For criminal defence lawyers in and around the Greater Toronto Area the Internet broke yesterday. As word spread that their colleague Laura Liscio had been arrested in court and led out of the Brampton courthouse handcuffed and in her barrister’s robes, the outrage mounted and the years of criminal defence lawyers and their clients being treated as second class citizens by a justice system more concerned with efficiency than justice came to a boil.
Apparently, Ms Liscio handed clothes to her client in court yesterday, which were later found to have drugs in them. Whether or not this is even remotely accurate I have no idea.
Let’s first address the question that preoccupies people; is she guilty? The only answer our justice system gives us is that she is not. In fact she is innocent. There has been no trial and no finding of guilt so at this point and at every point until a verdict is rendered Laura Liscio is innocent. That may trouble some people who accept every statement police make as pure and true but the presumption of innocence is central to our justice system so too bad.
By all accounts Laura Liscio is a conscientious advocate for her clients and who is well respected by both defence counsel and crown attorneys. But that meant absolutely nothing to the arresting officers of the Peel Regional Police Service who marched into her courtroom, arrested her and handcuffed her while she was wearing her barrister’s robes. They then ushered her out of the courthouse to a waiting cruiser.
So unlike Police Constable James Forcillo who shot nine bullets into another man and killed him (all of it captured on video), Laura Liscio did not get to go home and wait for twenty-four days while the “authorities investigated.” She didn’t get to go home and wait for twenty-four days while her lawyer and the prosecutor worked out in detail the manner of her turning herself in by a side door to the courthouse away from prying eyes. She didn’t get to go home and wait for twenty-four days while her lawyer and the prosecutor worked out terms of her release so as to spend the least amount of time in court possible. No she didn’t get any of those professional courtesies that are the hallmarks any time police are arrested – rare as that is.
So while some media, the police, and our government leaders trip over themselves reminding the public of the heroic nature of police work and how they’re on the side of good and defence lawyers are on the side of evil, remind yourself of how truly pathetic yesterday was where uniformed police officers, who are handed all sorts of discretion to carry out their jobs, exercised so little of it when arresting, an officer of the court.
The police officers in this case seemed to be motivated to publicly shame and humiliate a criminal defence lawyer. The investigation in to what Ms. Liscio was alleged to have done, appears to have been so cursory as to make even the most ardent tough on crime advocate blush.
But we as a profession need answers. For instance, who were the officers? Let’s also hear from the Crown Attorney for the Brampton courthouse and what his thoughts are. Did he approve of this? What about the Chief Federal Prosecutor for the region? Is this how he believes lawyers and officers of the court are to be treated?
For a justice system that bends over backwards to afford all manner of courtesies and deference to the decisions of police officers let yesterday be a reminder to those of you who aren’t lawyers. Think about this; what sort of treatments awaits you when the police have you in their sights and they could care less about what arresting you will mean to your life? Make sure to remind yourself that courtesies exist only for the police.