(This column was published in the North Shore News on Jan. 16, 2002)


The price of prosecution cuts

By Leo Knight

After a decade of the most incompetent government imaginable, Premier Gordon Campbell and his B.C. Liberals are doggedly trying to undo much of the damage done by Messrs. Harcourt, Clark and Dosanjh.


There is no doubting the need for Campbell's government to get our collective financial house in order. Last week I discussed the aspect of government priorities in the way any government deals with the public purse. This week we need to look at where the rubber meets the road.


There have been some noises coming out of Victoria relating to budget cuts which might affect the Crown's ability to prosecute some types of crimes. This bothers me greatly.


Over the course of the past 20 years, stretching back into the years of the final Bill Bennett government, things have been going much, much easier on criminals in general and pedophiles in particular.


The genesis of all of this began in 1983 when the Bennett government took away the ability of the police to institute criminal charges and created something called "charge approval" in which the police forward investigative findings to Crown Counsel requesting charges be laid. This is the only province in the country where this occurs. In every other jurisdiction the police lay the appropriate charges at the conclusion of their investigation and the Crown prosecutes the file.


The problem with the current situation is that there are no end to the reasons why Crown might boot the recommended charges. Unfortunately, this rarely has anything to do with whether a crime has been committed and there is a case to answer. All too often it has everything to do with dollars and cents.


Let's look at a real case example of what I am talking about.


Almost two years ago an RCMP detachment on Vancouver Island was investigating a case of sexual assault on a young, pre-pubescent girl. During the investigation, the Mounties seized a computer belonging to their suspect.


File officers were forced to send the computer for forensic examination to Ottawa because there was no available local expertise. It took almost a year for the results to return.


The forensic examination of the hard drive yielded a significant amount of evidence. Specifically, the police found 1,231 digital images of child pornography, 19 videos of bestiality and chat logs generated by the suspect depicting his efforts to find additional children to assault.


Charges were recommended by the Mounties of possession and distribution of child pornography. Crown, for its part, agreed to the charges in principle, as long as the Mounties forked over the $3,000 or so it would take to being the expert witness from the forensic lab in Ottawa.


The RCMP, already staggering under the weight of federal government budget cuts, said: No, transportation of witnesses is a Crown Counsel budgetary matter, not a police matter.


The Crown, not getting their way, simply exercised their discretion to forgo the laying of charges and refused to prosecute. The Mounties railed against the Crown's decision, but under the policy in B.C., there was little they could do.


The upshot is that a pedophile will not be prosecuted for the assault on the young girl due to lack of evidence. He will also not be prosecuted for other crimes determined to have taken place during the initial investigation. He is free to prey on other kids in his community and on the Internet. All because of scarce dollars in the justice system.


Government spending is all about priorities. And, while it's true the Campbell government is trying to assess those priorities, I would argue you cannot and should not put a price tag on justice.


Especially when the protection of children is central to the issue.


What price tag should be placed upon that?  





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