Crime Diary - Justice Patrick Lesage: A wise man

Compassion, empathy, and respect for the essential dignity of all persons.



Moral courage and high ethics.

A reputation for honesty, integrity and fairness.

Strong, dignified interpersonal skills that command authority.

Confidence, with an absence of pomposity and authoritarian tendencies.

These, according to the Ontario Court of Justice, are the interpersonal skills the Province expects in a judge.

It has been my experience that Canadian courts does a pretty good job of attracting these people.

Case in point, Mary Hynes, host of CBC’s Tapestry, interviewed Justice Patrick Lesage on the show last week. The former chief justice of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice certainly fits the bill. It was one of the most interesting interviews I’ve heard in some time and I just wanted to share some of it, particularly at this time of year when reflection on humanity is so prevalent.

Of course, I encourage readers to find the podcast on the CBC website and listen for themselves.

Lesage is perhaps most famous for presiding over the trial of Paul Bernardo, one of the most gruesome in Canadian history.

As Hynes reports in her blog, the judge had a long-standing practice after he sentenced a person to look him in the eye and wish him well. If ever there was a case that one might break this practice, surely it would be Bernardo.

Not for Lesage.

“I wished him well in serving his sentence and I meant it sincerely,” the justice told Hynes. But I also expressed that I felt that he probably should spend the rest of his life in prison. At the end he said, ‘Thank you.’”

To retain compassion and respect in the face of what Lesage himself described as an “emotional assault” is something I believe most of us would have a hard time with.

The interview is quite wide-ranging and included many a quotable gem, such as: “If a person breaks a law, it doesn’t make them a criminal. You may commit a crime, that doesn’t make you a criminal in my eyes.”

On fundamentalism of all kinds, which “frightens” him, he says: “It is the antithesis of community.”

At one point, Hynes delves into the Lord of the Rings to get Lesage’s  reaction to a famous Gandalf quote:

“Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

Lesage uses the quote to muse about capital punishment.

“I think what it does tell me is that capital punishment is an unacceptable action of the state. I think it lowers, among other things, the state to the level of the action which they are sanctioning.”

It also brings up the subject of wrongful convictions.

“Gandalf speaks of the wisdom and the eyes to see all,” Lesage said. “Well, we don’t always, we know there are wrongful convictions. There have been and there will be.”

Few people know better about that than Lesage. He was the judge that did the review of the James Driskell case.

James Driskell was convicted in 1991 of murdering his former partner. He spent 13 years, one month and seven days behind bars.

In his report, Lesage wrote: “What happened in this case was just plain wrong.”

He found the Crown prosecutors’ conduct was not up to professional standards and the police had failed to disclose pertinent evidence “before during and after Driskell’s trial.”

Since his retirement in 2004, Lesage has remained active in justice issues and although he sat as one of the highest jurists in the land he refers to himself as a “public servant.”

Lucky for we, the public.

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