December 2, 1994 Halifax Herald

Justice system must protect innocent, punish guilty

In their August 15th issue, MacLean's published an article by John DeMont titled "The Boy Across the Road." DeMont reveals the unsettling effect the murder and attempted murder by a teenager of John and Reta Jarvis, with a pump-action shotgun, has had upon the community of Whitehead. The boy, whom The young offender's Act bars identifying, has displayed no remorse for the horrors he committed. As reported later by his father, he went home and slept soundly afterwards.

The leniency shown by our legal process towards individuals convicted of committing cold-blooded, violent crimes, exemplified by the following description of Reta's ordeal by DeMont, have left me with a sense that something is drastically wrong with Canada's justice system and that it is in urgent need of fixing.

"In Whitehead, seven months after the killing, no one is sleeping easily. After all, John Jarvis's murderer could be back in the community by the spring of 1999. Even now, Lynn Jelleau, a community adjustment officer who lives near the youth's family, wonders why he did not knock on her door instead of the Jarvises'. "If he returns," she says, "how long will it be before he randomly shoots someone else?"

"Reta Jarvis cannot afford to wait and see. Nova Scotia justice department officials have already warned her that no one can guarantee her safety when the youth is released. In fact, she said, they have actually urged her to leave Whitehead for her own protection. So Jarvis - who hears only a steady ringing in her left ear, suffers from memory loss (because of the wounds she suffered), and still has shotgun pellet fragments lodged near her brain - has shut down her husband's diesel repair business, listed her house with a real estate agent and plans to move. "Everything is gone," she says. "Its almost like I have no feelings any more. The only time I really feel anything is when I go to the cemetery and look at John's grave."

What on Mother Earth has happened to our society? Has it become so essential to coddle and pamper those found guilty of committing violent crimes that we must subject the innocent to a lifetime of punishment? Besides having had the bad luck of getting in the way of an individual who was hell-bent on committing mayhem, what did Reta Jarvis do to deserve the penalty she's paying? Unless being a decent, law-abiding citizen has become a crime, the answer is; nothing!

I believe most of us know of someone who has been victimized and penalized by violent crime. One among the many that instantly comes to my mind is the case of an elderly lady who was violently mugged while walking down Spring Garden Road. After the mugger grabbed her purse, its strap caught on her shoulder and he dragged her about 50feet down the street before it came loose. During the assault, she received, among other fractured bones, a broken arm which caused permanent damage. These injuries kept her hospitalized and house-bound for several months. When caught and prosecuted, the criminal received 30 days, vs. my friend receiving a life sentence in the form of a disability. Justice? In my estimation, not by a long shot.

The pendulum of justice in Canada has swung too far in favour of the criminal. This swing has seen ignored, by politicians and the justice system alike, the law-abiding citizen's inalienable right to live safe and secure in home and country. The United States has already traveled far down the road that Canada is on and, by so doing, has delivered to its people a siege mentality. Many in that country live armed, behind barricaded doors, afraid to leave the security of their havens. Is this what we want here?

There are those, particularly in the legal, mental health and social services fields, who will look you straight in the eye and say that severe punishment doesn't bring results. Will they please tell me, an unpretentious country man, why not? Saudi Arabia and Singapore practice an eye for an eye in their justice system and, because of it, have realized two of the lowest crime rates in the world. Although I do not advocate the severity of the penalties passed out by those two countries, I certainly think that punishment should fit the crime.

Lets move to the middle ground and get away from the loathsome practice of punishing the innocent. As productive and law-abiding citizens, Reta Jarvis and the families of the victims of such people as the Macdonald massacre gang, Legere, Olson and so on, deserve much more from this country's justice system than they have received. A Nation's future stability is tied to its ability to protect and keep secure its law-abiding citizens. At the present time, Canada's performance in this area leaves a lot to be desired.

Daniel N. Paul


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