Friday, February 05, 2010
Many B.C. courthouses keep public from viewing police documents, investigation finds
The CanWest article is HERE.
Way, way back in time, I wanted to attend the first pre-trial hearing for Basi, Virk, Basi: Although Case #23299 was written on the BC Supreme Court (Victoria) schedule as taking place in Courtroom 101, I held vigil until there was nobody left but the Judge and me; I never saw the Accused, the Crown Prosecutor, or their Defence lawyers that day. They didn't appear. Who knows why? Thereafter I tried accessing the court dates via court services in other towns, no luck. It was all a mystery. There were even people telling me it was my fault ... people who claimed they could work the system with no trouble whatever.
To date, only Robin Mathews has attempted to open up these lines of accessibility to the public. His reports opened our eyes to the difficulties. But there were still people who claimed that he was in the wrong, not the court system.
Now this extraordinary piece of investigative journalism opens the doors for the public. This, by gosh, is what journalism is all about: to go where citizens need to go, and to ask the questions citizens need to ask.
Very special thanks to the journalists and to CanWest News Services for investigating the BC court system. I won't say "What took you so long?" but I will say that this is an extremely helpful report.
- BC Mary.
Many B.C. courhouses [sic] keep public from viewing key police documents, investigation finds
BY ROB SHAW, LOUISE DICKSON AND LINDSAY KINES
CANWEST NEWS SERVICE - FEBRUARY 4, 2010
B.C. courthouses are routinely breaking rules designed to let the public keep a watchful eye on search and seizures done by their local police departments, an investigation has found.
Six of 10 courthouses on Vancouver Island and in the Lower Mainland investigated by the Victoria Times Colonist do not provide a binder of recent unsealed search warrants for the public to view, even though it is provincial policy to do so. A seventh courthouse offered a binder three months out of date.
These registries placed onerous, and sometimes insurmountable, hurdles in the way of accessing documents. The roadblocks all but prevent ordinary British Columbians from scrutinizing how police search homes and businesses and what arguments they are using in court to convince a judge or justice of the peace that such searches are necessary.
According to a 2001 circular to all B.C. courthouse staff, each of B.C.’s 44 provincial courthouses is required to maintain a free public file that displays copies of recent unsealed search warrants in chronological order, within 24 hours of those warrants being deemed public documents by the court.
The policy is supposed to increase convenience at courthouse registries, free the public from having to ask for individual warrants, and bring B.C.’s justice system into line with a 1982 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that said courthouses should have their records available for easy inspection by the public.
But there are no such binders for search warrants in courthouses in Victoria, Victoria’s Western Communities, Duncan, Nanaimo, Port Alberni and Vancouver. Courtenay, Surrey and North Vancouver do follow the rules and provide the files. New Westminster does, too, but its file hasn’t been updated since October.
This uneven policy can dramatically affect the public’s access to information about the court system, and cases that are in the public interest.
Indeed, search warrants have provided crucial information for several recent high-profile news stories.
When the story of a major privacy breach in the B.C. government broke last year, it took court documents to shed light on the real story the provincial government wasn’t telling.
Sensitive personal information from 1,400 income assistance clients was found inside the Victoria home of a government supervisor who was under RCMP investigation.
The province moved quickly to play down the incident, but the Times Colonist used court files and a search warrant to reveal the true scope of the breach, including the supervisor’s past criminal record for fraud and police allegations the employee had used a fake identity to obtain his government job.
Two simple court documents was all it took to blow holes in the government’s official story. But it almost didn’t happen.
Reporters had to fight an uphill battle at Victoria’s courthouse registry. Staff there require you to have a precise street address and the exact date a warrant was processed to run a search. If the information is slightly off — say, a day early, or the address is in another part of the block — the clerks say the warrant can’t be found.
Not only is this precise requirement not backed up in provincial rules, but it’s also a hurdle that’s frequently insurmountable because police no longer release the specific addresses where crimes or police raids take place due to what they say are privacy restrictions.
Unless you sweet-talk the clerk, or stumble across a raid in progress, you’re likely to face rejection when asking for a warrant at Victoria’s courthouse counter. The Times Colonist asked Victoria’s senior manager for courthouse administration to explain this practice, but the call was not returned.
The requirement that the public produce a date or address to see a warrant “is totally the invention of some bureaucrat,” said Dean Jobb, author of Media Law for Canadian Journalists and associate professor at the school of journalism, University of King’s College in Halifax.
