MARTIN: Court of public opinion notoriously unreliable

TMI Newsdesk
9 Min Read


The problem with Doug Ford’s comments, and similar ones often made in that so-called court of public opinion, is they fly in the face of the known facts

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It’s often referred to as the court of public opinion.

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It’s the place where false facts and innuendo go to ferment and get spread like wildfire in a chinook wind.

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It’s also the place where righteous politicians go to spew unsubstantiated opinions of the justice system to pander to the unwashed masses.

When Ontario Premier Doug Ford tweeted his disgust 2½ years ago at the release on bail of accused cop-murderer Umar Zameer less than two months after his arrest in the death of a Toronto officer he did so with all the gusto of someone uninformed about both the facts and judicial principles.

“This is beyond comprehension,” Ford posted after Zameer was granted bail on the first-degree murder charge he faced in the death of Det.-Const. Jeff Northrup, who was run over by a car while investigating a stabbing.

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Yes, we get it Premier Ford. You don’t comprehend principles such as innocent until proven guilty.

“It’s completely unacceptable that the person charged for this heinous crime is now out on bail,” Ford’s tweet continued.

“Our justice system needs to get its act together and start putting victims and their families ahead of criminals.”

Fast forward more than 2½ years and it turns out that “heinous crime” Ford was ascribing to Zameer wasn’t a crime after all.

On Sunday, a jury acquitted Zameer, finding his actions in running over Northrup after his car was stormed by undercover officers, including Northrup, in a downtown Toronto parking garage, was an accident.

The Crown had sought a verdict of first-degree murder, meaning Zameer would have to have intentionally run over the officer with the intent of causing his death, or grievous bodily harm likely to kill him and was reckless in his actions.

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That intention would have elevated Zameer’s crime to murder and the fact an officer was killed in the line of duty would make it first-degree, meaning an automatic life sentence and no parole for at least 25 years if he had been convicted.

According to media reports of the trial, three officers testified Northrup had his hands in front of him, bracing for impact, when Zameer intentionally ran him down.

But their evidence didn’t accord with the expert opinions of two accident reconstructionists, who concluded, based on the evidence, that the deceased hadn’t been struck head on, but was sideswiped as Zameer reversed out of his parking spot and accelerated toward the exit.

The problem with Ford’s comments, and similar ones often made in that so-called court of public opinion, is they fly in the face of the known facts.

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When he posted his tweet it was in response to a decision by Ontario Superior Court Justice Jill Copeland’s decision to grant Zameer bail under strict conditions. As is common practice, Copeland imposed a publication ban on the proceedings to prevent prejudicing the accused’s case down the road.

That was enough of an opening for Ford to pounce and berate the judicial system for its perceived “catch-and-release” approach to criminal justice.

But if Ford, or perhaps one of his advisers, had given the case some thought, he would have had to have realized Copeland’s decision would have been based on sound legal principles, in this instance the reality the Crown didn’t have a strong case.

Northrup’s death was an immense tragedy and occurred while he was doing his job protecting the people of Toronto.

But that doesn’t diminish the fact jurors found Zameer’s conduct in that downtown Toronto parkade didn’t amount to criminal behaviour.

As for the court of public opinion that Ford was so keen to enter, it would seem he’s lost his zeal for criticism in the Zameer case.

Although Ford told reporters following the verdict he was acting on “limited information” at the time of his tweet, his X account has remained silent.

KMartin@postmedia.com

X: @KMartinCourts

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