Security theatre in the Canadian courts

By Karen Selick, from The National Post, where it was titled “Your Honour what’s with the bulletproof glass”:

I happened to catch a few moments of Sun News TV the day that the Kingston, Ont., courthouse was shut down due to a bomb threat during the Shafia trial. The reporter was marvelling over the low level of security he had observed at that courthouse up until then. There were no metal detectors at the doors, no police officers “wanding” him as he entered, etc.

He must have been from Toronto. He didn’t realize that the absence of metal detectors is normal out here in small-town eastern Ontario.

But even peaceful little courthouses like Belleville’s — where I began practising in 1985 — have been moving gradually to greater security. When I started, the Belleville court staff waited on people over an open counter. Lawyers could slip behind the counter to use the court’s phone or photocopier, in a pinch. There was never a police officer in the courthouse unless one of the lawyers involved in a contentious case requested one in advance.

Some time around 2002, a wall of glass (bulletproof?) was installed above the previously open counter, separating court staff from the public. You now had to speak through a metal grill and shove your documents through a narrow slot in the glass. A door with a combo lock now kept lawyers away from the phone and copier.

Then another remarkable change occurred. There was suddenly a police officer on duty in every courtroom whenever a judge had to face members of the public, even for case conferences where only two members of the public were present.

Meanwhile, big cities like Toronto and Calgary have for some years required citizens entering their courthouses to pass through metal detectors and have their bags and briefcases searched. These heightened precautions, I discovered recently, have even spread to Newmarket, Ont. — a town smaller than Kingston in population, but only half an hour’s drive from the big, bad city.

I articled in Toronto in 1976-1977, when anyone could freely breeze in and out of the courthouses — including Osgoode Hall, where the Ontario Court of Appeal sits — without ever seeing a police officer, being searched or having to show ID.

So what has changed over the past 35 years to make our courthouses so fearful? The homicide rate has actually fallen significantly over that time, although violent crime in general has risen.

But private businesses still don’t find it necessary to take this level of precaution. I can walk into a Toronto shopping mall as freely today as I walked into Toronto courthouses 35 years ago. Is there something unique about courthouses that makes them more likely scenes of violence?

My hypothesis is that people were more willing to accept the notion 35 years ago that courthouses were places where justice was done. Today, people are more likely to look at them as places where injustice will be done.

Many more people are compelled to interact with “the law” these days, simply because there is so much more of it. Regulation over citizens’ lives has exploded, and much of what happens in court cannot be described as having anything to do with justice.

Take, for example, Mark Tijssen — the Armed Forces msajor in Ottawa who was charged for sharing home-butchered pork with a friend. An investigator from the Ministry of Natural Resources spent five days spying from a neighbour’s tree house to collect the evidence for this ridiculous “crime.” The charges were suddenly dropped in December, ending Mr. Tijssen’s two-year ordeal. But before 2005, the regulations he was charged under didn’t even exist.

A huge percentage of people who end up in court these days are there for matrimonial cases. Since my articling days in 1977, Ontario has repeatedly revamped its family law statutes and regulations. Every rewrite has shifted Ontario’s matrimonial property regime further away from individualism and deeper into collectivism. As an observer who practised family law for more than two decades, I think family law has become less just than it once was. It should come as no surprise that many of the people affected by it think so too.

So yes, the courts increasingly have reason to fear the public. But installing security equipment in the courts and leaving unjust laws in place is not the solution.

National Post

Karen Selick is the litigation director for the Canadian Constitution Foundation.

7 Comments

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7 responses to “Security theatre in the Canadian courts

  1. Beverley Viljakainen

    Thank you, Karen, for taking the time to set this evolution of events out so articulately. From my 75 year old perspective, it seems that the so-called ‘fixes’ are not well thought out, often contrived to suit vested interests and perhaps even designed to baffle and overwhelm our ability to focus on viable solutions. Not good . . . and, with awareness, we can do a whole lot better!

