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Tuesday, September 07, 1999More judges requesting special security
OTTAWA - Threats of death, bombs and other dangers are prompting more Canadian judges to worry about their safety.
More federally appointed judges are contacting an Ottawa office that looks after their affairs to request special security measures for themselves and their families.
"We have had these calls that we had not had before," said Guy Goulard at the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs.
The issue raises concerns about whether judges can do their jobs impartially while fearing retaliation from anyone angry about their rulings.
There is no hard evidence that Canada's judges face more danger in the course of their work than before, but the anecdotal evidence is mounting.
In one case, a judge received threats to his life and the lives of his family because of a ruling he made in a case involving organized crime. Police took the threats seriously and had the judge change his car. Mr. Goulard's office provided a home alarm.
In January, a British Columbia judge who struck down a law that prohibits possession of child pornography received death threats, prompting the B.C. attorney-general to order tighter security.
In August, an unidentified man wielding a knife and doused with kerosene charged through the front door of the Supreme Court. A commissionaire disarmed him.
In April, a man with a knife was subdued with pepper spray just metres from judges' offices in an Edmonton courthouse.
Madame Justice Myra Bielby of the Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta, who witnessed part of that incident, says there is a heightened awareness of the problem among judges.
"All of us try to work without looking over our shoulder or being overly aware of security," said Judge Bielby, president of the Canadian Judges Conference. "But there are relatively few judges who have their personal home number listed in the phone book any more."
She said the concern about safety is not affecting their judgments, but no one would be served well by distracted judges.
"From the Magna Carta onwards, the first principle is the judge can't fear that he's going to be killed for his decision. You can't have an impartial judiciary who really have a live concern in that regard."
The first line of contact with an upset litigant is usually clerks and other courthouse staff.
"It's very often in family courts that we have people who are at their breaking point," said Mr. Goulard. "I'm much more worried for our family court judges than our criminal court judges ... [where] people are dealing with very emotional issues."
Mr. Goulard's office doesn't have a budget to cover the special requests that come in, so it has to broker agreements with the provinces to pay for them.
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