Judges skirt mandatory surcharges

Prince George provincial court judges have joined colleagues elsewhere across Canada in doing an end run around the Conservative government’s new mandatory surcharge to fund victim services.

PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. — Prince George provincial court judges have joined colleagues elsewhere across Canada in doing an end run around the Conservative government’s new mandatory surcharge to fund victim services.

As of Oct. 24, judges no longer have the discretion to waive the victim fine surcharge of 30 per cent of a fine or a flat fee of $100 or $200 in cases where they deem the penalty unduly harsh on the offender.

In response, they have been quietly issuing nominal fines with subsequently small victim surcharges or giving considerably more time than previously granted to pay the penalties.

A survey of court dockets in Prince George since the Increasing Offenders’ Accountability for Victims Act came into effect has uncovered more than 20 instances where offenders have been given such breaks.

In some cases, fines of as little as 15 cents or $1 with an accompanying victim surcharge of just a nickel or 30 cents were imposed.

In others, offenders have been given a decade and sometimes two or three, to pay the fine and surcharge and, in two cases, 100 years less one week.

Judges elsewhere in B.C. as well as in Alberta and Ontario have done the same, according to media reports.

Local judges have continued to issue the full penalty in other cases, particularly drunk driving convictions.

Cases in which breaks were given involved petty crimes such as breaches of probation and undertakings and minor thefts.

The Office of the Chief Provincial Court Judge has not commented on the issue.

Conservative MP Dick Harris suggested the judges making such moves are over-stepping their authority as administrators of the country’s laws as passed by Parliament.

“One could almost think this is kind of contemptuous, what they’re doing,” said Harris, who represents Cariboo-Prince George.

“That’s the first word that comes to mind, that they’re treating duly established laws with some sort of contempt.”

He said there are other ways to oppose the legislation, such as working to get another party into power when the next election is called. No one from the judiciary has contacted him about the issue, Harris said.

“I mean if judges want to write letters and do protests, that’s totally an option for them,” Harris said. “But to play games like they’re doing, I wonder what people are thinking of that.”

Harris expressed little sympathy when asked if imposing a fine and victim surcharge would only prompt some offenders to commit more crimes to make the payments.

“If people didn’t commit crimes in the first place, they wouldn’t be faced with these types of things,” Harris said.

“People establish their culpability based on the decision they make… and in life you have to live with whatever decision you make, that’s for sure.”

The surcharges are used to finance services supporting victims of crime, such as providing them with a court liaison and access to counselling.