The U.S. has big problems, but Canada's justice system deserves criticism, too


National Post, 22 May 2019

True, our incarceration rate is far below the American one, but abuse of power and victimization of the innocent is found routinely here too

On the eve of reporting to prison in March 2008, Conrad Black wrote of his confidence that he would eventually be vindicated, restating his “faith in American justice.”

With the news of his deserved pardon last week, Lord Black’s vindication has come, but his faith in American justice has been eroded. Indeed, both Black and Mark Steyn argued in these pages on Saturday that American criminal justice is deeply corrupted and regularly grinds up the innocent.

I never shared Black’s faith in American justice. It is not possible to have the world’ s highest incarceration rate — 0.7 per cent of the entire population — by being fussy about who is thrown in jail, guilty or innocent.

We shouldn’t think that Canadian justice is pure. True, our incarceration rate is far below the American one — even Russia and China trail the Americans — but abuse of power and victimization of the innocent is found routinely here too. One only has to look for it.

Last week, a video of an RCMP interview of an aboriginal rape victim brought universal condemnation, with all the worthies of the criminal justice system confessing themselves shocked and appalled. Indigenous women were appalled but not shocked.

Why should anyone be shocked?

Did we forget that in 2007 at the Vancouver airport, Robert Dziekanski, a disoriented man, was shocked with a Taser five times by RCMP officers within minutes of their arrival on the scene, killing him? A subsequent judicial inquiry found that officers on the scene did not tell the truth about what happened; perjury convictions followed.

Have we forgotten about the G20 fiasco in Toronto in 2010, where the police forces managed to be both abusive and ineffective simultaneously? Have we forgotten the lengths to which police officers went to frustrate the subsequent investigation and avoid being held to account?

Have we forgotten about Joe Klemko, the internationally renowned blood-spatter expert who was disciplined multiple times by the Edmonton Police Services for insubordination? His “offence” was to testify for defendants as an outside consultant in various cases. The Edmonton police took the view that officers work with prosecutors and therefore should not cast doubt on evidence gathered. The move to discipline Klemko for telling the truth under oath — when it helped defendants — ran into serious public opposition, forcing the police force to back down.

Exactly 10 years ago, a National Post investigation revealed that Crown prosecutors in Barrie and Windsor illegally asked the police to do background checks on potential jurors so as to better skew the jury in favour of the prosecution. When that was revealed the attorney general of Ontario and the head of the OPP solemnly said that they would not do it again. No consequences for those who broke the law to pre-emptively tamper with the jury.

Have we forgotten entirely about the 20 years during which an ideological and incompetent coroner, Dr. Charles Smith, provided false and misleading evidence in the case of infant deaths? In 13 trials, parents were falsely convicted of raping and killing their own children. Dr. Smith was not an unknown, rogue quantity. In the 1990s he did more forensic child autopsies than any other doctor in the country. The leading child coroner in Canada falsified evidence to convict innocent parents of killing their own children. Think about that. Already at retirement age, he was stripped of his licence to practise medicine. No one else faced any consequences.

And now we have the case of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman. Whether the prime minister directly ordered the RCMP to investigate Norman is a distraction. He had no need for such improper pressure; he made his views about that known publicly, expressing his expectation that Norman would be charged nearly a year before he was. The RCMP reads the newspapers.

Carla Qualtrough, the minister for public works and procurement, conceded that the prime minister’s comments were “in hindsight, not the best framing of words, I can assure you.” She spoke better than she knew. “Framing” is exactly the right word in the Norman case.

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