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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Delays and drawn-out procedure turn justice system into a farce

November 1, 2008
GARY MASON, Globe and Mail

The inquiry into the circumstances of the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski a year ago has been delayed again because the Crown has yet to decide whether criminal charges should be laid against the four RCMP officers involved in the taser incident.

Everyone is upset. B.C. Attorney-General Wally Oppal has called the length of the criminal investigation unacceptable. The Crown says it's at the mercy of the RCMP, which only recently handed over the last bits of evidence.

Here's what I think: Aspects of our criminal justice system are in danger of becoming a farce.

The length of time it takes to investigate and get cases to trial in Canada is ridiculous. And once a case does get before a judge, lawyers, good and bad, can drag trials out for years. Conrad Black would likely still be a free man if he had been tried in Canada - because the case would still be going on. Look at the trial stemming from the raid on the B.C. Legislature five years ago: it's still bogged down in the disclosure process and may - may - go to trial next year if it's not thrown out entirely because it's dragged on for so long.

Everyone is now focusing on the length of time it's taken for the RCMP to complete its investigation into the Dziekanski death. The underlying suspicion is that it's taking so long because the Mounties are trying to find a way to get their guys off. Polls have shown that Canadians don't completely trust the RCMP to undertake a neutral, unbiased investigation into its own people.

The way to get around this, of course, is not to allow the Mounties to investigate themselves.

Most Canadians would feel far more comfortable if a third-party investigative unit handled cases of in-custody deaths to extinguish any apprehensions of bias. In the case of the RCMP, only the federal government can make the necessary changes to allow that to happen. The Conservative government has no interest in doing this.

So there you go.

Before Mr. Dziekanski, there were other deaths in B.C. involving police officers, and they took about the same amount of time for the RCMP to investigate. The case of Ian Bush, the young Houston, B.C., mill worker shot in the back of the head by an RCMP officer in October of 2005 comes to mind. That took about a year before the Crown decided the officer did no wrong.

When asked why it takes so long for the RCMP to investigate these cases, force spokesman John Ward said at the time: "They take long because they take long."

The Mounties' investigation into Kevin St. Arnaud, the Vanderhoof man shot and killed while reportedly surrendering to an RCMP officer, took even longer. All sorts of people complained about the length of time it took for these cases to be investigated and the manner in which the investigations were carried out by the RCMP. And so what? What has changed? Nothing. Lawyers like Vancouver's Cameron Ward have been sounding the alarm about this for years but theirs have been voices in the wilderness.

That's exactly what will happen in the Dziekanski case. The great hue and cry about how long this investigation has taken will be forgotten in a year, if that. Will anyone take a close look at the RCMP's case file and say: "Hold on here, why did you need to send a team of investigators to Poland to look into Robert Dziekanski's physical and mental well-being when you're trying to determine whether your officers were in the right when they tasered this guy?"

That may have eaten up six weeks of the investigation alone.

I don't know. Maybe the trip was justified. Maybe every interview that the RCMP's team of investigators has done has been justified. Maybe the Attorney-General and all those who are screaming that it's taken far too long are out to lunch.

I don't know. None of us knows, because no one is auditing these investigations. There is no credible third party that can tell us that the Dziekanski investigation is no different from a million others.

Personally, I'm sick of hearing people complain about this stuff, because that's all we ever do in Canada, complain and bitch and whine, and when nothing happens, we shrug and look perplexed.

It's pathetic.

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