Justice, two ways
Two lawyers walk into the Ottawa courts building — and no, this isn’t a lawyer joke — their lawyerly hard-bottomed shoes tap-tapping on the stone floors. They’re lugging the usual case files, talking about the Mike Duffy trial. One turns to the other and says, “If you were here Tuesday, it was like Disney World.”
Exactly. It was not like the rest of this courthouse at all.
Duffy’s case, which will run into June (and probably much longer, given the glacial speed at which the trial is moving) is in Courtroom No. 33. There is a metal detector on the door, court passes to be checked and a trio of Ottawa police officers to check them.
But there were 25 different Ottawa courtrooms hearing cases Thursday.
In Courtroom No.5, there was no metal detector. No police. But the conveyor belt that is what most people see of the justice system was working just fine.
Courtroom No. 5 has long rows of, well, pews, and at the inner end of each pew, there are greasy marks where people have leaned their heads against the wall.
There are lawyers talking to clients outside: “It looks like someone’s been watching you…” and “I’m just going over the questions I’ll be…”
Inside, clients with lawyers, and clients depending on legal aid: 30 people, 30 different cases to be heard, but the court moves quickly: sometimes, the people accused of crimes haven’t had all the material about their cases handed over. There’s a photocopier right in the court, next to the judge, and the accused are given copies of documents they don’t have and a few minutes to sit and read them.
There’s a young woman, dressed primly for court, and her boyfriend, who is not. His jeans slouch. They are co-accused — her lawyer shows, his does not. “You’ll have to wait for his lawyer,” a court official says.
The woman hisses at her boyfriend: “You sit. I’ll find Leo.”
“Line up if you’re going to be pleading guilty,” the judge says, before telling people in the lineup that they’re to go to Courtroom No. 7 for their guilty pleas and sentencing. “Take your paperwork to the clerk…”
When I get there, Courtroom No. 7 features an unemployed construction worker found with brass knuckles and 30 grams of weed discovered in his car last December. Facts are read, lawyers confer, sentence is delivered. On to the next.
People cycle in and out: a woman in a pink, spangly hat pulls into the last row, a pink wheelie suitcase in tow. Another woman, pushing a walker, is recognized by a court worker: “Hey, what are you doing here? You’re not supposed to be seeing me today.”
“I don’t know. I just know I’m supposed to be in No. 7 for 10.”
Looking down from the third floor, you can watch from above as Duffy and his wife weave slowly through the people leaving No. 5 with their new court dates, leaving No. 7 — if they get to leave —with their sentences. The Duffys head into Tim Hortons before coming upstairs.
The Duffy case Thursday spends hours chewing through things as mundane as the definition of “resident” in the Income Tax Act, the P.E.I. Adoption Act, the P.E.I. Highway Traffic Act, the P.E.I. Lands Protection Act. We plod ever-forward through the defence thesis that Duffy broke no rules because there were no cogent rules to break.
Downstairs, dozens of cases have been dispatched in the time it takes a witness and Duffy’s lawyer to agree on the meaning of one sentence in one document.
Downstairs, the other world of justice is chewing them up, spitting them out.
It’s a very different world indeed. That’s not in any way Duffy’s fault, by the way.
It’s just a fact.