“There is nothing in the law that says, ‘Oh, it’s open if you basically know what’s in it. Okay, you can see the search warrant if you happen to be walking down the street when the officers moved in,’ or ‘You can see the warrant if you have good enough police sources that someone tipped you off.’ Come on. I mean, this is ludicrous.
“If it’s open, it should be easily open. There shouldn’t be wheels within wheels. There shouldn’t be little hoops you have to jump through. It shouldn’t be who you know.”
Such a policy can be abused because police can keep quiet about sensitive searches, and release details about others when they want publicity. “So the police start leaking stuff in their own interest, and that’s in nobody’s interest,” Jobb said.
In the case of the government privacy breach, the Times Colonist had obtained, through unofficial channels, the date of the police raid and the man’s address. But it took three visits to get all the information, and there was no explanation why that was the case.
The information in the RCMP search warrant contained sworn statements by a police officer that contradicted the government’s official line, prompting a number of news stories that pressed the government to launch an internal review, which produced a blistering critique on its own failure to properly handle the scandal.
Without access to court records, the government’s questionable story might have been allowed to stand for months, perhaps years.
In Surrey, the free binder of unsealed warrants is standard reading for curious court reporters and public watchdogs.
That’s how a CBC radio reporter shed new light on another government scandal last year. He was doing a routine check of the binders when he came across a 99-page warrant detailing an alleged 2007 kickback scheme involving a top bureaucrat in the Ministry of Health.
Though some of the details had been reported earlier, the government had managed to keep a lid on the extent of the allegations. The search warrant blew that lid off.
It revealed RCMP allegations that Dr. Jonathan Burns double-billed the ministry tens of thousands of dollars while he was both the head of a company trying to sell electronic health software to provincial health authorities, and a consultant on the government’s multimillion-dollar e-health program. The warrant also alleged that Burns offered favours to former assistant deputy health minister Ron Danderfer, who oversaw the e-health program, in turn for Danderfer inflating Burns’ government expenses and hiring his wife and daughter. A special prosecutor is overseeing whether criminal charges will be laid in the case.
The attorney-general’s ministry provided conflicting answers about the release of search warrants, but eventually admitted that it writes the rule book, not individual courthouses or judges. But it did not explain what, if anything, it is doing to get all courthouses on the same page.
It’s not the first time the provincial government has found itself under pressure to enforce a single policy on search warrants.
The Vancouver Sun fought for, and won, better access to warrants in the 1980s by lobbying the assistant deputy attorney-general. The Sun argued that the right of access to public documents was effectively being denied because warrants were handled by justices of the peace and they were generally reluctant to share the information. In response, Vancouver Provincial Court began keeping a binder of publicly available search warrants under its front counter. Other courts were expected to follow.
Two decades later, the Supreme Court of Canada is as firm as ever on the public’s right of access to search warrants. But the Vancouver Provincial Court no longer keeps its binder.
Instead, Vancouver has reverted back to a system that requires a person to submit a form at the registry with personal information and as many details as possible about a warrant before a justice of the peace will even look at the request.
And by the way, the Search Warrants for police entry into the B.C. Legislature on Sunday morning, Dec. 28, 2003 have never been fully unsealed. How about that, eh? - BC Mary.
HERE for an informative commentary.
One third of federal judges now appointed by Harper government.
But most judicial vetting committees are defunct.
The Lawyers' Weekly - Jan. 22, 2010.
SCoC appears to want to treat Canadians with respect, so as to earn our respect for the Canadian justice system. It appears, however; that the BCSC doesn't give a damn about what we think, or how we perceive them...it's their way, or no way.
I say it's time for the SCoC to clean out the vipers nest we have here...from the top on down. Not only clean it out, but whilst cleaning be sure to check every nook and cranny for illegalities along the way...then right the wrongs that have been done. We know they have been.
Time to put away those people who have taken BC from a reasonably well run, healthy and prosperous province - to a backwoods, back-room dealing, back slapping banana republic. Wherever they're found, whoever they are. Every time I look at this government and BC's justice system - I hear the theme song for the movie Deliverance! How did we sink "that" far??!
That same thought crossed my mind, a time or two, when reading SCoC documents. There's quite a different tone to SCoC ... I thought ... and then scolded Self for imagining things.
So thanks for your comment.
