Monday, June 30, 2008

this week in bad news

Hey Dundas Street dope fiends (with RSS aggregators), shit could be worse: you could be looking for your fix in DC.

Apropos of nothing, I'm watching Daren Aronofsky's The Fountain on The Movie Network right now. It's like the confused offspring of The Butterfly Effect, The Time Traveler's Wife and Thief 3. Hugh Jackman runs the gamut from brooding to troubled to bemused. Happily, the weirder it gets, the more I'm on board.

Vetting files: justice can be glamorous

Part of my job involves vetting federal Crown files, which means summarizing the circumstances of the arrest, writing down the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act charges, and double-checking that every police officer involved in the file has submitted a typed report of the incident and a photocopy of his or her handwritten on-scene notes. The paralegals don't relish this job, so they're only too happy to let me do it. It's awesome: I get to read about every drug arrest in the city, from the high school kids caught smoking pot in the woods, to the dope fiends selling street-corner Oxycontin one and two pills at a time, to the armed gangstas making coke deliveries all over town. I've gotten to know the shadiest neighbourhoods and the shadiest people in London. That's London Ontario, quiet retirement community and squalid crack den.

I've also gotten to feel like I know a lot of the London police, both uniformed and undercover. They have to do an astonishing amount of paperwork for every incident, all of it pored over by defence lawyers hoping to catch them breaching the accused persons' Charter rights. Unfortunately for the defence, the police have gone through the motions so many times before that they almost always know what they're forbidden from doing, and how to circumvent such obstacles.

Most of the files I get to read, though still amusing, are pretty homogeneous: traffic stops resulting in possession arrests, undercover buy-bust operations, or surveillance of unwary dealers on high-drug-traffic street corners. Frequently, however, a CDSA charge will accompany a Criminal Code charge. Then I get to read something more colourful: possession of a prohibited firearm, possession of homemade nunchuks, kiddie porn dungeons, threatening a peace officer, attempted murder (in downtown Ilderton, no less!), various modes of assault.

I vetted a file today in which a guy was booked for domestic assault. The incident occurred after he put down his X-Box Live to have a dispute with his common law wife regarding the whereabouts of her cigarettes. Believing she was hiding them from him, he chased her around their home, becoming increasingly irate until he slapped a slice of pizza out of her hand and punched her in the face. She called the cops (though not before hitting him back) and he was duly arrested. The arresting officer's typed report included the following:
"En route to cells, Sleazy McDirtbag repeatedly asked me why he was being taken to jail when Mrs. McDirtbag had struck him in the face as well. I advised him he was responsible for starting the physical portion of the argument when he slapped the pizza into her face, which constitutes assault. McDirtbag argued with me over the flawed nature of our criminal justice system, commenting that I should be arresting all those druggies on Dundas St., McDirtbag pointing out several people as we drove by en route to cells."
Obviously I've taken some liberties (though he did write "all those druggies"), but the officer clearly enjoyed the episode. This gem doesn't appear to be drug-related and thus wouldn't normally cross my desk, but for the fact that in the time it took for his girlfriend to call the police on him, for the police to interview her, for the police to interview him, and for the police to finally arrest him, the poor stupid bastard didn't think to get rid of the marijuana in the waistband of his pants.

Et voila. I look forward to whatever tomorrow might bring!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

So my boss and I are walking to court one morning

and he remarks to me that his eldest son is "independently wealthy" (his actual words), lives in L.A. and writes comic books. This strikes me as interesting, but alarm bells don't begin to sound until he tells me that one of his son's books has been optioned by Hollywood. And as soon as he tells me this it dawns on me that he shares a surname with the creator of this. My boss' son is the author of the graphic novel Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and its sequels.

