A judicial stay of proceedings has been made in the sexual-assault case connected to Because We Are Girls, prompting one of three sisters profiled in the new documentary movie to send a four-minute video message to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
A Surrey-area family is the focus of the film, which debuted in May and documents the abuse of three sisters who grew up in Williams Lake decades ago.
Cloverdale resident Jeeti Pooni reacts to the court decision in a video posted to her social media channels Tuesday.
The movie chronicles the sisters’ account of childhood abuse.
“My sisters and I chose to go through the criminal justice system to try and stop our abuser from harming other girls,” Pooni says in the video. “It was a 12-year journey. All I can say is the criminal justice system is so broken – it’s a broken, dinosaur system.
“Our case was stayed, meaning the charges were dropped, there will be no sentencing, even though our abuser was found guilty last year, April 6, 2018, for four out of six counts,” including two counts of indecent assault, one count of sexual assault and one count of sexual intercourse without consent.
On Monday, a judge ruled that excessive court delays prevented the accused, Manjit Singh Virk, from getting a fair trial.
In the video posted to social media, Pooni says she doesn’t blame those who “don’t come forward, those that have been horrifically harmed by rape and sexual assault. I don’t blame them for staying silent.”
She says going through the justice “made my sisters and I feel, at the time, that we were unworthy, we didn’t matter, we were very disrespected, humiliated, and the process was very dehumanizing and extremely traumatizing, and it re-traumatized us over and over again over the past eight years the court has been trying our case.”
She calls on Crown Counsel to appeal the decision, and for an inquiry into the case “to help answer questions of all the wrongs, of all the delays that were offered to defense, all the adjournments, countless adjournments, that left my sisters and I shattered, time and time again.”
She asks to “sit down” with Trudeau, “so that you and your government can help enable those of us that have been harmed, and those of us who have been violated, help us live better, prosperous lives.
“We need special sexual-assault courts that deal with crimes of rape and these heinous violations,” she adds.
“We Canadians, even those of us who have been harmed, deserve a better justice system.”
Three years in the making, the Baljit Sangra-directed Because We Are Girls had its world premiere during Toronto’s Hot Docs film festival in early May, and days later opened the DOXA Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver.
The movie reveals how the girls felt they couldn’t tell anyone about the abuse, for fear of “being shipped off to India” and being shunned for what happened.
“The biggest advantage he had was he knew we’d keep our mouths shut,” one of the sisters says of the accused, whose identity is kept out of the film.
“Any mention of him, there was no place in the film, no need,” Jeeti told the Now-Leader in April. “At the time the film was being shot, the court case was proceeding, so there were things we couldn’t share, but now that it’s all wrapping up, I think the important thing is that this story is not about him, it’s about the resilience of my sisters and I, and stepping into our power and standing up for ourselves and sharing our truth, no matter if we’re believed or not.
“The story is more about that, and also when you see my daughters in the film, that’s when it should really hit home that my sisters and I were once little girls just like that, right. It’s to show that innocence and wake up the community to stop blaming the girls and the women.”
On Thursday, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) announced that its film, Because We Are Girls, will play at Vancouver’s Vancity Theatre between July 5 and 11, for five screenings. Dates and times are posted to viff.org.