Our first introduction to the trial of the man, who had murdered our daughter, was exacting. They had an entire system to solve the problem of justice. The dedication, the science of it all was impressive.
This is what happened the first day. It hadn’t started smoothly.
The first thing the Judge had to deal with was a young man dressed casually, carrying a backpack. He came in and sat at the Defence table, obviously feeling very uncomfortable.
The Judge noticed him immediately – and explained to the rest of us that during the jury selection process one potential juror hadn’t shown up. “He’s here today to give his reason.” He nodded to the young man, giving him the floor.
The young man stood up and stuttered some kind of confusion about his date book, calendar, exams and stress.
The Judge was not amused and spoke severely to him. “Jury duty is a civic duty.” And gave him what could only be described as a very articulate “fatherly” talk but with the authoritative presence and threat of a judge who had the power to hold him in contempt of court… but still let him go.
After the young man left, Crown Brian Bell stood up. “Morning, My Lord.”
“Mr. Bell,” the Judge nodded. “Good morning.”
Assistant Crown Mike Himmelman stood up. “My Lord, good morning.”
Defence Saul Simmonds stood up. “Morning, My Lord. Simmonds and Gama on behalf of Mr. Grant, My Lord.”
Assistant to the Defence Vanessa Gama, “Morning.”
The Judge nodded to them all. “Good morning. Mr. Bell, Mr. Simmonds. Mr. Grant has already been arraigned, so the only thing that will remain on the first day of the jury’s convocation here will be putting Mr. Grant in charge of the jury. As I understand it, we’re here for the first three days of this week, or first two days, two and a half days to deal with a voir dire.”
Voir dire! The first day – and we were starting with a delay – a voir dire!
A voir dire is an old French word means to speak the truth…. But actually it is a trial within a trial to determine an internal trial issue, such as the admissibility of certain evidence. It is off the record, in house, a behind-the-doors conversation. It is “talking off the record.” It is not official because the jury is absent from the courtroom. There is always a publication ban on a voir dire. It lasted three days.
It was an immediate reminder that this trial was the real thing – not a preliminary hearing. This time it was the Defence who would be the one not exactly in control, but the one who was “on.”
I was very aware that Grant had one of the best defence lawyers in Winnipeg, if not in Canada. Saul Simmonds was a founding partner of Gindin Wolson Simmonds Roitenberg, who has been practicing criminal law since 1980. He was an academic gold medalist, and a published writer.
Out of the courtroom he was known as an athlete, an avid triathlete, who had even competed in the “Ironman Canada” competition in Penticton, B.C.
Twice during the court proceedings, he came up to me and extended his condolences to me for the death of my daughter and his understanding. He said that he had a son whom he loved dearly. The implication was he understood my grief – and that his argument was not against me personally but in defense of Grant.
I don’t remember my response, but I hope it was gracious and understanding. I did admire him. He had all the dedication, wit and flare that characterize a good defence lawyer. He was brilliant and full of drama. Every offender needs a good defence lawyer, or so I reminded myself continuously throughout the trial.
We were in Room 117, in the modern part of the courthouse, large, airy and very comfortable.
There is something fascinating about an intense voir dire. I felt like a child listening in on an adult conversation. Without the scrutiny of the media in the room, the three main players in the middle of the courtroom could just take off their gloves and battle it out.
The issues seemed more crystallized and clear, the conflict defined.
It started with Simmonds introducing the two issues that would take almost three days to discuss. It really felt as if Simmonds had taken control. But that shouldn’t surprise us – this was the accused’s territory – his land. We were on his turf.
We were reminded of this every time we went through the ritual of passing through security.
The entire Winnipeg Law Courts Complex has a perimeter security staffed by the Sheriff Services which meant that every time we entered the complex, we were required to step through a metal detector and send any bags, purses or briefcases through an X-ray device, similar to the security found at an airport.
Even the walkway, the name we gave the enclosed bridge over the street from the Woodsworth Building to the Law Courts Building, had security. We often chose to use it because it seemed less intrusive and more efficient. The security was unbending. We soon learned that we could not take in our cameras, but we could take our cell phones.
The security perimeter was a reminder that we were entering the land of logic. The entire justice system is marked by impartiality, dispassionate debate, and objective justice, free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism. There is something orderly and confident about law.
We have an amazing system to problem solve our problem of justice. If nothing else, I hope I've impressed you with the professionalism, the brilliance and the dedication to doing it right.
We had the best. Really - the very best!
Still - after a decade of process, which included appeals, Supreme Court of Canada, and a repeat trial - it still failed. He was acquitted.
Except we were still convinced he was guilty.....the system had failed us.
The system would not keep us safe - the man who had murdered our daughter was free to do it again.
That didn't help our problem solving focused brain - already concussed.
Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. - Martin Luther King, Jr.
Problem Solving is the function of the brain that takes on the problems by defining it, generating alternative, evaluating and selecting alternatives, and then implementing solutions.
Forgiveness allows us to live within the problem and not panic when there is no obvious quick solution. It gives us room and space to be creative and even perhaps find alternative solutions - out of the box solutions.