So, police spend five months building a case against numerous drug dealers. This involves painstaking and potentially dangerous undercover work, coordination of several agencies, execution of dozens of warrants and multiple arrests.
One of the characters caught up in the dragnet is one Thomas Stevenson. Stevenson is “known to police” as they like to say. He has a previous drug conviction from 2009, but, more importantly, it turns out he is already on a conditional release for, you guessed it, allegedly trafficking drugs. The conditions of that release, of course, include the statutory “keep the peace and be of good behaviour,” which basically means don’t do the thing you did to get arrested before again.
Now, the Constitution guarantees that until you plead or are proven guilty of a crime, you are presumed innocent and have the right “not to be denied reasonable bail without just cause.”
The Criminal Code conveniently defines “just cause” for judges as three grounds intuitively labeled primary, secondary and tertiary.
The primary is that there is a very good chance the accused will not show up for court or comply with other conditions imposed by the system.
The secondary is that the defendant poses a high risk to commit another crime while on release.
The tertiary is that the public will raise a collective eyebrow and say, “What the heck were you thinking, judge?” (not to mention pissing off to no end the cops who worked so hard to lock him up in the first place).
In Stevenson’s case, that’s a check, check and double-check, a slam-dunk for the Crown, right?
Certainly prosecutor Shane Wagner figured Stevenson was the poster boy for all three grounds.
“In the interest of justice, if you don’t hold this prisoner, I don’t know which prisoners you would,” he said.
Even Judge Patrick Koskie had pre-judged the decision after reading an unfavourable bail verification report.
He said, “read my lips, this morning I was not releasing you in any way, shape or form.”
But wait, the man is entitled to a defence and legal aid lawyer David Bright put up one heck of case.
People are not one-dimensional. All too often we label someone a “criminal” and forget that there is a lot more to him. Stevenson is a musician and hockey coach, well-respected by the Cote First Nation. So much so that Bright was able to drum up four high-ranking members of the band to vouch for the young man.
The defence painted a picture of a role model for youth because of Stevenson’s success as a hip-hop and rap artist and his involvement with the Cote Selects hockey team.
The witnesses promised to monitor the defendant and provide healing and rehabilitative services.
Stevenson himself was polite, earnest and well-spoken, looking forward to personal healing and contributing to the betterment of his community.
Koskie bought it. It was a good story—the kind you really hope will wind up being a story of redemption. It would probably make a decent made-for-TV movie.
But alas, I don’t think anyone, probably not even Koskie, was overly surprised to read the RCMP bulletin last week that Stevenson had ditched his electronic monitoring device and disappeared.
Breaches of court orders are lumped together under the umbrella of offences against the administration of justice. These have become a huge problem in Canada in recent years.
A Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics report covering the period of 1994/1995 to 2003/2004 (the latest period for which statistics are available) showed the proportion of cases before adult criminal courts increased from 22 per cent to 31 per cent.
The cost alone of handling these cases in the courts is huge, but it also clogs up the system, which has major ramifications for the timely and efficient processing of other cases.
Then there are all the police resources that must be expended to recapture alleged offenders when they do breach.
The greatest casualty of this case, though, is that it undermines the trust people place in the justice system. The court of public opinion is not nearly as compassionate as our criminal courts tend to be.
It might take Koskie a while to recover from this one depending on when police pick Stevenson up again. They will. And when he appears before the Court again, the Crown, I assume, will truly have an open-and-shut-case.