Friday, June 26, 2009

Ian Mulgrew

Justice by default — and threadbare justice at that

The good news-bad news B.C. Court of Appeal decision confirming serial killer Willie Pickton's murder convictions ensures the country's longest-running legal nightmare will continue before the Supreme Court of Canada.

The split ruling gives the 60-year-old Port Coquitlam pig farmer an automatic right to a hearing before the country's highest bench if he wants it.

His lawyers say they must study the key judgment rejecting Pickton's appeal of six December 2007 convictions of second-degree murder and a second, unanimous decision that said it was wrong not to prosecute him at the same time for 20 other slayings.

Unfortunately, Pickton's team has been handed plenty of material in the long, complicated rulings to bolster their arguments that the country's worst multiple murderer has not received fair treatment in the last seven years of legal proceedings.

"It's going to take some time for defence counsel to review and analyse the materials and decide on a course of action," lawyer Patrick McGowan said.

"I will have to consult with my client and other defence lawyers. It's a very long and complex set of reasons."

I say a Supreme Court hearing is guaranteed: Pickton's got nothing left to lose.

This is justice by default and threadbare justice at that.

Involving 26 mostly poor, aboriginal women primarily from the Downtown Eastside slain between December 1995 and December 2001, this horrendous, unprecedented murder spree continues to push the legal system to the brink.

The appellate panel, sadly, left the families of these women disappointed.

Who can blame them? They will never see justice done unless Pickton's lawyers are successful before the country's highest bench — a biting bitter irony if ever there was one.

Still, it's difficult to see what other course the legal system could have taken given the staggering, horror-film circumstances.

Underscoring the complications is the decision by the court Thursday to publish only an edited version of its ruling on Pickton's appeal and to restrict distribution of the reasons for granting the Crown's appeal.

Arrested in early 2002 after police searched his 17-acre farm and uncovered a human abattoir, Pickton was convicted of only six second-degree murders.

His lawyers had hoped to have those convictions tossed and a new trial ordered. They failed, but succeeded in raising a lot of dust.

In the 98-page split decision, B.C. Court of Appeal Justice Richard Low, supported by Chief Justice Lance Finch, rejected their argument that a jury question after six days of deliberations compromised Pickton's right to a fair trial.

Nevertheless, Justice Ian Donald found their points persuasive and said he would have granted a new trial.

Can you imagine? Another trial after the last unseemly 11-month marathon?

On the separate appeal by the Crown — which dealt with a host of legal issues including the 20 outstanding murder charges — the justices were unanimous.

The 57-page judgment written by Chief Justice Finch granted the prosecutors an order that ensures Pickton may face 26 first-degree murder charges at a new trial if he succeeds in overturning his second-degree convictions.

Finch said the unusual step was required to protect public "confidence in the administration of justice" and to hold wrongdoers "accountable in accordance with the law."

He agreed with the Crown that a new trial would be a waste of time and resources given Pickton is already serving the maximum sentence in Canada of life imprisonment without possibility of parole for 25 years.

"If Mr. Pickton remains convicted of second-degree murder on those six counts after all appeals are concluded, there would be no useful purpose in a retrial on those same offences as charges of first-degree murder," Finch concluded.

Not useful at all, unless you believe there are 20 families who deserve closure and who have a right to see justice is done for their loved ones.

Their nightmare continues.

© The Vancouver Sun

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Created: June 26, 2009
Last modified: July 19, 2009
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