(28. – 915.) More Tough Crimes edited by William Trudell and Lorene Shyba – A couple of years ago Tough Crimes was my favourite work of non-fiction of the year. I was drawn to a book containing a series of essays by Canadian criminal lawyers and judges, each writing about a case in which they had participated that was of personal significance to them. I knew two of the lawyers. The sequel More Tough Crimes provides another series of essays on Canadian criminal cases covering a wide variety of criminal cases.
Brian Greenspan, in The Eagle has Landed, deals with an increasing challenge for lawyers especially in North America. Alan Eagleson gained fame as hockey czar in Canada from the 1960’s through the 1980’s. He was the Executive Director of the National Hockey League’s Player Association, a promoter of hockey tournaments, a board member of Hockey Canada, a player agent, a lawyer and businessman. His myriad interests inevitably brought him into major conflicts of interest for which he faced parallel criminal investigations in the U.S. and Canada in the early 1990’s. He was indicted in the U.S. in 1994 and Canada in 1996.
Facing major criminal proceedings in two countries Greenspan advised the costs of defence would be approximately $4 million. He said Eagleson and his wife said they did not have the time and money to fight the charges and instructed Greenspan to seek a settlement.
Now with complex charges alleging fraud there is often opportunity to reach an agreement to plead guilty to some of the charges. Greenspan skillfully negotiated a plea bargain in which there were guilty pleas on each side of the border but no jail time in America. It would be a rare lawyer that would have his client serve time in an American prison over a Canadian prison.
I have never met Eagleson but I did see him in court in the 1990’s when he was in a civil trial over his representation of a hockey player. He showed an irresistible commitment to being the center of attention. During the proceedings the trial judge made an amusing remark. The lawyers chuckled. Eagleson drew attention to himself by laughing aloud such that you thought he must have considered it the funniest thing he had ever heard.
Brock Martland discussed bizarre events in one of Canada’s most prominent criminal trials of the past decade. In 2007 four members of a criminal gang and two individuals at the wrong place at the wrong time were murdered in a Surrey, British Columbia apartment.
The Surrey Six trial was a wild ride. The only certainty was uncertainty. The Crown cut a sweetheart deal with a gang leader, only to have his evidence firmly rejected by the trial judge. The Crown and police, likewise, made a deal with a trigger-man, Person X, but never got the benefit of his evidence. His evidence was excluded for reasons that remain a great mystery to the accused men, who are now serving life sentences, and to the public.
I find it very hard to accept secret rulings in criminal proceedings in Canada. For good reason criminal trials are to be open to the public. Justice in secret is justice denied. I can only hope the appeal process will bring out the issues of privilege that prevented a killer from testifying at the trial.
Martland goes on to raise an important question of public policy:
One remarkable feature of the case was the willingness on the part of the Crown and police to make a deal with a murderer. In British Columbia, historically, the Crown has made deals with accomplices and conspirators but not with the actual killers. There has been, in recent years, a significant shift.
I agree with Martland’s reservations about the shift to making deals with actual killers. As he points out in this case “ ‘deals with the devils’ did not help the prosecution’s case.”
My former law school classmate, Brian Beresh, explores a historic murder trial from 1934 in which Dina Dranchuk was convicted of murder at a trial in which the “prosecution’s case was completed in under three-and-a-half hours”, the “defence case was completed in nineteen minutes which included an opening address and the evidence of a medical expert”, defence counsel took five minutes to address the jury and the “jury deliberated for under forty-three minutes.” Though sentenced to hang her sentence was commuted.
Brian’s review sets out there were profound mental health issues with regard to the accused that could only have been touched upon in a trial of such brevity.
It is inconceivable to me that a defence counsel would spend but nineteen minutes in defence of his client.
Brian believes this case is another example of “unequal treatment of women in the criminal justice system”. He states at the end of his essay:
One is left with the conclusion that this was another appalling chapter in Canadian criminal justice where the accused’s gender did not aid, but rather hindered the quest for justice.
While not involved in any of the cases in More Tough Crimes I was counsel in a different case involving Ashley Smith. The inquest into her death forms one of the essays. My next post will discuss that inquest and my case.
Overall I found the essays in More Tough Crimes interesting but not as compelling as the essays of Tough Crimes. This collection was more a recounting of cases with fewer examples of lawyers explaining how they were affected by the cases. As with its predecessor More Tough Crimes would be a valuable resource for any crime fiction writer wanting inspiration and/or knowledge of the Canadian criminal justice system.
Evans, C.D. – (2015) - Tough Crimes edited with Lorene Shyba