It’s overkill to take students to court over parties
A joint pilot project launched by Queen’s University, Kingston police and the City of Kingston to quell the infamous annual chaos of Queen’s University parties can be aptly summarized as: Empty the streets by filling the courtrooms.The solution of what’s called the “University District Safety Initiative” is to issue summonses to appear in court, instead of tickets wherein the fine is payable by phone or online, to partygoers revelling in the mass turmoil that is Kingston’s Aberdeen Street on orientation week, homecoming, and St. Patrick’s Day. Yet, the initiative is likely to only result in filling alreadyoverburdened courtrooms.As an undergraduate student, I am angry about this pilot project, as are my friends. I disagree that partying on a city street is such an important activity that it deserves special protection to inoculate partygoers against liability from applicable bylaw and provincial offences.Let’s be clear: Holding an open beer can during an admittedly wild, yet heavily policed, university street party does not warrant a court appearance. It might, at the upper threshold of available remedies, warrant a ticket with an affixed fine, but most definitely not a summons that compels attendance before a Justice of the Peace. That is extreme, in the least, and terribly misguided.The effect of this pilot project is a massive waste of already scarce, precious courtroom resources. The Supreme Court of Canada has been resolutely clear with its decision in R. v Jordan: Efficiency ought to be a hallmark of the criminal justice system. Compelled appearances, as opposed to the less burdensome resolution of paying a fine online or by phone, is typical of the unnecessary procedural steps that attracted intense criticism in the Jordan decision.The relatively low-risk nature of the offences in question during a street party allows for a more swift resolution than a court appearance. Advocacy groups such as the Canadian Bar Association, representing the national interests of Canadian lawyers, echo this sentiment in their position that an emphasis on early resolution and diversion of minor charges is necessary to reduce court delays. This initiative purposely avoids alternatives that help clear dockets of low-risk offences, and is antithetical to the spirit of Jordan.The panicked language used to describe the offences in question as “high risk” and “risky” misrepresents the realities of these types of provincial offences. For the most part, these are not criminal offences, meaning defendants are subject to a reduced threshold for conviction. While respecting the societal need for other measures in certain circumstances, the $100 set fine for open alcohol (which almost all charges at Queen’s orientation have been for) appropriately reflects the minor nature of the offence; a summons does not.The deterrence implied in this policy is not the punishment of a $100 fine. Rather, the more nuanced deterrence is the resulting headache, anxiety and embarrassment of having to go to court and answer to the charge before a Justice of the Peace. The policy uses procedural law as the primary punishment, not the actual prescribed conviction.Such an approach undermines the integrity of the criminal justice system.While navigating the procedural maze that is the criminal justice system is an auxiliary deterrent to any offence, it ought not to be the primary. When it is the primary deterrent, as in this case, the punishment is not proportional to the offence.It is well documented ( both in the literature and on Instagram) that university street parties can be rowdy. But forcing students to court to answer a charge that doesn’t necessitate the need for a court appearance is not the solution. In reality, it’s bad policy that produces a greater harm of further overloading court dockets than the good it seeks to achieve.Let’s be clear: Holding an open beer can during an admittedly wild, yet heavily policed, university street party does not warrant a court appearance. Patrick Mott, a fourth-year criminology student
Kingston’s Aberdeen Street during orientation week often attracts large crowds of university students. Revelers also tend to show up for homecoming and St. Patrick’s Day.
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