Justice denied is justice - in some places

Morley Lymburner
March 05, 2012
By Morley Lymburner
The ability to control the police makes politicians salivate. Political life would be ever so much easier if they could only tell cops who they can charge... Well folks... welcome to British Columbia, Quebec and New Brunswick - the promised land for those who think all it takes to control crime on a tight budget is to prevent police from laying their own charges.

The ability to control the police makes politicians salivate. Political life would be ever so much easier if they could only tell cops who they can charge, which would in turn control how many people go to trial and (oh joy, oh bliss) to jail. This power might even extend to granting a few close buddies a "get out of jail free" card. Who's to know?

The only thing better would be to do all this while withholding the names of those arrested from the media, all with the blessing of provincial police chiefs.

Well folks... welcome to British Columbia, Quebec and New Brunswick - the promised land for those who think all it takes to control crime on a tight budget is to hood-wink police to believe they can't lay a charge after an arrest.

This deficient decades-old policy is explained perfectly beginning on the next page but it's high time to ask some tough questions. How easy is it to suddenly begin dumping cases across the province when the legal beagles in the legislature want to save money on the criminal justice system? A subtle word to a Crown Counsel office would simply mean a careful review and "suggestion" to ditch the following cases:

• Weak, marginalized victims – prostitutes, drug addicts or those not mentally stable;

• Sexual offences against juveniles too young to give succinct evidence;

• "Victimless" crimes – officer initiated arrests such as impaired driving or drug possession;

• Officer victim – assault and obstruct police;

• Justice as victim – obstruct justice, perjury and failure to appear in court or for fingerprinting;

• Fraud – anything involving insurable property with paid out victims, stocks and bonds or international victims; and

• Cases consisting completely or primarily of circumstantial evidence.

This "police can't lay charges" policy only encourages officers to feel inadequate without a lawyer to tell them what to do. Cops working under this Draconian system must be paperwork engineers and submit voluminous reports on every arrest, in the hope a Crown counsel will bless them by actually charging someone. Statistically they say up to 17 percent of arrested people are never charged.

Crown counsel triaging crime can cause valid charges to go south, mainly because they may tend to look at the wide array of arrests brought to them as a sort of top ten list. They might turf anything that doesn't look as spectacular as the previous case they reviewed, for example. The amount of officer time spent producing the volumes of documents, taking them away from street patrol, is not a relevant factor. The message sent to the arrested person is not relevant either.

Who could blame officers if they began looking the other way for many offences, becoming attuned to pleasing Crown counsel by not including "petty crimes"? These same petty crimes, which many studies have shown help perpetuate a form of lawlessness, could – for example – encourage riots after something as petty as a lost hockey game? Hey... I'm only saying B.C. seems to have a corner on this activity.

You need another scenario? How about the recent riots in Montreal. There is a scoundrel level of criminals in society who simply love humiliating police. In BC and Quebec we have a situation where officers arrest wrong-doers and in a reported 17 per cent of those cases the arrested people walk. This only reinforces the impotence of the police. Like a child who is always threatened for wrongdoing but with no follow-through from the parent.

This crippling of police initiative shines new light on many scenarios – the Pickton affair, for starters. Police arrested him many years ago but the Crown did not bring charges and he was released back into the public... and the public was never told because he was not charged. Now police are being mercilessly scrutinized and criticized for inaction. Once again... I'm only saying it happens nowhere else.

Police in the rest of Canada lay charges and Crowns look over paperwork supplied sufficient for a guilty plea. That means people police charge are known to the public at an early stage and the Crown, not police, must explain their decision to withdraw charges which police feel are warranted.

The tragedy of all this is an unknowing public and crippled policing services; the former due to lack of transparency and the latter thanks to top level police and government managers trying too hard to please politicians. Police in these three provinces must understand that, just like the rest of Canada, they are independent agents of the Crown.

Politicians in other provinces have quietly approached some police chiefs about emulating this policy under the guise of cost-saving. Once you take in the big picture it is a form of unloading provincial costs onto municipal budgets and stretches police resources beyond the breaking point.

The federal law is clear. Cops lay the charges and bring them to the door of the courthouse. Any explanations beyond those doors are up to those who work behind them.

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