Our justice system only works when the courts operate openly, so how do you explain these cases?
Last Updated: January 24, 2011 6:19pm
By Tracy McLaughlin, Guest Columnist
Do “important” people with good lawyers have more rights in the justice system than the rest of us sops?
We may never know — as long as the courts continue to keeps some cases more secret than others.
There was a little too much court secrecy surrounding two recent cases where charges laid against high-profile people were dropped with virtually no explanation to the public.
The most recent case is that of a former top military chaplain whose charges were dropped earlier this month in Barrie court.
Roger Bazin, 73, a retired Roman Catholic chaplain-general at CFB Borden hit the headlines earlier this year after he was arrested and charged with buggery, gross indecency and indecent assault on an underaged male some 30 years ago while on the base just west of Barrie. All other details surrounding the alleged incident remain hidden under a cloak of secrecy.
In court the Crown told the justice of the peace “a direct, detailed and thorough review of the evidence” was made but concluded there was no “reasonable prospect of conviction.”
Charges were withdrawn. Bazin and his lawyer did not even have to attend court.
It is entirely likely there were very good reasons for the Crown to ask the charges to be dropped — what’s wrong with the story is the public does not get to know why.
“I can’t add anything else,” said Commander Hubert Genest, Canadian Armed Forces spokesperson in Ottawa. “We don’t know the details.”
Why not? Why did military police arrest him? Were the charges just made up out of thin air? Is the alleged victim a liar?
A similar case occurred earlier this year when the former president of the Barrie PC riding association, Sarfraz Warraich, was charged with gang sexual assault on a woman and her daughter. The charges were stayed — meaning they are put “on hold” for 12 months and then dropped unless new evidence is found. Charges against the six other co-accused in the alleged gang rape were also stayed.
Once again, the Crown informed the court “there is no reasonable prospect of conviction.”
Defence lawyer David Wilcox insisted the charges were “outrageous … completely false” and never should have been laid by police.
Possibly, but then why were they?
“We’re not going to discuss that,” snapped Barrie Police Sgt. Peter Dewsnap when asked why the charges were laid in the first place.
The public must be free to scrutinize not only the courts, but also the tactics used by police in apprehending suspected criminals. This is not a police state where people can be secretly arrested in the middle of the night.
Secrecy causes the justice system to fall into disrepute. It leaves the public to ponder the possibility of favouritism in the courts. And lack of faith in the system means real victims out there might never come forward.
Whatever the reasons for the laying and dropping of the charges, they should have been discussed in open court — not behind the closed doors of a private office or in a judge’s chambers.
Oddly, neither of these cases was marked in the courts for resolution on the day they were resolved — which lead the media to believe there was no need to be there.
There are limits to open courts of course, and the names and identities of sexual assault victims should never be published.
But the Supreme Court of Canada has upheld an open courts system as “the very soul of justice,” noting media coverage “shields the justice system from allegations of favouritism and unfairness.”
This time, the shield was down.
— McLaughlin is a Sun Media reporter in Barrie