I attended a hearing for Leo Fung today. I anticipated a half-hour tops but ended staying the entire morning and, in the end, it came to nothing. However I thought I'd relate it anyhow to show how things go when you're Burnaby49 doing his court rounds.
First an brief review of the British Columbia Court system. We have two provincial trial courts. The main one is the Provincial Court of British Columbia.
Most of the court cases in British Columbia are heard in Provincial Court - including all civil lawsuits for claims less than $25,000 (“Small Claims”), about 50% of all family law cases, most traffic & bylaw matters, most criminal cases, and most cases involving young offenders. About 150 Provincial Court judges work in more than 80 locations throughout the province to hear in excess of 225,000 cases per year.
Cases heard in the Provincial Court fall into five main categories:
· Criminal Matters
· Family Matters
· Youth Court Matters
· Small Claims Matters
· Traffic & Bylaw Matters
The other is the Supreme Court of British Columbia;
The Supreme Court of British Columbia is the province's superior trial court. The Supreme Court is a court of general and inherent jurisdiction which means that it can hear any type of case, civil or criminal. It hears most appeals from the Provincial Court in civil and criminal cases and appeals from arbitrations. A party may appeal a decision of the Supreme Court to the Court of Appeal.
The Supreme Court Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 443, provides for a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, an Associate Chief Justice, and 86 other justices. The legislation also provides for supernumerary judges who sit hearing cases part-time. Including supernumerary judges, there are presently 109 judges. There are also 13 Supreme Court masters who hear and dispose of a wide variety of applications in chambers. The Supreme Court also has a Registrar and a District Registrar who hear assessments relating to bills of costs, reviews lawyers' accounts, settles orders, references of various types and deals with bankruptcy discharge applications.
As you can see largely overlapping jurisdictions. When Crown is deciding how to charge Poriskyites they can proceed two ways. Simplest is just to take it to the Provincial Court. That is what they are doing with Fung and others who are charged with tax evasion but not charged with counseling tax evasion. Individuals like Porisky who are charged with both are generally tried in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. I've never bothered to figure out why the distinction. This means there are three separate courthouses I visit in Vancouver. Two are the downtown Supreme Court and Provincial Court, conveniently located side by side close to Granville Skytrain Station. Neither has permanent security. The Supreme Court sets it up, barriers, metal detectors, bag inspections etc when a case seems to warrant it but I've never seen any sign of security at the downtown Provincial Court except for the normal sheriffs.
The third Courthouse, the Provincial Court on Main street is at the at the edge of downtown smack in the middle of our notorious Skid Row. This courthouse has permanent heavy security. You run the gauntlet going in. A room with at least four and sometimes a half-dozen sheriffs. Bags are physically checked. In some cases (I've been through all of this) wallets are emptied, glasses cases opened, everything looked through. The bags are run through scanners the same as at airports and you empty your pockets and the contents are checked and scanned. Then you walk through the same metal detectors as airports and are wanded when through. The sheriffs give a lot more attention and focus to the job than the staff at airports. Even then, if you are clean with nothing questionable, they sometimes require bags be checked allowing me only my wallet, glasses, a pen and notepad. Usually I get to keep my bag (a backpack) but not always. Seems random. This is where the criminal cases with potential for violence are heard and, for some reason, where Fung is being tried. So I went through the whole routine this morning.
So seated at the courtroom at 9:30. Main Street courthouse is a zoo. As I said it's in Skid Row and the defendants and other participants reflect this. The pubic seating stunk of tobacco, cheap scent and, once, booze. Dock filled with lawyers yammering away. This was a pre-trial-conference which is a total scrum. These are essentially housekeeping sessions for issues that require court orders but not a trial. Adjournments, sentencing in small cases, agreements between parties, whatever. I had no idea why we were there but there was an army of street life there for other reasons. I'm not going to detail all the issues I sat through but I'll give an idea of the general theme.
