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(Published in the Abbotsford News week of Mar. 1, 2004)


Pifer vs the A-G


By John Pifer


A new column from this scribe about the sale of B.C. Rail and the release of a highly-sanitized summary relating to the raids on the B.C. Legislature in December, with their ties to the railway (pun intended), was all set to go earlier this week.


It will have to wait.


For the Attorney-General of the province of British Columbia, the honourable Geoff Plant, and the Canadian Bar Association‘s B.C. president both believe that last week’s column about the judiciary in B.C. was unfair, and may be viewed as bringing the legal system into disrepute.


I have been asked to apologize for any suggestion, any implication or any question concerning the behaviour, decisions and rulings from our judges that may have left readers with the impression that some judges in their careers might have turned a blind eye, or handed out lenient sentences, or been bribed in some manner, or acted in any way other than fairly and justly.


Mr. Plant and his CBA colleague, in letters to the Abbotsford News, decry the running of the column, with the bar association president rising in righteous indignation to condemn unfair “reporting”. (A red herring about a letter-writer to the paper four months ago referring to “corrupt judges” also has been seized upon as “evidence” of  the paper’s bias against these august men and women of the Bench. What a crock.).


To address that, let us first note the difference between reporting and commenting. As an editor, columnist and commentator, I have been honoured and decidedly fortunate for 30 years or more to be able to express an opinion that stimulates both support and opposition. It is not “reporting” – which is expressing facts without editorial comment or prejudice, something that this scribe did for years, and still does upon occasion.


The freedom of speech that is the cornerstone of any democracy and aforementioned opinion is something I take very seriously as a privilege, and as a right. In the 20 years since I returned to live in Canada after a seven-year sojourn in Europe, and in the seven years in B.C. before I left, I have never abused nor underestimated that right.


I have never been successfully sued for my of my writings, be they reporting or commenting – and that is something of which I am justifiably proud.


One thing of which I am not proud– along with a great number of my fellow Canadians – is the deterioration of justice in our society over those decades. Surely we have had enough of repeatedly seeing our courts and appointed judges at various levels focusing on the “poor, hard-done-by” criminals, and refusing to mete out fair punishment, whilst apparently caring nothing for the victim of the crimes.


Surely we are entitled to wonder why it seems that so often those who choose time and again to break society’s laws, often because they know they will get away with it even if caught and charged, are not more severely dealt with by our courts.


Surely we are entitled to ask questions, and even to have some say in how judges are chosen, rather than having them appointed with little public scrutiny.


Mr. Plant suggests that I am alone in this concern, that because the sentencing does not fit with my opinion, I am having a hissy fit. He writes that such opinion is to be apologized for because I did not present any evidence to support my suspicions.


I do apologize to any judge, lawyer or attorney-general who chooses to be offended by last week’s column – and this one, too, for that matter.


And I promise not to pass on any lawyer jokes, either.


Veteran B.C. journalist/broadcaster John Pifer may be reached at







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