(This column was published in the North Shore News on May 24, 2000)


Crime has no consequences in B.C.

By Leo Knight

THE discussion over the past two weeks about our troubled justice system has generated much response from readers.  


Many wanted to share their experiences while others seemed unbelieving, somehow choosing to swallow the stuff and nonsense put out by politicians who have failed utterly in their duty as a government to protect its citizens.  


In looking at the system itself, we eliminate the typical knee-jerk response to attack an individual judge or prosecutor. This, of course, does not mean that some judges' decisions are not puzzling or in some cases, outrageous. But, for the most part the judges' hands are tied.  


I'll give you an example.  


It used to be that the judges in assessing a fine for a particular offence would assign what is called "default" time. The sentence would be "a fine of $1,000 in default, 10 days in jail."  


If the fine wasn't paid in the prescribed time, a warrant of committal would be issued by the sentencing judge ensuring the transgressor would then be arrested and taken to jail for the 10 days "default" time.  


This doesn't happen any more. The judges no longer assign "default" time, but rather the court clerk, working off a chart of instruction issued by the attorney general's office, does it.  


Unfortunately, with no ability to get a person convicted back in front of a judge to enforce fines, the system now simply refers the matter to a collection agency, if anything is done at all.  


The result: nothing happens to an individual who is fined by the court and doesn't pay.  


So, as discussed last week, the judge cannot assign jail time because there's simply no room to put anyone within the jammed up B.C. corrections system. Typically then, a conditional sentence, suspended sentence, discharge, fine or probation are the only options left for a provincial court judge to consider.  


If a fine is given, there's no method of enforcement to ensure the penalty is paid. A conditional sentence is little more than a term of probation. Ditto, a suspended sentence.  


And probation is no consequence at all. If the person breaches the probation and actually gets before a judge we're back to square one. That is, assuming the charge is approved by the Crown, which has the final say in whether any charge is laid.  


This, if you'll allow me to digress, is another part of the problem. B.C. is the only jurisdiction in Canada where the police do not lay criminal charges based on their investigation and discretion.  


In this province, police complete their investigation and recommend charges. The sole discretion of whether to lay a charge is left in the hands of a Crown Counsel.  


Ergo, an employee of the attorney general, not an independent police officer, has the power to determine who or what may be placed in front of a judge.  


The test the Crown claims to use is whether "there is a substantial likelihood of conviction" or "whether it is in the public interest."  


Unfortunately this is too subjective and simply doesn't even deal with the defined litmus test: is there a prima facie case to answer?  


The result of all of this is the ability of the politicians to rig or control the justice system to suit their aims.  


Don't believe me?  


Consider this. The NDP is in a fiscal nightmare. Court costs are spiraling out of control. There is no money for the required new assets in the corrections system.  


Ah, but this is a problem. The bad guys are still breaking into houses and businesses and stealing cars with impunity. The police are still making arrests and forwarding charge recommendations.  


Answer: have fewer trials. Bring fewer criminals before the courts. The charge approval system is tailor-made for this type of political interference.  


By keeping the ability to lay criminal charges away from the police, the government can ensure the numbers are kept artificially down.  


Back to the courts and probation.  


Probation has become a useless tool. A criminal Breach of Probation results in a further term of probation. (See above.)  


Vancouver Police have an unofficial policy advising its members not to waste their time on breaches. There's simply no point in taking an officer off the street for the time it takes to write the report to Crown counsel because nothing happens anyway.  


In North Vancouver and other Lower Mainland detachments, an e-mail has been circulated to all RCMP members saying essentially the same thing.  


The system has, in most cases, become little more than a charade. This, dear reader, is the real trouble and it deserves to be laid squarely at the feet of the premier.  


He has been attorney general since 1996. He has had more than ample opportunity to live up to his fictitious reputation as being "tough on crime." He is nothing of the sort.


Ujjal Dosanjh got this tag in the wake of the Gustavsen Lake standoff. How or why is a mystery to me.  


Shortly after the dispute started, Dosanjh made a stupid statement to the media which, to protect the operational integrity of the situation, forced the RCMP to hastily call a press conference to deny what then-Attorney General Dosanjh had said.  


Since that time he has done little more than provide lip service designed to pacify a nervous citizenry.  


The corrections system is, by definition, supposed to "correct" the anti-social behaviour of those who run afoul of the law.  


But, as any parent or dog owner will know, bad behaviour can only be corrected by meting out a consequence for the impropriety. In the justice system we now have, there is no essential consequence for criminal behaviour except in the most serious of circumstances.  


That, unfortunately, is the reality in British Columbia today.





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