In an area of such importance as the justice system a reasonable society would make extra sure that its functioning is transparent. While that is not the case, now and then its failures become exposed.

The most recent case that has created the exposure relates to a fatal head-on collision that reportedly occurred on May 17, 2022 near Caledon, Ontario. In that collision 18-year-old Milo Yekmalian was killed and 67-year-old Tomislav Roki was charged with careless driving causing death. The charge was dropped however by the Justice of the Peace, Neil Burgess, who noted that the charge sheet had not been signed by the charging officer. This outcome turned into a slap in the face to the Yekmalian family because, according to standard procedures, a charge cannot be re-laid if more than six months have passed since the offense.

Many justice system dysfunctions like these fall undetected like autumn leaves; in the archaic system that prevents its functioning from being observed by the general public. Court proceedings remain generally undiscoverable to the general public. While it is said that members of the public can attend an ongoing trial the impracticality of that possibility is glossed over.

The only way a person can obtain detailed information about the proceedings of a trial is to buy a court transcript. Such documents can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars depending on the complexity of the trial. These costs cannot be borne by a typical person who is directly involved in a trial and equally not by any general member of the public. If dysfunctions are found in those proceedings there have been time limits applied to when a complaint can be made and so this represents another way in which these dysfunctions fall by the wayside.

Technology exists where every trial could be on video, and fed to whoever would wish to observe its proceedings, but that change still remains an unexplained impossibility. So dysfunctions, of an unknown magnitude persist, not only in the courts but in other areas of the justice system.

Body cameras on police have been possible for a long time now, yet they still remain experimental and not fully applied.

No single statement can encapsulate the complexity of this issue but there is a genuine fear by many in the justice system that transparency will be detrimental to them. Rightly so as evidence that someone has acted inappropriately or in error often leads to a dismissal or worse. This fact is mixed with an assortment of others where those guilty of multiple misconducts successfully evade detection even though there is a history of their previous guilts. The reality is that sometimes it becomes difficult to separate those multiply-guilty persons from those who made a mistake from unfortunate circumstance. And this leads to the reason why transparency is so difficult to achieve. Once a fault has been identified our society demands strong punishment and accepts minimal leeway for human error. In the present case of the police officer who failed to sign the charge sheet his or her career could be in jeopardy. And the crown’s office will have its own explanations to do, possibly with career-ending results. But we don’t know and may never know because there is minimal transparency in the justice system.

Correction of the status quo must be a two-step process. Number one, the functioning of the justice system must become much more transparent. But number two, and almost as important, our society must look in its mirror and recognize its blood-thirsty nature in demanding unreasonable vengeance where a failure has been exposed. Frustration over a failure to bring guilty persons to their rightful consequence cannot be the basis for painting everyone with the same brush. Sometimes isolated errors need to be considered and compared if an individual has demonstrated a long line of proper behaviour. A strong incentive is created to cover up an error, regardless of a person’s exemplary character, if a person perceives that they will not be treated fairly, or with a reasonable level of understanding.

Now and then, in the crumbling of professional journalism, a journalist uncovers a story like this and successfully presents it to the public in a proper context. While CTV News has its own history of failures the author of its article on this matter, Phil Tsekouras, has done something right in exposing this story. Unfortunately, with the collapse of many independent news organizations it has become easier to bury many such stories as control over what becomes public is reduced into the hands of fewer editors and news media owners.