Pregnant Canada teen jailed to ensure testimony

Wed Apr 9, 2008 4:18pm EDT
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By Lara Hertel

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's justice system has come under fire after a pregnant Toronto-area teenager was jailed to ensure her testimony against the man she has accused of domestic violence.

In an unusual legal move, an Ontario court ordered Noellee Mowatt, 19, to be detained at a provincial jail in Milton, Ontario, near Toronto.

Mowatt, who is nine months pregnant, will not be released until Friday, when she is scheduled to testify at the assault trial of her boyfriend, Christopher Harbin.

The case has attracted criticism from advocacy groups that say the legal system is failing abused women and punishing the victim.

"What's happening is essentially the woman is taking the blame for a crime committed against her," said Eileen Morrow, co-ordinator for the Ontario Association on Interval and Transition Houses.

Mowatt was arrested April 1 on a material witness warrant after she failed to appear at Harbin's trial on March 20.

Her defense lawyer, Lydia Riva, said a judge can issue a material witness warrant if there is sufficient evidence someone will fail to respond to a court summons, but she maintains her client was not issued a subpoena at that time.

Such warrants are typically used to encourage other criminals to testify.   Continued...