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MP’s comments about B.C. judges ruled out of order

I’m taking a step away from the personal injury focus of this column, but staying squarely in line with the achieving justice theme.

I wonder how many of you caught the exchange last week between our local MP, Stockwell Day, and B.C. provincial court, Chief Judge Hugh Stansfield. Stockwell Day’s volley was contained in his column that appeared in This Week On The Westside using inflammatory language like “Get a hold of this,” and “As if that wasn’t alarming enough,” Day passed on complaints he claims to have received from an unnamed police chief about the way judges sentence criminals.

He wrote that he was startled by statistics indicating that repeat offenders were getting less jail time the more offences they committed. Day cited the unnamed police chief as thinking that most judges are not fully aware of the benefits that longer sentences can have for the rehabilitation of criminals because of variations in rehabilitation services at different levels of institutions. He concluded that section of his column with the notion that he would look into educating the judiciary with the important information he had received.

What a crock.

In a previous column, I suggested looking at the source of information and advice because often the giver has an agenda. What agenda do you think Day had when writing his column? Did he really think he was going to teach judges a thing or two about how they should do their job?

Goodness. If any group of people have intimate knowledge of how the system works and what programs are available to criminals in which institutions, it is our judges.

They live and breathe this stuff. They don’t sit in an ivory tower handing out sentences in a vacuum. Every time a case comes before them for sentencing, judges face arguments by Crown counsel lawyers (the Canadian version of a district attorney for you American television viewers), who use whatever ammunition available to try to convince the judge to put the convicted person away for as long as possible.

This includes rehabilitation consequences. The law requires judges to weigh a number of factors, the rehabilitation of the offender being only one of many. Even if rehabilitation were the only factor, considerations might favour keeping a repeat offender out of a federal institution.

For example, being housed in a federal institution means being surrounded, and influenced, by more serious criminals. It’s also not like judges can’t be held to account for their decisions.

If the Crown thinks a sentence is too short, it can be appealed to a higher court. I cannot imagine that police chiefs, our top law enforcement officials, are truly as ignorant with regard to how the system works as Day suggests. I have even more trouble imagining that our local MP could share that ignorance.

Should we forgive the alarmist approach because we expect our politicians to pursue their political agendas in such a fashion?

I don’t think so.

To me, taking a cheap shot at judges crosses a line that politicians should not cross. Politicians make the laws. Our judges apply them. It’s up to politicians to change the laws if they don’t like the decisions. It’s simply irresponsible to challenge the decisions themselves. Day’s column was sufficiently misleading that Stansfield spoke out against it.

The chief judge was quoted in the Capital News as referring to Day’s views as “quite in-accurate.” Our judges should not be placed in the position of having to do that. I could use a far more unflattering term than Stansfield used, but judges are perhaps a little more civilized than I am.

Published October 7, 2007 in the Kelowna Capital News