Hands Free (and neck) (and shoulder)

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Ian Pumphrey was back before the Yukon Courts earlier this week to represent himself in an Appeal launched by the Yukon Government.

In January of 2015, the Honourable Judge Luther found that Pumphrey wasn’t breaking the law by talking on the phone while driving, having his cellphone suspended between his ear and shoulder. It is, of course, illegal to drive while talking on your cellphone in the Yukon Territory – however, hands free devices are permitted. Since Mr. Pumphrey clearly was not using his hands to talk on the phone, he was not in violation of any regulations of the Motor Vehicle Act.

The Yukon Government appealed Judge Luther’s decision before a Supreme Court Judge, saying that in dismissing the ticket, he took the meaning of “hands free” too literally.

Mr. Pumphrey is of the opinion that the Government’s appeal is a waste of time and money – that would be better spent clarifying the legislation. He also stated that he will be seeking $15,000 in compensation from the Yukon Government in relation to all of the time he has spent working on the Appeal.

The Supreme Court Judge reserved decision on the matter.

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Legal Aid Crisis in British Columbia

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The Legal Aid crisis in B.C. is set to peak in early 2014, and criminal lawyers across the Province are preparing to halt services between the dates of February 17th, and March 30th of 2014. This means that Trials for offences ranging from impaired driving, shoplifting, assault, murder, you name it, that are currently scheduled for that time period, will be adjourned to later dates. What could cause such chaos and delay in our Court system? You guessed it – Provincial Government funding cuts. And it isn’t just a small percentage that lawyers would see taken off of their earnings during February and March – they wouldn’t be getting paid. At all.

The legal aid system in B.C. has taken blow after blow over the last 10 years, making it increasingly difficult for those with a low income to have access to sound legal advice. After the Legal Services Society recently announced that the criminal tariff faced a $2.5 million dollar deficit (driven by Stephen Harper’s new Safe Streets and Communities Act I might add, along with other Federal political initiatives), they declared that they had no choice but to deny lawyers payment for their services in the aforementioned time frame.

This is a serious issue. Our Court system is already severely backlogged, and this 6 week long hiatus is only going to going to cause catastrophic scheduling conflicts.  Those scheduling conflicts could lead to the frailties in the administration of justice in our Province.

While the Legal Services Society is still set to meet with the Attorney General of B.C. to discuss these ever-growing problems, we are unlikely to see a resolution in the near future. Where there is no money in the budget, there can be no service provided.

Legal Aid is an essential component of our justice system; it protects the most vulnerable in our society. It is clear that British Columbia’s Provincial government doesn’t have societies best interests in mind, and shows no signs of having a change of heart.

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RiotTV: a political stunt

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This week, British Columbia’s Attorney General, Shirley Bond, announced that the government would abandon the direction it gave to Crown prosecutors to make Applications to televise the legal proceedings of those accused of crimes relating to Vancouver’s Stanley Cup riot. The government appears to have had this change of heart after it’s first Application was dismissed against Mr. Ryan Dickenson – who is the first person being sentenced in in relation to the riot. The judge felt that the Crown did not provide enough information to support the Application – namely the cost associated with televising these legal proceedings.

I really could go on & on about how inappropriate I felt these “RiotTV” applications were in the first place. I am a firm believer that cameras have no purpose in our courtrooms. Of course, there is the reasonable argument of transparency and that having cameras would better educate people on how the justice system functions. But to those people I say walk down to your local courthouse, read case law, order transcripts of court proceedings, if you’re so inclined. The risks of having cameras in courtrooms, in my opinion, far outweigh the benefits. A criminal trial is a ‘truth-seeking’ exercise. Witnesses may be hesitant to give full accounts of their evidence if they know the world is watching them. Lawyers may tailor their questioning of witnesses for the same reasons. Judges may be reluctant to decide a case in a certain way if it is deemed to be unpopular with the public. Prosecutors worry about their personal safety. In fact, all participants in a criminal trial worry about their personal safety. No one wants their face frozen in time on YouTube – and in this day and age, that is what happens. I see what happens on TV in American courtrooms and I do not want Canada’s justice system to go there.

But why did Premier Christy Clark demand that these particular offenders be put on TV? She said something along the lines of “well they committed their crimes on camera, therefore they should have no problem being dealt with by the courts while on camera”.

The logic in that is ridiculous. I have had dozens of clients who’s criminal acts have been captured on CCTV cameras – for murder, break & enter, sexual assault, DUI’s and drug offences. Crimes, which I argue, are far worse than some of my clients who stand charged in relation to Vancouver’s riot.

So why didn’t the government seek to televise these other crimes caught on camera? Because there was nothing to be gained politically from doing so.

The fact of the matter is this: June 15, 2011 was an awful day in Vancouver’s history and the government tried to gain politically from what happened that day. In doing so, they tried to interfere with the justice system’s independence. This ultimately blew up in their face. The BC Liberals are quite out of touch with the ailing state of our justice system – and it is largely due to the financial cutbacks they imposed over the last decade. Legal Aid is seriously reduced for those who need legal representation. We need more judges. We need more sheriffs. The system is in crisis.

RiotTV was nothing more than a political stunt. I accept that being “tough on crime” is attractive to voters – but the manner in which the government tried to appear tough on crime was only intended as a diversion from the real problems our justice system is facing. I think the public saw through the political stunt from the beginning – and the public will remember this when the next provincial election is called.

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