  2. nedlud

    Luke 17:33

    or try this:

    Whosoever shall seek to save his life,…. By fleeing to some strong hold, or by continuing in the metropolis, and strongest city in the nation, Jerusalem:

    shall lose it: there he will be in the greatest danger:

    and whosoever shall lose his life; or expose it to danger, by fleeing to the mountains, or going to Pella, a small town beyond Jordan, of no strength, and where there might be thought no security;

    shall preserve it; he shall be safe.

      • rainhard pitschke

        Yes, it’s a good thing they have lots of cops in Newmarket court. I and my friend was surrounded on the hall seats by 8 or so who protected the judge who ran out of the courtroom because he waved a dangerous weapon at the crown….a birth certificate! Thank God we were held there sitting quietly while the judge made out the warrant for my friend’s arrest…’Failure To Appear’. He then had the nerve to say to the cop…”No, I don’t understand or stand under what you’re saying and what’s more if you touch me I’ll sue you in civil court for assault.” I was evicted quickly for causing a disturbance by laughing. The public is dangerous! Poor lawyers like Karen…they suffer from terminal crocodile tears.

  3. what’s a lot more dangerous, is, the non-sense peddled by Pay-triots-for-Profit waving a Birth Certificate in support of their word-majic scam. Talk to Russell A Porisky about that. He started out 11 years ago, and made a nice living selling false hope to desperate taxserfs. Last month he was convicted on 8 counts of fraud, tax evasion and counselling an indictable offence : now awaiting sentencing. He’ll get at least 5 years in the Pen.

    If you’re genuinely interested in how we = white people, Israelites = found ourselves under the Yoke of Esau, read the Bible, and ALL of it. George Gordon’s series “Destroyed Arguments” – about that Birth Certificate crap~ola – is a word to the wise. Tupper F Saussy’s book “Rulers of Evil” explains what to do about it in the meantime. If you won’t harken to it, then don’t come crying to me when you’re surrounded by 8 uniformed thugs with loaded weapons, who are eager for an excuse to pull the trigger

    • rainhard pitschke

      Thank you for relevant material for my continuing study. George’s and your expertise is appreciated. The other references will be consulted too. I have no illusions about ‘thugs and guns’ and certainly won’t ‘come crying’ to someone who may or may not resemble ‘ a cockroach’…(read that somewhere…heresay). The case I was describing did however result in the withdrawal of 4 charges including a criminal one. The ‘waving’ surely had something to do with it. As for the ‘pay-try-outs’…well, I’ve seen greed overtake honour as many times as I’ve seen pundits speaking dirrrrrrrectly to the short skirt in the front row. This whole ecclesiastical thing is very tiring. I have no interest in ‘tassles’ or reading (never mind obeying) some 700 odd rules from a chewed up jurispru(dental) go-spell. Whether a word salad or talismanic charm bracelet, it all amounts to a protection racket. An appeal by the living to the dead. The heart say yea or nay clearly and simply. Any entanglements I choose or that choose me will be correct for the fate or future necessary. That being said, it’s been a pleasure to crawl across the screen with you, sir. May our slime cross again.

  4. rainhard pitschke

    Okay, I’ve listened to the hour of the ‘destroyed arguments’. It doesn’t contradict what I was talking about with the birth cert. Tax exemption and UCC etc. is something I’m not sure about yet. But he uses the example of Amish immunity and recommends rescinding membership for social security which is what my friend did by offering the original document and denying jurisdiction. I agree with Gordon on the irrelevance of fringes on flags. I’m understanding that of course if one is ‘pleading’ (it’s already too late) regarding a traffic offence, anything but ‘guilty of the facts’ would be contempt of court…unless there is a procedural error. However, jurisdiction must be first established by the cleric who calls the ‘man’. Is the capitalized name a man or a corporation of which he is the CEO of? Is that not the entity created by that founding ‘receipt’? How can a flesh and blood human be property? That would be slavery, so we are talking about an account to be settled rather than any offence requiring remission or redemption of sin by confession to a priesthood.

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