Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Injustices in the justice system...how are we doing?

Each day, the city, provincial and Mounted police encounter hundreds or perhaps thousands of people in the course of their duties. And each day, most of these encounters are measured, thoughtful, civil and for the most part, sensitive to many factors that most of the rest of us would not even think about.
However, it is those exceptions to the norm that are disturbing.
Yesterday, I read, in the Toronto Star, two different and unconnected stories about the justice system, one about police intervention and the other about the legacy of poor judgement and a criminal record that disturbed me.
The first involved two young men, approximately twenty, who were returning home after completing a job cutting the lawn of a client in Brampton. They were pushing a power mower and carrying the other items like weed-cutter and oil and they were greeted by a city police officer, riding in his car, who asked them where they had stolen their equipment. The "owner" of the business informed the officer that the equipment belonged to his father, gave the address and even the address of the client, to demonstrate the veracity of his story. Not only did the officer confiscate the equipment, he also informed the client that the job had been performed with "stolen" equipment. The father of the 'owner' had to beg for the equipment to be returned. A footnote to the story, the employee is a young man who is a victim of tourets syndrome.
There is now a law suit against the police officer, filed by the 'owner' of the lancscaping business and his father.
The other story was a first-person account of a man, educated as a teacher, who, during his formative years, broke into a doctor's office and stole some prescription drugs to feed a drug habit which he has since kicked. However, having spent time in jail, convicted of a crime, he is now banned, for life, from teaching in Ontario schools. His legitimate question: When do I stop paying for the crime I committed? And his sad answer, "It seems never."
Individual indiscretion, on the part of the police officer is one form of injustice, and presumably the courts can and will hear the full story, and make a judgement about the series of incidents and actions and even motives that comprise the story. Did the young man with tourets syndrome perhaps prompt the intervention? Was the officer a little over-bearing in his approach, exercising excessive power for his own needs? I trust the justice system to right this apparent wrong.
In the second case, however, I believe Hell will have frozen over before the Ontario education system will permit a person with a criminal record from obtaining, first, a teaching certificate, including membership in the Ontario College of Teachers, and second, a position in an Ontario classroom.
And this merely expresses the body politic's excessive fear, and refusal to re-think the notion that a convicted criminal, once having paid his "sentence," is free of the implications of his mis-deed(s). There may be a few individuals and groups like the John Howard Society that provide some guidance and assistance to individuals attempting re-entry after a conviction. However, this drama goes mostly under the radar of public scrutiny and concern.
If the Brampton incident were to become more frequent, perhaps, then, the public would become sufficiently alarmed and demand some changes both to police training and deportment, and to the employer's right to restrict those who have served their time from legitimately performing the functions of their professional training and education.
Imagine the potential of the teacher being able to guide others away from the kind of mistakes he has made and paid for, dearly, if he were permitted, albeit on probation for a stated period of time, and under careful monitoring, to teach in an Ontario school.
Keeping him "ostracised" from the profession says more about the system's addiction to perfection and purity than it does about the person in question. And that says it is not a public education system quite yet.

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