May 19, 1999
Just when you think politicians are incapable of sinking any lower in their desperate quest for votes, they surprise by reaching Titanic depths.
Mike Harris has reached the point where he now has to look up to see Death Valley.
Like laboratory chimpanzees who discover that by putting two sticks together they can make a longer stick to knock down a banana hanging from the ceiling and get a treat, conservative party “brains” have discovered that lawyer-bashing, and especially defence counsel bashing, will get them a few votes. And this intoxicating discovery is being played out incessantly by Mike Harris in his last few public appearances.
What a shameful display. When politicians get charged – rightly or wrongly – they all seem to feel hiring a defence lawyer is the appropriate thing to do. Mike Harris may claim he does not know anyone in his circle that has ever been charged with any offence but the odds of that being true rival Bob Runciman’s being a member of MENSA. Did he castigate them their unseemly conduct in hiring a defence lawyer? In fact, if Mike Harris were ever charged (it can happen to innocent people: ask Guy Paul Morin) I look forward to his hiring a real estate lawyer.
Speaking of Bob Runciman, who’s views on corrections were obsolete and out-dated at the end of the 19th century, he too has joined in the braying about defence counsel, thereby guaranteeing the position has no merit.
These people may well get a few bananas for this shameful fear-mongering, but in their hearts – if they had one – they would know what a dangerous game they are playing.
The role of defence counsel is an integral and crucial element of the fundamental constitutional principle called “the rule of law.” Like the independence of the judiciary, a democracy founded on the rule of law must have an independent criminal defence bar or it will not survive as a democracy and the jails will fill with thousands of Morin’s and Milgaard’s. It is why undemocratic regimes do not just install corrupt judges but also decimate the independent defence bar to silence freedom’s voice. It is why the criminal defence bar has been called “freedom’s champion.”
It is why we are the only lawyers mentioned in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a part of our fundamental constitutional law.
Undermining respect for the rule of law by defence-lawyer bashing – just like judge-bashing – is a despicable and dangerous game.
No constitutional document can save a people determined to lose their freedom. If the majority of Ontarions is totalitarian enough, frightful of crime enough (news flash: crime rates have been dropping for two decades under every government we have had and the current regime can take no credit for it!), gullible enough to fall for this insipid rhetoric, then they do not deserve to live in a free and democratic society such as we have. And they can look forward to higher taxes to pay for more ten million dollar settlements to the wrongly convicted.
But I believe otherwise. I believe most people in this Province are thoughtful enough to understand the crucial role of defence counsel, to understand that until after a trial with competent counsel it is impossible to know who is the victim and who is the culprit and who should be punished, and to understand that legitimate sympathy for real victims of tragedy, be they crimes or other misfortunes, cannot be allowed to corrupt what is one of the finest systems for the administration of justice anywhere in the world. I believe that Harris’s comments will be written off as another of the dumb things politicians say to try to get elected. I hope I am right.
If I am wrong then some of those so complacently cheering Harris’s comments today – secure in the belief that being innocent they of course will never need one of those nefarious criminal defence lawyers – will be winding up in jail cells in the years to come.