When my jaw dropped (it really did), my boss was as surprised as I was. Scott Pilgrim is not yet particularly well known, and I don't seldom read graphic novels. I just happened to have read this particular series because it takes place in my old neighbourhood in Toronto (Bathurst and St. Clair) and features many local landmarks (like the Wychwood Library, where homeless people sleep in the carrels and ruin my studying!, or Lee's Palace, pictured above); because it's trendy and clever, informed in equal measure by Japanese anime and North American indie rock; and because Michael Cera is supposedly slated to star as Scott Pilgrim and I wanted to stay ahead of the hipster curve. (This is also why I want to read Watchmen before next year. The line between loser and hipster has never been as narrow as it is at the dawn of the twenty-first century.)

This has little to do with me and still less to do with my job. It did relate to the law in one small respect, however: after confirming that the artist was flesh and blood and in fact related to someone I knew, I felt bad about downloading his work off the internet.

Who knew: it turns out I'm opposed to illegal file-sharing when the victim has a face.

I'll probably go out and buy the Scott Pilgrim books for real. Soon. And Watchmen while I'm at it, in case Alan Moore turns out to be my cousin's babysitter or something.

Don't tell my boss I ripped off his son.

Friday, June 13, 2008

piss on you

the system works!


I just noticed that my boss, the Federal Crown Prosecutor, has this framed in his office, with his name beneath it on a brass plate:

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Courtroom 12: video remand

These days, this is how my mornings go:

I get up around 7:45, as late as possible while still having enough time to shower and eat breakfast, the most important meal of the day. I eat Raisin Bran with bananas cut up in it, because I am old and bland, much like the cereal itself. I drink coffee which may or may not have little chunks of grounds floating in it. My coffee machine is in a box 190 kilometres away and I have not yet mastered operation of the manual coffee press.

I put on my suit. This involves selecting from maybe four shirts and eight or so ties. The combinations are getting more questionable each day. I only have one suit, a solid black two-piece. Another suit will be ready as of Friday, at which time my wardrobe options will broaden dramatically.

I leave the house around 8:30. I walk the seven or so blocks to work. Despite the fact that it has been 30+ degrees and humid as 'Nam for the last week, I keep the suit jacket on. To take it off would expose the fact that the shirt beneath is short-sleeve, and we all know that is inappropriate. More often than not, I am running late and have to proceed at a dignified canter. Often at this point I spill some coffee on my sleeve.

By the time I arrive at my office, I am sweating through my short-sleeve shirt, which means that the jacket must remain on for the foreseeable future. At the office, I receive a box or boxes of files that the Public Prosecution Service paralegals have compiled. In these files are the persons who are to appear in Video Remand Court today, accused of violating the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

I pile the files on a jaunty little trolley and roll the trolley down the street to 80 Dundas, the London courthouse.

At the courthouse, I have the distinct privilege of bypassing the metal detector with but a nod to the police cadets manning it. Though I have been doing this for three weeks and the cadets know me by name, every day I'm sure that this privilege will evaporate and I'll be forced to stand in line with the wretched masses and surrender my keys, belt and contraband.

I leave my (sometimes second) coffee in the lawyers' lounge, which is sort of like that one bank commercial? where the janitor builds the makeshift dressing room? for the one little girl hockey player? and it's like a closet with a two-by-four nailed to two buckets? The lawyers' lounge is sort of like that but with a metal shelf. The gaggle of defence lawyers sort of stop talking when I enter. I wonder whether this is because I'm new, or because I'm acting as the federal Crown, or because I'm taller than they are and I have a mean glower.

In the courtroom, I sit at the end of a long table, along with one of the cadets from the front door, a provincial Crown, a carousel of defence lawyers emerging from and retreating to the lawyers' lounge, and duty counsel.

O, Noble Duty Counsel. You with your weatherbeaten tweedy jacket; with your spectacles befitting a man half again your age; with your mustache that was never stylish in any era; with your midsection heroically engirdled; with your competing airs of bemusement, befuddlement, imperiousness and mirth.

This is more of a composite of duty counsel.

One of the cadets told me that, at the EMDC prison facility, he often saw accused persons returning from court appearances furious at the performance of redacted one duty counsel in particular. I guess you wouldn't pick the job if you were a half decent defence lawyer. Unless maybe you're truly pure of heart and spirit. But what would such a person be doing in a courtroom? Take that shit back to Narnia.

