I am left wondering what the Criminal Justice Branch does with its time when it takes four years to charge an individual who apparently is the sole person responsible for loss of life and the destruction of MV Queen of the North. I suspect work throughput of the British Columbia Criminal Justice Branch may measure up reasonably to Canadian standards but not so well compared to those of other nations. Consider the Greek experience discussed in the previous article of In-Sights. Let’s review part of the public record.
Our system theoretically provides that persons accused of an offence are protected from wrongful prosecution by formal procedures overseen by independent courts, by access to defence counsel and speedy resolution of charges. One measure provides that, if trial is to be in Supreme Court, a preliminary inquiry will take place in Provincial Court, to determine if there is sufficient evidence for the accused to actually stand trial.
A further protection for the accused has evolved, at least for some accused. That is, in determining whether a charge is to be approved, prosecutors consider whether there is a substantial likelihood of conviction and, if so, whether a prosecution is required in the public interest.
Of course, Gordon Campbell’s underlings have a different view of public interest than do others. Under this evolved system, civil servants in the CJB make decisions better made in open court, by a judge who is accountable publicly and through appeals to higher courts and not concerned with budget issues. CJB officials argue vigorously against outside review so their exercise of prosecutorial discretion is practically unchallengeable.
The current charge approval policy shifted authority out of the courtroom into the hands of civil servants employed by the Attorney General’s department. Citizens must trust completely in the independence of those officers and do that knowing that senior departmental appointments reside in partisan hands.
There is no substantive separation of political influence, as evidenced by Deputy Attorney General Allan Seckel, responsible for administration of justice in the province, moving directly from the CJB to Gordon Campbell’s office as the Premier’s Deputy Minister. That situation hardly comforts a citizen who expects independence and objectivity, both real and apparent, from the justice system.
Prosecutors should represent the interests of society as a whole, not the interests of a government. This role was set out in the Supreme Court of Canada in the following quotation:
It cannot be overemphasized that the purpose of a criminal prosecution is not to obtain a conviction; it is to lay before a jury what the Crown, (the prosecutor), considers to be credible evidence relevant to what is alleged to be a crime. Counsel has a duty to see that all available legal proof of the facts is presented: it should be done firmly and pressed to its legitimate strength, but it must also be done fairly.
The role of prosecutor excludes any notion of winning or losing; his function is a matter of public duty than which in civil life there can be none charged with greater personal responsibility. It is to be efficiently performed with an ingrained sense of the dignity, the seriousness and the justness of judicial proceedings.” Boucher v. The Queen (1954) 110 C.C.C. 263 at 270 (S.C.C.).
Mostly, the prosecution system functions without serious controversy, attracting scant attention beyond people directly involved. The CJB claims it screens nearly half of all cases within 24 hours of police making an arrest. However, the system comes to a near stop when public officials, police or high profile events are involved. Whereas the progress of a typical case is measured in days, the progress of a highly publicized case may be measured in years. Some examples:
- Queen of the North, a single charge for criminal negligence laid four years after the event.
- RCMP Cpl. Monty Robinson was charged with obstruction of justice, but not impaired driving, 13 months after the traffic death of Orion Hutchinson. His defense was accepted by the CJB despite rejection of it by a judge reviewing an administrative suspension of Robinson’s license for driving while impaired.
- A decision to lay no charges was made 27 months after Vancouver PD shot and killed Paul Boyd.
- A decision to lay no charges was made 82 months after a Special Prosecutor was appointed to review possible charges against people associated with the defence team of Inderjit Singh Reyat.
- A decision to lay no charges against RCMP Cst. Ryan Sheremetta was made 52 months after the shooting death of Kevin St. Arnaud.
- An independent prosecutor has made no decision 24 months after appointment to review the investigation of former Solicitor General John Les. The case remains open.
- After 28 months, no charges have been filed against RCMP officers involved in the death of Robert Dziekanski. The final report of the Braidwood Inquiry is withheld because the Liberal Government does not want the issue given attention during the 2010 Winter Olympics.
- In 1998, Frank Paul was dragged by constables from Vancouver City jail and dropped in a wet cold laneway, propped against a wall, where he was found dead of exposure the next day. The CJB refused to approve charges against the police officers who contributed to Paul’s death. The Davies Commission of Inquiry sought to compel evidence about the CJB’s decision. The Branch argued against explaining its actions, appealed to the Supreme court, lost and took the case to the Court of Appeal. It lost there and, still refusing to comply, has taken its appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Eleven years after Frank Paul’s death, the British Columbia Department of Attorney General continues to battle against disclosure of information that might be embarrassing to the Department. The Paul Family and natural justice continue to be abused.
- Of course, the infamous BC Rail case drags on 75 months after RCMP raided the Ministries of Finance and Transportation.
Only the very credulous could imagine that political influence is absent from administration of justice in British Columbia.