Back to basics

Charging should be last resort

by André Marin

Back to basics

Charging should be last resort

by André Marin

by André Marin

The Supreme Court of Canada’s Jordan case has caused ripples through our criminal justice system. The effect of the case has been to set rigid guidelines for trial within a reasonable time. If they’re not met, the accused is cut loose and charges are stayed.

In Ontario alone, it means that 11,000 criminal cases are at risk of being tossed. Already first-degree murder cases, robberies and sexual assault cases have been thrown out of court. And it’s only the beginning.

It’s not the first time that the SCC has sent a wake-up call to actors in our judicial system to take their constitutional obligations more seriously. In the early 1990s, the SCC’s Askov decision produced similar results.

Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi sounded like a deer caught in the headlights when he attacked the SCC for acting as if they were changing the rules of a hockey game “in the third period.” This is nothing but bluster and a smokescreen to cover up his ineptitude and neglect of our legal system.

A wide range of solutions are being looked at from getting rid of the largely outdated preliminary inquiry to throwing more money at the problem: hiring more Crowns, appointing more judges and building more courthouses.

I have another solution. Let’s get back to the basics. Criminal court is not a vehicle for social engineering and political correctness. Criminal law is meant as society’s sledgehammer to go after and denounce the worst conduct. After all, a convicted person is known as a “criminal” with all the associated stigma and faces imprisonment for life in some cases.

Three recent cases illustrate how we’ve strayed from the traditional underpinnings of criminal prosecutions.

First, last Thursday, Anita Krajnc was acquitted of mischief. Her alleged crime? Giving water to thirsty pigs on their way to a slaughterhouse in Burlington. The trial, which garnered international attention (embarrassing!) took 7 days of court time turned into somewhat of a gong show as the accused tried to prove that pigs are “persons”. Straight shooting Justice David Harris threw out the charges and reigned in both sides. “By law in Canada, pigs are not persons. They are property,” he said. “Did Ms Krajnc obstruct, interrupt or interfere with the lawful use, enjoyment or operation of the property? My simple answer to this question is: no. She did not,” he added. What a colossal and ridiculous waste of court time.

Second, the myriad of arrests and charges against cannabis shop owners in Ontario operating in the light of day is using a sledgehammer when a fly swat would suffice. No doubt they’re operating illegally but surely as pot legalizing is about a year away, it’s business for the bylaw enforcement officer not the cops armed with search warrants and battering rams as we recently saw in Toronto.

Finally, cops in Newfoundland recently charged a 27-year-old man with the criminal offence of causing a disturbance by yelling the sexually explicit phrase “FHRITP” at a female TV journalist. What he did is hideous, sexist and repulsive. But criminal? Not a chance. The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, acting more like a thought and politically correct enforcement body than real cops, tweeted “disrespect can be the root of violence.” My first reaction was the Onion or The Beaverton had hacked the cops’ twitter account. Is that what police and criminal law are for? Policing disrespect?

Let’s bring back police officer discretion and more robust Crown vetting of what gets to trial. Weed out matters that don’t deserve our collective sledgehammer and let’s get back to prosecuting real crimes such as murders, sexual assaults and robberies.

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