Defending the indefensible

(Sun News Network)

Our nation’s system of justice is stronger because of defence lawyers like Evan Roitenberg.

Yes, that’s bound to be an unpopular viewpoint, especially today.

But that’s the truth, as uncomfortable or inconvenient as it may seem.

Because it’s also equally true (however unheralded or swept under the rug) that each person in Canada — no matter how justifiably vilified, loathed or downright nasty their conduct  — has the right to be represented and defended to the lengths the law will allow.

Although I personally have never been, nor plan to be, in such a position, I’m glad for this.

As we all should be.

Roitenberg (if you don’t know by now) is the defence lawyer for disgraced hockey coach Graham James.

The facts disclosed by the Crown at James’ sentencing hearing Wednesday regarding his abusive and reprehensible treatment of Theo Fleury and his cousin Todd Holt years ago were difficult to hear.

After years now of observing and writing about all manner of serious and sick crime of all kinds, Wednesday’s hours-long hearing was, in part, a cut above when one considers the depth of the described betrayal.

James’ conduct was and is indefensible on any level.

Cries for him to be locked up for a long time have reverberated loudly.

The Crown has requested he serve six years of prison.

Roitenberg, as all expected, sees things differently.

He spent hours Wednesday explaining to Judge Catherine Carlson why that is; why he feels the law should grant James a conditional sentence to be served in the community of 18 months or less.

Roitenberg, a skilled public speaker with a clear flair for rhetoric, rose to speak after James himself delivered a carefully-prepared apology from the prisoner’s box.

Here’s a taste of his first few minutes of submissions Wednesday, verbatim.

“Your Honour, if it were up to Graham James, that would be it … he would throw himself on the mercy of your Honour — recognizing the depth of his actions, recognizing the effect of his actions and recognizing how wrong he was,” he started.

“But Mr. James was foolish enough to hire me, and I can’t allow him to do that,” he said.

“Because his crimes, regardless of the insight that he recognizes now, have legal repercussions. And it’s not just for him to say, ‘I know I was wrong and I accept what the court will bring.'”

“And in that vein, I’m hoping to persuade you this afternoon, that the Crown’s submission as to what would be the appropriate and just disposition here is anything but appropriate and just. I’m hoping to persuade you that if a court in Alberta some 15 years ago had all the facts, the principles of totality would have kicked in. They would have kicked in to a certain degree as would factors as they pertain to rehabilitation and restoration.”

“The man who stands before you today stands before you rehabilitated as far as anybody could be having done whatever was asked of him for a number of years, to develop the insights that he now has. To have put in place strategies to ensure he doesn’t put himself in a situation where he’s tempted to offend, strategies that take away the temptation to offend, and insights to allow him to channel his energies otherwise.

“Because that’s all been accomplished already,” he said.

“But to do that, I have to tell you some things about Graham James. I want to share with you the man, because with the greatest of respect — having sat here all morning and having been Mr. James’ counsel for some two years now or so, I can tell you it’s like representing young women in Salem, Massachusetts centuries ago who were wrongly accused of being witches.

“Because there’s really nothing in many people’s eyes that I can say today that will change their opinion of Graham James. There’s very little I can do to dispel the myths and the notoriety of the monstrous nature of the beast that has been built up in many people’s eyes. But I can’t do that. I don’t have to do that.

“My task is to enlighten one jurist.”

And there’s the rub, that sharpened point — one, I’m sure, causes countless law-abiding citizens to gnash their teeth in frustration and take to the comment sections on news websites in droves.

The hard truth is it matters not what people think of Graham James, what they may want to see happen come his March 20 day of reckoning; what punishment they feel befits his despicable conduct.

It matters what Carlson thinks. It matters what the law says she must do in this case, which in legal terms is very unusual for a number of reasons.

Despite what some may personally think about Roitenberg’s vigorous defence of a man dubbed “the poster boy for parole reform” or “possibly the most hated man in Canada, certainly the most hated man in hockey” (Roitenberg’s own words as he derided the media glare over the case) — his job, his duty — is to defend James to the best of his abilities.

