A man walked in to our office recently with a clipped out copy of a column I had written.
He was affable and gregarious, even a little comedic as he moved about and joked about coming up to the “inner sanctum” of the newsroom.
Despite his friendly demeanour, his message was about a deadly serious subject that has tormented his family for more than a decade. Mark Surakka’s step-daughter Lisa Dudley and her boyfriend were shot in 2008 over a grow-op in Mission. While the boyfriend, Guthrie McKay, was killed at the time, Dudley was left paralyzed and survived.
But an RCMP officer who attended didn’t get out of his vehicle to investigate. Surakka’s step-daughter was alive for four days until discovered by a neighbour. She died in hospital.
It’s an understatement to point out that Surakka is utterly unimpressed with the RCMP, with government, and specifically the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights enacted in 2015.
Where we agreed, Mr. Surakka and I, in our informal chat, was that victims often or usually get the shaft in our criminal justice system.
The column of mine he had in his hands was about a judge considering veering from a joint submission of one-year in jail for a case of mental and sexual torment over several years. Sadly, the maximum allowable for the offence Crown agreed to take a plea on was 18 months. I, non-lawyer that I am, suggested the judge should be allowed to move the sentence up. A Supreme Court of Canada decision called such diversions from joint submissions “tinkering.”
In the end, the judge did indeed “tinker” and a measure of justice was meted out.
Mr. Surakka agreed with me, but went further saying that judges should use their judgement and hand down sentences that fit crimes.
The man who provided the weapon that killed his step-daughter will be out in four years. Not good enough for the parents of a woman left to die slowly of gunshot wounds over four days.
A serious problem in my view is that victims get short shrift in our system, if they are included at all.
In the case I wrote about in my column, that of Andrew Mullaly, the defence lawyer waxed on about how the terrible the effects of the criminal charge were on his family. That is the way of our system: Offenders are treated as victims at sentencing. Attend one, you’ll see what I mean.
“They are not the victims here,” his lawyer said. “But there is victimization enough to go around from Mr. Mullaly’s conduct.”
But there is actually only one victim in these cases: The victim. Supportive family members of these offenders are often enablers, at best apologists.
In the Mullaly case, the Public Prosecution Service in Victoria ordered the local Crown office to apply to extend a publication ban to the name of the accused. Why? Ostensibly to protect the victim. What did the victim want? No one asked her.
Luckily, the judge realized that, asked Crown to ask her, and eventually denied the request to ban publication of his name.
While there are many actors within the system who I know would like to do more for victims rather than pandering to the best interests of a sex offenders, that is simply not our system.
In our system, once a plea is entered or a verdict is handed down, the victim is pushed to the sidelines, while attention moves to the offender. He becomes the victim and we are left to hear the excuses he can muster for his behaviour.
“I’m very sorry for what I have done and I’m going to work hard at getting the help I need to be a better person,” Mullaly said in court.
Any apology to the victim tormented over years? No.
But at least he’s going to try to be a better person.
I’m sure that will comfort his victim as she moves on with her life.