Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Maple Ridge Times week of July 12, 2010)

BC Ferries knows about justice

  By John Martin


Two or three times a year I get to witness a priceless moment at the Tsawwassen ferry terminal.

Someone who has a one- or two-sailing wait sees an opportunity and cuts into the lane of traffic boarding the next ferry. He usually gets no further than a half-dozen car lengths before he's intercepted by staff and removed from the lane of boarding traffic. Regardless of whatever excuse or sense of urgency he might plead, he's then ordered to the very end of the line. He doesn't get to reclaim his original place in line. He has to go to the very end and likely now has to endure yet another sailing wait. The best part is all the other travellers cheering and honking their horns in approval as his just desserts are handed out.

This is how justice should work.

Someone breaks the rules and they are immediately pounced upon and justice is swift. It's highly improbable a person would try to cut into the boarding lane again after having gone through this humiliating experience. Similarly, anyone who watches this spectacle would no doubt be thinking twice about ever pulling such a stunt.

None of us enjoy sitting in line at the ferry terminal, especially on a hot day. Some of the most miserable three-hour blocks of my life have been spent trying to pass the time until boarding. No doubt it's tempting to think about jumping the line, so obviously there have to be some rules in place.

It's a shame the people responsible for running the courts and administering criminal justice in this country can't grasp the simplicity and effectiveness of how BC Ferries maintains order on busy sailing days.

Imagine what would happen if BC Ferries had the same approach to enforcing its rules as the justice system. People would be able to jump the line with little more than a warning from staff not to do it again.

The rest of us would see that's there are no consequences for breaking the rules and wonder why we should patiently sit and wait while others simply cut into the line. If someone was actually intercepted by staff, he'd be able to offer up some lame excuse about a pressing appointment or some emergency and be allowed to jump the line anyway.

Needless to say, it would be absolute pandemonium and carnage come time to board the next sailing, as hundreds of motorists attempted to cut in and staff would be helpless to do anything about it. Meanwhile, civil libertarians and academics would be howling that we need to legalize line jumping.

Yet this is precisely how criminal justice operates in this country.

Perhaps those in charge of administering justice might care to take a look at how BC Ferries maintains order and keeps the peace despite dealing with thousands of frustrated and often angry travellers. There's a very valuable lesson to be learned here.

It's not unprecedented that the courts would adopt a strategy or program from an outside agency. After all, our modern day justice system seems to be based on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' "catch and release" policy.

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


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