One of my favourite fictional characters, Horace Rumpole of the Bailey, was famous for beginning his addresses to the jury with the admonition that “The presumption of innocence is the Golden Thread that binds British justice–”
In truth that presumption is indeed a cornerstone of our criminal justice system. That Golden Thread is spun into a protective cloak draped over every accused, lest any innocent citizen be wrongly convicted. But ought that same cloak be available to those being tried in that other court- the court of public opinion?
President Trump and his cronies seem to think so, citing the Golden Thread in defence of Judge Kavanaugh. We are to presume the judge innocent, and worthy of elevation to the Supreme court, if his accusers are not able to prove their allegations to a strict criminal standard.
The Democrats have the more persuasive argument. The Senate hearings are not a trial, they are in fact a job interview, and the presumption of innocence has no place in determining a candidates fitness to hold office. There is no accused being shielded from the possibility of wrongful conviction, only an applicant being screened for a plum job. Surely any cogent evidence of a candidate’s character (including the manner in which they respond to the allegations themselves) can fairly be considered in making that determination?
On the local civic election front the same issue seems to be arising for some of the candidates. They too are interviewing for jobs, and allegations of various forms of misconduct are bubbling to the surface.
Port Moody mayoralty candidate Rob Vagramov has been named in a social media post accusing him of aggressively groping a woman he briefly dated a few years ago. The complainant made it clear she wasn’t interested in pressing charges, or even in commenting further, but just wanted voters to know what sort of man was applying to be their mayor. Vagramov, as far as I know, hasn’t commented, but his supporters on social media have been quick to deploy the Golden Thread in his defence.
I frankly don’t think the presumption applies here. We can’t just ignore such allegations on the basis that the candidate must be presumed innocent. Rather, voters should learn about, and consider the allegations as part of their process of deliberation. They will, in the end, have to decide whether the complaint seems credible, and in the circumstances whether it speaks to the man’s character, or can be dismissed as a politically motivated drive -by slur, and whether it should affect their vote.
Similarly, John Becker, running for re-election as Mayor of Pitt Meadows, has just been cited by the Law Society for eight counts of professional misconduct, principally involving trust account irregularities. A citation is a most serious disciplinary matter for a lawyer, It leads to a formal hearing before a disciplinary committee panel, and could result in disbarment. At that hearing Becker will assuredly enjoy the protection of the Golden Thread. But should that protection extend to his run for political office as well?
Becker’s supporters seem to think so. They are actively trying to throttle social media dialogue surrounding the Law Society charges, on the basis that any discussion of them is inappropriate, since their candidate must be presumed innocent until the hearing.
Becker himself has commented publicly, expressing, predictably (and appropriately) his confidence that he will be vindicated at the end of the day. Less appropriate is his characterization of the charges as merely “administrative matters” yet to be investigated to determine ” whether they are even warranted”, as clearly they are not trivial allegations, they are charges of professional misconduct, and a lengthy law society investigation always precedes the formal issuance of a citation.
Again I disagree that any discussion of these charge should be off limits. the Voters in Pitt Meadows should be aware of them, and should discuss them, as they will have to assess the source of the allegations, the seriousness of the charges themselves, and come to a conclusion as to whether they are troubled by the allegations, and whether they speak to the character of their candidate
We use all sorts of criteria when selecting who to vote for – the candidates platform, their endorsements, their campaign slogans, how many babies they have kissed and so forth. I guess some voters even decide based on lawn signs or a candidates mug shot or wardrobe choices. Surely then a consideration of pending serious disciplinary charges can be one such criteria.