I read Kamloops Coun. Bill Sarai’s View From City Hall column of Jan. 12 (‘The ineffectiveness of current crime prevention’) and feel obliged to offer some clarification and context.
First off, I applaud the efforts of councillors Sarai and Mike O’Reilly to address the concerns of residents and businesses about the apparent rise in property crime rates in Kamloops.
While I am a criminal defence lawyer, I am also a citizen — and I am also, of course, concerned with increases in crime.
Believe it or not, it is possible to be both concerned with crime rates and with the rights of Canadians accused of, and even convicted of, committing crimes in our community.
However, the solutions are not as simple as getting court cases reversed so “the judicial pendulum shifts back to where it belongs.”
I will assume, based on the tone of Sarai’s column, that he sincerely believes it is, owing to the source of his information — which I must presume is the RCMP and only the RCMP.
Sarai writes that “Recent Supreme Court of Canada cases have, unfortunately, shifted the pendulum further toward that of favouring criminals.”
This is neither accurate nor helpful. The Supreme Court of Canada, like all courts, has to balance the rights of accused persons with the need to protect society.
The decisions of the court have done so in the past and have continued to do so in recent years. I assume the decision that is generally being referred to here is that of R. v. Zora, which was a 2020 decision on the issue of, among other issues, bail conditions.
The reason I think Sarai is referring to Zora is because of the next thing he erroneously states: “I have been told judges are not allowed to impose any types of conditions on release before trial, meaning essentially no curfew or restrictions of any kind.”
This is false. Zora stands for the notion that judges and police who release accused persons can impose conditions, but those conditions must be rationally connected to the offences charged, and they must be necessary to ensure the accused’s attendance and compliance in the community.
Readers should know that judges in Kamloops can and still do frequently put accused persons on release orders with conditions, such as curfew, no-go, no-contact, report, reside, etc.
Sarai then writes that “Crown has 18 months from the date of laying a charge to get a criminal in front of a judge for trial, lest the charges are dropped.”
This statement turns the presumption of innocence on its head (accused Canadians are presumed innocent until proven guilty and only then do they become criminals, if at all).
But this statement is also a not a correct description of the rule in R. v. Jordan. Yes, on smaller scale of offending, the presumptive ceiling before delay is considered unreasonable is 18 months. However, on more serious files, the Crown has 30 months to prosecute individuals, not 18 months, before the delay becomes presumptively unreasonable.
However, in either case, these are not time limits that assist “criminals” and their lawyers. These are time tables that are mostly used to force the accused and their lawyers to make decisions about whether they take their cases to trial in a timely fashion.
Like the other landmark case I referred to, it is decision by the Supreme Court of Canada that strikes a balance between the rights of accused to have a trial within a reasonable time and our concomitant rights as citizens to know our justice system isn’t moving like a snail.
Anecdotally, I can’t think of one single case that has been dropped in Kamloops because of unreasonable delay since Jordan came into effect in 2016.
What would make our community a safer place? That is a big question I can’t answer with the space I have left.
However, I have always been of the belief that what we need is a better integrated system, where criminal justice actors like me and my colleagues in Crown and the judiciary have more resources to tackle addictions management and treatment services and connect system users with mental-health supports and housing.
I would always welcome an invitation by council to participate in discussions about how we can work toward those types of goals.
We all want to live in a safer community.