Published on: August 28, 2009 Last Updated: August 28, 2009 10:00 AM EST Ottawa Citizen
Now, I’ve long thought the Canadian judiciary to be rife with sentimentalists; that is to say, judges so indulgent of their self-image as caring individuals that they tend to think the criminal is as much a victim, if not more so, than those who suffer the crime. So it was with considerable surprise, and much relief, that I stumbled across the writings of Wallace Craig, a former member of the judiciary who hasn’t succumbed to a sentimental view of the world.
Until his retirement in 2001, Craig spent more than 25 years as a judge in the British Columbia provincial court, working in the criminal courts in Vancouver’s Skid Row area. It’s probably fair to say that he’s seen his share of the dark side of life, and knows whereof his speaks, certainly more than the drug-and-crime enablers.
Of course, as a serving judge Craig was constrained in what he could say about those who inhabit that world. But since retirement he’s been making up for his reticence with a monthly column in the North Shore News, a newspaper serving the City of North Vancouver. He’s also the author of a 2003 memoir, Short Pants to Striped Trousers: The Life and Times of Judge in Skid Road Vancouver. The book made the essential point, as one reviewer put it, that Craig believes “too many judges have gone soft on crime and too many politicians have gone soft in the head.” Indeed, Craig writes in the preface to his book: “During my twenty-six years in court I sensed that the criminal justice system, and particularly the judiciary, was dispensing justice without any real sense of law and order, leaving (Vancouver) at risk of being Canada’s drug capital, a place where property crime is rampant and perpetrators of violence receive only notional punishment.”
I couldn’t agree more, of course, but what caught my attention was a recent column Craig posted in the Black Sheep Commentaries section of his website, entitled “Time To Get Tough With Skid Road Misfits.
Retired provincial court judge, Wally Craig, a man whose experience lends great weight to his observations, is not afraid to commit a cardinal Canadian sin. That is, to have a point of view and to articulate it passionately; in short – to be polemical.
He is a plain-speaking teller of truths. In these pages Craig argues compellingly that Canadian society today is not only being victimized by the thugs, punks and assorted unfortunates who populate a growing underclass but, more disturbingly, by ermine and silk-clad appellate court jurists, drawn increasingly from the academic world; judges who all too often demonstrate a toxic admixture of arrogant remoteness and moral inadequacy. Craig’s informed and passionate perspective on our criminal justice system is a must-read for all who are concerned about the direction in which our society is headed and, more importantly, who are looking for some straight-talking guidance to set it right. This collection of newspaper columns and related materials eloquently catalogues the myriad failings of Canada’s contemporary criminal justice system. The great Anglo-Irish philosopher, Edmund Burke, observed, over 200 years ago, that an intemperate people can never be free. If we are to avoid further imposition of external constraint on our lives, something that every statocrat lives for, we have to begin again to exhibit individual responsibility and accept personal accountability for our actions. Contrary to today’s popular bumper sticker slogan, “It’s not all about me.”
Read on, learn, enjoy – and consider what you might do to help advance the reforms he advocates.
David O Marley
BA LLb MSc
West Vancouver, BC