(This column was published in the North Shore News on May 17, 2000)


Clogged system bears blame in Trott case

By Leo Knight

THE recriminations in the case of David Timothy Trott are still resounding with journalists, talk show hosts and politicians all trying to find someone to blame.  


The judiciary and members of the bar have circled the wagons around provincial court Judge Susan Antifaev, who released Trott without a psychiatric assessment despite a request for one.  


Judging from the e-mails I received after last week's rant, it would appear a chord has been struck. The salient point of the column was to demonstrate there's no one person to blame. Not Antifaev, not Trott's lawyer or a failed prosecutor. Neither the police nor the corrections people. It is the system, in its entirety, that needs to take the hit in this case.  


It's too easy to take a shot at the judge. But unless she was prepared to buck the system itself and take a courageous stand, there was little else she could do. True, she released Trott without the psychiatric assessment. But she, like all judges, knows she is virtually powerless when it comes to incarcerating people for all but the most serious of offences. There's no room at the inn, so to speak.  


Let's take a look at the numbers.  


According to Sheldon Green, spokesman for Corrections B.C., there are, on average, 2,500 people in the provincial corrections system. This includes remand prisoners (those not yet convicted and awaiting trial) which make up about 33% of the total. On average, there are between 850 and 880 on remand.  


This is a large part of the problem. Remand prisoners are automatically considered maximum security because they have not been classified. Equally, persons in the system awaiting psych assessments are automatically considered "max."  


According to Green, "We are over capacity in max." Ergo, there's no room at the inn.  


Additionally, each major facility, such as Vancouver Pre-trial, has a Special Handling Unit, essentially for coping with those prisoners with mental disorders. At Vancouver Pre-trial there are 22 beds in the unit. There is also a 13-bed forensic unit to deal with people who are in the system and have been diagnosed as violently mentally disordered.  


Then there are those waiting to get into the Forensic Psychiatric Unit at Colony Farm in Coquitlam. Unfortunately, right now there are 28 people waiting to get in there and, there are no empty beds. Well, you get the idea.  


The other part of the numbers story we get from Statistics Canada. The last year they have stats available is from 1998 (all those bureaucrats, a huge budget and we still can't get anything current).  


There were 53,901 violent crimes in British Columbia. Over 5,000 of these were robberies. Almost a hundred were homicides. 109 were attempted homicides. Add to that the 287,816 property crimes committed in B.C. in 1998 and you begin to see the problem faced by judges. There's no room at the inn!  


Even when one factors the 1,900 federal prison places in the "Pacific Region." They're mostly occupied by murderers, serial rapists and bank robbers. Criminals that even the most liberal of the hand-wringers think should be imprisoned and so really don't factor in the argument.  


Incidentally, there were 3,697 crimes recorded as "offensive weapons" which are not categorized as "violent crimes." Curious, isn't it.  


The government, in the form of Attorney General Andrew Petter, has plans for two new provincial custody facilities: one in Coquitlam which will house 300 inmates. It is scheduled to open its doors (so to speak) next spring. The other one, just announced, in Kelowna will house 150 to 200 if the plans ever get off the drawing board.  


In other words, not soon enough.  


Now throw into the mix the thousands of mentally ill who use to be housed in facilities like Riverview Hospital. They have been abandoned by successive governments in what can only be described as a failed exercise. These are the people who tend to show up in the news after they have been shot by a police officer terminating a violent episode.  


Not a day goes by that the police in every community have to deal with these people in one incident or another. Fortunately, very few end up in the headlines  


During the conversation with Sheldon Green, he remarked, "It's an every day occurrence for every man and woman in blue."  


Most of these "incidents" do not end up in criminal charges due to the "mentally ill" aspect. The police proceed under the Mental Health Act attempting to get psyche assessments done. So they take these people to the hospital. There's no room at that inn either.  


That doesn't work and they go to jail. Whoops. No room. What now? Nothing.  


The system, as it exists, has no more answers.  


So, what then of the rest of us? Are we to resign ourselves to forever being in an element of danger because our government cannot or will not do its primary duty?  


When I was in elementary school, I was taught that the first duty of a government -- any government -- is to protect its citizens. All of them, not just a selected few.  


For those baying for blood in the Trott case, back up a bit. When you can figure out how to get blood from a system, you'll have the real reason Trott was free to be in a position to abduct little Jessica Russell.  


For the rest of us, we can but keep a protective arm around our children.




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