Globe and Mail

Top court not soft on crime, lawyer says

Saturday, April 17, 1999
KIRK MAKIN Justice Reporter, Toronto
The Globe and Mail

Politicians and the press have done incalculable damage to the Supreme Court of Canada by force-feeding Canadians a lie that the court is soft on crime, a Toronto lawyer told a legal conference yesterday.

Michael Code said the Supreme Court judges are now so afraid of being publicly mauled that they seem to tailor their decisions to avoid controversy.

"You walk in there and the feeling is that the fix is in," he told his audience of lawyers and law professors. "My fear is that we are going to lose the courts as an institution that has real respect."

Mr. Code, a former Ontario assistant deputy attorney-general, cited several sensational cases in which an "unholy alliance" of politicians and press created a furor over evidence that was excluded.

One of the most controversial cases -- the B.C. murder case of Regina v. Feeney -- resulted in the defendant being retried without evidence the police had obtained when they illegally broke into his home.

Mr. Code said the Reform Party and the press went "rabid" over the Supreme Court ruling, twisting it beyond all recognition. Yet, when the retrial resulted in a conviction, he said the result went largely unpublicized.

"Feeney's conviction at his retrial should have sent a clear message namely, that it is possible to respect basic civil liberties and, at the same time, maintain law and order," Mr. Code said.

"This was obviously not a message that interested the politicians or the media. They don't want to report fairly and objectively because it doesn't sell newspapers." Mr. Code blamed the annual legal conference itself for propagating the myth.

"Conferences like this one have encouraged lawyers and academics to seek out 'the latest trends' in the Supreme Court's Charter jurisprudence and to obtain front-page coverage of any 'controversial' theories they might have about the court's direction," he said.

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