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Yeah I said it. It's Grade School Obvious Conflict of Interest
Tagged Criminal Defence BlogJune 11, 2020
yeah, i said it
In the opinion of this Calgary criminal lawyer, we need to question the intellectual quotient of some politicians.
To borrow a line from Chris Rock, “Yeah, I said it”.
How many neurons are firing in some heads?
Furthermore, in my opinion we need to question the moral integrity of some of politicians.
“Yeah, I said it”.
It appears that some of them lack a moral compass.
On June 8th, 2020, Doug Sweitzer, the Minister of Justice for Alberta’s United Conservative Party proposed “taking money away from victims to fund policing [and prosecution] initiatives”.
Let me say that again, the UCP want to divert funds away from real victims to (amongst a plethora of policing a prosecuting aims) pay police and prosecutors.
According to former police chief, Alf Rudd, police (and prosecution services) could use the accumulated 74 million-dollar surplus. “That’s a bottomless pit,” said Rudd. “That money can be spent very quickly if you are going to focus on additional police, additional prosecutors.”
The problem with this plan is grade-school obvious. Even the most obtuse deer wouldn’t walk into these headlights.
Doubtless, the Government could find a way to spend this money – for Government always finds a way to spend taxpayer money. On one hand, the plot to pilfer money from victims is arguably just another indicator that our Government is incapable of being responsible stewards of our tax dollars; after all, if they were responsible overseers they wouldn’t need to pickpocket funds from elsewhere.
The pockets-picked for the purpose of this discussion are those of victims of crime. To my mind, there are some piggy banks that you just don’t pick.
Alright, I appreciate that in frustration this post has started rather hostile. To that I say, too bad; for what Mr. Sweitzer, the UCP and former police chief are suggesting is just – in my strongly held opinion – simply wrong. It’s not only wrong because they are pursuing revenues on the backs of victims, it’s wrong because the conflict of interest is so overwhelmingly obvious that they should be ashamed to even table the discussion.
Let me explain.
MONETIZING THE FUND
To begin with, the Victims of Crime Fund exists to help persons who have been – **drumroll** – the “victims” of crime. The fund is legally recognized within the Victims of Crime Act. Section 2(1) of the Act outlines principles relevant to the treatment of victims, to include the requirement that they be treated “with courtesy, compassion and respect”.
Section 9 of the Victims of Crime Act outlines the procedure as to “how” the fund is to be monetized, to include money collected from “victim fine surcharges” pursuant to section 737 of the Criminal Code of Canada. Explained simply, whenever an accused is convicted in court, the judge has the authority to impose a “victim fine surcharge” payable to the victims of crime fund, with days in default in jail to be served by the offender for failure to pay.
FUND FOR THE DIRECT BENEFIT OF VICTIMS
Section 10 of the Victims of Crime Act outlines the various uses for this money, most of which are focussed to the benefit of victims. When I say "victims", I don't mean hypothetical victims in the way that Mr. Sweitzer appears to define them; I mean real victims.
Use of the fund includes grants to the direct benefit of victims, victim programming, victim counselling and death benefits. Therefore, as a starting point, the UCP proposes that this money be rediverted (or at least partially rediverted) away from the direct benefit of victims to hire and pay police and prosecutors – the latter being very highly compensated public servants. To my mind, taking funding away from victims for the purpose of augmenting general revenues within which the Government is responsible for budgeting its public servants, is wrong. However, this is not the major intellectual and ethical flaw in the UCP plan.
Rather than using the victim fine surcharge for the direct benefit of actual victims, Alberta Justice Minister Doug Sweitzer proposes that this money should go to funding the police and the Crown.
Let’s think about this.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
The police are tasked with the responsibility of investigating and enforcing the Criminal Code of Canada. The Crown Prosecutor is responsible for prosecuting allegations in which there is a public interest and a reasonable prospect of conviction. Both the police and the Crown are employees whose salary and benefits are paid by the taxpayer. Also, the amount of work to be allocated to each officer and each prosecutor is directly related to staffing – viz., the number of police and crowns on the payroll – meaning that every police officer and every prosecutor stands to directly benefit from the money they collect by policing and prosecuting. This means that every police officer in Alberta has a personal interest to charge people with crime and to charge a lot. Similarly, every Crown has a personal interest to pursue convictions on as many charges as possible. This is so because the more people charged means that there are potentially more payers into the program. More convictions means more victim fine surcharge money, which translates into more money into the coffers of the people charging and prosecuting.
Extra-extra read all about it, this is a clear “conflict of interest”. Since Mr. Sweitzer is an active member of the Law Society of Alberta, and the “Minister of Justice”, he should know what a conflict of interest is. In my opinion, if an elected official lacks a basic understanding of “conflict of interest” they lack the credentials to be an elected official.
What is a conflict of interest?
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, a “conflict interest” arises in “…a situation that can undermine a person due to self-interest and public interest”. A conflict of interest occurs when “…there is either a real or seeming incompatibility between one’s private interests and one’s public or fiduciary duties”.
Why does the UCP proposal constitute a clear conflict of interest?
WHY IS THIS A CONFLICT OF INTEREST
It is so because police may investigate and charge people for the purpose of monetizing funds to their personal benefit. Similarly, Prosecutors might prosecute for the purpose of increasing revenue to fund their own office. Therefore, by increasing revenues, police and crown ensure their paycheck, their pay raises and their benefits. By increasing funding to their departments through charging and prosecuting, the police and crown are directly involved in generating money to hire more police and crowns, which has direct impact on their personal labour output. The net effect is that both the police and crown are in a position to use their powers as public servants for their individual private interests.
The math is simple: since both policing and prosecuting may have a private interest in charging and convicting (because they can ensure the collection of money to further their economic and labour interests), a strong argument can be made that every charge and every prosecution is tainted by either individual self-interest or a reasonable apprehension that these public servants will use their position to benefit their own personal self-interest.
In the view of this Alberta criminal lawyer, though we can all have different opinions, the conflict of interest swirling around this plan is so obvious that I can’t help but think that our Government understands what it is doing, but simply doesn’t care to do the right thing. Also, it is not only my opinion, but that of many Alberta criminal lawyers, that if the UCP plans to rogue money away from laudable sources outside of general revenues to fund policing and prosecuting citizens of Alberta, there is a real concern that we should all soon expect to be charged, prosecuted, penalized and forced to pay those responsible for charging and prosecuting us.
Is this the Alberta we want to live in? Is the Canada we want to live in?
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