At the head of the class is the court clerk, the court reporter and the justice of the peace. So far I have seen five or six different JOPs, each with a different personality and approach to his or her position. There is an ol' softie, a man apparently afflicted with Short Man's Syndrome, and a nice lady who almost nods off during the proceedings.

The justice of the peace is a mere figurehead; Madam Clerk seems to hold all the knowledge and power in the courtroom. I wonder if she gets paid well. Potential alternative career?

Back down at the table, the young officer-in-training feeds files to the provincial Crown, who handles all the Criminal Code offences and thus about five times as many matters as I do. I generally sit quietly and highlight the names of people charged under the CDSA, very careful to stay inside the lines since I can't ask for another copy if I mess up.

In the corner of the room is a television mounted on a swivel bracket. This television displays a cell in a prison somewhere in southwestern Ontario. Orange-jumpsuit-clad accused persons appear in this cell one-by-one, to speak to their lawyers or duty counsel on a private phone, to be told their next appearance date, and to be judged by me.

You have never seen a sorrier parade of ne'er-do-wells, addicts, skids and inveterate fuck-ups persons alleged to have committed crimes. Possibly. Many have been incarcerated for weeks and months, and are ostensibly content to remain so, while their plea dates are pushed back ad infinitum by inattentive lawyers and Crowns. Most are seeking legal aid, which requires interviews and is backed up for months due to lockdowns in the jail.

Occasionally the court clerk will ask which way the Crown will elect on a hybrid offence. If my boss, the real federal Crown, has indicated whether we will proceed summarily or by indictment, there is a check mark in the corresponding box. More commonly however, the Crown hasn't read the file yet, the boxes are empty, my stomach drops and I sweat more. I may shuffle papers and flip through the file, then reserve election. This happens often. And if the clerk asks for an estimation of court time needed for a plea, God help me.

No one cares about this except me, of course. No one expects me to know anything, to make any decisions or to act like I belong there. They're patient, and it seems to matter little to them if I reserve election all summer long. I've been surprised by how informal the courtroom is, how much banter takes place between counsel, clerk and JOP. Until somebody's cell phone goes off, at which point they all scowl and the offender is reprimanded, and they act like they've been solemn and professional all along.

It takes between two and three hours to get through the list of names. Sometimes I read the files and show the juicy bits to the cadet next to me. Sometimes he tells me about incidents in which he was involved with the people on the screen. One guy was head-butting parking metres and exposing himself, and responded to a taser in the chest by asking, "Why'd you do that?". One guy got caught coming into the Courthouse with $400 worth of morphine and cocaine. One guy punched the cadet in the face. Everyone seems to think video remand court is a deadly boring experience. I enjoy it immensely. I might not say that at the end of the summer, but for now it's like taking a detailed tour of the seedy underbelly of the clean, quiet retirement city where I grew up.

When we're done in 12 Court, I have to go back to my office and find some real work to do. You know, like blogging.

this week in bad news

This is awesome.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I work for the man

Right now I'm sitting in Union Station's VIA1 Panorama Lounge. Usually I'm sitting outside on the floor in the plebes' line, giving the stink eye to the people going in here. I have my feet crossed on a small table, which is causing some consternation in a man ten feet away from me, but is otherwise my privilege as a First Class traveler. There are complimentary refreshments and newspapers. It is Xanadu. I may miss my train and stay forever.

I find myself in these circumstances because as of last week, I am working as a summer research assistant for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, as well as the RCMP's Integrated Proceeds of Crime (IPOC) unit, in London. My job, as I understand it (dimly), is to assist the senior prosecuting agents in the preparation of legal research, factums (facta?), books of authorities and so on, in preparation for drug possession/trafficking cases. I also get to sit in Video Remand court on behalf of the federal Crown, watching a parade of accused miscreants broadcast from correctional facilities around the province. When they are facing drug charges, I write down the dates on which they are to reappear. The rest of the time I just watch the show.

