Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Lessons Learned From Steven Truscott

Let the Steven Truscott story be a warning to those who see the death penalty as unquestionably justified. Let the Steven Truscott story be a warning to those who would blithely try children in adult court and subject to adult sanctions.

The Canadian justice system is a human construct and consequently mistakes get made. Appeals are there to try to minimize their incidence and correct them when they occur.

Systems are like people, they develop cultures, attitudes, patterns and blind spots. Judges are the flesh and blood stuff of human frailty and the judgements they make are mostly honest efforts at rational assessment. They reach their conclusions by weighing evidence and that is based on their experience, insights and a pursuit of practical wisdom. This is all within the laws written for us by our politicians.

The Truscott story show just how wrong and misdirected our systems and judgments can be sometimes. There is a manifestation of this misdirection epitomized in the point made in today’s Globe and Mail editorial. It notes that the original trial judge approached the then federal Minister of Justice (one Mr. Trudeau) attempting to have him launch a prosecution against an author. The author’s offence was that she wrote a book alleging Truscott’s innocence in 1966.

Trudeau declined the invitation to politically interfere in the judicial system as well he ignored the judge’s interference in the political system. We need the judiciary to be feistly independent of politics. We need politicians who value, honour and respect that necessary distance between themselves and the courts.

Steven Truscott finally has seen the benefit of that independent judiciary and lawyers who are well trained and dedicated to protecting citizens from abuse by the state. In light of these events I wonder if Steve Harper is having second thought about his plan to politically interfere with the judicial appointment process. I doubt it. Too bad!

The big lesson from this story for citizens – be careful who you elect and be wary of who they appoint to the bench. Your freedom demands your vigilance.