Prime Time Crime


(Prime Time Crime exclusive June 26, 2008)


Immunity Trumps Accountability


By David Toner

I think most of those like myself and my wife, who are involved in advocating for changes to the Justice System; have come to realize that often the perpetrators of crime are not truly held responsible for their actions. Excuses are trotted out in court by their defence lawyers about their various addictions, their troubled childhoods, and their lack of parental role models, etcetera, etcetera. Expecting these poor fools to be accountable for the crimes they commit is unfair, isn’t it?

This lack of accountability and blame-anyone-but-yourself attitude is, I suppose, to be expected from criminals and the dregs of society. But I was deeply disappointed to hear recently that immunity for your actions could apparently also be enjoyed by Crown lawyers.  A BC Supreme Court Justice has ruled that Crown Prosecutors in the Peter Lee case did not have to comply with a subpoena to testify before a Coroners Inquest. For those not familiar with the case, in 2006 Lee killed his wife, child, her parents and himself in an affluent Victoria suburb, after being released on bail - against the wishes of the police. Crown Prosecutors supported his bail, and when called before a Coroners Inquest into the matter they refused to testify. The stated reason for this decision was that the fear of having to constantly explain their reasoning could impair their impartiality and ability to do their jobs.

I have two problems with this decision; the first is the obvious – who in professional society should NOT have to be accountable and explain their actions when those actions contribute, directly or indirectly to the deaths of 5 people? What was the Judge thinking? Of course they should answer some questions; everyone else even peripherally involved in the case has had to answer them. Police officers, emergency medical personnel, social workers, a bevy of government staff have been called to explain their role in the deaths.

One wonders if the Judge is not simply closing ranks with Crown and effectively protecting their own. Judges, after all, were once lawyers, most of them Crown prosecutors. It’s not that there is no provision in law for Crown to be called by the Coroner; it happened recently in the Frank Paul case, and there they were required to testify. This begs the question – Why the double standard? Is it not a basic principle of law that the rule of law must be equal, and equally applied to all persons in all cases? Lady Justice (the symbolic statue which represents our legal system) is blindfolded so that she may be seen as dispensing justice fairly and without bias or favour for anyone. We cannot allow a system that grants favour to any group, be it as an accused before law, or those that administer and serve it.

The second problem I see in the ruling is this; the concept of Judicial independence (which these Crown folks are basing their entire argument on) does not even apply to them. This concept is an accepted part of our Judicial system as it allows the independence of Judges to rule impartially and without bias or interference. Note that I said Judges. Not Crown lawyers. The day we start allowing government bureaucrats to be unimpeachable (which Judges essentially are) we are treading on very thin ice. Police officers operate every day under the realization that they can be (and are) scrutinized for their conduct and the decisions they make, why should Crown lawyers operate under a different set of rules? Granting them immunity from testifying, and therefore removing from them any accountability for their poor decisions, is a travesty of justice.

A good friend of mine and a fellow FACT member, Gord Penner, likes to say “Everyone is accountable”. This has become his signature line, and I think it’s very fitting. Everyone should be, especially those who are tasked with the very administration of the Justice System. To tolerate anything less is an insult to our intelligence, and a mockery of Lady Justice. She may be blind, but she’s not stupid.

David Toner is the Public Affairs Coordinator for Families Against Crime & Trauma (F.A.C.T.).


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