When a crime goes unpunished, particularly a major crime, it is an injustice. The fabric of society is rent, the law-abiding majority suffers, and the rule of law is mocked. It's not what's supposed to happen in Canada.
But thanks to the case of R. v. Jordan, the Supreme Court of Canada's decision setting new limits on how long is constitutionally too long for a criminal trial, a dose of legal anarchy is being threatened across the country.
In Alberta, Crown prosecutors are having to make hard choices about what cases to drop. Some prosecutions, including for violent crimes, are being stopped – not due to lack of evidence, but instead due to lack of time and resources to try the cases quickly enough to meet the Supreme Court's deadlines.
On Tuesday, The Globe and Mail reported that a senior Alberta Crown prosecutor had stayed 15 serious criminal charges, including assault with a weapon, impaired driving and assault on a peace officer. The president of the Alberta Crown Attorneys' Association says charges against 200 people have been dropped over the last two months, due to lack of prosecutorial resources.
When prosecutors dismiss charges due to lack of evidence, they are acting as responsible stewards of the law. Ditto when they divert less serious charges for resolution outside of court. But there is nothing good to be said about allegations of major breaches of the peace simply going unprosecuted and unpunished.
Every Canadian accused of a crime has a constitutional right to a speedy trial, and that right must be respected. But every Canadian who is the victim of a crime has the right to know that the law will be upheld, and that serious lawbreaking will be met with prosecution and punishment.
Surely Canada can protect both rights. Justice demands it.
The provinces and Ottawa are going to have to hire more prosecutors and judges, and speed up court procedure. But the Supreme Court also needs to reconsider R. v. Jordan. It was a 5-4 split decision – and the wisdom of the dissenters is already being borne out.