Monday, June 7, 2010

Unequal treatment of the privileged and the disadvantaged?

RossK, The Gazetter, examines the BC Railgate Rumour Mill. The participants have been wrangling for years and perhaps it was foolish to suppose this trial would progress expeditiously in a reasonable fashion. It is shameful though that the real puppeteers of the corrupt railway deal are absent from the courtroom stage and remain in their offices with barely a sense of trepidation.

Many observers believe the trial will have a beginning, an end but no middle. We've had the start; will this week provide the end? Dare Justice MacKenzie dismiss charges over procedural delays while ignoring the stink of official cover-up that will result?  Do defendants plead to minor charges in return for payment of all legal costs and conditional discharges?  Will prosecutor Bill Berardino find his own reasons for entering stays of prosecution?  Only the insiders know all that is under discussion.

Clearly though, matters of substance were left unresolved before the trial commenced. That is itself an indictment of the process.  We know the provincial government was uncooperative, fighting release of documents it had not already destroyed. The prosecution wasted lengthy periods appealing the initial trial judge's decisions and apparently spent little of that time negotiating other issues in dispute.  Valid criticism has been made about the prosecutors too-close connections to BC Liberals and his conduct in this case certainly suggests his primary interest is political damage control, not justice.

The integrity of the British Columbia Supreme Court is damaged given its administration of this trial. By all appearances, the government side was unhappy with their results under Justice Elizabeth Bennett, a person of unusual focus and intelligence, who managed this case until her elevation to the Appeal Court. Some found it odd that when certain politicians felt the heat of justice, other politicians acted to remove the source of the heat. It's painful for me to say that because I trust Justice Bennett implicitly despite my belief that the court system has failed badly in doing its duty in the BCR case. It was wrong to move Justice Bennett from this case until complex issues of disclosure were complete. It was also wrong for political administrators to assign another judge and then reward her with appointment as Associate Chief Justice. Some will wonder if there is a quid pro quo for that elevation.

Despite years of pre-trial delay, we have now suffered more weeks of further interruptions. It may be trite to repeat here but an important principle is noted in this aphorism: "Not only must justice be done, it must be seen to be done."  In actual fact, the conduct of the Basi/Virk BC Rail corruption trial confirms growing discontent over the court system's unequal treatment of the privileged and the disadvantaged in our society.
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Habeas Circus by Alan Gerson, an artist and recovering lawyer. See more of his whimsical art at alangerson.com
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