Jus­tice, two ways

The Compass - - EDITORIAL -

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.

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