March 18, 2005

Other: Guilt, Anger and Justice

With the Air India flight 182 trial reaching a "Not Guilty" verdict, the most expensive and extensive trial in Canadas history has come to a close. Justice Ian Bruce Josephson has decided that the key witness in the trial was simply "not credible", and that he believed her to be lying in court. In truth, she did tend to act like she had seen too many courtroom dramas on TV (bowing to one of the accused and delaring her undying love before testifying), but there were other flaws in the prosections case. Having the secondary witness being paid $400,000 to testify, for instance, which is always a problem when rewards are offered for information. His testimony, Justice Josephson said, "bordered on the absurd" and the Justice considered him a liar.

There is, of course, plenty of anger to go around: over 300 people died in one of the worst terrorist attacks in history. There were more than 70 relatives of the dead watching the final day of the trial. They were outraged, and in obvious pain over the decision. They had hoped for a conclusion to their loss; if not closure, then at least a small sense of justice being done. They were denied that chance.

Greif can cause many foolish acts, and statements, so some of the accusations of racism or government conspiracies are to be expected right now. This doesn't make them valid, nor does it make the anger laughable. What is disappointing that some members of the government are calling for an investigation into the investigation. An inquiry why this case didn't... What, exactly?

For instance, here's MLA David Heyer, the son of a journalist who wrote about Sikh extremism (and was shot and killed in 1998):

"I'm shocked. I was looking for some closure, but this is no closure. I think it also sends a message to terrorists: in Canada you can blow up an airplane, kill innocent human beings and nothing will happen to you. After almost 20 years, nobody has been held accountable for this."

And Conservative leader Stephen Harper:

"If we do not have a successful prosecution in the end, I believe it is essential we have a public inquiry."

"I'm not in a position to hand down a verdict … I can't challenge the verdict. I can simply say because of more than 300 dead Canadians, justice has not been done."

What the last sentence means, I have no idea. More important is the first: if someont goes to trial, it is because they are believed to be guilty. Note the italicised word, it's important. Some cases will be decided for the prosecution, some for the defence. In either case, it will be decided in a court of law, not by public opinion. As journalist Salim Jiwa said, there simply wasn't enough evidence there to convict the two men on trial.

As for a retrial or appeal, if the prosecution can find legal reason in Justice Josephsons 618 page reasoning for his judgement, they can go ahead. But Josephson is well known for the completeness of his verdicts, and the odds of finding a weakness are slim.

Mr Heyer may be speaking from emotion, rather than reason, so I will give him the benifit of that; but stating that this "...sends a message to terrorists..." that in Canada they can do what they want is simply wrong. Terrorists weren't huddled around a TV screen somewhere in the mideast, eagerly awaiting this verdict: these people are willing to die for thier beliefs, not go to trial for them.

As for others with accusations of racism, would this even have come to trial if that were truely the case? The total cost for the investigation and trial is well over $100 million. The investigation took almost twenty years to come ot trial. If those involved wanted it to disappear, it would have.

The biggest problem for investigators was that CSIS had been split off of the RCMP only seven months before this attack happened. In those seven months, most of the resources that would normally be inherent in collation and information storage was being fought over in intercene battles between the two forces. Some information got lost, some was collected and collated very slowly. Some wiretap tapes were destroyed, but they would have been inadmissable in any case.

So an inquiry will do what, exactly? All the names that are going to be revealed have been by now. Is it simply a case of seeking retribution, demanding blood be spilled metaphorically or otherwise to appeal to the crowd? Keep arresting people until one is found guilty?

Justice Josephson made his decision after a year of trial. His reasons are far better informed than any opinion I could hope for from the pundit class. His decision was based on reason and on the rule of law.

Other systems have been tried: this is the best we have. Whether the population at large feels it was the right decision or not, the process has already been through its own trial, and we've accepted it. I am sorry that the families of the victims did not get the justice they had hoped for, but we cannot allow the courts to be another victim, this time of public opinion.


posted by Thursday at 8:21 pm


Blogger Gazetteer said...

Excellent analysis Thursday.

Are you writing for Michael Enright?

He came to the same conclusion as you in his opening editorial this morning.

I've taken a lot of flack around the bloggodome (especially in those rare sites where left meets right) for suggesting that perhaps justice was done - and that it exposed a very flawed national police investigation system.

I think the same could be suggested in the Arar case.

This kind of stuff will only get worse as long as we allow police agencies to have 'press conferences' to trumpet 'slam-dunk' arrests.

9:40 am  
Blogger Thursday said...

When policing becomes politics, justice can get pushed to the wayside.

10:19 am  
Blogger MackJohnny said...

I'm glad to see that our justice system works. I know nothing about Justice Josephson, and even less about points of law. But I say that man has guts for reaching the verdict he did for the reasons he did, knowing the flack he would be facing.

And isn't that a sad comment on my faith in the world these days? I'm saying a man is courageous for doing his job as it should be done.

1:08 pm  

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