Alberta Courts: A Course in Coarse

by Jack Locke

I know judges are human. I’ve known that since 1989.

But the recent revelations making headlines, the Justice Denny Thomas obvious error in the Travis Vader murder case, and the Justice “why-didn’t-you-keep-your-knees-together” Robin Camp hearing at the Canadian Judicial Council, perhaps have a connection to my experience.

You see, I was a one case litigator. That should be more than enough for most people. I don’t recommend it.

I first entered court in 1989. My claim against the City of Calgary was a charter challenge to a municipal by-law. Now, I don’t claim to be a Perry Mason – Perry who? Okay, I’m showing my age. Perry Mason was a fictional television lawyer extraordinaire from 1957–63 and originally the lead character in a series of novels by Erle Stanley Gardner.

But I was just an ordinary Canadian miffed by a dumb law. So I went to court. The first thing that happened to me was my case was thrown out before trial. In a slick procedural manoeuvre, the City had the case dismissed because I was alleged not to have drafted the paperwork correctly. Of course that was horse shite.

The Alberta Court of Appeal agreed with me. But it took a year and a half of my time.

After two more years of procedural wrangling, a seven-day trial was finally held.

I knew right off the bat I was in trouble when trial judge R.A.F. Montgomery questioned my right to call certain witnesses. I felt he had obviously taken sides with the opposite side.

But the kicker came one afternoon when the learned judge began pronouncing my last name with two syllables. It was incredulous – something Perry Mason never had to deal with. Locke is pronounced “lock”, one syllable only. What prompted this new exaggerated pronunciation of my name I can only surmise. The only thing missing was a following hiccup.

The judge ruled against me on all three legal issues. Moreover, he then slapped me with costs to the maximum level. Now, in the case of public interest law, where a citizen challenges a controversial piece of legislation, it is not unusual for costs not to be levied. But under the intoxicating circumstances, when Justice Montgomery assessed costs of $35,000, I was somewhat expecting it.

To this day, there has not been a review of the decision, nor behaviour, of now dearly-departed judge Montgomery. The appellate story is another story, and a good one. But I am certain there is a plethora of delicious court stories from Alberta.

So, when I see the cases of Denny Thomas and Robin Camp, I am wholly not surprised in the least. What section of the Criminal Code did the eminent jurist cite? And what’s wrong with a misogynist comment by a judge?

There needs to be a major housecleaning. The Supreme Court of Canada’s Chief Justice talks about lack of access for ordinary Canadians to the courts. Well Beverley McLachlin, who would want to appear in court anyway? Not me.

* * * *

Jack Locke is a freelance writer/poet/editor living in Quebec.

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