Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of Aug. 24, 2009)


Book tells a harrowing story


  By John Martin

The Last Six Minutes

Complaining about the Canadian criminal justice system has become something of a national pastime. It seems not a day goes by that we don't hear of yet another chronic, habitual offender being released on bail only to rack up another couple dozen offences while awaiting trial. And then, of course, when the trial finally comes, he's given some form of community supervision that allows him to continue to chalk up multiple more crimes, leaving countless victims in his wake.

We're also inundated with endless coverage of serious charges being downgraded or dropped altogether simply on account of the system's litany of inefficiencies and blunders. Nothing keeps talk show hosts, newspaper columnists and other commentators in business more than exposing a justice system in need of a complete overhaul.

Still, all this is a drop in the bucket compared to the horrific experiences that victims and families of victims must endure. Endless delays, bail decisions that defy common sense and a tendency to be completely left out of the loop are just a few of the many traumatizing processes victims are likely to confront. Sometimes they're victimized by a system that was never designed to accommodate or even be attentive to victims of serious crime in the first place. Other times they suffer at the hands of legal practitioners who see victims as nuisances and irritants who should lick their wounds, go away and mind their own business.

One of the most heart wrenching and insightful accounts of what it's like to lose a loved one to a crime of violence is told in a just released book, The Last Six Minutes - A Mother's Loss & Quest for Justice. Sandra Martins-Toner's son, Matthew, was brutally murdered in a senseless display of recreational violence in 2005 at the Surrey Central Skytrain Station. He was hopelessly physically outmatched and never had a chance.

The title of the book refers to the last six minutes of 16-year-old Matthew's life, all captured on a surveillance camera.

The book recounts the seemingly never-ending anguish, grief and torment a family in such a situation experiences. We all know the system is completely obsessed with protecting the rights of the accused and tending to their needs and comfort. But, as Sandra reveals in painstaking detail, there is absolutely no corresponding effort or component to even begin to consider the interests of victims.

It's become somewhat of a tired cliche but there is no shortage of truth to the old adage that victims of serious crime are victimized first by the offender and then by the justice system. Among the most disturbing revelations in the book, Sandra tells how friends and family of the offender were able to threaten, intimidate and mock her during the court process with seeming immunity.

One would be hard pressed to read the book and come away with any other conclusion than the revelation that our justice system is a disgrace.

We're all somewhat complicit in allowing judges and lawyers to hijack and claim the justice system as their own personal domain. Hopefully, Sandra's book will encourage people to make an effort to reclaim justice as a cherished value and process that belongs to all of us.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at


Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2009