Courtroom visits real eye-openers

Wayne Young
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Provincial Court Judge Nancy Orr is spot on when she suggests that simply by dropping by her courtroom MLAs could gain some real insight into the “incredibly devastating impact” addictions are having on Islanders.

Just a month earlier her colleague, Chief Judge John Douglas, spoke out about opiate addictions and how they are the underlying reason many people six of seven in his courtroom earlier that day are driven to commit criminal offences.

Every day these and other magistrates put faces to statistics that show drug use and addiction is becoming more widespread and that, according to Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee, it may be reaching “epic proportions.”

The mayor recently told a legislative standing committee that every robbery in Charlottetown for the past two years is directly related to narcotics addictions. And more than 90 per cent of property crimes in the city have an association to drug use, he said.

“This is a public health emergency worthy of a response equal to the worst plague in history,” the mayor was quoted as telling the committee. “The effects will be felt for generations if we do not act now.”

By adding their voices to the discourse, judges are helping to sharpen the focus on a problem that should be a concern not only to MLAs but to everyone who deplores the waste of human potential to senseless drug addictions and surely that’s every Islander.

The case that prompted Judge Orr to challenge lawmakers to attend court involved a woman who became addicted to prescription drugs that were prescribed by a doctor for a medical issue. After she became addicted, she turned to crime to feed the habit, committing a string of break and enters. And then, of course, she landed before the judge.

A similar case unfolded recently in P.E.I. Supreme Court and it hit close to home for a student reporter covering the trial. A man was given 27 months for conspiracy to traffic in hydromorphone. The court was told he became addicted to the drug as result of surgical treatment for a back injury. It sounded eerily familiar to the student reporter, a retired RN who, earlier this year, was introduced to regular doses of powerful painkillers after she broke her ankle. She knew how hard it was to wean herself off such strong medication, especially during her recovery when she received another prescription for 100 percocet. It wasn’t easy but she was able to taper her drug use and then stop completely. She still has pills in her closet and she says that’s where they’ll stay.

On arraignment days a steady parade of men and women stand before the judges and plead their innocence, admit guilt or are found guilty of crimes increasingly driven by drug addictions.

These aren’t actors off CSI, Cold Case or Law and Order, they’re ordinary Islanders drawn from every walk of life. Most of them are not strangers to us. They’re our friends and neighbours, our co-workers and sometimes, they’re members of our own or extended family.

Every fall I sit in on a couple of arraignment days with first-year journalism students, for many of them their first exposure to the court system. For most it’s a real eye-opener. There’s nothing that focuses attention like the sight and sound of a prisoner, shackled hand and foot, shuffling before the judge to learn his or her fate.

The stories they hear and report on are by times compelling, shocking, and sometimes heart-wrenching. It’s a reality check as well as an introduction to court reporting.

Seeing first-hand the impact of addictions the judges must deal with every day may well help legislators fashion better responses to the problem, whether it’s improved treatment for addicts and earlier intervention, or closer monitoring of prescribed painkillers and greater use of alternative medicines that aren’t so addictive.

Most of us will be happy if we never have to go to court but all of us not just MLAs could benefit from dropping by and seeing for ourselves exactly what the judges face every day.

- Wayne Young is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.

Organizations: Holland College

Geographic location: Charlottetown

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Recent comments

  • John G
    December 08, 2013 - 14:18

    Maybe a doctor who's he has been treating people with to many of these drugs should be ordered to sit in the court room for the whole trial and watch the side effect. To many people getting hooked from (legal) drugs.

  • John G
    December 08, 2013 - 14:17

    Maybe a doctor who's he has been treating people with to many of these drugs should be ordered to sit in the court room for the whole trial and watch the side effect. To many people getting hooked from (legal) drugs.

  • Islander
    December 08, 2013 - 10:43

    All Mla's. and Premier are all welkl aware of the situation in PEI involving addictions. They simply do not care. Look at the way they acted during their term in office. Say nothing, do nothing and than when a tragedy occurs they all blow smoke, still very little done. Nothing will change until the lot of them are voted out. Yes take them ot the Morgue to see the end results of drinking and driving and drug abuse. Than just maybe they will see what life is all about in the real world

  • don
    December 07, 2013 - 21:38

    it is a good idea but most of the mla's have to have a heart to care about what happens to anyone but we know they do not. if they did they would stop helping the druggies get free needles. next they will supply them with the drugs well you know they are voters. and the same should be done for drunk drivers the mla's should be forced to not only go into the court room after one of here drunks kills someone but they should be made go to the morge to see the body of the person the drunk murdered and also be there when the police tells he family what happened to the loved one. but in my opinion it could not make a difference as i said they need a heart to care. as money comes before life and you see they want to have special plates for drunks. but i ask you have many times should you be aloud to be a drunk driver before you lose your licence period? and really serve jail time? again it boils down to money.

    • SoSickofDon
      December 09, 2013 - 08:20

      Every single islander, including MLAs, should be demanding that "druggies be given free needles" and the treatment that they require. It is costing taxpayers much much much more to not treat "druggies" than to treat them. Don, your lack of compassion, and understanding of how addictions work and the simple gramatical structure of a sentence amazes me. Of course, we should be giving "druggies' needles - if we didn't the taxpayers would be even more on the hook for the cost of treating hepatis c which would very well spread into the "non-druggie" world. The cost of jailing these "druggies", the cost of policing them and the costs to families far exceeds what it will cost to treat and fix this problem. That is what people need to get... it is pretty simple when you bring it down to dollars and cents. Since you can't use a simple comma or a period perhaps you can use a calculator... go figure it out.