Might be a good idea to forward your thought to the 3 journalists who did this piece, eh?
Many years ago the SCC rules were changed so that it hears only those cases that are "granted leave". I'd like to see an SCC judgment of a case brought by a self-represented person facing powerful adversaries (irrespective of the outcome). I'm sure they see lots of such applicants. Have they granted even one of them a hearing? I suspect the answer is no. Would that be because self-reps never have consequential cases?
The Chief Justice, Beverley McLachlin, has an interesting reputation. The media is invariably deferential to her. She gets good press, and she gets it regularly whether she's done anything or not. However, there are a few voices, even within the legal establishment, that raise questions about her.
I've read a number of her speeches and even heard her speak once at the Wosk Centre for Dialogue in Vancouver. She acknowledges the fact that most Canadians have no effective access to a civil justice system. But she proposes no solution, because in her view justice is by definition an expensive commodity.
Before her appointment to the SCC she rose through the ranks of the judiciary in the Vancouver Courthouse from an initial appointment to Chief Justice of the BC Supreme Court in less than a decade. Where is the legacy of her work here?
I'm still studying the Canadian judicial establishment, aka the "juristocracy", but so far everything I've discovered indicates that reform will not be initiated from anywhere within the judiciary or the larger legal community. We, the people, are going to have to demand reform through our elected representatives, and that will first require that we force them to become educated about the reality.
Many thanks for sharing your informed point of view.
Well ... I guess B.C. got its Marching Orders today when its RECALL campaign received the electoral OK.
It will need lots of volunteers to work on obtaining the signatures within the 90-day period which begins in April.
Kinda sad, really ... to keep citizens working so hard on something that should be automatically self-cleansing. I read that 1,500 people have already signed on to do the work.
Because housecleaning must be done, the sooner the better.
It's a bit weak around the edges it's true but, even so, it is nice to see there may yet be some signs that an actual news gathering and investigating facility is trying to establish itself in one of the CanWest presses.
If only the public isn't too jaded and cynical to notice.
It is also amazing to me that the lawyers collect and remit a (legal aid) tax as part of their billing and remittances so that the poor can have protection, yet the BC Liberals have placed these funds into general revenue and cut legal aid services (in half if I remember correctly) for the poor. Naturally, these hapless poor folks have nowhere to be sent so they most likely have lots of questions to ask the folks running the coursts, further draining their time to keep the public logs in order. It is like this in every Ministry - people are charged with doing work that is impossible to successfully complete, so they don't complete it all. To the accountants, it appears that those Ministries are running things more efficiently. Two years later, more budget cuts, and even less gets done. Service from the public service has eroded while the PAB has grown and tells us how great we have it under the BC Liberals. It is all so ludicrous.
I like your question about the possibility of seeing the BC Rail Trial televised.
I truly hope it will be.
BC Rail was important to so many far-off corners of British Columbia ... I think that every BC household should be able to watch the courtroom proceedings.
I understand (but am not 100% sure) that it's the presiding judge who okays the cameras being turned on. And the Air India Courtroom #20 is already furnished with up-to-date technical equipment.
So I wrote to the Crown Prosecutor, and to the Defence lawyers, asking them to approve of cameras. No response.
Maybe you'd like to try?
As for reporters, Yes.
Are you planning to attend, once in a while?
I'd hate to think of what the atmosphere would be like in BC if this exercise in democracy fails.
Yep, I smiled too ... even though the job of recall is HUGE, HUGE, HUGE ...
wouldn't it be a wonderful thing if the citizens of B.C. were able to reach their goal within the alloted 90 days.
Either way, we still need everyone to sign up and do their part. I'll be out canvassing in my area!
In another note, I saw an article about some new judges being appointed today, one is the defense lawyer for Benjamin Monty Robinson.... can't find the link for some reason, most likely exhaustion. If that isn't a joke, what is?
Oh, the public's not jaded and cynical at all. They're really excited about the upcoming Olympic hockey series, and they're just wild about Lady GaGa, and wasn't that Britney Spears a bitch for insisting people stop smoking dope at her Vancouver concert? They're not jaded about American Idol, and they're not jaded at all about helping people in Haiti (but not East Hastings), and there's intense debate in the pubs and coffeehouses about who's gonna win the Oscars.
People aren't jaded or cynical at all. They're really excited about all the things the media has spoon-fed them and taught them to think about.
News that matters to British Columbians......
