Roger Knox

Roger Knox

System, in a word, sucks

Canada’s justice system needs serious overhaul

Their voices spoke volumes.

In Marie Van Diest’s soft-spoken tone, there was resignation and displeasure.

In Raymond Van Diest’s voice, it was anger.

It’s never easy as a reporter to call the family of a murder victim and ask for comments on a story you wish you never had to write. And, for me, it’s been that way since Nov. 1, 2011, the day Taylor Van Diest, an Armstrong teenager, died of injuries as the result of a Halloween night attack at the hands of a then unknown stranger while she was walking the once-assumed safe streets of her small hometown.

I talked to family members and friends about Taylor, the incident, always trying to be mindful and respectful of the family. Taylor was their daughter, sister, niece, friend. It’s gut-wrenching to watch the tears flow, the voices crack, the lips quiver.

A Cherryville man, Matthew Foerster, was arrested for Taylor’s murder. In a court of his peers, he was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Within the Canadian legal system, convicted felons have rights including the right to appeal. Foerster did that through his defence team, which argued the sentencing judge had made critical errors in his address to the jury.

The B.C. Court of Appeal agreed, granting Foerster a new trial.

In the past six years, I have spoken with Marie Van Diest on the phone and in person many times. She phoned me back after I left a message asking for a comment on the appeal decision.

“I had a gut feeling this was going to happen,” said Marie. “This is a nightmare I wish I could wake up from.”

I’ve never met Marie’s former husband, Raymond. I phoned him the morning of the appeal decision and spoke to him for the first time, asking for his reaction.

“I hate that our family has to go through this again,” he said.

Raymond said he would pop by my office for a chat.

He never showed. And that’s OK. I don’t blame him one bit. I hope he understands and respects I was doing my job. I’m thinking he was quite upset about the decision reached that morning.

A few weeks earlier, I sat in court as a Vernon mother of four, with kids aged six to 18, was sentenced to four years in jail for impaired driving causing death and bodily harm. She ran a red light in downtown Vernon in the early morning hours in October 2014 and broadsided a car carrying two on-duty Vernon Jubilee Hospital nurses, killing the driver, seriously injuring her passenger.

While the woman did spare the nurses’ families a trial, it took nearly three years for her to enter guilty pleas. The family of the driver was outraged with the Crown for not seeking a stiffer penalty (Crown asked for the high end of a two-to-four-year sentence), and with the fact that constant delays and adjournments for new dates were a regular part of their daughter’s matter.

Such delays, in fact, are reasons a number of court cases in Canada are getting thrown out. Too much time passes. Not good for the victims of the crimes.

Headlines from media outlets across the country have been screaming for change for years:

No faith in our justice system – May 2012;

The Canadian justice system is so broken it’s criminal – October 2009;

Study finds Canadians have little confidence in justice system – February 2014;

Add Marie Van Diest’s voice to the endless list.

”Our justice system needs fixing. This is cruel and unusual punishment for the victims. There are far too many rights for the bad guys.”