Pubdate: Tue, 08 Mar 2005
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2005 The Province
Author: Ian Austin, The Province
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Rochfort Bridge)


Brenner, Ellan Say If People Are Unhappy With Laws, See Politicians

Two top B.C. judges have stepped into the raging debate over
appropriate sentencing for criminals.

In the wake of the shooting of four Mounties in Alberta last week,
radio talk shows and water-cooler debates centred on whether judges
are too lenient on convicted criminals.

Now, Donald Brenner, chief justice of the B.C. Supreme Court, and
Carol Baird Ellan, chief judge of the B.C. Provincial Court, have
taken the unusual step of taking to the airwaves and Internet to
explain the role of judges.

"We want to try to explain, where we can, how the sentencing process
works," Brenner told The Province yesterday. "We interpret and apply
the laws."

Brenner said if the public isn't happy with the laws of the land, they
should ask politicians to change the law, not criticize judges for
interpreting existing laws.

And he said protests often erupt over reports based on media reports
of trials, which by their nature can't capture an entire case.

"We understand the media can't report all the facts in a case --
that's impossible," said Brenner. "If someone is interested, if they
take the time to look through the judgment, that will give them a more
informed point of view."

Brenner encouraged the public to read through judgments at

Ellan made her comments on the B.C. Provincial Court website,
answering a question from the public regarding light sentences for
marijuana grow operations.

"It is up to the prosecutor to prove through evidence that there are
aggravating factors in a given case, so in a grow-op case, things like
links to organized crime, prevalence of the offence in the community,
prior offences, profit, damage to property, must be proven in court by
evidence," Ellan wrote. "Judges cannot assume these factors exist."

Ellan said simply because a case becomes a media flashpoint doesn't
mean the sentence was incorrect. "It is important to remember as well
that sometimes public reaction or outcry is based upon media accounts
of the case or of the factors that the media view as relevant to its
outcome," she wrote. "These may or may not have been factors fully
proven before the court or legally relevant to the decision."

She cautioned that a media report cannot reflect the complexity of a
court case. "And few of us would want to see ourselves tried in the
media and sentenced based upon public opinion [as reported in the
media] rather than based upon the full range of factors the court is
required to consider." 
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