Saturday, September 24, 2005

Exemplary sentences

Paul Coffin and Roy Preston: two Canadians who fell afoul of the law. What happened then is manifest proof that our courts have, to put it mildly, flexible standards of justice.

Paul Coffin is the first Adscam executive to be tried, convicted and sentenced on 15 counts of fraud. He stole a little over $1.5 million from the taxpayers of Canada, and, when he fell under suspicion, paid about a million of it back. The delighted judge, on hearing this news, sentenced the miscreant to two years less a day, to be served in his no doubt comfortable home. Rex Murphy, normally a person I do not admire either for his overwrought prose or his politics, has nailed it today:

Fat cats can pilfer from the public purse, the governing party can execute miracle feats of cronyism and patronage, the ad men can bank millions—but it doesn’t matter at all. That's surely the message of the sentence. The further message it sends is that the well-dressed and well-connected live in a different world.

The whole column is well worth a read.

Roy Preston is a thug in a cop's uniform who, some two years ago, viciously assaulted a Somalian in Toronto, Said Jama Jama, without provocation. He had the help of one or two buddies. After being kicked repeatedly and losing a few teeth, Jama Jama was charged with assaulting the officers. He faced the prospect of prison followed by deportation. But, by a fluke, somebody was videotaping the whole thing. This led to the Crown dropping all charges against Jama Jama, and to the charging of Preston (his friends seem to have escaped judicial scrutiny). The judge in the case blasted them all for abuse of power, lying throughout, and attempting a cover-up.

Unfortunately, though, the judge's bite was somewhat less than his bark. The sentence? 30 days. The cop's lawyer, stretching a point somewhat, or possibly having a less-than-perfect grasp of Greek history, called this "Draconian," and promised an appeal. The cop's union president, just doing his job, I guess, had this to add: "A lot of this (sentencing) has to do with the coverage that this case has been given, the high profile it's been given." His point is not all that clear, but he seems to be saying that, had the media not done its work, his man would have gotten off entirely.

Given the existence of the videotape, I don’t think that's likely. But what I find myself wondering (and I'm sure I'm not alone) is how many luckless individuals beaten and framed by cops didn't have a rolling videocam in the vicinity. It's enough to make me question my dislike of surveillance cameras in public areas.

In any case, we have here a person sworn to uphold the law and set a public example, who has committed criminal offences, lied, and conspired with others to cover the whole thing up, handed a derisory wrist-slap by a judge who might have, had Jama Jama appeared in his court, thrown the book at the man for assaulting members of Toronto’s finest. Another exemplary sentence: police will, for all their public blustering, breath a sigh of relief that, once again, the courts have agreed that they are above the law, or at least virtually above its consequences.

But a kid in Sydney selling a little weed at a school dance got 90 days. And Kimberly Rogers, who died in an overheated Ontario apartment in 2002, got six months of house arrest and eighteen months of probation for welfare fraud (obtaining student loans to escape the welfare trap while receiving social assistance). Her benefits were cut, and she was left with $18 per month to cover food and other necessities of life. An advisor to Ontario's Attorney-General at the time stated at the coroner's inquest that welfare fraud cases are considered "very serious" because "taxpayers demand people who steal from the public purse be punished severely."

The Canadian court system, some would still maintain, is about equal justice for all, with class and power playing no role in the way it is administered. But the facts speak otherwise-- eloquently so on occasion. And in the cases at hand, they positively sing.

[With a tail-wag to Trickle Down Truth]

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