Even our AG knows the justice system is broken

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The province’s attorney general, Wally Oppal, wants all of us to start holding our judicial system accountable.

He wants us to let him know — as the top judge in B.C. — when we think all those legal beagles who work for him are doing things with which we don’t agree.

So, here’s my contribution to the list Oppal is no doubt creating about instances of justice delayed being justice denied.

Back on Aug. 22, 2008, KTW photographer Dave Eagles captured an altercation between retired RCMP officer Pete Backus and John Gibbons, a — at the time — wheelchair-occupying marginalized man living in a rooming house in downtown Kamloops.

Gibbons complained to police, who began an investigation.

That took months to complete, but a file eventually made its way over to Crown counsel’s office, a document one would assume would lay out all the evidence and would have the police recommendation about pursuing charges against either man.

And there it sits, still waiting for someone to take action — 160 days later.

People in this city have been arrested, tried, convicted and jailed in that time.

Everyone involved on the justice side, from the police to the lawyers, have all insisted the time lag isn’t to give one of their own — albeit a retired one — an easy ride.

They’re not moving slowly because of the “blue code.”

Nope, they have to look at the totality of the situation, not just the dozens and dozens of photographs Eagles took or the statements by the two KTW reporters who were also at the scene.

And that’s a good thing, because — as we’ve learned from the inquiry into the Robert Dziekanski death at Vancouver International Airport — we want our police to not act recklessly, not prejudge a situation, not not ask questions.

But, at the same time, the judicial side of our criminal-justice system knows there are problems.

They know people are losing faith in their ability to protect us.

They know we sigh, roll our eyes or perhaps even utter some expletives when someone with a lengthy record gets a slap-on-the-wrist sentence.

They know — because Oppal has told them — the court system in B.C. moves too slowly as lawyers play their delaying games, judges allow them to do it, accused people join in on the games sometimes and nothing happens.

In fact, some people accused of crimes have figured out it’s smart to stay in custody, drag the case out and then get that double credit for time already spent incarcerated if — when — they’re convicted.

For that matter, why is a day spent in jail waiting for a trial worth two days spent in prison after conviction?

I’ve never been able to understand that logic.

Lawyers out there, please feel free to explain it to me.

It’s not easy being a judge or lawyer.

It’s mind-boggling the amount of data they have to have in their grey cells, the swiftness with which their minds must operate, the way they work the system they’re dedicated to uphold as they make their cases.

But, as they do all this — as they make judgment calls on what to do or say and when to do or say it — the rest of us simply see a system that’s not moving.

We see situations like the one people in Langley have been dealing with as the same criminal — arrested and released over and over again — continued to break into their businesses and restaurants.

In fact, that specific statistic for the central Fraser Valley city saw an increase of 20 per cent, with 690 break-and-enters in businesses in 2008.

That’s almost two a day.

There’s something wrong here.

Even Oppal knows it.

I wonder how long he’ll take to fix it.