Monday, January 22, 2007
Threats to justice in British Columbia
Ian Mulgrew reports today in the Vancouver Sun that it's the Canadian legal system, not just Willy Pickton, on trial. He says that the guilt or innocence of Pickton is not the only question to be answered ... that "systemic, structural reforms have not kept pace with other advances over the last century" ... that "Canada's legal system has not changed significantly from its 19th century roots". It can't handle 21st century crime. I've wondered about that, too ... the documents in the BCRail case totalling over 100,000 and counting.
Nor would a 19th century trial be subjected to 350 journalists obsessed with the shock-value of the Pickton case. My concern is that the Pickton trial may prevent the BC Rail trial from receiving even the minimum of public attention, by flooding the news media with emotional, stomach-churning publicity when the BCRail Trial begins on April 2nd.
Ian Mulgrew, one of the best journalists writing today, declares that the Pickton case brings it all to the fore but that publication bans have prevented "an honest and open discussion of how the anachronisms and outdated legal culture have produced such a perverse process".
Mulgrew draws an ironic parallel with the medical profession. Any 19th century doctor, he writes, would be utterly lost, confused, and a danger to patients if dropped into a 21st century hospital. But a 19th century lawyer would be at home helping either the defence or the Crown at the Pickton trial.
Whereas a murder trial even half a century ago rarely took more than two weeks, today -- given the Constitutional precedents, scientific evidence, criminal pathology, (and the complexities of global business, in the BCRail case) -- it all adds up to a very different legal universe.
It is at this point, in Mulgrew's analysis, that we can see the problems inherent in the BCRail Trial. Mulgrew writes: "It is estimated that the presentation of tens of thousands of exhibits and the testimony of hundreds of witnesses at Pickton's trial will take a year, probably more." He questions the jurors' ability to synthesize so much information. I began to see the wisdom, in the BCRail Trial, of Basi, Virk, and Basi having chosen a trial by Judge only.
Mulgrew has written one of those rare analyses which honestly informs the reader about the society we inhabit. He concludes by saying: "What happens in New Westminster over the coming months will reverberate for decades to come -- not because the evidence rivals a horror movie, as the judge said, but because the process does".
In the question of the BCRail Trial, we are left to wonder uneasily: will the BCRail Trial reverberate throughout British Columbia for decades to come? In fact, will the BCRail trial be heard and studied throughout British Columbia, as it should be? Or, will we be left with the feeling that political expedience was an unacknowledged participant in the BC Rail case?