I have no experience (and certainly no law school marks) which qualify me for this position. Supposedly only one in five law students gets a law job after first year, and I was nowhere near the eightieth percentile. I secured this job through shameless nepotism while many of my possibly (...definitely) more deserving peers are still slaving away at their undergrad jobs as servers and landscapers and, if the cliche is to be relied upon, strippers.

I am justifying my good fortune thus: last year I worked for a chicken factory, which is pretty much the first name in shitty summer jobs, along with telemarketer. Which I also did, two summers prior. If anybody has done their time, I have. It is high time that I sat in a desk and worked on weekdays between the hours of nine and five. Or eight and four-ish. Government employees seem to get pretty scarce in the hour before closing. Why are cushy government jobs so lax in their enforcement while shitty minimum-wage jobs insist on accounting for every minute? Another awesome, awesome class disparity.

* * * * *

I'm on the train now. Pre-boarded. I've decided to listen to Obzen by Meshuggah because I feel compelled to exhibit populist pretensions when I'm surrounded by cotton-headed executives. I feel embarrassingly blogger-like. I should get a sleeve tattoo.

I was in Toronto for the day to receive orientation from the Department of Justice. I missed the summer student orientation earlier in the month, so I was with four Humber students receiving training as paralegals. They were shown to a windowless room with a whiteboard and metal Cold War desks. My office in London has a wraparound desk made of a deep burgundy wood.

The train is moving. I'm going to quit typing and upload this when I get home. Man of the people that I clearly am, I refuse to pay for onboard WiFi. I will leave you with one final piece of evidence that I have entered the ranks of the insufferably white: the train's menu.

Appetizer: prosciutto with melon and parmesan cheese.

Three choices of entree (I'm having the second):
  • Grilled Beef Tenderloin - mushroom ragout, red skin mashed potatoes and cherry tomato
  • Prawns Tikka Masala - basmati rice with green peas and chana masala
  • Butternut Squash Ravioli - sauteed spinach, Alfredo and roasted red pepper sauces.
And for dessert: apple raspberry cheesecake.

Two thumbs up for the creepiness of Obzen.

Who needs another law blog?

The number of legal blogs in general and law student blogs in particular is quite staggering. This makes sense, since law students all came from liberal arts backgrounds and fancy themselves mavericks and rogues and undiscovered screenwriters, biding their time until their genius is recognized. And those who don't entertain fantasies of artistic glory instead romanticize the image of the Bay Street workaholic and can't wait to don the power suit; for these people, a blog, or -- ugh -- blawg is an effective way to raise one's visibility and make connections. There are law blogs from U of T, from Alberta and several from Dalhousie. However, with the exception of The Court (an academic publication) and the Property Law Blog (ostensibly defunct after nine posts, making it, improbably, even less successful than my own efforts), there seems to be little Osgoode Hall student presence online. Who needs another law blog? Osgoode does.

One significant obstacle comes to mind when considering such a goal: I don't know anything about anything. Most, if not all, of my peers at Osgoode are more knowledgeable, more capable and more passionate about their chosen field. Any one of them would be better suited than I to contributing opinion and analysis to emerging legal theory, political trends and Supreme Court decisions. Luckily for me, there are already plenty such commentators and I see no need to add to their ranks.

Where are the law bloggers who know nothing about the law and care less? Where are the bloggers for whom first year was a continuous marathon of The Wire and Battlestar Galactica? Where are the bloggers who left studying for their Criminal exam until the night before? Where are the bloggers who went to see the Roots perform in mid-April instead of learning about bailment, licences and leases? Those bloggers are here. At least, this one is. Honestly, just now it took me like three minutes of wracking my brain to even come up with those terms.

Stay tuned: there is more to come regarding my summer job as a research assistant for the Public Prosecutions Service of Canada, a position I have done little to earn and for which I am singularly unqualified.