This blog will deal exclusively with Canadian criminal courts and the Canadian criminal justice system. The hope is that readers will better understand the criminal process and how the system actually works.
This blog is not for discussion of individual cases, except to the extent that they highlight a systemic concern. Nor is this a primer on substantive criminal law. Criminal law is a complex and sophisticated discipline, rich in doctrine and constantly changing.
My focus is the gaping hole in public knowledge about the criminal courts and how they operate (or not). This mind-blowing misunderstanding is prevalent even among policy-makers, parliamentarians, and the press. Equally important, the problems affecting the criminal justice system at the front-end, in the courts themselves, are ignored or neglected as scarce resources are channelled to more prisons at the back-end. While politicians are preoccupied with punishment, the entire criminal justice system is struggling to keep up… not with more crime, but with greater procedural demands, more “reforms,” and increased constraints.
The issues have never seemed more pressing. Crime and punishment will be big issues in the upcoming federal election. The majority federal government has passed omnibus criminal justice legislation, and private members’ bills, designed to carry out a “law and order” agenda. Trial courts and Appeal courts have found parts of that agenda unconstitutional and, as these cases have come to the Supreme Court of Canada for resolution, the ongoing tension between Parliament’s intentions and individual rights continues. Prostitution, sexual assault, and legalizing marijuana are again in the spotlight, prompting intensive public debate. My hope is to discuss these types of issues as they arise.
I am writing from the perspective of a retired criminal court judge. After 18 years as a full-time judge on the Ontario Court of Justice, and two years part-time, I retired fully on August 31, 2011. As a judge, I was subject to the constraints of my office; the obligation to refrain from comments that could be construed as taking sides in the political process, to stay above the fray.
One of the best decisions I ever made was to retire fully from the Bench. As I have walked around the Stanley Park seawall or struggled to keep up in a low-intensity spinning class, I have been free to let my thoughts flow. Without the demands of a pressing caseload, I could pursue other interests, try my hand at writing, and consider how I could best contribute to the rising debate. No longer handcuffed or muffled by my office, and sufficiently distant from the emotional demands of the role, I now feel able to respond to the requests of my blog readers to do some legal writing. I hope you will find my posts useful. And that you will share your perspective through the Comments.