Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Abbotsford News week of Jan. 24, 2005)

Disrepute: Where our (In)Justice System Dwells

John Pifer

In British Columbia, and across much of Canada for that matter, members of the legal profession and judiciary set their hair on fire any time someone in media, or in the legal profession, dares to suggest that much of the system is disreputable. Please add this scribe to the list of those who dare to support that position.

We do not have to look far to see why the question arises – witness the recent reports of the fact that judges in BC are prone to give lighter sentences more often than not, even to repeat offenders, compared with the rest of the country.

Whether the offenders be misery-dealing, illegal-drug peddlers, or thieves and thugs, their biggest concern seems to be to avoid bruised forearms for having their wrists lightly slapped from the Bench from time to time.

The criticism, backed up by hard statistics and other evidence that BC judges are far too lenient, far too often, brought Carol Baird-Ellan, the provincial court’s Chief Judge, briefly into the limelight to pooh-pooh such a suggestion. Da Chief said the courts were merely enforcing the laws given to them by Parliament and the rulings of higher courts – senior courts, incidentally, where many of those squatting on the Bench are there thanks to political connections more so than by merit.

Ms Baird-Ellan maintained that imprisonment should be a last resort in sentencing, and that previous rulings should allow the bad guys to serve conditional sentences at home. When it was pointed out that in Vancouver alone, sentences were nearly twice as lenient as elsewhere, Her Honourship said if that was so, “it is up to the Crown (prosecutors) to bring that to the attention of the courts.” Nice dodge, Carol.

Increasing maximum penalties may be one way to see true justice done, or at least to impose minimum ones, as getting ANY court in the land to impose the max seems to be impossible. For example, BCTV on Global carried a report this week that looked at the sentences given to the high-profile “dirty dozen” auto thieves from a year ago, many of whom were recidivists (the fancy word for repeat offenders). The nastiest of the lot was jailed for about a year, while the remainder either had “time served”, or less than a month behind bars … and in some cases, just a conditional stay-at-home-and-watch-Jerry-Springer “penalty”.

This month, more PR hype about tracking down the latest dirty dozen should be taken with a grain of salt, as those apprehended (nine of the 12 are in custody), are not likely to be penalized in any significant way, before being let out to continue their crimes.

And do not even get me started on the mollycoddling of those busted for marijuana grow-ops, who see arrests and court appearances as a minor cost of doing mega-business, knowing their friendly judges will have them back in business in very short order.

No wonder our police forces are frustrated, the citizenry is disillusioned and the criminals are contented. BC’s ever-growing reputation as the perfect place to live for crooks, thieves, dealers and junkies continues to grow, as the judiciary and our courts continue to make it more appealing for them, and less safe and secure for Joe and Jane Law-Abiding Citizen.

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


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