Our antique courtsBy Mark Bonokoski
May 11, 2005
"Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done." -- Oft-quoted principle of democratic law
There are few labyrinths more complex than the Ontario court system, primarily because its almost impenetrable maze remains in the dark ages when it comes to technology.
Police departments -- hampered by the provincial attorney general's lack of a public website akin to many American jurisdictions to track cases and docket numbers -- must still rely on court officers to follow criminal cases or otherwise lose them in the chaotic paper shuffle that comes from the helter-skelter of remands and postponements.
The media, even at its best, cannot be everywhere.
Tomorrow, for example, one Ravi Devgan is scheduled to begin a preliminary hearing at Old City Hall on charges by a branch of the OPP's anti-rackets squad that he prescribed narcotics after his medical licence was revoked by the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons.
The OPP's press release of that arrest, issued in March 2004, didn't get much airing in the media. As a result, Ravi Devgan's case all but disappeared from public view.
"With no public information site, it is difficult for someone interested in the case to follow it," admits OPP Det. Staff-Sgt. Dave Ross, head of the anti-rackets health fraud team that arrested Devgan.
"We rely on court officers to keep us informed. There are just too many cases for us to do it on our own."
Two months after that OPP press release, however, a week-long trial before judge and jury saw the same Ravi Devgan acquitted of trafficking painkillers through illegal prescriptions to a drug addict.
The jury never heard, of course, that Devgan had been charged two months previously with seven similar trafficking offences being heard today, nor that he was convicted in 1996 of defrauding a former patient and mortgage broker of almost $300,000.
Dr. Terry Polevoy, however, knew it all -- not because he tracked it through any official court website, because none exist -- but because the Kitchener physician has taken on the task of being a consumer health watchdog.
And so he follows cases such as Devgan's on his own, and posts what he learns on his own website, located at healthwatcher.net.
"(But) why doesn't the attorney general have a website where the public can go to check on court dates?" he asks.
Almost every major U.S. court website has these things easily searchable. Is Canada that backwards?
"You can go to any hick town in California, and know who is up in court, and even who the lawyers are," says the American-born doctor.
"But not here."
According to Ontario attorney-general spokesman Brendan Crawley, the ministry is indeed in the process of revamping its existing website and is consulting the chief justices of Ontario to come up with a "single repository" of "high-quality court information" -- including forms, court locations and the texts of judges' decisions.
But not dockets. At least not in the short term.
"When it comes to posting court dockets, there are a number of issues that have to be considered first," Crawley said. "There are privacy issues, practicality issues ... the availability of software and, of course, the costs involved."
Dr. Terry Polevoy's reaction is simply to shrug.
"Canada has a record of protecting the identity of those who are accused -- a terrible record to have," Polevoy says.
"What is so wrong with having (an accused's) status brought up to date and made available to the public?
"The value that the courts seem to place on human lives takes a back seat to protecting the identity of the accused. When that happens, innocent victims -- and there are many -- again become victims of the bloody system."
The Toronto Sun © Copyright 2005, Sun Media Corporation
More on Ravi Devgan from Healthwatcher.net