Aug 202020

Glen Assoun was wrongfully convicted of murder.  He spent close to 17 years in prison.  The podcast Dead Wrong is a careful and troubling documentation of the miscarriage of justice.

I speak to one aspect of the remedy.  I am afraid it will not be considered, even though it is one root of the problem.

Tim Bousquet and his colleagues at the Halifax Examiner created the podcast.

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From: Sandra Finley  (some edits)
Subject: re wrongfully convicted. Podcast Dead Wrong

Hello Tim Bousquet,

I have mailed a cheque to the Halifax Examiner today.

Prompted by podcast re Brenda Way’s murder & the wrongful conviction of Glen Assoun.

After hearing on today’s episode (CBC, The Current, 2020-08-20) the names of judges on the Appeal panel, I am impelled to write.   Three points:

  • I want your journalism to help bring about change.
  • However, If a major root of a problem is not effectively eradicated, the remedies will be a bandaid that PERMITS the situation.   Typically in Canada our remedies are bandaids.
  • In general, not only in justice, a major root problem in Apparent Incompetence, that in the end leaves us with corrupted institutions is old friends and long term relationships.  We are human beings.

In the specific “for example”, Suzanne Hood, the judge who presided over the murder trial, and Jill Hamilton, one of 3 justices on the NS Court of Appeal panel are well-known to each other, for more than 40 years.  They can’t help but be friends, I would think.  They are both good, competent, community-minded people;  40 years in the same community (Hfx-Dartmouth);  shared values; the same career paths, many of the same friends, acquaintances and life experiences.  They probably know something of how personal challenges (trials and tribulations that are part of people’s lives) have been handled.  That’s the stuff of which our Beliefs about a person are formed.

The phrase they did not hear (the innocence of Glen Assoun) was repeated in the podcast.

Yes, that is to be expectedPeople Do Not Hear What They Do Not Want to Hear.  Simple as that.   Brain research using the most powerful of MRIs shows what happens when information that confronts our “deeply held beliefs” enters our heads;  it is routed to circumvent rational processing.  We literally do not hear challenging information – – in one ear and out the other, as the old adage says.   Do you want to hear that persons well-known to you, respected, that the system you want to believe in – – you are part of it, has delivered a wrongful conviction?  No.  You are predisposed to support and have confidence that the persons you know would have done good work.  Arguably, they COULD not hear 

(If I personally know a person, it is more difficult  to do something that is openly critical of them.  Easier if I don’t know them.)

One major root of the problem –why  justice was not delivered:

The legal community in N.S., and in Canada is relatively small.  Most lawyers, prosecutors, judges, profs, the directors and players in various legal-related institutions, many Politicians, are graduates of the same 24 law schools.  Many relationships in the tightly-knit legal community go back to student days.  Their grapevines pulsate through strands inter-woven across the country.   Those grapevines predate electronic communications by a couple of centuries.  It is an old boys n’ girls network.  Participants form strong bonds.

There is a reason why the justice system in Canada is static, relatively unchanging in the face of need for substantial overhaul.  Not even repeated blunt demands for change from former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Beverley McLachlin, had much effect.   No, the system is not going to change itself dramatically.  There are too many strong bonds amongst the players, rooted in the status quo.  In too many cases they cannot hear, let alone deliver.  It may be impossible just because they are human beings.

The STRUCTURE has to be re-configured, in order for justice to claim its place.   The natural bonds in the existing structure have to be neutralized.  There is some movement along those lines, but not enough, and not timely.

I remember Hannah Arendt’s phrase from the Adolf Eichmann trial (1961) and her subsequent book – – the banality of evil.    It is not evil in the beginning.  It just has the potential to become evil.  It is well-documented that in Germany, in the lead-up to WW2 the justice system was among the first to capitulate, to become collaborative (enablers) by issuing decisions that wrongfully convicted.   (I am not suggesting that this statement applies to the justice system in Canada today.)

We are repelled by what happened in Nazi Germany.  But Arendt came away with understanding.  Your podcast Dead Wrong in its depth provides a base for attempting to gain better understanding.

In this example, the decisions to convict, to uphold the conviction under appeal, and to deny appeal to the highest court, enabled the evil that was happening on streets in Halifax-Dartmouth to continue, unchecked.  And,  people in our institutions were not held to account.  Not until today.  Holding to account  is the job of the media and citizen.  We too enabled the evil that was happening on streets in Halifax-Dartmouth AND elsewhere in Canada, as we know well from “murdered and missing”.  Too many people did not care enough about the lives of the prostitutes, what’s happening in the streets, to stand up and speak out.

The police, the prosecutors, the judges, did not INTEND to be collaborators with the evil on the street, nor did we;  the opposite would be true.  Such is the banality of evil.  The everyday gets in the way.

I want remedies for Canadian institutions to include built-in safeguards, firewalls, to protect and promote the integrity of OPERATIONS.  No more bandaids.

Because it is natural for human beings to bond with each other (a good thing and a bad thing), the Justice System cannot be entrusted to a cohort of law school graduates, as it is today.  They did not hear, they can not hear, they will not hear – – in too many cases (not in all cases).  Not because they are bad or incompetent or uncaring.  Isolated and insulated, maybe.  Although I think that if a judge has presided over many trials, they will likely have been well exposed to sad, tragic, dysfunctional lives.

I am thankful for your fine JOURNALISM!  Real and needed stuff.

/Sandra Finley



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