued criminal charges against Virk for 12 years. In April 2018, he was found guilty on four of six counts of sexual assault.

Following the judgement, Virk filed a Section 11b Charter Application, commonly known as a Jordan Application, arguing that his constitutional right to a timely trial was infringed.

The judge agreed, granting the application and all proceedings were stayed on June 10, 2019.

Jeeti Pooini says the decision is “very disappointing.”

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“This further points out how broken our system is,” she told Daily Hive.

Pooni explained that the decision means that Virk will have no criminal record and he will not be added to the national sex offender registry.

“So he’s guilty. The guilty verdict stands and then, on the other hand, he’s a free man and … he’s back in his community basically a free man.”

Time is of the essence for an appeal

Pooni is not giving up on her fight for justice and started a petition requesting the public to call on the Crown to appeal the stay of proceedings.

The Crown has 30 days as of June 10, 2019, to make the appeal and the petition notes that “time is of the essence.”

At the time of publication, the petition collected over 3,000 signatures.

Pooni has also released a video, calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take action for sexual assault survivors trying to navigate through the justice system.

“I was raped at 11 years old. My sisters and I chose to go through the criminal justice system to try and stop our abuser from harming other girls. It was a 12-year journey. All I can say is the criminal justice system is so broken. It’s a broken, dinosaur system,” Pooni says in the video.

“I don’t blame those that don’t come forward. Those that are horrifically harmed by rape and sexual assault. I don’t blame them for staying silent.”

Pooni says she and her sisters aren’t giving up because they feel their story can help end the silence for other assault survivors.

“Our experience through this whole court case system over these many years — there is so much richness in it that we can share as to how to improve certain aspects of the system and look at exactly what went wrong,” she told Daily Hive.

“And change that will benefit not just my sisters and I — that ship has sailed. It can benefit society. We can have safer communities.”

‘So many things that went wrong’

Pooni says the 11-year trial has been an emotionally exhausting experience.

This can also be seen in the documentary as the sisters spend weeks leaving their families to travel between Metro Vancouver and Williams Lake to attend legal proceedings.

“It has a toll on health, on one’s physical health, family well being, work, business. Every aspect of one’s life is affected by this. So given what happened with this case, how will other women come forward? How will those that have been harmed come forward?”

The case, she says, has been “riddled with so many things that went wrong,” highlighting how broken the justice system is for survivors.

“In 2007 is when we first approached the police. So from 2011, he was charged, so what was the police doing the whole time? Did anyone even look at our file? And if they did, when did they start?”

From 2011 to 2013, the case went into a preliminary hearing. Between 2013 to 2015, the case went to the Supreme Court of BC.

“What happened during those two years? And from 2015 to 2019, that’s a lifetime,” said Pooni.

In the petition, Pooni goes into detail about the delays, stating that Virk was behind countless adjournments.

This includes Virk’s “calculated request” to access the sisters’ “counselling records, offering to change his plea to guilty, changing lawyers, claiming he ran out of money to fund his defence, not appearing in court, claiming illness, and much more.”

Film changing the narrative

Pooni credits Because We Are Girls for sparking cultural conversation within South Asian communities — and the general public — about sexual abuse and the importance of giving survivors the chance to share their stories.

“Now that the documentary is out and the story is being shared out there in the world it’s inspiring others to do whatever they need to do in their lives to heal,” she said.

“By making the film it was something that I knew that would touch so many communities. I also knew… it’s a story that resonates with numerous families, not just my family.”

The film — produced by the National Film Board — premiered in May at Toronto’s HotDocs festival and sold out its screenings at the DOXA festival in Vancouver.

The film’s director Baljit Sangra told Daily Hive in a previous interview that the film is creating “momentum” in communities to “challenge the stigma and taboo.”

Due to popular demand, Because We Are Girls will return to Vancouver for five additional screenings in July.