Public locked out of justice process

Re: Accused killer’s bail comes as a blow to family (Aug. 31, Western News).

Re: Accused killer’s bail comes as a blow to family (Aug. 31, Western News).

I don’t know about any other local residents, but I sure took offence at Justice Peter Rogers’ condescending editorializing from the bench, as he released former RCMP officer Keith Weins on bail, less than two weeks after Weins was arrested for allegedly shooting his common-law partner. After announcing Weins’ release, and quelling the ensuing furor in his courtroom, Justice Rogers is reported to have said that the criminal justice system views such matters from a different lens than “the person sitting across from you at Tim Hortons.”

Well, let me tell you, Justice Rogers: I would rather be judged by the common sense of 12 Tim Hortons customers than by a judge who cannot or will not consider and balance the public good with the rights of alleged criminals.

Residents of Penticton are acutely aware of crimes and punishments these days. We’ve suffered through a streak of nasty offences and incidents this summer — a kidnapping, knifings, a murder — all disrupting the usual civic calm for which Penticton is well-known.

After reading all the justifications cited by the judge for releasing Mr. Weins back into the community — after less than two weeks in a jail cell — I have two concerns: First, it seems “the system” is showing some institutional favouritism to former cop Weins by letting him go free so quickly. And second, we’re dealing with a judge who callously disregarded our community’s best interests in releasing Weins so quickly, hiding behind the flimsy claim that an argument to justify further incarceration hadn’t been made.

As to the first concern, that Weins is receiving special treatment: On July 22, a Penticton area resident was arrested and charged with a variety of offences related to making his daughter available to others for sexual purposes.

Terrible and awful as these charges are, the father is presumed innocent until proven guilty. But he continues to sit in a jail cell until appearing in court in September for a bail hearing. That’s six weeks and counting from the time he was arrested until he is granted a bail hearing. I’m guessing that the man charged with these crimes is not a retired police officer. And I find it extremely hard to believe that “the system” decrees that we keep alleged pimps locked up for six weeks or more, but an alleged murderer can get out on bail in less than a third as many days. Where’s the justice in all that, Justice Rogers?

As to my second concern, perhaps we’re looking at a judge who is simply unfit for the job. If Justice Rogers cannot or will not consider the dangers to the general public posed by his unilateral and arbitrary decision to quickly release an alleged murderer back into our community, then we should be questioning his fitness for the job. But we wouldn’t be the only ones questioning that fitness.

In a bizarre and sad coincidence, it turns out that the very same Justice Rogers presided over the ill-fated Corey Swite murder trial. In another terrible crime which horrified Penticton, Swite allegedly murdered and abused an 85-year-old woman in August 2006. Following a very expensive three-month trial, Swite was found guilty in March 2009. But in February of this year, the B.C. Court of Appeal overturned Swite’s conviction, stating that (the very same) Justice Peter Rogers made a significant error in his handling of the case. (Swite has been scheduled for another, equally expensive, 10 to 12 week trial beginning in September 2012).

And this is the very same Judge Rogers who presided over the Deschaine murder trial earlier this year. Readers will recall that Ontario visitor Peter Deschaine was stabbed to death by a “youthful offender” on the sands of Skaha Beach in May 2008. Just two months ago, Justice Rogers sentenced the convicted youth, now 19 years old, to “three years of intensive rehabilitative custody and supervision.” Whatever you think of that sentence, folks, it ain’t jail time! As James Deschaine, father of the victim, stated after the sentencing, “(the court) said to him today that it’s OK to go murder someone before you’re 19 years old. Something’s gotta change.” Indeed!

In just a few short weeks, voters throughout British Columbia will go to the polls to elect mayors and councillors to represent their best interests for the next three years. Too bad we can’t vote out lousy judges at the same time, and replace them with ones who will balance the interests of the public with those accused of crimes.

Mark T. Ziebarth

Summerland