HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Judge Brands Sentencing System, 'A Charade'
Pubdate: Wed, 04 Oct 2000
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: The Vancouver Sun 2000
Contact:  200 Granville Street, Ste.#1, Vancouver BC V6C 3N3
Fax: (604) 605-2323
Author: Jeff Lee


The court sentencing system for people who are mentally ill or have
addiction problems is both a "charade and a piece of public deception," a
B.C. Supreme Court judge said Tuesday.

In comments that shocked lawyers present for a drug sentencing hearing,
Justice David Vickers said that the criminal justice system has failed
people who have personal life problems that go beyond criminal behaviour.

"To suggest that we can deal with it adequately in the way we are doing, in
the criminal justice system, is both a charade and a piece of public
deception which is unfair," Vickers said.

His comments came as he adjourned a sentencing hearing for 61-year-old
Joseph L. Paquette, who had been found guilty in connection with a large
marijuana grow-operation in White Rock.

Paquette, who is mentally ill and lives in a co-op for people with
disabilities, did not show up for the hearing.

In putting the case over to Oct. 24, Justice Vickers launched a broadside
about the quality of pre-disposition reports prepared for such hearings by
the provincial probation service.

He said he was "profoundly disappointed" by the lack of information in the
report, which he said did not help him in deciding how to sentence Paquette.

"We can't deal with mental illness and addiction to substances in the
criminal justice system," the judge said. "How do we get him well?

"This record doesn't tell me anything, other than that deterrence doesn't
work, that we haven't done anything about rehabilitation and addressing the
underlying problem.

"I for one would like to address the underlying problems. I must express my
profound disappointment with what is a systemic inability of Corrections to
provide enough information to deal with these underlying problems."

Pre-disposition reports -- previously called pre-sentence reports -- are
prepared by the provincial probation office and include biographical
information about the accused based on records and interviews. But they do
not include assessments of future risk and needs of the accused.

Vickers said he wasn't criticizing the person who wrote the report on
Paquette, but rather the entire process.

"I do want to say that these types of reports are totally unhelpful. They
don't address the issues. I don't care what his mother did, what his father
did, or anything like that.

"This is a 61-year-old mentally ill addicted individual. It is a challenge
for all of us to deal with it."

Paquette's lawyer, Nicholas Weigelt, said he was "pleasantly shocked" by the
judge's comments, which he said "came out of nowhere" and which he said
mirrored his own concerns about sentencing for mentally ill people.

"I think we are all concerned about the relative superficiality of the
reporting system," Weigelt said.

In Victoria, Attorney-General Andrew Petter's office said it has asked for
transcripts and promised to relay the judge's concerns to the agencies
- ---
MAP posted-by: Don Beck