Oh, and about the recall petition; the artificially high bar for this, like the artificially high bar on referenda, is a demonstration of "sop reform", similar to the amendment formula for the Trudeau Constitution. Put something in place you can point to as citizen involvement, but which is near-impossible to attain.
As much as I hope the recall petition succeeds, what it winds up being is a smokescreen to divert attention from the darker crimes surrounding Campbellgate. The HST handily serves as a deflection device to get people all flamed up and distracted from the real dirt. The real dirty dirt.
Abuse power and undermine democracy, they're used to it, they'll just shrug. Hit their pocketbooks they'll freak out. I almost think the HST was brought in expressly to deflect the heat then rising around Campbellgate ("Railgate" seems inadequate because it ain't just about BC Rail and BVB anymore....)
And one other big shout-out, this one to Chris Budgell. Please keep your posts coming. We have been through multiple unethical lawyers in the last two years (won't go into the details now but it runs the gamut from financial improprieties to false statements to the court, and undermining of the client's interests).
We've been in the BC Supreme Court five times in the past year, and last month we decided to represent ourselves. So your comment about self-represented litigants caught my attention. Love to hear more about your experience, so we can watch for, and report on our experience too.
We have also seen the rot in the court system, and experienced one breathtakingly corrupt SC judicial decision. The degree of ineptitude and arrogance and corruption here is light-years worse than the corporate world, something we are familiar with. The keepers of the justice system (incl. lawyers and police as well as courts and judges) are the worst of our society. Truly no ethics, no morals - the only thing that keeps them there is that we the people have given them power over us. Forget HOPE – it's time for CHANGE.
The demonstrable fact of this official obfuscation is that this is now a fully functioning police state with a secretive bureaucracy and an elitist attitude towards the public right to know.
Good morning to you, Canadian Canary,
Thank you for taking time to post a comment. Seems as if you have much to tell us. But first ...
This is a request for clarification. Where you shift topics, "we" seems to refer to different people doing very different things. It would help to know who "we" is, in each change of topic.
"We" are all desperate for real investigative journalism". Gotcha. That means all of us.
Then "We" have been through multiple unethical lawyers in the last two years ... so "we can watch for it and report on our experiences too". I don't really understand this.
Then "We have also seen the rot in the court system ..."
Then skip a lot of "we" and it's "We the people have given them power over us ..."
What you have to tell others is important and I'm sure you realize that. So (I know it's asking a lot) could you please re-submit this comment using a more precise indication of who "we" represents in each case.
Not identifiers, just indicate what group is meant. Thanks, if you will do that.
I understand your concern. Sorry for the confusion - it's early, haven't had my coffee yet. I'll do my best to be more precise in the future. Maybe in the future I'll just avoid using the word "we". :)
Now, there's one other thing I'd like to alert your readers to about the Times-Colonist series on BC's court system. The paper's editorial page columnist Les Leyne (normally pretty conservative) wrote an excellent column about the importance of this series, saying that the three journalists wondered if the public would care much about the series. Here's a snippet, and the link to the full column:
It's remarkable that people still have to be reminded of the important principle of open courts. When that basic tenet is being eroded by local conventions that have evolved differently in each courthouse, it's time to question what's going on. ... One of the biggest differences reporters notice between the U.S. and Canada is how much more open police and justice officials are in providing information south of the border. ... The series comes in the same week as two days of hearings into freedom of information law, where MLAs were told repeatedly that B.C. is pulling down the blinds every chance it gets.
Les Leyne's Column: Secrecy threat to basic justice principle
Anyway, I find I just don't have enough time to read all the material that I would like to, let alone write what I must in order to move forward with the indictment I have in mind.
Those of us who have had experience representing ourselves in front of judges and other adjudicators have a special advantage. I suspect I have an additional important advantage in that circumstances have allowed me to extensively research the legal establishment's rhetoric, including the many documents that can now be accessed online, but also other material that one might identify through a Net search but that is directly accessible only in print. I spend a lot of time in two libraries: the main VPL branch and the Vancouver Courthouse Library.
