Friday, October 17, 1997

Janet Steffenhagen

p. A1.


A-G seeks public's advice to improve justice system

CRANBROOK -- Attorney-General Ujjal Dosanjh is appealing for public help in fixing a justice system he says has left British Columbians feeling alienated, distrustful and powerless.

Dosanjh has some ideas of his own, but is also travelling the province to find out what people think he should do to help restore faith in a system that many think is expensive and ineffective.

"I never knew before I became the attorney-general that people are as alienated as they are from the justice system," Dosanjh said Thursday during a break in a New Democratic Party caucus meeting.

"Sometimes you do the right thing, but it gets lost because there is so much alienation, so much frustration about other things. And distrust."

Dosanjh made the comments after it was revealed that the suspect in a hit-and-run death of a baby in Vancouver had been ordered deported 18 months ago, but was allegedly working in B.C. for a gang ruled by the baby's father.

He has also come under pressure recently over the case of former Burnaby principal William Bennest, who was given two years' probation this month for the possession of child pornography -- which included spliced videotape of a student in his school -- and acquitted on more serious charges.

p. A8.

A-G says he shares public's frustration with justice system

Dosanjh refused to comment on either case because the first is before the courts and the second is being reviewed by Crown counsel to determine if the sentence should be appealed.

But he said he has been briefed on the Bennest case by the assistant deputy attorney-general, and he noted that he has the power to override the decision on whether to appeal.

Vancouver Police Chief Bruce Chambers said Thursday he hopes the Bennest sentence is appealed.

"I believe that the penalty that was handed down does not meet community expectations and certainly does not constitute a deterrent," he said.

"It's quite clear that the community as a whole, of which our officers are a part, are upset with the sentence and are hoping that the Crown sees fit to appeal."

Although a police chief has no control over the sentences meted out by judges, Chambers said he has talked to Crown counsel to push for tougher sentences for all types of offences, including property crime.

"We've had a meeting with the Crown attorney's office in Vancouver and discussed our frustration about the sentences being handed down," he said. "We would be working with them in ensuring the evidence we put forth shows the significance of the problems."

While refusing to talk about specific cases, Dosanjh acknowledged widespread concern about the way the court system and the parole board deal with offenders, especially those who have been convicted of violent or sexual offences.

"I can tell you generally that I have a sense that Canadians -- British Columbians -- are losing faith in the justice system. They feel alienated from it, and in many instances they feel powerless. I share that frustration."

Dosanjh said he was in Cranbrook earlier this month for a meeting on justice reform and has been in Terrace, Prince George, and Kamloops since then.

He said he will continue his travels for the next few months, looking for public input.

At the same time, he has been urging the federal government to:

  • Set up a national registry of violent and sex offenders and keep information on file for longer than 10 years.

  • Give the public access to the registry in cases where police have alerted a neighborhood about a violent or sex offender.

  • Allow victims to make submissions to the national parole board, the same way they can with the provincial parole board.

  • Amend the Criminal Code to give tougher sentences for big-time drug dealers and smugglers.

  • Bring tougher laws for those who use and exploit child prostitutes.

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Created: October 18, 1997
Last modified: June 20, 1999

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