Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive June  2, 2008)

Strange Days

By Bob Cooper



As any casual observer will note there is never a lack of controversy in the Justice System, particularly here in wacky British Columbia.  It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had a chance to sit down at the keyboard so here are some comments on a couple of recent issues.

The media-driven campaign to ban Tasers continues to dominate the news.  When an armchair quarterback got his hands on a series of reports documenting Taser use by Transit cops certain outlets went wild over the fact that in a handful of cases the Taser was used on ‘fare evaders’.  The phrase was taken out of context and purposely used to obscure the fact that in each case the ‘fare evaders’ were resisting arrest.  This has to rank as one of the biggest media lies since the phrase ‘black motorist Rodney King’ which is sadly still in use today.  Both sold a lot of papers but they’re still irresponsible distortions of the truth.

Then we had a medical expert testify at the Braidwood Inquiry that the Taser could present a danger to anyone with a heart condition.  I wonder how much they paid for that opinion?  Guess what Doc?  So does a blow from a nightstick or being wrestled to the ground.  Or someone jumping out of the dark and shouting “Boo”.  I would think the best medical advice to someone with a heart condition would be not to fight with the police.

In the wake of one newspaper story on Tasers, a reader or someone who had the story read to him, commented that a punch in the face or a few broken bones isn’t worth someone losing their life.  After all, he reasoned, cops should be trained to take a punch in the face without reaching for a Taser.  OK, tough guy, come down to the station and we’ll take turns punching you in the face and breaking a few of your bones.  Just tell us when you want it to stop.  You see, cops aren’t out there to serve as punching bags for every drunk on Granville Street who wants to impress his friends.  Take on a policeman and you do so at your own peril.

Though the odds of this ever happening were slim to none, last week I found myself agreeing with both Ian Mulgrew and the Vancouver Sun Editorial Board.  I could scarcely believe it but there you are.  The case in point was a hearing in B.C. Supreme Court over whether Crown Counsel could be called to testify at Public Inquiries, specifically the Frank Paul Inquiry and the Coroner's Inquest into the murder of Sunny Park, her six year old son, and her parents, by her husband, Peter Lee.

In the Frank Paul Inquiry, commission counsel wants to call two Crown prosecutors who have since been appointed to the bench to explain their decision not to approve criminal charges against the two Vancouver police officers involved.  The Charge Approval System places absolute power over the laying of charges in the hands of a government body that now seeks to avoid taking any responsibility for their actions.  In my opinion, the imposition of this system was one of the worst things to happen to the Justice System in B.C. but that’s a whole other column. 

The government says that making prosecutors accountable for their decisions would have a “chilling effect” on them.   Why?  Prosecutors usually have the luxury of taking weeks and sometimes months to make these decisions.  We often have to make life or death decisions in a split second, and make no mistake, we’re held to answer for them.  Let me make it clear that when it comes to judging cops, in my experience over the years, the Crown have been very fair and understanding in most cases.  In the Frank Paul case I think their decision was the correct one.  I still don’t believe they should be held immune from scrutiny.

More disgusting is that this is the same government that called the Frank Paul Inquiry in the first place.  Some would say for the same purpose as they gave away University Golf Course.  Yes, there’s another word for it but you get the point.  As long as the only ones being pilloried were the Vancouver Police, that was OK.  Suddenly the spotlight is cast in their direction and they can’t shut this down fast enough.  Had they the foresight, they’d have included this in their ‘gag’ law.

In the case of Peter Lee the Crown made a decision that resulted in Lee’s release from jail over the objections of the police.  They never even applied for his detention so you can’t lay this one off on the judge.  Once free, Lee breached the conditions of his release.  Crown Counsel was made aware of the breach and Lee was still not put back in jail.  He then went on to take the lives of four innocent people.  If the Crown’s decisions were sound let them simply take the stand and explain them.  If they are unwilling to do so then I say put the responsibility for laying charges back into the hands of the only people the system continues to hold accountable, the police.

Then I remember.  The system is designed by lawyers for lawyers.  They truly get to have their cake and eat it too.  Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are lawyers.  I just want them to be able to share the joy of being accountable. 

Lest any of my readers become concerned, I’m sure this agreement with Mulgrew and the Sun is just a one time occurrence.  I promise not to make a habit of it. 

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