Thank you very much. I'm impressed by the gathering here. Unfortunately once again, I think I'm the oldest in the room. It doesn't give me any privileges or rights, but it does allow me to reflect on a number of things, and I hope I can do that very quickly for you.
What makes me uncomfortable, though, about being here is that judges generally never speak at all after they leave the bench other than to write a memoir or possibly something for university matters. In my mind, they close ranks, and they don't recognize that possibly there are problems in the criminal justice system.
I worked for 26 years in the provincial court of British Columbia at 222 Main Street. It is a criminal court with 20 judges, roughly, and it deals exclusively with criminal cases. The only cases that we don't deal with are those that go beyond the preliminary inquiry stage to trial by judge and jury, or before a high court judge sitting alone.
During the time I was a judge, the Charter of Rights came into existence, and initially it appeared that superior court Judges would be the judges who would deal in the main with charter issues.
But what happened is that in one case I dealt with and another one back east, in the course of conducting a preliminary inquiry on an indictable matter, charter issues were raised. I granted charter relief, and it went to the Supreme Court of Canada. They decided that inferior judges, as we were called, didn't have the capacity to deal with charter issues. All that meant was that the defence corps quickly decided that they could not afford to wait, and they would simply elect to have trial before provincial court judges. So the trial bench that deals in the main with charter issues is the provincial court.
That left me dealing with criminal cases and also with the other aspect of it, which you're not going to touch on, and that is the effect that charter issues have on the conduct of criminal litigation.
What I was able to do, though, was experience for 26 years a steady diet of probably 10,000 people appearing before me, one after the other, a conveyor belt that never ends, criminals of every kind, lawyers of every kind, and acquire a deep understanding of human nature. As far as I'm concerned, there are and always will be criminals among us. There are and always will be violent people who are either sociopathic or psychopathic, or beyond that, those who are simply swindlers, who are the same.
You learn to recognize evil when you see it. You don't see it too often, but it is there. So what is the response to that? The response, of course, is the imposition of a just and adequate punishment.
So what does all that have to do with what you have to deliberate on? Probably not much, but it explains my point of view.
In all the time I was a judge, I encountered police officers, both in front of me as witnesses and informally in the coffee shop that I, among other people, frequented. It was open to the public. Then I would see them on occasion at retirement functions and, of course, at the occasional funeral.
In the first two years I was a judge, an RCMP officer was gunned down at the office of the detachment in Richmond, leaving a pregnant wife and two small children. I understood then and forever after the fact that the police are an absolute in the criminal justice system. I say right out front that they are more important than the judges and they are more important than the prosecutors. Nobody dials up 911 and asks to speak to a prosecutor or a judge. You ask for someone in emergency health or the police or the fire officials.
Having that in mind and having then concluded my 26 years, I wrote a letter expressing my respect for the police force of Vancouver, particularly for officers and constables on patrol and for officers having special street duties. They're the real police. To use the vernacular, they do the grunt work.
I described them in what I wrote in a memoir in the first three years of retirement. I said:
At times they are foot soldiers in a dirty and dangerous war against violence, property crime and predatory drug trafficking. The men and women—working in a world of harsh reality, are the back-bone of the criminal justice system. More than that, they are the only ones who risk injury and even death each time they go to work.
I'm mindful of Sir Robert Peel's expression when he brought civilian police into existence as we know them today: “The police are the public, and the public are the police.” That bond ought to be firmly established in our communities, but it is not as firmly established as it should be.
To deny police officers the right to be represented on a justice advisory committee is, to me, an absolute denial of that proposition that the police are the public and the public are the police. It's an absolute denial of the fact that we want them, and that we want them to protect us. When it comes to expressing an opinion, and as I read, they're accused of having a law and order ideology, for want of a better expression. Of course, an ideology does not express and reflect reality.
With a great deal of passion and emotion when I speak about this, I really do believe a police officer can be a very functional and advantageous person to have on any justice advisory committee. In fact, I might pause and change direction a little bit. In British Columbia, there are at least five judges who are former police officers. You can't tell that from seeing them work. It's impossible. It may surprise you, or it may not, that the judge in the Pickton case is a former police officer. So if police officers can rise to the level of becoming judges, why can't they rise to the level, even while they're working, of being members of a justice advisory committee?
I think it best that I stop at this point, other than to say just in a few moments that on Tuesday, March 6, I went to a high school in Vancouver, Eric Hamber Secondary School. I've spoken to many groups in the time since I retired and since I wrote a memoir; I've spoken on radio talk shows, on television on occasion, to women's groups and professional groups, and to high school students on occasion. These students were in a planning course, planning their future. I explained to them what peace, order, and good government is all about. I explained to them my view, which was that of a virtual black sheep among judges. I explained that sentencing, in my opinion, is not adequate. I won't go into that, though, because it's not the purpose of your deliberations when you ultimately make them, I suppose.
Those students understood what peace, order, and good government meant when I discussed the concept with them in simple terms. It is a constitutional issue that reflects on the judiciary, the judiciary being recognized as an institution and as a branch of government. As a branch of government, the judiciary has to recognize sooner or later that when we have rampant crime, as we do in the city I come from, it's time for it to do something to further the fact that we are losing the peace and order in our communities.
How does that bear on what you're going to do? When I go back to Vancouver, I'm going to tell them I was at this session, I'm going to explain to them what generally took place, and I'm going to tell them that what I did when I left the session was leave you with the essays written by each one of those students. They're reflections on columns that I've written that all deal with law and order, with the presence of the police, and with the importance of the police.
I'm going to suggest to you that the functioning of the judiciary and criminal justice is very important, and these young people recognize it. I said to them that it's too late for me to do anything for them. My generation dropped the ball, and things aren't in very good shape when they go out at night, when they leave their houses, when they go out about in public, in terms of whether or not they're going to be safe. I said that what they have to do in the next few years, when they're in their twenties and thirties, is think more about their country.
When you take the time, if you ever wish to, and examine what these students have said, I think you'll realize that they are out there and they do expect you people, as parliamentarians, to do something. If not, they are going to take their turn at it, and hopefully do better than you might be able to do.
Really, what you do is not for your own benefit, as politicians or as judges or anything else. It's for that next generation, and I do think the criminal justice system is very important to them.
That's all I have to say for the moment.