Because that’s the law. And Roitenberg knows all about that. He’s very good at what he does.

And regardless what one thinks about Graham James and his hideous and evil conduct — he — like you, me and everyone else in this great country — is entitled to present the best defence one can get within the bounds of the law.

Got a problem with the law?

Think sentences for child abuse are too soft? Think it’s wrong, as Greg Gilhooly does, that drug-traffickers can get more jail time than child-molesters?

Call or email your MP and demand change.

That’s your right as well.

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*** As a note, I don’t know Roitenberg. I’ve never once had a personal conversation with him.

Any opinion expressed above about his work is based on my experience of it in court over the years, and is just that — my opinion.

Other notable cases of his in recent times: Here, Here and Here.

Revenge plot most sour

Winnipeg’s large population of vulnerable (poor, parentless or developmentally-delayed) teenagers has created an increasing problem: The number of them who are sexually exploiting themselves online has risen to an alarming level.

The rising trend of kids posting explicit pictures of themselves online, or being put at risk of falling prey to internet predators has been rising sharply over the last two years, I’m told.

In some cases, kids set up so-called ‘quid pro quo’ relationships with adults who buy them clothes and shoes and other trinkets in exchange for sexual relationships.

The public doesn’t hear about it because the kids aren’t criminally charged and therefore their cases aren’t part of the public record.

But police and Crowns who deal with child sexual exploitation are deluged with so-called ‘intervention’ cases where they try to nip the behaviour in the bud.

Except in Tim’s case, which came before a judge for sentencing Friday. I can’t use his real or full name because it would identify the teen victim, who, it appears exploited herself out of trust in Tim and now could pay a harsh price.

Earlier this year, Tim, 18, had a bad falling out with his 16-year-old girlfriend, who by the sounds of it, took up with another guy that he really didn’t like.

Tim’s response: he sets up a fake Facebook account and posts a number of explicit pictures of his ex and sends a link out to his pals, her pals and her new boyfriend.

She had made the pictures herself at age 15 in an effort to entice Tim to be her boyfriend.

She had already applied for, and been granted, a protection order against him based on a number of alarming and volatile phone messages he had left her.

The ex, naturally finds out what’s going on and calls the cops, who arrest Tim and lock him up at the Remand. With no record to speak of, he’s bailed out a few days later on strict orders to not contact her.

But he does. Sets up a Hotmail account under a fake name and sends her an email:

“Please just read and don’t tell the cops,” it says. “Sorry, have fun, have a good life.”

“I got charged with child pornography and that’s killer … if they knew I talked to you I’m gonna go back [to jail].” it said.

A few days later, he sends another to one of her pals: “I think I saw him (the new boyfriend) with her and it makes me sick.”

The girl calls the cops, tells them what’s happening, and Tim’s locked up again.

At least until today when he was handed a six-month sentence for distribution of child pornography and criminal harassment.

Now, Tim, he’s cooperative with police and hands over the laptop in which the Facebook account was set up [his Mom’s.] The password: ‘ilove[ex’s name] and her initials’.

He speaks voluntarily to officers, saying he did it because he was hurt and upset and wanted revenge on the girl and her new beau.

A Manitoba judge called the young man’s actions ‘reprehensible’ today, as you’d expect a judge to do.

But Kelly Moar went on the make the observant point that Tim has basically made his ex a target for perverts for the rest of her life.

“What you chose to do … is unfortunately something that can never be undone,” he said.

“There’s no delete button on the internet. Those things float forever on the internet.”

And with Canada being #2 in the world for the hosting of images of child pornography, #2 for the sale of and #3 for websites set up to display child porn, it’s clear there’s a burgeoning marketplace for the sick stuff.

The U.S., of course, leads all of the above categories by a wide margin.

The majority of these websites sell memberships (85.1 per cent — many claim to accept Visa, MasterCard or Amex) and a single DVD depicting child sexual abuse can fetch as much as $1,900.

It’s sick stuff.

And Tim’s anger and thirst for revenge likely means someone, someday, will profit off of his behaviour. But it’s his ex who pays the price.

The above figures came from the Canadian Centre for Child Protection and Cybertip.ca