On April 21, 2012, Freedom Party of Ontario held its “Red Alert” dinner on the top floor of the Primrose Hotel in Toronto. The video of the event was released in parts. This second part features a speech by Freedom Party officer and election campaign manager Robert Vaughan, who was emcee for the event.
The Canadian government’s Omnibus Crime Bill has passed third reading in the House and has moved onto the Senate for its rubber stamp approval. One of the more disturbing elements of the Bill is the provision for mandatory minimum sentences to be meted out to cannabis users and growers; sentences which are longer in some cases than those given to child rapists.
Mandatory minimum sentences have the effect of rendering a judge impotent in his furnishing a sentence fitting to the crime and its circumstances. With mandatory minimums in place a judge can basically only pass judgment on whether or not a person is guilty or innocent. The punishment for many will be prescribed by law regardless of any mitigating circumstances which legislators cannot be privy to. They have determined that regardless of circumstance a criminal must serve a certain amount of time for a certain crime.
These mandatory minimums are a reaction to past lenient sentences handed out be liberal judges to hardened criminals. On that face of it alone one could somewhat agree with the reaction. But that is only one facet of the problem. The particular offences our government has chosen to apply mandatory minimums to are non-violent offences such as growing, or possessing a plant, cannabis.
As offensive as these changes are to our criminal justice system it could be much worse. Marc Emery, the Prince of Pot, a Canadian citizen turned over by the Canadian government to a foreign power, the United States, for selling cannabis seeds by mail to Americans, a crime punishable by a fine in this country, is serving five years in an American prison for his actions. From his prison cell in the Yazoo City Correctional Institution in Mississippi Marc has posted to his blog several examples of outrageously excessive sentences given to some prison-mates, most of whom, like Marc, are in jail for non-violent drug related offences.
Christopher Norman – sentenced to 21 years, 10 months for conspiracy to distribute five kilograms of cocaine.
First time offender, Jacob Esquibel – 21 years, 3 months for ‘Possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine.’
Travis Rogers – 21 years for conspiracy to distribute 500+ grams of methamphetamine.
Antonio Andrews – 48 years – Convicted of being a felon in possession of firearms. The guns were not used in any way and no one was harmed.
Cedric Jones – Conspiracy to possess and distribute crack cocaine. – Mandatory life sentence. No drugs were ever found on his person nor were any amount specified in his indictment.
Nathan Carter – Possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine – Life without parole.
Bryan Jones – Conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine – sentenced to life without parole PLUS FIVE YEARS!
Billy Wheelock – life without parole for possession of 99.64 grams of crack cocaine.
Curtis Bell – Conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine – Life without parole.
Marc concludes his blog post with this warning:
“In Canada, the cruel mandatory minimums for cannabis and drugs soon coming into law will be augmented by the on-going appointment of Conservative judges to the courts. This situation will produce much longer and harsher sentences, fill the jails, increase the debt, expand police powers, reduce the safety and freedom of the citizens, escalate the drug war, raise drug prices, increase the lucrative nature of the drug trade, and drain the taxpayers.”
One further and chilling example of an excessive punishment is the case of twelve year old Cristian Fernandez of Jacksonville, Florida.
This young boy, just into puberty, pushed his toddler brother. The two and a half year old suffered a head injury which was ignored by his mother who only reported the injury after several hours. The boy died two days later but doctors claim that he could have been saved had the mother acted quicker instead of taking time to download music on her computer.
While the mother is being tried for her negligence what is tragic is that young Cristian is being tried as an adult for murder. If he is found guilty the mandatory sentence is life with no chance of parole for 75 years. Did I mention that Cristian is only 12 years old?
My reaction to these sentences is in no way a comment on the serious nature of some of the crimes, nor on the fact that some of these people deserve to be punished for their crimes. My reaction is strictly to the excessive and barbaric treatment these individuals are experiencing.
We often pass proper moral judgment on the behaviour of the governments of uncivilized countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or North Korea. The stonings, beheadings, public amputations, and torture that so-called “criminals” receive in these countries go beyond the pale. But given the current trend in Canada and the United States to increase sentencing for non-violent crimes and putting 12 year old children in jail for life we are not far behind these medieval countries and catching up.
The recent trial of Torontonian David Chen and two of his employees at the Lucky Moose market has sparked a debate about the limit on the use of force to protect your property.
