Weekly Column: Is Our Justice System Letting Us Down?

By | October 29, 2018

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, October 29, 2018. 

Once again, I toss my midweek-written column. I had started writing about the troublesome aspect of our present-day life, which is the excess we have created. Put in the context of the growing mountains of garbage, plastic waste in particular, it seems ridiculous and irresponsible to add more to the pile. But we do, and every weekly flyer is proof to that. I was also mentioning the absurdity of seeing Christmas items already in stores (the story of garbage has many chapters indeed.)

I will save it for another week; nothing will change in the meantime, except for more flyers arriving in the mail tempting us to buy more so we can have more so we can actually have less. Among other things, less gratitude and a lesser sense of responsibility towards our future; our children’s future.

This last sentence sounded awfully hollow though as I read the latest in the case of Jessie Simpson, the then 18-year-old teenager who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time on June 19, 2016. He was attacked, severely beaten with a baseball bat, and now requires 24-hour care in a long-term care facility. He will never be the same again.

I teared up as I read the article. My oldest is now 16 and a half, a teenager in all ways; but he is loved just the same, hugged just the same. He tells me stories of his adventures and I sometimes I shake my head. ‘You silly kids…’ is what I say to some of them. We laugh together, we argue too and I nag him regularly, lovingly so, but I do, while I rejoice in the way he still calls to me ‘to hang out and chat for a while.’ And he listens. They do, even when it seems that they do not.

It was hard to hold back tears when I read about Jessie, the way witnesses described the attack. That kind of mindless release of anger is impossible to explain. The reason, we are told, was the high rate of break-ins – homes and cars, in the area where the attack took place, which made the attacker, Mr. Teichcrieb, ‘lose it’ on Jessie Simpson, a teenager who wandered onto his driveway that early morning.

Property theft is a terrible experience. Our family went through it; I know what it feels like to jump at the sound of wind rattling the porch door. I know what it’s like to think ‘what if?’ every time we leave home. But from there to wrongfully thinking anyone found in our driveway might be a robber and proceeding to beat them almost to death…Nope. I cannot connect those dots and still have the dignity to look at myself in the mirror. Nor could I reconcile with not trying to stop a neighbour from savagely attacking a person smaller than him. It would be in everyone’s best interest.

We are supposed to write and throw away what we write in anger, but this is not some therapy session. It’s my trying to imagine if the unthinkable happened to one of my sons. I simply cannot. I read about Jessie crying as he was being hit, about his bloody body being dragged and beaten some more and I felt a most horrible mix of anger and heartbreak.

How is that possible?

The sentence seems mild when placed against the crime. Seven years minus time served, eligible for full parole in 2020 (sentence will expire in 2022.) Jessie is condemned to life without…life. For anyone who says, ‘he should not have been there,’ here is my question: how often did you find yourself in a sticky situation as a teenager or young adult? I am not talking about teenagers committing crimes, which was not Jessie’s case, but being intoxicated after partying with friends, post-graduation.

Two years later and post sentencing, here is my question: was justice served in Jessie’s case? Was justice served in Jennifer Gatey’s case? These two stories broke my heart. The two teenagers and their loved ones often come to mind as I go through my own journey as a mother.

Parents love and ache for their children. We celebrate life with them, we hug them goodnight and we share belly laughs; we nag them and scold them, we do our best to address their misbehaviour and do what we can do to raise them to be good people. We make mistakes, they make mistakes. We love them dearly. I believe, and I hope, we all suffer when a child is hurt in ways unimaginable, and then we hurt some more when the punishment is a mere wrist slap.

What are we to get as we witness these stories taking place in our community? That human life has little value after all? If our children’s lives, and human life in general, doesn’t matter enough for us all to seek fairness and accountability in how our justice system deals with these cases, then what does matter?

In my opinion, nothing.

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