Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
More cops, more Crowns: priorities and missed opportunities
I like and have tremendous respect for police officers and the police services they work for.
I feel the same about Crown attorneys and the Manitoba Prosecution Service.
Both entities and the people in them fulfil absolutely vital - and often all too under-appreciated - roles in our society. It's unthinkable to imagine life without them and the work they do.
But I humbly confess, I've grown weary of seeing more and more of them added to the civil service at the expense of seemingly all else when it comes to bolstering resources in Manitoba's criminal justice system.
So from that I'm left cold by today's triumphant government announcement that an additional 10 Crowns plus support staff are being hired (to the tune of about $1 million a year), and the Winnipeg Police Service being funded an extra $300,000 for its disclosure unit to add another shift.
And, I might add, it was just a few days ago that the province heralded the addition of 10 new RCMP officers in the near future.
More Cops. More Crowns. More Cops. More Crowns. It's always the same tune.
With them, our justice system will become faster, better, more, we're always told. Today was no different. The new Crown lawyers will help speed up criminal cases, the government says.
It's come time for me to say I disagree.
The only thing adding more at this point will accomplish is to further stuff more work into an already-overtaxed court system, and exact an opportunity cost at the expense of other vital aspects of the justice system as a whole.
Because the system - especially the fair, measured and decent one we love to say we're always striving for - is so , so much more than just police and prosecutors.
It's correctional officers in our overstuffed jails and their probation department colleagues. And it's apparent that workloads they deal with are immense.
It's sheriffs officers, the folks (vastly underpaid in my view) who transport accused persons and offenders to court and maintain order in courtrooms.
It's, of course, provincial court judges - who contrary to popular false belief, work far many more hours than the hours actually spent sitting in court may suggest.
And who could forget Legal Aid? An essential public-service agency at which some of Manitoba's best and most dedicated lawyers toil for not-so-awesome salaries and manage gargantuan caseloads.
As was quipped on Twitter by one person today: "MB announcing funding for 10 new Crowns, while Legal Aid Manitoba can't even afford MS Word for its lawyers." And then: "Over last 5 years, 46% increase to salary & benefit budget at Prosecutions (& 16% increase at Legal Aid) includes raises & new positions."
Not to mention courtroom clerks, staff justices and administrators of the provincial court, who are really unsung heroes when it comes to maintaining order out of paperwork chaos. All one needs to do is look over counter 100D at the law courts to see these folks are packed in like sardines.
The justice system is also made up of victim services workers, addictions counsellors, FASD agencies, mental health workers, social workers.
I ask honestly: How much could $1-million do to assist staff at the beleaguered Forensic Psychological Services or the Criminal Code Review Board, each of which has seen dramatic upticks in demand in recent years.
And I'm still just scratching the surface of the actors involved in the system as a whole.
Then there's the infrastructure. Dated computer systems, shabby-looking courtrooms with grease-stains on walls where people rest their heads, elevators that routinely act wonky.
Old jails filled to the brim with suspects awaiting trial on remand. Sometimes, they're described as dangerous powder kegs for their staffers.
Now I get it, believe me. Announcing more police and prosecutors sounds great and looks great from the government's perspective. But it has to be the most overused, over-hyped tactic in the sack of politically-expedient public safety-related goodies governments hold the strings to.
Ultimately, when you add cops, the ability for them to accomplish more and bolster the ranks of the Crowns, you're only adding the ability to stuff more into an overburdened and yes, kinda broken, court system.
It appears simple economics is being forgotten: The supply of work to be done is outstripping the tools available to get it done, and done properly.
I also fail to see how adding prosecutors makes criminal cases go faster.
There's far, far, more variables involved than simply giving a Crown a file and saying, 'get it done.'
Anyone who has witnessed a Crown, a defence lawyer, a judge and the provincial trial co-ordinator trying to find a date for them all to be in the same courtroom at once would realize this. Not to mention: Speed shouldn't be a major measure by which we gauge the health of the system. It's one factor, but there are others more important.
Cops and Crowns are great, no doubt in my mind.
But adding more of them at the point we're at today won't make anything about our justice system better in a meaningful and productive way, with respect.
There are other priorities. And now, we've missed yet another opportunity to address them.
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About James Turner
James Turner rejoined the Free Press as a justice-beat reporter in August 2013 after a number of years away working at other media outlets, including the Winnipeg Sun and CBC Manitoba.
A reporter in Winnipeg since 2005, he got his first taste of the justice beat as a former Free Press intern, then as the newspaper's police reporter from 2008-09.
Among the topics he's eager to cover are youth crime, street gangs, child-welfare and how the mental health and justice systems intersect.
An avid blogger and early adopter of Twitter, James (@heyjturner) loves to write long, much to the frustration of his editors.
He despises animal cruelty. He loves 80s music and his tubby labrador retriever.
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