Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Abbotsford News week of Jan. 31, 2005)

Why Keep Judges on a Pedestal?

John Pifer

Even in Canada’s alleged democracy, freedom of speech is still a right … right?  Well, sort of, I guess, unless you are in the legal system and dare to raise questions about the calibre and competency of those running the show in the closed-shop system.

It is not just journalists or victims wronged by our courts who criticize the judiciary in Canada – some lawyers actually dare to speak the truth, too, with much more serious consequences for them than the predictable letters of outrage and ‘circle the wagons’ responses that usually follow any attack on our (in)justice system from lesser mortals.

The roles that judges play, and the political reasons of why some are appointed to levels far beyond their incompetence, are legitimate targets that should be open to public examination and discussion by anyone, right? Well, sort of, I guess.

Any rant from this corner or from those such as former police officer Leo Knight and his website about the mollycoddling of the judiciary has little impact on the honourable men and women who wear the robes. Yet when “one of their own” attempts to shed more light into the murky depths, all hell breaks loose.

Case in point is that of Newfoundland lawyer Jerome Kennedy who now faces disbarment for comments made about the sacrosanct judiciary back in 2003. Mr. Kennedy, representing several wrongfully-convicted men, was upset that an inquiry into the cases would not look into the role that trial judges played in those convictions. He even went so far as to maintain that some judges might be biased, and (gasp!) “don’t know what they are doing”; and he questioned the politics that had helped to land them on the bench in the first place.

Well, that was something up with which Newfoundland’s Chief Justice would not put. His Wonderfulness Derek Green complained to the law society (also known as the cadré of lickspittle toadies), ands now Mr. Kennedy faces charges of professional misconduct. That was his reward for charging that some judges are guilty of … you guessed it … professional misconduct!

Vancouver Sun columnist Peter McKnight (not related to Leo, to my knowledge), wrote last month about the plight of Mr. Kennedy, and compared the treatment of this one minor Canadian dung-disturber to that of reformist lawmakers in Iran who are jailed for the “offence” of criticizing the judiciary.

Omigod! Canada is like Iran – that bastion of non-democracy … surely you jest? Nope, surely it is an accurate comparison when it comes to this issue. Mr. McKnight cited other instances of maltreatment of lawyers who dared to raise any questions about their “learned friends” on the bench.

He acknowledged that any comments or opinions expressed by lawyers about the administration of justice must be carefully and legitimately of substance, and there is no argument here about that. But for the system and the judges to bully and threaten any LLB who dares to question their actions is not the kind of democracy that most of us believe we have a right to expect in Canada.

Back off, your Honours, back off.

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


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