About 9:35 a judge poked his head out of a side door and asked if anything was going on. Court clerk said he could do some adjournments if he wanted. Grand, I'll do some adjounments. So it was all rise for the majesty of the law as he came in. He heard and approved a few adjournment then asked "anything else I can adjourn before I scamper off?". Nope; so he scampered off. Crown Counsel for my case was on scene but having some issue with the clerk. Apparently he had to do something that he was supposed to set up but he'd thought the court did it but clerk said he had to do it. So he scampered off too.
Keep in mind the courtroom was, as I said about the courthouse in general, a zoo. Dock filled with lawyers yakking away, people coming and going, very confusing.
Then a second judge showed up. More adjournments. Then the first substantive issue. A trivial credit card scam. A kid (18 but looked 12) who'd been part of a fake credit card gang whose great criminal vision was to charge for crap at Wal-Mart. He was nabbed buying a bottle of water.
A personal comment here. Almost all of the crimes I'm about to relate are, objectively, trivial and the accused generally just got a slap on the wrist. And law and order Burnaby49 agreed with it! They all had terrible back stories. In one case absolutely horrendous. I have no idea how I would have turned out had I faced the lives they lived. I'll only mock one of them.
Back to credit card. He was making a guilty plea. Crown and defense had agreed to six months conditional which meant criminal record but no jail time. He was born here but parents from Philippines. Mother housekeeping at hotel, father construction. In other words a hardscrabble existence with little time for son. Trouble at school, dropped out, met wrong crowd, first arrest. He'd gone back to school and finished secondary education. He wanted to travel and was concerned about a criminal record. Conditional discharge. Twelve months probation and no contact with past associates.
Onward and upwards. A young woman caught trying to shoplift $29 worth of meat from Save-On Foods. She made a run for it and when caught fought with store security, kicked one, tried to bit the other. That cost her. When arrested she had a folding knife and a crack-pipe. She didn't have enough money to pay for the meat. She'd pled guilty and this was sentencing. Crown wanted conditional sentence with provision she not go back to Save-On. Defense wanted absolute discharge. She had no previous criminal record and she had a two year old daughter. She made a statement I had trouble hearing over all the party-time lawyers having a good time. Long rambling story about, I think, being dumped by some guy. Judge said she couldn't give an absolute discharge because of the assault on the security staff so conditional sentence.
Next another guilty plea. A guy who stole two boxes of wine from liquor store worth $60 and got away with it! Except he'd been caught on video which showed a magnificent back eye. So police on Skid Row beat looked for a guy with a black eye and nabbed him. For some reason wine not recovered. Crown wanted six months suspended. He was 45 years old with an extensive minor criminal record. However, significantly, his last conviction was in 2003. Defense wanted absolute discharge so he could get pardon for past convictions. Apparently he'd gone though pardon process but was currently stumped by needing $3,000 to finish. For most people this would be a relatively minor issue but for all of the defendants I saw today it was insurmountable. He spoke but I had difficulties. Lawyers yammering away, as I said a very casual hearing, and he was French-Canadian with an elusive grasp of English. He'd been trying to go straight, but he just suddenly needed booze and had no money. Since he was seriously trying to get pardon judge gave him absolute discharge.
Next was serious. Uttering threats of a sexual nature. Guilty plea again. The court had a glass box in one corner with two doors leading to remand. The sheriff unlocked it, went in, locked it, then unlocked one of the doors and our criminal came out into the box. Another severely damaged individual who'd engaged a Skid Row prostitute for back alley sex (absolutely, literally, back alley sex). Then, when he was done, he refused to pay. When she complained he threatened to do various violent things to her. So she went to a cop who lived in the neighborhood. They went back to the scene and there he was, still on scene and as high as a kite on something or other so he got arrested. The issue was how much of his pre-sentencing jail time should count towards time served. He'd been released on bail but was totally unable to meet bail conditions because he had no concept of anything apart from the right now. Meet probation officer on schedule? Forget it! So he was locked up again and released on bail again and violated terms again and locked up again. Finally the court said forget it and just kept him in jail. By today he'd spent 100 days in jail and the issue was how many of those days related to the charges and how may were irrelevant because they related to bail violations? Crown wanted 48 days applied to the current charges and defense wanted 60. Crown wanted three years probation but defense said way too long because there was no way he could meet three years of probation terms without breaching them. He has problems with long term goals. Long term for him, in my opinion, seemed to extend, at most, all the way to next week. So defense thought one year probation more reasonable. Defendant spoke up. Agreed he had a somewhat spotty employment and educational history but he'd found his real calling. He was an artist. Specifically a tattoo artist. I hoped he was better than the guy that did the one on his neck. Judge agreed with defense so he was released with time served and one year probation.
