Friday, March 02, 2012

Krueger's attack on courts a dangerous smear

Maybe Liberal MLA Kevin Krueger should try to be an elected representative in Honduras. His lack of understanding of the importance an independent judicial system might play better here.

I keep being amazed by synchronicities between Canada and Honduras. This time, it's on justice.

Krueger, in a rambling 30-minute speech supposedly on the budget in the legislature this week, launched a sleazy attack on judges and the judicial system.

MLAs, like anyone else, have the right to opinions, no matter how uninformed.

But when they speak in the legislature, their remarks should have some foundation in fact, and they should have some evidence for their claims.

Krueger called it “outrageous” that child-luring charges against a man were stayed in provincial court because of a 27-month delay in bringing the case to trial - more than twice the time the Supreme Court of Canada said constitutes an unreasonable delay that violates the accused’s right to a fair trial.

“We all know what happened,” Krueger said. “We had a judge recently saying that he let an accused child offender leave his courtroom, and he made political statements about this being because the government is not funding them properly. That is horrendous. I would rather have a guy shake me down on the street for money than let an accused child offender walk, with the prospect that he might offend other children. I was absolutely appalled. It's outrageous.”

What’s outrageous is Krueger’s allegation that the decision was not based on the law, but on politics.

If he has any evidence, a single shred of evidence, he has an obligation to file a complaint with the judicial counsel of B.C., which investigates wrongdoing.

If he doesn’t, if this was simply a smear, and he has an equally great obligation to apologize for such damage to the judge and damage to the court system. (And Premier Christy Clark has a duty to remove an MLA who behaves so badly from the Liberal caucus.)

It is outrageous the charges were stayed because of the long delays. It’s outrageous the alleged victim and family spent 27 months without resolution and that the charge, not proven, will hang forever over the accused.

And it's outrageous B.C. courts lack the resources to deal with cases expeditiously, and that police forces face the same critical problems.

The key officer involved in the case, whose clever online investigation led to the charges, warned more cases will be dismissed because police don’t have the resources to handle complex online sex offence cases. It took police investigators 14 months to complete a full report to prosecutors in this case.

"You need more people," Det. Mike MacFarlane told CTV News. Though perhaps Krueger would argue that the officer also is lobying and doesn’t care enough about bring sex offenders to justice.

Krueger went on. He accused judges of “politicking from the bench.” They should “stop whining about how many judges there are,” he said.

While there many good judges, Krueger said, “There are some real bad apples. If you've been doing your reading,” he told the opposition. “you'll know about those and some of the outrageous things that they have said and done.”

“We have some real problem people on the bench,” he added.

Again, no examples. If Kruger knows about “real bad apples” and “outrageous” actions by judges, he should file complaints and cite cases. If not, he should apologize.

Improvements to the justice system are needed, and the stakeholders have been far too slow to make them. Delays are unacceptable and legal costs mean the system is impossible to access for most Canadians.

But Krueger’s drive-by smear - until he provides evidence to support his allegations - is irresponsible. And, as he should know, unfair, since judges allow their decisions to stand undefended and don’t take part in public arguments with politicians or interest groups. If their decisions are seen to be wrong, they can be appealed.

We rely on an independent justice system to protect us from oppression by the state. It’s not a theoretical issue. The former NDP government would have bullied Carrier Lumber out of its rights without the courts to enforce the law; the Liberal government was checked in attempts to break the law in dealing with teachers and health care workers and the children's representative.

Which leads, finally, back to Honduras, where politicians unhappy with Supreme Court decisions that rejected some of their laws as unconstitutional violations of citizens’ rights are musing about curbing the courts’ power.

The Canadian justice system is far from perfect. But when politicians start attacking it, without any evidence, and argue they, not an independent judiciary, should determine the limits of citizens’ rights and guilt and innocence, we should be alarmed.

There are already too many countries where citizens fear arbitrary actions by the state, or powerful forces, with no protection from the courts.

Footnote: Krueger urged support for Court Watch and public vigilance over the courts. The Canadian organization of that name is focused on concerns about actions by government child-protection authorities, but the notion that citizens should be better informed about the work of the courts is sound. Call the government and ask when the court is sitting in your community and spend a morning watching.


Scotty on Denman said...

Members of the Legislative Assembly enjoy some special immunities whilst inside the room, immunity from liable or slander, for example...just so long as they don't call another Member a liar. Even then they don't run any legal risk, only parliamentary approbation.

Krueger is infamous for his intemperate remarks while in the safety of the Assembly. Outside he is reduced to sputtering incoherence surrounded by handlers ready to cut interviews short should Kevin's mouth get him into trouble, which is his chief problem: he has no discernment in this regard.

More troubling than Kevin's boring cant is his boss's lack of discernment of what is or is not appropriate political/judicial commentary. Christy Clark showed that in spades when she tried to make political hay out of courtroom cameras at the Vancouver Riot trials. Her embarrassing ignorance of appropriate separation of politics and the judiciary was foolishly compounded by her angry orders for Crown Prosecutors to push the issue (while the matter was actually before the courts!) much against their esteemed and educated advice.

Demagoguery aside, it's doubtful Christy commands enough caucus respect that any of her MLAs would ask her to vet comments such as Krueger's. She is plainly unqualified to give any advice on these matters, anyway.

Careless statements like Krueger's would normally be prevented, apologized for or punished by any party in control and with a cogent vision for its own future. The BC Liberal party, in contrast, is looking at the voters' chopping block, contains mutinous faction and has already lost erstwhile supporters who have bailed to the new BC Conservatives. Its priority is to protect its culprits from prosecution after they lose the next election, to secret their ill-gotten booty and to fulfill deals with their insider friends. The best interests of the public is far down the list, much less the eloquence and etiquette of partisan hacks like Kevin Krueger.

BC Liberal disinterest in the public's business is showing more and more as their day of doom approaches.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention the fact that Krueger's an idiot.