Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

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There are good reasons why the Manitoba Court of Appeal again has condemned the Crown practice of allowing charitable donations to be part of the negotiation in plea bargains or decisions to stay charges. An accused's ability to give money to a charity should be excluded, as it creates the appearance that some people can buy leniency.

The Appeal Court's decision follows news last month that a Manitoba prosecutor, Sean Brennan, was fired after he told the Justice Department that Bristol Aerospace donated $65,000 to a charitable organization where he serves as board chairman. That happened about the time Mr. Brennan stayed workplace safety charges against Bristol late last year.

In a separate case, the Appeal Court last week came down firmly on a lower-court judge who gave a Winnipeg restaurant owner probation in 2012 for illegally employing foreign workers. The sentence included a requirement to donate a total of $12,000 to two charities.

The Appeal Court saw the practice as potentially harmful to the perception of the impartiality of the justice system -- particularly were the prosecutor or the judge to decide where the donation would go. (Indeed, Mr. Brennan reported that Bristol decided where to make the donation, but the damage was obvious.)

Negotiating for charitable donations in dropping charges is particularly worrisome because the Crown is not obligated to explain why it stays a prosecution. It typically occurs where the evidence is unlikely to result in a conviction, or in a deal for an accused's co-operation in other prosecutions.

The public is left to accept that prosecutors are making appropriate decisions in such matters, but the injection of payment to charities into the equation damages a fragile trust.

Attorney General Andrew Swan must heed the court's prudent warning and issue policy that forbids prosecutors from considering charitable donations in decisions on charges or deals on pleas or sentences.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 28, 2013 A8

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