(This column was published in the North Shore News on May 8, 2002)


Hope for our justice system

 By Leo Knight

I had been planning to write a column decrying the demise of what remains of a justice system in this country when something happened to restore at least some of my faith.


A couple of weeks back a career criminal named David McAleer was brought before a judge in North Vancouver for the latest in a long string of property crimes. McAleer, a 40-something, has been through the revolving doors of justice so many times I doubt he knows whether he is coming from or going to a trial.


He has amassed more than 30 convictions in criminal courts in his adult life. This doesn't address those charges stayed or otherwise dropped.


Of his convictions, 15 of them were for breaking and entering, a charge I might add, according to the Criminal Code of Canada, carries with it a maximum penalty of life in prison. Not that I'm suggesting judges should be meting out life terms for burglary, but I use this to illustrate how serious the offence was deemed when criminal behaviour was codified.


Despite the intentions, he has never seen more than a few months in custody at any one time for his many varied and grievous sins.


A few weeks ago, North Vancouver RCMP arrested him yet again. The Mounties opposed bail, but did not hold their collective breath. In point of fact, several of the Queen's cowboys put together a little friendly pool, betting on how soon after release he would get arrested again.


It was not if, you see, but when.


Paying attention to bail orders, probation officers and court renderings is not a strong suit of people like McAleer. The police know this and unfortunately, so do the judges, but they must still go through the charade.


The winner of the pool bet on 30 minutes or less and 13th and Lonsdale as the location. In reality, McAleer was arrested 15 minutes following the court ordered release and less than a block from police cells. He didn't get further than the Canada Safeway on 13th Street before he allegedly could not resist the urge to steal.


This, of course, is de rigeur for the day-to-day operations of our justice system. And it was with this in mind that I watched the news on Friday out of Quebec indicating that the jury in the double murder trial of Quebec Hells Angel supremo Maurice "Mom" Boucher was hopelessly deadlocked. Quebec Superior Court Justice Pierre Beliveau ordered them to give it another go. The spectre of a second hung jury was not going to play well in a city under siege from the biker war.


I scoffed. The predictability of it all was, well, predictable.


And then on Sunday, news that the jury returned a verdict of guilty came out of the blue for everyone. Especially, I might add, for the police who had already resigned themselves to trying to get convictions on the remaining 13 murder charges still outstanding on Boucher, were the current charges to go south yet again.


Boucher gets a minimum of 25 years to serve without possibility of parole.


And so it is that the Canadian criminal justice system narrowly avoided being relegated to absolute irrelevance by man who lived outside the law and believed he was bigger than society.


The biker war for control of the drug trade in Montreal began in 1994 and to date has taken approximately 170 lives. Of those, at least nine were totally innocent people caught in a cross fire between the two warring organized crime groups. Three more non-combatants, so to speak, were wounded. Among these was Montreal crime reporter Michel Auger, shot in the back as part of that war on society itself.


Boucher had set out to intimidate society. By shooting prison guards, bombing police stations, threatening witnesses and attacking media members, Boucher threw down the gauntlet. He threw out all the rules. He believed he could do whatever he wanted and there was no way, within the law of a civilized country, to stop him.


On Sunday, 12 brave men and women did their job as part of that civilized society and sent a message to Boucher and those like him. To them I say bravo!


Now, if only the system can start dealing with habitual offenders like McAleer. He may not have the notoriety that Boucher did, but he and those like him are every bit as dangerous to the fabric of society. The image of the outlaw biker may rest well with the aging boomers weaned on Easy Rider and Steppenwolf tunes. But for those who choose to live outside the law there can only be one consistent message.


The only message a civilized society can tolerate. Step outside the law and there will be consequences.


Anything less is surrender.






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