Manitoba Justice: Proof that the system works

 

(Winnipeg's Old Law Courts Building)

(Winnipeg’s Old Law Courts Building)

Good news stories out of Manitoba’s criminal courts can be few and far between, if media reports and public sentiment are any indication.

But it’s easy to lose sight sometimes that mixed in with all the misery and gloom — in fact, sometimes mixed directly in the midst of it — there’s proof that our court system is not only functioning, but working well.

Last week’s trial of Adelord Campbell is proof. (Articles from days one and two are here and here)

Let me explain.

Campbell, a repeat violent offender with an apparently awful drinking problem which fuels his criminality, isn’t the type to garner much sympathy from the public. He readily admitted last week he has a lengthy criminal record littered with violent acts.

Also, on the day he was arrested for the matter which brought him in front of Judge John Guy, he fully concedes he picked up an $80 welfare cheque after waking up late in the afternoon at a shelter last July 13, cashed it, and went out bar hopping along Main Street, despite being on probation.

Drinking a few here, a few there until he found himself in cuffs near the entrance to the Northern Hotel at Jarvis and Main.

Most people would see a character like Campbell coming towards them, turn the other way and probably run.

But, as the point of this is, that matters little when it comes to his case — one where it became pretty apparent pretty quickly there was (cough) reasonable doubt when the conduct of his accusers were put under the microscope.

I won’t relay the full facts of the 1.5 days of evidence here, but needless to say, there was a ring of some truth to his story of self defence; that he was in fact, the victim of a group who may have seen him flash some cash and pulled a meat cleaver on him in an effort to rob him — a bid which turned sour after the alleged main aggressor dropped the weapon and allowed Campbell to attempt to ward off their unwanted advances after he snatched it up.

When the cops showed up, all they saw was Campbell waving a cleaver around in a dangerous fashion with the three ‘victims’ backed up against the wall. Cops didn’t ask too many questions — quite possibly because one of the three didn’t want to stick around to give a formal statement. Also, Campbell was in no state to try and explain what he believed happened.

Anyohow: the real story here is that Campbell — again, the description ‘low-life’ comes to mind — got a full and vigorous defence as advanced by defence lawyer Sarah Murdoch, an up-and-coming litigator who’s fairly new on the scene.

Murdoch’s defence of Campbell was laudable in many respects — not least of which was the fact she was ultra-professional and clearly well-prepared to advance a believable alternate theory of the case, as well as unafraid to go after those testifying when their answers were unclear or had a ring of convenience.

On the other side of the courtroom was Crown Attorney Cindy Sholdice, a veteran Manitoba Justice prosecutor responsible for putting some of Manitoba’s most heinous criminals behind bars — sometimes for good.

Also coming across as polished and prepared, Sholdice’s presentation of the Crown’s case against Campbell most importantly appeared exactly as all public prosecutions should: Unscrupulously fair.

I’ll give you an example: A key piece of evidence in the case was a 911 call made as the fracas between Campbell and the trio broke out. Made by an independent caller, it cast great doubt that Campbell was the aggressor.

Now, Sholdice could have made a pre-trial motion to have the 911 call thrown out, possibly for lack of reliability or as hearsay evidence. Instead, she fully conceded Campbell should be able to present the call to the court for fairness’ sake.

In the middle of it all was Judge Guy, who’s known to be a no-nonsense type when it comes to handing down sentences on convicted criminals. Watching him throughout the two-day trial, Guy was attentive, dealt with issues in a common-sense way and ultimately delivered a fair verdict: Not guilty on two of the questionable assault with weapon counts, but guilty on one where Campbell clearly crossed the line by punching a woman much smaller than him.

In his decision, delivered swiftly, Guy didn’t directly deal with the issue of who provoked who, but it seemed apparent he was left in doubt about who was telling the truth.  Convicting Campbell for using excessive force in punching the woman was entirely reasonable in the circumstances.

All of this is just a long way of saying this: If people like Adelord Campbell are seen to get a fair shake, then the courts system is clearly doing something right. 

All of this is also aside from the fact there were no great delays in having Campbell’s matter tried — no prelim to slow the pace of resolution down nor a slew of pre-trial motions.

I’ll take good news where I can get it.

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