Ottawa Citizen
Friday 12 May 2000

Justice system -- all system, no justice

Dave Brown
The Ottawa Citizen

Meet some people who have tested the criminal justice system, and have come to the conclusion there isn't one.

We have a system. We don't have justice.

In May 1998, a 17-year-old was at the wheel of a pickup truck when it slipped off a curve on a gravel road east of Ottawa. At the time there were 15 other teens crammed into the truck bed. That none were killed was an indication it wasn't a high-speed event.

The driver can't be named because he was a juvenile at the time. Police hit him with 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. Conviction would give him a criminal record. His family describes him as an exceptional young man with a bright future and a possibility of a university scholarship in the U.S. His family decided he must be kept free from a criminal record, no matter the cost.

In July last year, he walked out of an Ottawa courtroom, having been cleared of all charges. Justice Ross Fair ruled the evidence against the young man was "insufficient."

Lawyer Michael Edelson convinced the court that the driver was showing responsibility when he offered rides to friends who had been drinking at a bush party. He had not been drinking, and was attempting to get them home safely. One of the teens ran from the truck, along a gravel road the driver was unfamiliar with. It was while trying to track him down and get him home that the truck slid off a banked corner and rolled over.

Because he had faith in his son, the father spared no expense and went looking for the lawyer recommended as best for the job. He says he has only the highest regard for Mr. Edelson.

It's the system he questions. If his son was innocent, why did he have to deliver him on the day of trial to Ottawa-Carleton Regional Police Headquarters, so he could be transported by police to the courthouse a few blocks down Elgin Street in handcuffs? (The answer to that is, it's procedure.)

And why is he (the father) left with his finances in tatters after paying a legal bill of $37,000? That evidence was "insufficient" indicates the laying of charges was a mistake. Why are the innocent made to pay for such mistakes? Persons convicted of serious crimes are seldom damaged as much.

Dave Brown is the Citizen's senior editor. His e-mail address is dbrown@thecitizen.southam.ca .

Read previous Dave Brown columns at www.ottawacitizen.com

Copyright 2000 Ottawa Citizen