Next up was the one I'm going to mock. Probably the stupidest defendant I've run across and Burnaby49 has had a hell of a lot time sitting in courts. A straightforward guilty plea agreement between Crown, defense, and accused that went sideways because accused was to dense to understand what a guilty plea actually meant. Offense was two charges of breaching a Peace Bond. He'd been ordered by the court though a Peace Bond to keep away from and don't harass an ex girlfriend/wife/whatever. But he'd decided to harass her anyhow. So he was charged with violating both terms of the bond and threatening her. Crown said parties had come to agreed terms on sentence. All that was necessary was for defendant to actually plead guilty then parties would give joint sentencing submission. I have no idea what was in it because we didn't get that far. Defendant was another guy in an orange jumpsuit in the glass box. There was a slight gap between the glass sheets that defendant could talk through to the court. Defense lawyer went through the boilerplate of having defendant to give the pre-arranged guilty plea. I'll try and do this through the actual testimony. I'll call accused MD (Mr. Dense) and defense lawyer DL.
DL - On count one, do you agree that complainant had reasonable grounds to fear you?
MD - No! I did nothing wrong! I want this over!
DL - Your honour, can I have a moment to confer with my client?
Judge - (paraphrased) Go for it.
A hurried conference through the gap in the glass then;
DL - On count one, do you agree that complainant had reasonable grounds to fear you?
MD - yes
DL - On count two did complainant have reasonable grounds to feel threatened?
MD - NO! I DID NOTHING WRONG!
Judge - Should we stand down?
Crown - Let's just take it to trial.
DL - Let's stand down, I'll talk to him!
Sheriff went into box and started escorting him back into remand. Accused shouted out indignantly "What's going on? You said I was going to be released
DL - I'll talk to you about it on second floor.
So it was stood down until defense could beat into the guy's thick head what a guilty plea meant.
Next up was another shoplifting case. She tried to take $250 worth of meat. I assume meat is a big one because of high value per pound but, still, $250 is ambitious. This was a really sad case, even I felt bad about it. She participated through video because she was in jail in Burnaby over some other unspecified charge. Details of arrest given. Store security saw her lugging all this meat out and nabbed her. No resistance. Pleaded guiltly. Defense gave her background. She was 38 years old and the best year of her life had been terrible. Worst were absolutely horrendous. Childhood sexual abuse (she testified in court at 14 against her abuser), relatively stable marriage after that but husband suddenly dropped dead. Then chaos. Drugs, child taken away. Whatever you can think of she'd been through it. How do you address that in court? By saying screw it, time served, which is what the judge did.
It was now 11:00 and time for the break and you'll note that we haven't had anything about Leo Fung so far. So at break I grabbed Crown Counsel when he came out. Turns out that Leo had retained an actual bread and butter, no Freeman/Porisky bullshit, criminal defense lawyer. They had something that needed judge's approval but defense lawyer was 50 miles away in Abbotsford, up in the Fraser Valley and Crown was trying to get, without success, a working phone link to the court. But he was optimistic it would work after break. It didn't.
After break we were first up but nothing worked. So we had a few more video defendants agree with their lawyers about something or other while Crown fiddled with the phone link. Then it seemed to work! So Crown phoned the defense lawyer's number and got "This number is no longer in service, please try again". Crown said "I'll try again your honour" and got yet again "This number is no longer in service, please try again". Everybody had a suggestion. Did you dial 9 to get out? Did you put 1 in the number for long distance? Even the judge tried to help but nothing worked. Crown explained it was something about defense witnesses for a planned voir dire. Didn't seem essential. At least case seemed to go forward in the absence of defense lawyer's participation.
Just another day in the life of Burnaby49.