To briefly summarize the case a man by the name of Anthony Bennett had stolen some plants from Mr. Chen’s market but was identified by Chen on surveillance video. About an hour after the theft Bennett returned to the market and was seen by Chen and his employees. Chen asked Bennett to pay for the plants he had stolen but Bennett refused and ran. Chen and the employees gave chase, subdued Bennett, bound his hands and feet and put him in a van to bring him back to the market where they would call police and have Bennett arrested for the theft.
On-lookers, not knowing about the theft thought that Bennett was being kidnapped. They called the police who arrested not only Bennett but Chen and his employees. Chen and company were charged with kidnapping, assault and forcible confinement. The charge of kidnapping was dropped and they were found not guilty on the other two charges.
The prosecutor described the situation this way; “Of course shopkeepers are entitled to protect their property…but that’s not what happened in this case. [Mr. Chen] seized a person off the streets of this city, tied him up and threw him into the back of a van.”
It would appear to the prosecutor that only the police can seize a person off the streets, tie him up and throw him into the back of their van, all nice and legal and proper.
Where do the police get their authority to seize people off the streets and lock them up? They get that authority from the people, like Mr. Chen, who have consented to be governed by laws and to have the police and the government act as their agents to arrest criminals and protect their property. If the police are not immediately available then individuals are well within their rights to protect their property.
The source of a proper government’s authority is rarely identified in this country. It is an agent of the people and as such in incapable of exercising any rights which the people do not have. Examples: a shopkeeper does not have the right to kill a thief and therefore neither does the state. A person has the right to use whatever force is necessary to protect his life and property but no more than is necessary, and therefore the police are not permitted to use excessive force either. A person has no right to steal from a fellow citizen and therefore neither does the state.
The United States is more familiar with this notion than Canadians as the preamble to their Declaration of Independence contains the phrase: “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” This is the true meaning of the word “democracy.” The power of the government and the police is derived from the power of the individual citizens whom they serve.
In July of this year a Rasmussen survey found that only 23% of Americans believe that the federal government has the consent of the government, 62% said No and 15% were unsure. If the survey were to be held here in Canada I wonder how many of us would even know what the phrase “consent of the governed” means.
(Originally broadcast on Just Right November 4th 2010. (Show #176) )
The incidents of criminal trials being conducted out of the eyes of the public or the press seem to be increasing and if the rate publication bans continues justice in this country may become a thing of the past.
Ayn Rand once wrote, “Justice is the recognition of the fact that you cannot fake the character of men as you cannot fake the character of nature, that you must judge all men as conscientiously as you judge inanimate objects, with the same respect for truth, with the same incorruptible vision, be as pure and as rational a process of identification – that every man must be judged for what he is and treated accordingly…”
Now, you might think that I bring up this quote to refer to a juror’s judgment of the accused but I don’t. I bring it up as a reminder that a judge must judge a juror with the same standard that he judges an accused, with respect for the truth and with “incorruptible vision.” A judge must assume that the character of a potential juror is not going to be corrupted by information he may get of a case before it is heard.
If the only pool of people we select for juries is the one populated by people who do not read newspapers or watch the evening news or are up to date on current affairs then the quality of jurors is not going to reflect the general populace. Such an ignorant juror may not be among the peers of the accused and that would be unjust.
It should suffice that a judge ask a potential jurist is he capable of judging a case based solely on the evidence provided at trial and to disregard any hearsay or innuendo gathered outside of the trial. If there is no reason to consider that the jurist lacks integrity then the judge should accept that jurist’s word.
Superior Court Justice Ian Nordheimer said during the trial of Jorrell Simpson-Rowe, the first person to be tried in the death of Jane Creba, that “The fact remains that the public has a right to know. The public has the right to fairly evaluate whether justice has been done in any given case.” I would agree.
Justice Peter Cory wrote in 1989 “The courts must be open to public scrutiny and to public criticism of their operation by the public.” Such criticism is impossible if details of the trial are hidden behind the shroud of a publication ban.
Justice Lyman Duff wrote in 1909, “It is of vast important to the public that the proceedings of courts of justice should be universally known.”
Are there any instances when the details of a trial should be blacked out? Yes, but I suspect that these instances are very rare; possibly in cases where evidence may affect national security, or perhaps when there might be a clear threat to life. Otherwise the openness of the courts is essential to justice being done.