In the name of God, what’s the matter with us?
Are we really going to approve, if only by our silence, the right of the police to try, convict and sentence citizens without the nuisance of allowing a person to have their case independently tried by an impartial judge?
In a classic case of Woolmington v DPP  AC 462 Lord Sankey said this
“No matter what the charge or where the trial, the principle that the prosecution must prove the guilt of the prisoner is part of the common law of England and no attempt to whittle it down can be entertained”.
It’s said that the safety of the community is at stake. On that subject Benjamin Franklin said
“Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”.
Let’s look at the Charter of Rights and freedoms
7. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
11. Any person charged with an offence has the right
(d) to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal;
The opening section does provide an exception
1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. (emphasis mine).
Clearly this exception is designed for wartime or insurrections. That it has been used to justify roadblocks is not an argument for its extension.
My argument is not for light penalties for those who break the law. I’m against driving under the influence of alcohol or any drug and against excessive speed. I’m not concerned here with ICBC statistics indicating which accidents are caused by what. What I do say is that we are involved in demeaning one of the oldest and most sacred freedoms. In my view that is wrong in and of itself. The right to the presumption of innocence is something for which we have literally sacrificed unimaginable quantities of blood and lives, But I go further – what does this lead to?
I rather hate to mention this because it’s in the area of the practical rather than principle but given the record of police forces and civil liberties in the province and country are we really going to trust our liberties and property to the whim of a cop on the beat?
Still on the question of the practical, what proof is there that those who flout the present laws will be deterred from so doing by these laws?
Still, on this matter of principle, this law, with respect to drinking, encourages drivers to lie to police even more than now. Taking my own case, I’m 5’11” and weigh 205 pounds. My habit is to have two glasses of wine over a dinner of 1½-2 hours. If asked by a policeman if I’ve been drinking the incentive is for me to lie. If I tell the truth the policeman will say that he has reasonable and probable grounds to detain even though I may show no signs of impairment. If I tell the truth I’m at the mercy of a person who is my accuser, my judge, and the enforcer of that judgment. In fact, Wendy and I don’t drink and drive at all but use the good service of Transit from Lions Bay to Horseshoe Bay. It has meant, however, that we no longer dine at The Red Lion in Dundarave because there is no practical bus service to use.
Is it not in the interests of fair play then, that the police park near well known restaurants, pubs and other watering holes and nail patrons as they get into their cars? If not, why not? If this law is to make roads safer, surely it’s better to do your enforcement before the voyage begins! (The intended law breaker does not have to be driving but merely in the care custody and control of the vehicle.)
My greater concern is one of principle. Next to freedom of speech, I regard the right to be presumed innocent is our greatest protection against arbitrary actions against citizens. If that principle is compromised in the case of driving offences, what’s next? (In that regard it’s amazing to me that this province arose as one against enforcement by camera, where you had time and the right to dispute the charge yet we are silent when the police can decide your guilt or innocence here and now!)
We have reached a very serious position as regards freedom in this part of the world. Video cameras “for our safety” are everywhere. We have a long form census that demands, under penalty, that we describe people living with us and now we dispense “justice” without a hearing. We have recently had a US president in favour of torturing suspects. The government of Great Britain now has access to 80% of emails sent.
In BC our Attorney General wants an 82 year old lady sent to jail for life because she protests things.
But, it’s said, the roads will be safer, tragic deaths and injuries will be fewer and justice will be done even thought it might not look that way.
It could and no doubt will be argued that if we diminished the law against searches we can reduce burglaries.
Indeed, I will concede for the sake of argument that limiting our freedoms will make us all safer. Russians felt safer under communism – unless you were a political activist, of course.
What our freedoms amount to is a premium paid for those freedoms. While we don’t like it in many cases, freedom means that guilty people will go free to protect the freedoms of us all.
Evidently this government prefers not to pay this premium and most British Columbians are prepared to go along.
We must surely ask ourselves if this is a not so slow erosion of our liberties and that hereafter we will pay that premium for freedom that I mentioned a moment ago.
Is it the beginning of a slide down the slippery slope to where governments can behave as they wish without having to face the discomforts of publicly expressed dissent?