Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia

Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia

February 20, 2009 18:13 ET

TLABC Takes Issue with CTV News Story Attacking Judge Ellen Gordon

Attention: Assignment Editor, City Editor, News Editor, Photo Editor, Government/Political Affairs Editor VANCOUVER / BRITISH COLUMBIA / NEWS RELEASE--(Marketwire - Feb. 20, 2009) - The Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia takes issue with a news story carried on CTV last night - an online version is set out at

The story attacked Provincial Court Judge Ellen Gordon for a decision made releasing Dennis Karbonovec on bail. The story went on to refer to several other decisions by Judge Gordon and interspersed those with comments from Attorney General Wally Oppal and from Chief Judge Hugh Stansfied that appear to be calculated to create the impression Judge Gordon's decisions are uniformly wrong.

"The CTV story is unfair and one-sided. The media owes a duty to help the public understand the complexities a trial judge faces in seeking to apply the law in a just and rational manner - based upon the facts of the individual case and the limits imposed by law. When it fails to do so, the public suffers," said TLABC president Robert Holmes.

The story fails to report that the provisions in the Criminal Code concerning bail, which have largely remained the same since the late 1960s when they were passed by Parliament, provide that all accused persons are entitled to be released on bail "unless the prosecutor shows cause why the detention of the accused is justified." The story fails to set out what evidence and arguments were presented in court to the judge and on which she based her decision. Instead, the story refers to unnamed "police" officers who regard the accused as a "danger to the public." As for the sentencing decisions referred to, the story fails to set out that it was Parliament in the 1990s that changed the law so as to make imprisonment a last resort and to require judges to make non-custodial sentences wherever possible.

"Judges in our society operate according to the rule of law," Holmes explained. "If a party to a case thinks a judge has made an error, an appeal may be taken. The Crown has the right to appeal and should do so if there are proper grounds. The proper forum for an appeal is an appeal court. It is simply unfair reporting to fail to report the facts and arguments presented to a judge, fail to set out the legal standards involved and then quote the Attorney General to suggest that the judge ought to have taken 'the public pulse' to decide the case. We live in a nation of laws, not a nation where judges take polls to decide cases."

Holmes added: "If Attorney General Oppal meant to criticize this or any judge for not deciding cases based upon 'the public pulse,' then he has confused the roles and the responsibilities that politicians have with the roles that judges have. Judges apply the laws that legislators pass. If the 'public pulse' wants change, then the focus should be on politicians and what the laws regarding bail, sentencing or any other aspect of criminal law and procedure properly should be. Attacking a judge who is not permitted to respond to criticism is not in keeping with the best standards of responsible journalism, and is not in keeping with the standards that British Columbians expect of the Attorney General."
/For further information:

Robert Holmes, at law firm Holmes & King, 604-681-1310
Bentley Doyle, at TLABC, 604-682-5343 or 1 888-558-5222

Contact Information

  • Bentley Doyle, Director of Communications, Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia
    Primary Phone: 604-682-5343 ext. 302
    Toll-Free: 888-558-5222