It was kind of a weird Wednesday in Yorkton provincial court last week. At least two judgments went in completely opposite directions than what I would have expected and both were determined by the actions of the defendants.
In the first, Jerid Azure, facing a one-month sentence based on a joint submission by Crown and defence for breach of probation, got an extra two months because of a profane outbreak when he addressed Judge Tim White.
In the second, a well-spoken, Garfield Chartrand managed to convince White to take a “calculated risk” by releasing him on a conditional sentence instead of the four months jail time recommended in the joint Crown-defence submission.
It’s quite rare for judges to ignore joint submissions. In fact, it is incumbent upon them if the submission is “reasonable.” Then again, I had never seen Judge White, a recently-appointed alternate, so I am looking forward to future court dates with him.
I also had the good luck to be in court June 3, when Judge Patrick Koskie addressed students during one of the breaks. Koskie has some standard comments he generally makes to students.
The first is to respect police. They have a tough job to do and they never know even in a simple traffic stop what they might be facing. Fair enough, and good advice in general.
The second kind of made me chuckle. I’m paraphrasing, but basically he told them to take what they read and hear in the media with a shaker of salt. Also fair enough, and also good advice in general.
His explanation was very interesting, though, and something many people never think about before they start spouting off about how soft the courts are.
He said the police, the Court, the Crown and defence attorneys, who have spent their lives studying and practicing the law have a lot more information than the general public, or the media for that matter. He also said that judges don’t get to justify their decisions; they only get to make them. These things are true, but not entirely.
There are many elements in the justice process that are not public record. Evidence, victim impact statements, pre-sentence reports, psychological evaluations and criminal records are not generally available—except what is presented in open court or makes it into a written decision. Rightfully so. Defendants, convicts, victims, anybody who has dealings with the system, have rights.
For example, in his recent decision on the Hanishewski attempted murder of Greg Bugeria, Koskie referenced pre-sentence and psychological reports and summarized victim impact statements, things that were relevant to (i.e., justified) his decision to sentence the Rama man to nine years custody.
I am not criticizing the judge and I didn’t take his evaluation of the media personally either. From judges to lawyers to reporters, we are all limited by what we know and what we can disclose.
I feel privileged to know as much as I do know, but I have the luxury of being in court every week. I read the decisions. I talk to the police, the lawyers, even the victims sometimes. I pour over the Criminal Code and case law regularly and I get paid to do it. And ultimately I have to choose what our readers get to know.
I think I’m pretty fair and comprehensive in my choices and the opinions I express in this column, but I believe everybody should take Koskie’s advice and find out for themselves what is going on in the courts. The law of the land and its application in everyday life is perhaps one of the most ill-understood aspects of society despite the fact it is likely just about the most important thing we have going on.
It should be a prerequisite to graduating high school to spend some time in court and I encourage everyone to make a trip down to Smith Street and Seventh Avenue for your own edification. It’s open, it’s free, it’s educational and, when it’s not as dry as a prairie mudflat in August, it can be pretty entertaining.