by Christie Blatchford
These days, you can hardly pick up a paper or click on a news site without reading another story about the woes of the Canadian criminal courts.
They’re chronically short of judges! There aren’t enough Crown prosecutors! Legal aid is a mess and no one qualifies to get a lawyer any more! The buildings are old and crumbling!
And delay: Such a hue and cry about delay in the courts.
Since about six months ago, when in a case called R v Jordan the Supreme Court of Canada pronounced upon the unacceptable length of time it takes to get a case to trial in this country, and blamed what it called “a culture of complacency,” knickers have been in a knot across the land.
Defence lawyers are pressing to have charges against their clients dismissed because of egregious delay, years sometimes. Prosecutors say no, wait a minute – we’re doing our best here with limited resources. Judges are all over the map, here throwing out cases, there throwing up their hands. There is wild talk of such drastic measures as doing away with preliminary hearings.
Halton Region, west of Toronto, is no different, and maybe worse.
A simple Google search reveals that for the past five years, there’s been a steady drumbeat of whingeing emanating from the bar and the judiciary in the area, particularly about the “unmitigated disaster” that is the Milton courthouse, as one local lawyer has called it.
Area judges have taken judicial notice of the situation, meaning they’ve worked criticism of government into their decisions.
“Let the ministries that fund and operate the various arms of our court system be forewarned,” Ontario Court Judge Stephen Brown said in a March 8, 2012 decision in which he tossed a case of impaired driving. “Failure to increase judicial and physical resources to match the growing population will quite possibly result in a floor of delay applications being granted.”
Seven months later, Brown was at it again: “Because of the chronic persistent and growing demands on the limited resources in Halton Region, we are slipping further into a crisis situation where the lack of allocation of government resources by way of an increase in judicial resources and a proper physical plant and infrastructure to deal with the explosive growth in this region is leading to a breaking point.”
So the point is made, and undoubtedly legitimate: There’s no time or resources to waste in the justice system.
It’s in this light that the trial of animal rights activist Anita Krajnc might be considered.
On June 22 two years ago, Krajnc and other activists on a traffic island took advantage of a stopped tractor trailer (it was stopped at a red light) to talk to and pet the 190 pigs inside being taken to a nearby slaughterhouse in Burlington.
As a short video that was played at trial shows, the pigs were clearly thirsty and some of them were panting, and breathing open-mouthed.
Krajnc began giving some of them water.
The truck driver got out of the vehicle, approached her and asked what she was doing, told her to stop, and then phoned 911. He later went to the local police station to file a complaint, and Krajnc was charged.
(In the interests of full disclosure, let it be known that I have a white-and-pink English bull terrier, aka “a pig dog”, so named for its magnificent resemblance to a pig – big pig ears, piggy sort of snout and body, sort of dogs in pig skin. Balancing off that bias, I eat bacon, or at least I did until I read the expert report of Dr. Lori Marino, a neuroscientist who testified at trial. Her evidence was that in fact pigs are dog-like, every bit as sentient and capable of feelings as dogs are. They are also ridiculously cute, but that’s just my view.)
In any case, however one sees Krajnc’s cause, the fact is that the overburdened and impoverished justice system nonetheless allowed this prosecution not only to proceed, but also to eat up seven full days of court time, and all the public resources that entails – seven days of salary for the judge and prosecutor Harutyun Apel, court officials and security officers, court reporter and clerk, etc.
Blessedly, both for Krajnc and the taxpayer, she was represented pro bono by lawyers Gary Grill and James Silver.
Prosecutors had offered to settle the case with a peace bond, Grill said in a phone interview, but that was hardly reasonable given “she believes she’s done absolutely nothing wrong” and also recognized a PR and public education opportunity when she sees one.
A request for comment to prosecutor Apel Thursday resulted in a referral to the spokesperson for the attorney general’s ministry, who at first referred the query to the agriculture ministry, but when pressed – this is an issue which is clearly within the AG’s bailiwick — then declined to comment until the appeal period is over.
The government is considering an appeal? What, insufficient public funds haven’t yet been squandered?
As Gary Grill said, “There’s definitely real money being spent on this. Nobody in Milton can ever say they don’t have the resources.” Amen.