The ev­i­dence is anec­do­tal, your hon­our

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - THE WEST - ROBERT MAR­SHALL

JUST two months into the new year and ques­tions be­ing asked by jus­tice-watch­ers ev­ery­where in­clude: Is our ju­di­ciary out of touch with Cana­di­ans? On the flip side, does Joe Cit­i­zen just not get it?

Last month, Im­mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter Ja­son Ken­ney spoke on be­half of those who re­sent our court’s kid­glove han­dling of for­eign crim­i­nals who take gross ad­van­tage of seem­ingly easy en­try into our coun­try. In do­ing so, Ken­ney took a swipe at those judges who “…on a whim, or per­haps in a fit of mis­guided mag­na­nim­ity… over­turn the care­ful de­ci­sions of mul­ti­ple lev­els of dili­gent, highly trained pub­lic ser­vants, tri­bunals, and even other judges.”

That brought a strong re­buke from the Cana­dian Bar As­so­ci­a­tion’s Rod Snow, who howled that po­lit­i­cal crit­i­cism of ju­di­cial fig­ures was an “af­front to our democ­racy and free­doms” that “un­der­mine(s) con­fi­dence in the ju­di­ciary.”

Last week in Win­nipeg, it was pretty clear that Jus­tice Robert De­war un­der­mined the con­fi­dence of some with his thoughts and a de­cid­edly gen­teel sen­tence for a sex­ual as­sault. An un­sci­en­tific poll con­ducted by the Free Press showed that thou­sands of in­fu­ri­ated read­ers be­lieved a ju­di­cial sanc­tion was in or­der and sev­eral of­fi­cial com­plaints have been launched.

While all three po­lit­i­cal par­ties en­tered the diss­ing fray at the pro­vin­cial or fed­eral lev­els, the Cana­dian bar this time re­mained mute and ap­par­ently un­con­cerned about the po­lit­i­cal slag­ging of a ju­di­cial fig­ure.

Else­where, a new B.C. case has left a bad taste about the some­times-un­ful­filled role of the ju­di­ciary in com­mu­nity safety.

Prince Ge­orge is a B.C. town in cri­sis and dubbed one of the worst in the West for its crime prob­lems. An in­flux of gangs and nar­cotics has mi­grated from Van­cou­ver and taken firm hold of the pub­lic psy­che in this small­ish city of 77,000. Mur­ders, beat­ings and kids buy­ing crack co­caine are too rou­tine. Re­ports of fin­gers be­ing hacked off due to drug debts add to the an­guish.

In Jan­uary, Prince Ge­orge’s city coun­cil re­ceived its for­mal re­port from a re­cent gang crime sum­mit.

Iden­ti­fy­ing chil­dren at risk, early in­ter­ven­tion, ad­dic­tion treat­ment, ed­u­ca­tion and me­dia co-op­er­a­tion were shown as key to an in­te­grated ap­proach for chal­leng­ing the gang threat. In short, all the “right” things were on the ta­ble and ev­ery­one, from city hall to the po­lice through to the schools and the Min­istry of Chil­dren and Fam­ily De­vel­op­ment was on board. But what about the ju­di­ciary? What about the case of Dwayne Wil­liam Caron? The RCMP hit the moth­er­lode when he was pulled over for speed­ing.

Caron had been zip­ping along at about 165 km/h en route from Van­cou­ver to Prince Ge­orge. There was a short chase be­fore Caron pulled over. The of­fi­cer checked the glove­box for the car’s reg­is­tra­tion while Caron sat se­curely in the back of the po­lice car. While do­ing so, the con­sta­ble hap­pened upon a dig­i­tal cam­era that he scrolled through, look­ing for pos­si­ble ev­i­dence of the speeds Caron had been trav­el­ling. (Bad guys do some­times take pic­tures of their crimes.) And this was no ex­cep­tion. Ex­cept the pho­tos were of a gun be­ing fired by Caron. A search of the ve­hi­cle lo­cated a loaded nine-mil­lime­tre and a bunch of cash. Thirty bun­dles — $2,000 each. An ion scan later de­tected co­caine and metham­phetamine on the loot.

It was strong ev­i­dence of or­ga­nized crime and strong sup­port­ing ev­i­dence of the kind of trou­ble Prince Ge­orge faces daily as an il­licit profit cen­tre.

A court found Caron guilty on a va­ri­ety of charges. That didn’t last. On the heels of the city’s gang sum­mit and all of Prince Ge­orge’s best in­ten­tions, an Ap­peal Court over­turned the con­vic­tion, say­ing that look­ing at the dig­i­tal cam­era was, “…more than a min­i­mal in­ter­fer­ence with Mr. Caron’s right to pri­vacy.” Fur­ther­more, “the price paid by so­ci­ety for an ac­quit­tal ... is out­weighed by the im­por­tance of main­tain­ing Charter stan­dards.”

But do such stan­dards go be­yond the stan­dards Prince Ge­orge needs in its fight to re­gain nor­malcy? Do ever-fluid Charter stan­dards mesh with mod­ern Cana­dian val­ues?

All the cop did was look at a cam­era — af­ter a 160 km/h chase.

Adding in­sult to in­jury, Caron did not qual­ify for legal aid, so the lower court that con­victed him gave the okey dokey to pay his de­fence team with the for­feited, co­caine-stained cash.

The ju­di­ciary’s re­spon­si­bil­ity goes be­yond pro­tect­ing the rights of those in­di­vid­u­als ac­cused of crimes. It has a duty of bal­ance and to fair com­mu­nity pro­tec­tion. That re­spon­si­bil­ity is great be­cause it is the last word.

There are strong ar­gu­ments to say that the ju­di­ciary works well and con­cerns about im­mi­gra­tion, sex­ual as­sault and or­ga­nized crime may be more anec­do­tal than truly in­dica­tive.

It’s just that there are so damn many anec­dotes.

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