(This column was published in the
North Shore News
on Feb. 26, 2003)
Crime victims want fairness
Much has been made of the sentence handed down by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Linda Loo in the street racing case which resulted in the death of Irene Thorpe, who was just out for her
But, perhaps the most interesting was the broadside fired across the bow of Attorney General Geoff Plant and the Vancouver Sun's resulting coverage by North Vancouver provincial court Judge Jerome
Paradis made some pretty incredible statements in his rant to the Sun. Some of which Plant responded to in these pages last Friday. And, in all good conscience, I could not let the rest of it pass without comment.
Paradis is now semi-retired, a status most police officers who have had their cases heard by him, a lenient judge, would likely cheer. But, not as vigorously as when he completes the transition.
In his published piece, Paradis demonstrates the arrogance that makes the average member of the public angry at what is perceived to be an elitist judiciary. He refers to victims of crime as "predictably outraged" when they get angry at a particular sentence. He then goes on to suggest that the only thing critics of the courts are interested in is vengeance.
Let's try and follow his logic. Here's a direct quote from his letter: "The reaction of family and friends would be relevant to the question of the adequacy of a sentence if, and only if, our laws on sentencing established vengeance as a guiding principle."
He is quite right in saying sentencing laws do not have vengeance as a guiding principle. But, the sentencing laws do have as guiding principles the concepts of protection of the public and deterrence to others. So, never mind anything else, how can sentences such as occurred in the case of the death of Irene Thorpe do anything to protect the public or deter
Quite the opposite, the imposition of a conditional sentence with laughable restrictions sends the message that it is alright to engage in street racing and there is no effective deterrence to others in the public who might engage in similar activity.
Paradis also suggests that what the victims and their families want is nothing more than blood. Here's what he said: "The public has been led to believe that a fair and equitable sentence can only be what the victim or the victim's survivors would consider acceptable. With a very few notable exceptions, that means blood."
Hard to know where to begin with that pearl of wisdom. This statement, in and of itself, demonstrates everything that is wrong with the system as it is practiced in this country. The victims are totally marginalized in the courtroom and the criminal process. And that is wrong.
The victim was doing nothing wrong. The criminal was doing everything wrong. How then does this mean the victim should be victimized yet again by the courts which do everything to ensure the thug appearing before the bench for the umpteenth time is protected by mountains of jurisprudence while the victim is told to sit down and shut up. That's wrong any way the
learned judge takes it or shakes it. And that is what has the citizenry upset. Well, that and a great many other things purveyed by the courts that are anything but just.
And it's not blood the victim wants, it fairness. The grieving family of Irene Thorpe no longer can share family occasions with her. They won't have her around to be a part of those little victories in her grandchildren's lives. They don't want blood they want justice. The two people responsible for her death got grounded for two years. And that is patently
unfair. That should be obvious even to an elitist judge such as Paradis. The general public were also chided by Paradis. He suggests they don't know anything about the law and therefore are not entitled to their opinion in these matters. I don't think the general public is that stupid. The public can recognize when an aspect of their society is fundamentally
Paradis uses an analogy saying he knows little about the internal combustion engine and so should not tell his mechanic how to do his job. That may be, but if after doing his job, my engine is still knocking I sure as hell don't let him get away with it simply because I may not understand the process needed to rectify the problem.
Suffice to say if Paradis wants to stifle the criticism of his brother and sister judges, then he should encourage them to apply the law (his words) appropriately and take into consideration the protection of the public from those who would reoffend time after time after time after time. People like his own son, I might add. He should take note that deterrence
is specifically mentioned in the sentencing guidelines he is trying to hide behind. Section 718 of the Criminal Code of Canada specifically deals with sentencing guidelines and I would suggest Judge Paradis read it again.
He might also wish to read section 718.1, which says: "A sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender."
And grounding in a case where an innocent person is killed by the criminal actions of another is not deterrence not does it consider the gravity of the offence. It is true the rehabilitation of the offender is a consideration under those guidelines. Too often it is treated as though it is the only consideration. And then, like the mechanic who didn't fix the
car, they are rightly subject to criticism. The public and the victims he seems to look down upon understand this.