Skurka's Spin: Canadians can forget it's innocent until proven guilty
Steven Skurka, CTV legal analyst, appears in this file photo.
Published Friday, October 19, 2012 1:23PM EDT
It was a terrible week for the presumption of innocence in Canada.
Toronto City Councillor Ana Bailao was charged mid-week with a couple of drinking and driving offences under the Criminal Code. Her first court appearance in an intake court is scheduled for Dec. 3.
Bailao made a brief public statement to the media revealing her intention to plead not guilty to her charges. The statement was perfectly appropriate. Bailao had every right to declare her wish to vigorously contest the set of criminal charges she was facing.
But the CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada took issue with Bailao's position, describing it as ''deplorable.'' Andrew Murie told the Toronto Sun that she's "not taking this seriously."
"She could have killed someone, she could have hurt herself," he said in the interview. "She's just playing, as I call it, political games here to make sure she retains her seat as a councillor and is trying to gather anybody that will support her.''
An accusation that a person charged with a crime in this country is playing games by asserting their constitutional right to a trial and to plead not guilty is deeply troubling and irresponsible. It assumes that trials are an unnecessary burden and that everyone the police charges with a crime is, in fact, guilty. I can't imagine anything more antithetical to Canada's constitutional values and to achieving true justice.
The second attack on the presumption of innocence this week arose in relation to the tragic suicide of 15-year-old Amanda Todd, who was repeatedly harassed and bullied online. The cyber-bullying arose after someone distributed topless photos of her across the Internet and followed it up with threatening messages.
But then an online hackers' group known as Anonymous identified a British Columbia man as Todd's tormentor and published his personal information online. There wasn't any effort made to determine if the police would arrest the man and charge him. Anonymous was prepared to substitute its views for those of the authorities and the justice system, branding and convicting the man in a court of public opinion.
As it later became clear, the target of Anonymous was not being investigated by the police in Todd's death and was facing an entirely independent charge of sexual assault involving a complainant under the age of sixteen.
If the priority for this country is to promote wrongful convictions and to suppress the rule of law, then we have two illuminating examples this week of how to attain these goals.
We ignore the presumption of innocence at our peril.
Listen to Steven's radio show, Closing Argument, every Sunday afternoon at 4:00ET on NewsTalk 1010. You can also follow him on Twitter at @LegalAnalyst