(This column was published in the North Shore News on June 9, 1999)


Playing politics with our justice system

By Leo Knight

LATE last month, West Vancouver MP John Reynolds, in his position as Reform Justice Critic, took on RCMP Commissioner Phillip Murray over the issue of the understaffing of B.C. Mountie detachments.  


With most Lower Mainland detachments running with about 10% staffing shortfalls, Murray testified before the justice committee in the House, that the normal shortfall is about 2%. He tried to minimize the current problems and deflect attention by suggesting Reynolds was criticizing the work of the officers at detachment level.  


In a letter written to Murray on May 26, Reynolds refuted the allegation: "Your officers in B.C. are facing difficult work situations because of staffing levels and are being forced to carry out their activities from a deficient position.  


"Despite this, they are doing a superb job. I believe it would be patently unfair to make them the pawns or scapegoats in this government-initiated staffing reduction process."  


Reynolds has recognized, correctly in my opinion, that RCMP understaffing is little more than a political exercise designed to artificially hold budget levels down at the risk of the safety of both the remaining officers trying to do more with less and the general public who depend on the police for their protection.  


To demonstrate the politicization of justice as it exists in B.C. today, let's have a look at the story of John Boncore, a native rights activist, and ex-RCMP corporal John Gould.  


At the end of the Gustafsen Lake trial, on sentencing day, Boncore spat in the face of Sheldon Tate, one of the team of defence lawyers representing the perpetrators of the armed standoff.  


A complaint was made at the Surrey detachment, and Gould, then in the Serious Crimes Section, was ordered to investigate the matter.  


The investigation resulted in an assault charge and the subsequent trial ended a couple of weeks ago with a suspended sentence and short term of probation handed out to Boncore.  


At the opening of the trial, the prosecutor advised the court she required 20 minutes to put in the Crown's case. The defence counsel, George Wool, dragged out the trial for two whole days and the matter had to be put over for sentencing.  


The Surrey courthouse was in high security mode for the trial. Metal detectors were employed to ensure none of the native activists took any violent action. Nine armed sheriffs patrolled the corridors, four of whom had to be brought in on overtime.  


The trial was heard in the only secure courtroom replete with bulletproof glass and armed guards. All for a spitting trial.  


During the trial Gould was roasted by defence counsel for the length of time it took to complete his investigation into the matter. After the trial, Gould explained his position in a letter to the Surrey Now.  


"I was a member in the Serious Crimes section at the largest, busiest, most understaffed RCMP detachment in Canada. I, like every member on our unit, was bogged down with murder, rape and armed robbery investigations.  


"To tell the truth, this file was thrown at the bottom of the pile. I found it difficult to explain to a murder victim's family that their investigation was put on hold as I was tied up investigating a spitting offence."  


Gould said, "The chief superintendent of Surrey detachment went on national news last month explaining his detachment was broke.  


" ... Police airplanes and helicopters had been grounded, boats docked, Serious Crime investigations put on hold, overtime curtailed and seven damaged police cars sat rusting in the parking lot because there was no money to repair them," he wrote.  


"Yet, somehow, the taxpayers had enough money to finance this investigation and trial," Gould said.  


Ironically, if a police officer is spat upon, recent court rulings have decreed it's part of the job. Scrape off the oyster and get on with the job. But, when a lawyer gets horked on, it's all hands to the pumps with a Serious Crimes investigator assigned the file. No expense spared for this loogie lunacy.  


Gould pointed out that court time is at a premium. With the closure of the Langley, West Van and Richmond courthouses last year by our cost-conscious attorney general, the remaining courthouses are bursting at the seams. Langley cases are assigned to Surrey. Surrey, now overloaded, sends its overflow to Delta and Coquitlam. Court administrators are even contemplating moving some of the Surrey trials to Chilliwack!  


According to Gould, "There are cases of individuals not being charged for B&E and auto theft due to the overcrowded courts, however, spitting trials proceed."  


Gould concluded, "When you consider the cost of a secure courtroom, prosecutors and defence fees, sheriff overtime and other expenses, which included bringing a defence lawyer down from Kamloops at Crown's expense, this had to be the most expensive spitting trial in Canadian history."  


Gould became so frustrated that he quit the RCMP. Not to take a pension. Far from it. He had served for 18 1/2 years, a year and a half short of his minimum pension time. He quit because he just couldn't take it any more.  


Chalk up one more vacant position in the RCMP because of political stupidity. The experienced, veteran homicide (and spitting) investigator will be replaced next year sometime -- maybe -- with a recruit just out of training.  


In the ultimate irony, AG Ujjal Dosanjh, whose staff pushed the spitting trial, wrote to the federal solicitor general complaining of the staffing shortages here in B.C. He was accused by the federal government and Phillip Murray of playing politics.  


Horrrrk. Ptuuii.






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