column was published in the
Oct. 6, 1999)
blame judges for court failure
By Leo Knight
Vancouver Sun screamed out that hundreds of dope dealers,
thieves and assorted other members of the criminal element are
walking around on our streets because "judges refuse to
jail them before trial."
the surface, the statement cannot be argued with any degree of
success. However, there is much more to it than simply blaming
off, there's no doubt that B.C.'s justice system is equipped
with a revolving door for criminals. That's reality and no
amount of liberal demagoguery will change that. Career criminals
with rap sheets as long as they are tall keep being brought
before what passes for justice in our part of the world and they
continually are set free to continue their own brand of
provincial court judges who deal with the same faces over and
over have few arrows in their quiver. Now, this doesn't mean
that all judges do the best they can. Not at all. In fact, some
are downright incompetent and continually risk the well-being of
the taxpayers with their illogical conclusions.
it's also clear they have little option when trying to determine
an appropriate sentence or when deciding the issue of bail for
week, Vancouver mayor Philip Owen expressed the sentiments many
people feel when he said Vancouver is a haven for criminals.
right, it is.
he missed the mark somewhat when he said it's time for the
judges to start listening to the citizens.
are paying their salaries. They should be listening to the
community," Owen said. "The judges don't like us to go
in this direction, but I'm saying the citizens have had
he may have scored a direct hit on his target, he failed to
identify where the real problem lies. And that, dear reader, is
squarely at the feet of wannabe premier and Attorney General,
Ujjal Dosanjh. He also might have fired a shot or two at the
federal government and its succession of weak-kneed justice
me to explain. Criminal justice is regulated by Parliament in
the various statutes it enacts, primarily the Criminal Code of
sections of the criminal code have set out maximums in terms of
punishments. For example, breaking and entering of a
"dwelling house" carries a maximum of life
imprisonment. Unfortunately, most sections of the code do not
have stipulated minimums. This leads to the biggest dodge used
by the judges when they perpetrate travesties of justice.
many times have we heard a chief judge of the provincial court
or the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court recite the mantra,
"It falls within the range of sentencing options provided
by Parliament," when defending a judge under attack by a
the "range of options" begins at nothing and ends at
the maximum set out by Parliament, this is a specious argument
and should be treated with derision every time it is used.
is at this point that Parliament, the federal government and the
justice minister must shoulder their share of the blame. Without
minimum sentencing requirements clearly outlined in the
legislation, the judiciary has this built-in excuse to shirk its
responsibility to the community.
leads us to the provincial government and the pretender, Ujjal
enacted, the administration of criminal justice becomes a
provincial responsibility. It's the purview of the attorney
general to appoint provincial court judges, to oversee the
courts and the provincial correction system, which includes
remand centres that house individuals awaiting trial as well as
offenders sentenced to less than two years in custody.
there's the rub. Essentially, when it comes to the remand
centres, there's no room at the inn, so to speak.
courtrooms bursting at the seams, unable to handle the volume
despite Stats Can's efforts to convince us that crime is going
down, judges have been instructed to find alternative methods of
sentencing that don't include jail.
Dosanjh does dress it up in nice little terms when he talks
about the problem. He uses terms like "non-violent
offender" when he refers to the scumbag who just broke into
your house for the 11th time.
likes to tell you that he's tough on crime while at the same
time he closes down courthouses ostensibly to save money in a
system already choking on budget cuts.
fine to argue that the judiciary is independent and therefore
must takeits own hits. But realistically, what does a judge do
when he knows that any sentence imposed on a convicted offender
likely won't be carried out?
B.C. has no space, so it classifies the inmate for the
electronic monitoring program. But, wait a minute. There aren't
enough ankle bracelets for all the people on the program now. No
problem, say the bureaucrats, we'll use the "no equipment
result of the judge's sentence: another criminal is free on the
street happily travelling through the revolving door of B.C.
knows all this but continues to perpetrate this sham on the good
citizens of B.C. It's also not about money, as another one of
his arguments would have us believe. It's about government's
priorities in the way it spends our money.
for this lot in Victoria, their priorities are things like
advertising propaganda blitzes to convince us they really do
know what they're doing. Or footing the legal bills of yet
another premier in hot water. Or paying off the labour unions
without whom they wouldn't be there in the first place.
are the easy targets in this debate and yes, they must start
shouldering the responsibility society confers upon them.
But, at the end of the day, it is our elected representatives who have failed us. Let's not forget them as we cluck our tongues about the habitual offender who just got set free -- again.