Some people may benefit from looking at the record of my litigation experience. There are five decisions of the Labour Relations Board starting with two issued in the year 2000, the last one in 2004. In 2002 I ventured into court with a judicial review petition that challenged two of the LRB decisions. The result was the one action that I nominally won: a judgment issued in January 2003. Towards the end of that year the Court of Appeal overturned that judgment. The BCCA hearing was, literally, an ambush - a kangaroo court. I can say that because the Canadian Judicial Council is waiting for a "complaint" from me that they know will be an indictment, and I will be emphasizing the importance of that BCCA hearing in the chronology. I'm going to complain about the conduct of two BC Supreme Court judges and six Court of Appeal judges, but the indictment doesn't end there, because I'm going to place that conduct in a much wider context.
I have appeared before the two "superior" courts a total of six times (so far). One of those hearings was of a motion by counsel for CUPE seeking a "costs security" against me. The judge granted them $2000, which I had to pay before the second judicial review hearing could take place. I had at that time no assets and no income, but was able to take a cash withdrawal from my credit card. CUPE got to keep the $2000, but the courts have agreed that I owe CUPE and my former employer, the City of Vancouver, costs totalling over $20,000. This is how judicial review is really intended to work.
I've also been to court twice for a subsequent tort action I brought against the province.
Anyone who wants to get a sense of how all this fits together can go to the courts' judgment search page and type my last name, "Budgell" in the "Case Name" field.
The "costs security" judgment for some reason is not online, but the other five judgments appear in chronological order. The earliest one is my sole win and Justice Goepel is the one judge I will not complain about in my submission to the CJC.
I'm working on several other initiatives at the same time, and I don't have a web site (unfortunately). This has gone very slowly but I'm making progress and I'm optimistic that the ultimate outcome is going to be unprecedented.
I did not apply for leave to the SCC because it would have been denied. Instead I wrote to the Chair of the Canadian Judicial Council, who happens to be the Chief Justice. Three weeks later I received a reply signed by the Executive Legal Officer of the SCC, Jill Copeland. I still haven't prepared the "complaint" (the protocol includes no timelimit), but have made some remarkable (but of course slow) progress by pursuing the FOI route.
Last Tuesday I testified before the twelve MLA's in the "Special Committee to Review the FOI Act".
The (draft) text and matching audio files for both Tuesday and Wednesday were posted online last Thursday. My 15 minutes of testimony can be simultaneously read and heard online (by opening two windows). I'm sure much of the other testimony is also worth hearing. My testimony begins at approximately 11:44 on the clock.
Though I don't have a web site I've been posting comments about my case and related research online in a public forum called "enmasse.ca/forums", in the subject area called "Activism". The title is "The Command and Control Orthodoxy".
Thank you for the clarity of your presentation (sad, though it is), it's a generous addition to our understanding of how the BC Court system works.
Tomorrow, I will follow your links.
Again, sincere thanks.
Well, I tried. I had no trouble accessing the "Case dismissed" page.
From there, I drew a blank. Couldn't even get to the point where I saw your name mentioned.
Labour Relations Board:
May 10, 2000 / Vice Chair – John B. Hall
November 24, 2000 / Vice Chair – Barbara Junker
March 23, 2001 / Vice Chairs – Hansen, Brown, O’Brien
December 10, 2003 / Vice Chair – Ken Saunders
October 5, 2004 / Vice Chairs – Hassan, Kearney, McCreary
BC Supreme Court / Court of Appeal:
January 24, 2003
November 5, 2003
April 5, 2005
July 6, 2007
September 8, 2008
I don't want to hijack this blog, but I believe this record is a comprehensive illustration of how the legal establishment has ensured that the vast majority of Canadians are denied due process no matter how persistent they may be.
My original issue was a "wrongful termination" that has never been properly characterized. The labour arbitration in March 2000 (for which I do not have an electronic copy) was the first of a succession of kangaroo courts, thanks the union's collusion with the employer and the availability of a compliant adjudicator.
As I have discovered, once one has suffered such an indignity, appealing to higher levels of "justice" just results in more injustice. The record grows longer and more convoluted. The original facts are quickly rendered irrelevant as one is drawn into increasingly obscure legal metaphysics.
If one can tolerate this abuse for long enough, eventually the entire game becomes apparent.
I got through 3 of the links which should be informative for anyone considering the Go-It-Alone method.
Thanks, and good luck.
By Rob Shaw, Louise Dickson and Lindsay Kines, Times Colonist February 11, 2010 6:04 AM
"Mike de Jong said his government will create a new provincewide guide to accessing court records, ensure courthouses provide access to recent search warrants and update a 16-year-old policy that denies access to files under publication bans."
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