Some thoughts on court cases and justice

Want to float this out there. TVA has a story Monday about the acquittal of two men in a shooting death five years ago. The text is not explicit in saying their acquittal was a mistake, but the emotional weight of the story is all on that side. It’s a tendency I’ve seen a lot lately, more notably in two recent stories from elsewhere in Canada – the acquittals of Gerald Stanley in the shooting of Colten Boushie and Roger Cormier in the death of Tina Fontaine.

Now those other stories involve indigenous victims and I understand that adds another angle, but the tenor of a lot of the reporting – especially a lot of the tone on social media – is that the courts were wrong, justice was not done, and the defendants should have been found guilty in order to fulfill a social need. The same tone is in the initial article above: the family’s feelings are put above the actual mechanics of law, in that it would have felt to be fairer to see retribution.

But it’s dangerous for us to do justice based on feelings, from victims’ families or from the wider world of social media. There are requirements in the terms of law that lay out what evidence is, what qualifications have to be met, before a person can be declared guilty. Those are important, and they can’t be waived because people feel a certain way about an incident or a death.

This isn’t to say that judges and juries are always right. There’s ingrained social bias all around, but we should all be equally protected by the rules about evidence and proof. Also, I would hold that a judge or jury that’s sat through the sifting of evidence inevitably knows a lot more about any case than a reader who’s skimmed a couple of paragraphs in the media. Joining in a social media dogpile undermines the process of justice, and I don’t think it does society any favours in the long run.