On Watch

The People We Meet

Posted: Dec 5, 2012 1:24 PM ET Last Updated: Dec 5, 2012 1:24 PM ET
There are moments in this business that really make you stop and think.

I had one of those moments this morning.

I was sitting on a bench outside Courtroom # 4 at Spring Garden Road Provincial Court. A man sat down beside me. Life had worn him down. His long grey hair was tied back in a pony tail. His jacket was a little tattered. His movements were slow and deliberate.

I was talking to our videographer, Craig Paisley, who - as he usually does - had his camera on his shoulder, so it was pretty obvious what I do for a living.

"Who are you here for?" the man next to me asked.

I explained that we were there for the verdict in a brazen daylight shooting case where someone was accused of wounding two men inside a Fairview barber shop.

"I remember that case," the man said. "In my day, we never used guns. We settled things with our fists." I agreed with him, because I've heard the same lament about the escalation of violence in our city from senior police officers.

I didn't give the man another thought, because it was time to move into the courtroom for the morning's proceedings. The barbershop shooting was going to be one of the last items on the morning docket because it was going to take longer than many of the other short matters scheduled ahead of it.

Eventually, the man I'd been talking to was called to the front of the courtroom. It turns out, he was there on a breach charge, meaning he'd been free on conditions and was now accused of failing to live up to at least one of those conditions.

After a brief hallway consultation with his legal aid lawyer, the man decided to plead guilty to the charge. Once the guilty plea was accepted, the Crown read the facts into the record. It seems the man had been living at the Metro Turning Point Shelter when staff there noticed that he appeared to be drunk. One of the man's release conditions was that he abstain from alcohol. Police were called and they found two beer in his backpack.

"Was it alcoholic?" Judge Bill Digby asked, referring to the beer.

"Ten per cent," the man confirmed.

The Crown noted that the man had several prior convictions. There was a recommendation for a 21-day sentence, to be served on weekends.

The man's lawyer requested the sentence not begin until the weekend of Dec. 21, two weeks from now. The man explained that he wasn't living at Metro Turning Point right now, he was living in the hospital's palliative care unit. He said the doctors were letting him stay there with his wife.

Judge Digby paused before asking: "How long has she got?"

"They said she had two months, and that was a month ago," he replied.

The restless fidgeting and whispering in the courtroom stopped.

"I'll make a deal with you," Judge Digby said. "Can you promise me you won't drink until after your wife dies?"

The man struggled with his answer for several seconds before finally agreeing to the deal.

Digby sentenced the man to one day, served by his appearance in court that morning. "Go. Be with your wife," the judge added.

A courtroom of strangers erupted in spontaneous applause.

I haven't really made plans for Christmas yet. I may not get any gifts. I may burn the turkey. But I think it's a safe bet that I'll have a better Christmas than that man.
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About the Author

Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 30 years in Atlantic Canada, covering everything from princes to politicians to prostitutes, and a whole lot of stuff in between. These days, he focusses on stories involving crime and public safety.

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