Anti-crime cash misdirected

You might feel a little sorry for a person accused of crime who can’t get his or her day in court in timely fashion.

You might feel a little sorry for a person accused of crime who can’t get his or her day in court in timely fashion.

Mohamud Ibrahim, 21, was set to begin a two-day trial for drug trafficking in Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench on June 7, but the trial was postponed — until March 8, 2012. This case has been sitting on the books since he was charged in December 2009.

Both the prosecution and the defence are ready to proceed but there isn’t a judge with time available to hear the case.

So Ibrahim’s lawyer, Michael Scrase, told Justice Kirk Sisson that he will most likely make an application to have the two charges dismissed because his client’s right to a speedy trial under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has been violated.

You might feel sorry for the accused in a situation like this.

After all, had this gone through smoothly, it’s entirely likely that even if found guilty, Ibrahim would have paid his debt by now and been able to move on with his life.

Feel for the accused if you like, but save your real concern for the police, the prosecutors and the judges.

Consider what happened in Montreal recently: 31 members of the Hells Angel motorcycle gang walked away from dozens of charges — not over questions of guilt or innocence, but because it took too long to put them on trial.

Quebec Superior Court Justice James Brunton said the system is simply unable to try the 155 alleged bikers rounded up in a massive 2009 police crackdown.

Imagine the police work, the expense — not to mention the danger — involved with trying to bring a criminal gang to justice.

Imagine the frustration when years of careful work are blown out the door because the federal government can’t make its tough-on-crime agenda work, because it’s more interested in edifices than people.

Moreover, while negotiating the justice system has become more and more complicated, fewer people can afford a lawyer, and are therefore employing their legal right to represent themselves, bogging the system down with their inexperience.

Neil Wittmann, Chief Justice of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, said last September at a conference that there are now many more people using the court services. Between 2006 and 2009, he said the number of unrepresented respondents increased 25 per cent.

Meanwhile, funding for Legal Aid was cut 19 per cent from the court’s expectations in 2009-2010, and now another $5 million was expected to be cut for 2010-2011.

The federal government wants to spend billions on building new prisons, but has a much more modest program for helping cities with policing costs or hiring judges to hear the cases when police do catch accused people.

If that’s not enough, both federal and provincial court prosecutors — who are “our” court representatives in the fight against crime — are notoriously overworked and underpaid. In the Quebec case, part of the reason for the breakdown of prosecution in the Hells Angels case was that Crown prosecutors there went on strike for two weeks to draw attention to low pay and crushing workloads.

The federal government wants to issue mandated minimum sentences for crimes, it wants to build towers up the sky to house criminals and claim it is keeping the rest of us safe. The provincial government talks about protecting Albertans and making safe communities a priority, but has put the squeeze on public service budgets.

So municipal police budgets remain tight, prosecution expertise is downgraded and their complaints are ignored, Legal Aid is cut, forcing people to become amateur lawyers, and there aren’t enough judges to hear the caseloads we have now.

But those prison walls sure will look impressive, won’t they?

Tough on crime? Try tough on credibility.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.