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Controversial Tories eroding legal rights, retiring judge fears

Discussion in 'Hard Talk' started by Tejwant Singh, May 5, 2010.

  1. Tejwant Singh

    Tejwant Singh United States
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    Mentor Writer SPNer Contributor

    Jun 30, 2004
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    Tories eroding legal rights, retiring judge fears

    Tories eroding legal rights, retiring judge fears - The Globe and Mail

    B.C.’s most prominent judge, Patrick Dohm, says the federal government’s approach to incarceration of those accused of crimes is out of touch.
    In an exclusive interview with The Globe and Mail just days after retiring, Mr. Dohm defended his well-known record of granting bail, saying he even tried to figure out a way to give bail to two men accused of playing a role in the Air India terrorist bombings. He reluctantly kept them in jail after deciding he could not craft conditions that would have satisfied the public interest.

    “That was my way,” said Mr. Dohm, who spent 38 years on the bench, the last 15 as associate chief justice of the B.C. Supreme Court. “If I could see my way out for this person to be safe in the community and the community to be safe from him or her, I would craft circumstances allowing his release. I would do it. If you believe anything about the [judicial] system, you are innocent until proven guilty.”

    Mr. Dohm said he realized his approach conflicted with that of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. “If the federal government had its way, they would be all inside,” he said. The government, he added, would have accused people remain in jail until they are acquitted by a jury or have done their time. “That is not the way it works. It is not a good thing,” he said.

    The former judge, who stepped down last month after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75, never expressed his personal views or gave interviews to the media while he was on the bench.

    One of the longest serving judges in B.C. history, Mr. Dohm played a role in most of the sensational trials in the province in recent years. He authorized police raids of former B.C. premier Glen Clark’s home in 1999, and, four years later, signed a search warrant for the B.C. Legislature.

    He dealt with the early stages of serial killer Robert Pickton’s murder trial, including a decision on financing for the team of defence lawyers. He had little patience for lawyers asking for more money. “Don’t talk to me about money,” he said. “If you are not happy with the process, then back out of the case.”

    He also was responsible for selecting the judge in the Pickton trial whose instructions to the jury are now under review by the Supreme Court of Canada. He declined to express his view on the Pickton appeal. “We’ll wait and see what happens,” he said.

    Mr. Dohm, who did not socialize with lawyers, surprised some observers in another high-profile case – the sentencing of former Prince George judge David Ramsay for buying sex from a minor, breach of trust and sexual assault. Many of the victims were aboriginal girls in trouble with the law. Mr. Dohm disregarded a plea-bargain agreement between the prosecution and defence to impose a harsher sentence. “It was tough, but I had no qualms about doing it, either before or after,” Mr. Dohm said.

    Vancouver lawyer Eric Gottardi said he was pleased to have Mr. Dohm adjudicate on tough bail applications. “You could trust him to be fair about it,” said Mr. Gottardi, spokesman for the Vancouver criminal justice committee of the B.C. branch of the Canadian Bar Association. “If he thought letting a person out was right, [Mr. Dohm] would find a way to make it happen, even if little technical hurdles were in the way. He had a keen sense of what he thought was fair and right.”

    Reflecting on bail applications, Mr. Dohm compared Canada and U.S. states where those behind bars do not receive time off for good behaviour and jails are run commercially under conditions he considers “shocking.” The U.S. penal system hardens criminals, he said: ”No wonder their recidivism rate is so high.”

    Mr. Dohm said he thought a long time before refusing bail for two men arrested for playing a role in the death of 331 people in 1985 in the Air India terrorist bombing case. The two men – Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri – were arrested in 2000 and spent five years in jail before a trial in which they were found not guilty.

    Mr. Dohm said the Air India bail applications were among the more difficult he had to resolve. The accused were not a risk to bomb a plane, he said, referring to the criteria by which he often decided whether to release a person on bail. But after weeks of deliberation, he decided he had to respond to public interest.

    “We don’t have a perfect system,” Mr. Dohm said. “We do the best we can.”
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