column was published in the North
Shore News on
May 17, 2000)
system bears blame in Trott case
By Leo Knight
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.
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.
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.
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.
take a look at the numbers.
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.
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."
to Green, "We are over capacity in max." Ergo, there's
no room at the inn.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
there were 3,697 crimes recorded as "offensive
weapons" which are not categorized as "violent
crimes." Curious, isn't it.
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.
other words, not soon enough.
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.
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
the conversation with Sheldon Green, he remarked, "It's an
every day occurrence for every man and woman in blue."
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.
doesn't work and they go to jail. Whoops. No room. What now?
system, as it exists, has no more answers.
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?
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.
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.