Appeared in the North Shore News – March 30, 2012
GRAHAM James. Anyone in the land who doesn’t know who James is?
Now try this. Catherine Carlson. Who dat?
Carlson is the Manitoba judge who gave pedophile and former coach James two years in prison on concurrent sentences for hundreds of sexual assaults of two then-teenaged hockey players, Theo Fleury and Todd Holt. The Crown stayed charges involving a third, Greg Gilhooly.
That paragraph contains three searing indictments of our justice system – which has fallen into huge disrepute with “ordinary” and not-so-ordinary Canadians.
One, the sentence. Under the system’s fun-with-inflationary-figures, sentences are reduced for time spent in jail awaiting trial (commonly accredited as double time, an unlegislated practice Ottawa dropped but is still being followed by some courts), and from one-third to two-thirds off in prison because, well, that’s become the Canadian convention. So James, who earlier served about 18 months of a 3½-year sentence on similar charges, is likely to be back on the streets in November. Scandalous.
Two, concurrent sentences. Canadians smugly scoff at U.S. consecutive sentences like 176 years for conviction on multiple charges. Sounds right to me. In Canada, 10 convictions for, say, sexual assault draw 10 concurrent sentences. One rape, one term. Ten rapes, same term. Is this bananas or what?
Third, staying – i.e., not proceeding with – charges when similar charges have been brought in similar cases. So monster Willie Pickton, who boasted of killing 50 women, was tried and convicted of killing “only” six. The anger of the victims’ families is understandable.
So, if there’s such a thing as a citizen’s arrest, I hereby arrest Judge Catherine Carlson for, oh, bringing the administration of justice into disrepute, something like that.
And I immediately leap to her defence. All the above are just business as usual in our courts. Carlson had no bleeding-heart illusions about James as a cunning master manipulator. In her decision she said: “Mr. James could essentially do what he wanted to do to (his victims), and could rely on their compliance and silence, because he controlled whether they would get the chance at what they really wanted or would have their dreams” – to play major-league hockey – “crushed.”
No, one judge shouldn’t carry the can for the entire Canadian court system. That system needs a profound shakeup – and its lordly claim to independence doesn’t wash any more with a public that feels profoundly betrayed by sentencing travesties.
The closed shop of the justice system’s union by any name permits stunning costs (discouraging civil action even when the case has merit), the fee-spinning adjournments so readily granted, the multi-year delays that can lead to dropping of serious charges because the accuseds’ rights are compromised.
Justice is too important to be left to lawyers. But, that lightly said, who else can help reform the system? With impressive courage, Geoff Plant, a practising lawyer and highly regarded former B.C. attorney-general, wrote a superb piece in the March 20 Vancouver Sun, a must-read for citizens.
Plant’s hook, as journalists would say, was a speech last year by David Johnston to the Canadian Bar Association. In a thoughtful review of the social contract, the Governor General – the Queen’s representative in Canada, need reminding? – stated that the administration of the court system “cries out for improvement.”
Last month B.C. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon, plainly, and Liberal MLA Kevin Krueger, provocatively, criticized the court system.
Whereupon Thomas Finch, Robert Bauman and Thomas Crabtree, chief judges of B.C.’s Appeal, Supreme and provincial courts respectively, issued a joint statement that a Sun editorial noted “has been described as haughty and arrogant” – not that the Sun would sign on to language so very, you might say, injudicious.
Plant – whose piece appeared two days before the Sun editorial – was surprised that the three would agree on anything, let alone a rare joint statement. His summation is quietly explosive: “There is not the slightest suggestion anywhere in their carefully worded statement that there is a problem with the justice system. . . . They have chosen instead to read us a lecture on judicial independence.”
Reader, this is more grave than any one court case, even the most heinous.
. . .
Speaking of the Sun again: How soon we forget.
A few weeks ago the paper, introducing its interesting 100th anniversary series, ran a photo of Simma Holt and McClelland & Stewart late publisher Jack McClelland, holding Simma’s book Terror in the Name of God – which got a prized front-page review in the New York Times book section.
But lined up with them was a third person, unidentified.
Who? Why, top Social Credit cabinet minister Robert Bonner, W.A.C. Bennett’s attorney-general. Newsrooms used to keep an old hand around to identify such past matters. But eventually they too die out and are forgotten.
. . .
The show must go on. And it will. The sadly defunct Playhouse Theatre will have one last hurrah, of sorts, when its final play of 2011-12, award-winning comedy God of Carnage, will be performed as scheduled from April 14 to May 5.
But, the Playhouse being broke, the co-producer, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, is going ahead with God of Carnage, backed by Vancouver Civic Theatres – essentially the Playhouse’s landlord. Good news for the actors and creative team.
Also good news for season subscribers, reportedly about 4,500 of them: Their tickets will be honoured.
© Trevor Lautens, 2012