BRIDGEWATER, N.S. –The drug-trafficking trial for a Nova Scotia doctor accused of prescribing 50,000 pills to a hospital patient stalled Monday as the defence made a bid to exclude statements she made to medical regulators in the early days of the case.
Dr. Sarah Dawn Jones sat quietly in the gallery of Bridgewater provincial court as defence lawyer Stan MacDonald argued her constitutional rights would be violated if information she gave the Nova Scotia College of Physicians and Surgeons is allowed into her trial.
Jones has pleaded not guilty to charges including possession of narcotics for the purpose of trafficking, drawing a document without authority and fraud.
“She has the right to be free from the Crown using self incriminating evidence against her,” MacDonald said outside court during a break on the first day of the case.
When charges were laid over a year ago, Bridgewater police and the federal Crown alleged that Jones wrote the prescription for oxycodone and oxyneo pills over a one-year period to a hospital patient but the drugs were diverted into the community.
However, the case’s origins run back to August 2015, after a pharmacist reported unusual activity by Jones to the college’s investigative branch and she was swiftly suspended by the medical investigators.
MacDonald said the college immediately contacted the doctor to request she respond to allegations she was diverting the powerful painkillers.
Court heard on Monday that she wrote a lengthy letter to the college on Sept. 4, and four days later gave testimony defending her actions. The college still went on to report the matter to police.
“We say both of these bodies of evidence were provided under compulsion, and are incriminating in nature,” MacDonald argued.
He said the college’s powers under the Medical Act are “draconian,” and it’s difficult to resist a request to provide information when you risk losing your livelihood.
In addition, MacDonald said that evidence about a medical drop box at Jones’ Crossroads clinic in Tantallon, N.S. –which she had told the college committee was supposed to contain some of the prescribed narcotics –should be dropped from the trial.
He told the judge that police wouldn’t have investigated the drop box and an inventory of its contents if Jones hadn’t brought it up with the regulator’s investigation committee.
He said if the drop box evidence is admitted, the Crown can erode Jones’ credibility in the trial.
“The Crown is alleging … that Jones prescribed pills for (the patient) which she then diverted for her own use or for sale,” said MacDonald.
“The Crown is trying to say that though she said in her statement to the college that these pills were returned to the box, there’s no evidence of those pills being in the box, so therefore she must be guilty.”
Federal Crown prosecutor Jill Hartlen argued that Jones had provided the letter and testimony voluntarily to the college.
The prosecutor also said that Jones’ statements were aimed at showing she’d done nothing wrong.
Hartlen told Judge Timothy Landry that police would have eventually investigated the drop box at the clinic as one of the possible explanations of what had happened with the narcotics, regardless of any leads they gained from the college.
“She didn’t provide evidence under oath … or under subpoena,” said Hartlen, arguing that Jones wasn’t compelled to speak to the college.
Judge Landry asked a series of questions of the federal Crown lawyer, including whether he might accept some aspects of the letter to the college, while excluding others
He said he expects to have a decision on the admissibility of the evidence by Friday afternoon.
The trial had originally been scheduled to begin on Monday and run 10 days.
Hartlen said outside court that if the conversations between Jones and the college and the evidence regarding the drop box are excluded, the Crown will likely continue its case.
“I’m confident we will continue to prosecute, although it depends on how far reaching the judge’s decision is,” she said.