The good, the bad and the ugly: The Trials of 2011 in Retrospect

Shafia Trial

I know that these year in review columns, annoying though they may be, are all the rage around New Years (apologies for the lateness). Also, that they remain a cheap way for hack journalists and bloggers to basically recycle the past years work while, at the same time, attempting to pass it off as new content. So, without further ado, here are my personal top Canadian legal highlights for the year 2011 (in no particular order):

The trial of Mohammad Shafia

This has to be at the top of anyone’s end of year legal review, just for the sheer amount of ink spilled by the massive media coverage of the trial. By any objective criminal justice standard, the case has all the ingredients of a Hollywood blockbuster, except maybe the mystery of whodunit. The shocking deaths of Mr. Shafia’s 3 daughters as well as his first wife, in an alleged car accident that drowned them all in the Rideau canal outside Kingston, has brought the issue of so called honour killings to the attention of the Canadian public, in horrifically dramatic fashion. The Montreal family of Afghanistan immigrants was torn apart by tensions over their father’s fears of assimilation.

In the course of the ongoing trial, the suspects were charged with four counts of first degree murder as well as conspiracy to commit murder, and characterized by sensational quotes such as Shafia’s supposed liberalism being an “8.5 out of 10” on the Afghanistan scale (whatever the hell that means?), which have dominated the headlines about the trial.

The trial of Dr. Turcotte

Or “l’affaire Turcotte” as the Québec media has dubbed it. This is another potential subject for a movie, albeit a morbidly psychotic one. The details of this tragedy are almost unspeakable: a father, apparently driven mad over an affair that his doctor wife was having, brutally murders his two daughters and then attempts suicide by drinking anti-freeze (what kind of doctor would think that this is the way to go?).

Dr. Turcotte was subsequently found criminally non-responsible by a jury for the murders which he confessed to, by virtue of a defense of insanity, much to the shock and horror of the general public. To add insult to injury, the decision to have him institutionalized in a mental hospital is now under review, and there is a chance that he will soon be liberated!

The Insite case

Since I have already written a piece about this landmark case, I won’t repeat myself here. This was the case involving the safe injection program in Vancouver’s East Side (i.e. the Insite program) trying to renew its exemption from prosecution under the criminal law. But, it bears reiterating that this decision, which reversed the earlier decision made by the Minister of Health on a point of abuse of her discretionary power, was based on the notion that future decisions by the minister must take into account whether their policies have a sound basis in scientific evidence. Otherwise they run the risk of being overturned, like this one was, on the grounds that they breach a Charter right.

BC Supreme Court Polygamy Case

Now, it just so happens, that I wrote about one of the other cases that caused a sensation among the press and general public (yes, I’m plugging my own work; sue me!): The Supreme Court of British Columbia’s opinion on the right of a small group of polygamous Mormons living in Bountiful. The opinion successfully balanced the competing Charter rights of freedom of religion and equality, by appealing to society’s right to prevent harm, namely that of the women and children who find themselves in these relationships. Much to my surprise, not even the Harper government came to the defense of these religious zealots and their backward beliefs. Bravo!

Images: cbc.ca, mercatornet.com

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