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Editorial: Justice system fails us all

Yet another report has come out about how slow, inefficient and expensive Canada’s justice system is.

Yet another report has come out about how slow, inefficient and expensive Canada’s justice system is. How many more such reports will it take to spur governments and the judiciary into making needed changes?

Delays in the justice system are not merely inconvenient to those involved, they seriously threaten the rights of victims and the accused, and the well-being of society.

The ponderous pace of justice is a problem all across Canada, but B.C. ranks near the bottom, according to a report released by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

In B.C. Supreme Court last month, charges were stayed against a former Vancouver Island investment dealer because of what a judge called an unreasonably long wait for a trial.

Charles Kamal Dass, who was a registered investment adviser in Port Alberni, was charged with 15 counts of theft, fraud and forgery, based on transactions with 13 persons and two corporations between 2000 and 2007, court was told. Criminal charges were laid in June 2013 and the trial was set to begin Aug. 2, but on the first day of trial, Dass’s lawyer applied to have the charges stayed.

The following week, Justice Robert Johnston advised Crown counsel he would direct a stay of proceedings because of the time the case has taken to come to trial.

Senator George Baker, deputy chair of the standing Senate committee on legal and constitutional affairs, says that “hundreds” of fraud cases could be thrown out because of delays. If that happens, he says, “then it’s going to be a great time for criminals because they’ll just be released because time will have run out.”

The Senate committee released an interim report last month on the need to address court delays, and will release a final report with recommendations next March.

The Macdonald-Laurier report released this month — Report Card on the Criminal Justice System: Evaluating Canada’s Justice Deficit — says Canada is suffering from a “justice deficit,” which is defined as a large and growing gap between the aspirations of the justice system and its actual performance.

“With few exceptions, our justice system is slow, inefficient and costly,” say the report’s authors, professors Benjamin Perrin of the University of British Columbia and Richard Audas of Memorial University of Newfoundland.

While the sad state of the justice system is nothing new, the authors set out to quantify the problem. The report graded provinces and territories in five categories: public safety, victim support, efficiency, fairness and access to justice, and costs and resources. B.C., with its “mediocre criminal-justice system,” was rated eighth among the provinces and territories.

B.C. has a higher-than-average number of charges stayed or withdrawn, and the average criminal-case length, too, is above the national norm. The report gave B.C. a failing grade on its violent-crime clearing rate, with only half the cases resolved, the worst record in the country.

“This inefficient system is imposing economic and social costs on Canadians,” write Perrin and Audas. “The Supreme Court of Canada itself has now recognized that the system is plagued by ‘unnecessary procedures and adjournments, inefficient practices, and inadequate institutional resources are accepted as the norm and give rise to ever-increasing delay.’

“Canadians deserve greater accountability and transparency from our criminal-justice system. They also deserve an open and constructive response from … police, Crown prosecutors, courts, governments, corrections authorities, victim services officials and other professionals.

“Our justice system is failing Canadians — especially victims.”

The authors point out that Canada’s justice system “is one of the pillars of our democratic society. It is the mechanism whereby our laws are given effect and enforced.”

It’s clear that pillar needs propping up.