The Beer Story (A True Story of Justice? in Prince Edward Island)
Early summer 1983. Charlottetown, PEI, where I have lived for two years now while attending UPEI. Two friends of mine are down visiting from Ontario - Kent and Barb. They are both blind, and Kent has brought along his ever trusty seeing-eye dog called Tay, a large, skinny, energetic, totally loyal German Shepherd. And my brother Michael is over from St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, where he is taking a jazz music course. It is a beautiful Saturday in June and we decide to take a drive around the north and east shores of the Island, get our feet wet, enjoy the day. We grab a case of 24 beer, throw it in the back of my brother’s car, a Honda hatchback, and head out.
We have a great day - up along the north shore past Basin Head, where Kent and Barb get a chance to smell and feel the ocean wind and walk in the surf, and Tay gets to run along the shore a bit, although he never goes far from Kent’s side. On down around through Montague, back to Charlottetown. It is about 9 pm, the sun just setting low on the horizon - Mike is driving, the sun is right in his eyes, and he doesn’t know the road well, so he is taking it easy. We’ve had a great day, and we’re relaxed and chatting happily.
And then a car roars up beside us, and we see the flashing light that indicates an officer of the RCMP wishes to confer with us. Mike dutifully pulls the car to the side of the road. The RCMP cruiser pulls in behind, and in a minute an officer of the law gets out, dressed in the full stormtrooper regalia - jackboots, black sunglasses, hat pulled low, short black hair, little Hitlerian black mustache, sidearm and cuffs on the belt, and that overall grim look indicating you’ve committed some heinous crime and the great peace officer is about to do his duty and protect society. Mike has the window down, and the officer gets his licence and insurance. He asks Mike why he was going so slow, and Mike explains about the sun. He asks Mike to open the hatchback, where he duly sees the beer. There are 18 pints remaining in the case, which he sees is open, and he asks if we’ve been drinking. We tell him we had a beer at the park on the north shore. The officer informs us that an open case of beer must be carried in the trunk, and seizes the case as evidence - he writes Mike out a ticket for possession of an open case of beer in a place other than his residence. Eventually he leaves.
By now it is past the time the beer stores close in Charlottetown, and when we get home we are forced to go to a bootlegger to get some beers at bootlegger prices for the rest of the evening. We are quite unhappy, especially me. The cop had no reason to pull us over (excessive safe driving hardly seems a good reason), and then had no reason to take the beer - there’s no trunk in the bloody hatchback to keep it in, and there was no question of any of us, especially Mike, being drunk, or even having an open beer. I tell everybody I am by god going to get that beer back from that sob, and we all have a good laugh. Before going back to Antigonish, Mike gives me the ticket and writes me a letter giving me power-of-attorney to appear in court for him in this matter.
Comes the court date. I have been busily reading the law books, and have what I think is a quick solution to the whole problem. I have looked up the Summary Convictions Act, under which authority the ticket the cop has given us has been written, and it says quite clearly that the charging officer shall “print” his name in one section, and then sign the ticket at the bottom. On Mike’s ticket, the cop has just scrawled his name in both spaces, impossible to read. Once we sort out that I have the letter from Mike authorizing me to appear for him, I bring this printing thing up as a motion to dismiss the ticket, pointing out to the judge that the word ‘print’ has a distinct meaning in the English language, as do the words ‘writing’ or ‘signing’, and the charging officer has thus failed to follow the proper procedures as laid out in the Summary Convictions Act, and therefore the ticket is null and void already.
The Crown Attorney leaps to his feet in rage (this is almost literally true, melodramatic though it sounds) - he starts this big bluster about how the purpose of the ticket is to get the charged individual or their representative into court, and that has been accomplished, and let’s just get on with it etc. etc. He doesn’t get far into this before the judge tells him to basically sit down and shut up - it is quite possible that the judge’s annoyance at this point influenced his decision in my favor. At any rate, the judge got his Rules and Statutes of PEI books out, looked up the Summary Convictions Act to make sure I could read or something, thought about it for a minute, and agreed with me. He dismissed the ticket. The Crown tried to bluster a bit more, but the judge wasn’t having any of it.
End of story. Well, not quite. Just the beginning, actually.
Next day I stopped in at the cop shop on my way back from town, and asked for my beer. The officer showed up in a few minutes and said no. They were going to appeal the case. I knew they could do this - hadn’t really thought they would bother, over a few beer, but there wasn’t much I could do at this point. So back home I go. The books said that any appeals must be registered at the courthouse within 30 days of the original case being heard.
30 days later - 31 after the original charge has been dismissed - I have received no notification of appeal nor has Mike in Antigonish. I check at the court house - no appeal registered there either. Back to the cop shop I go. The charging officer again takes a few minutes showing up, and has a little sneer on his face (his normal look actually) as he tells me they’re appealing the case and I can’t have the beer back. I point out to the law officer that the law says they have 30 days to appeal the case and they have not done so - time’s up, give me the beer. He stands behind his little window and says he’s not giving me the beer, they’re appealing the case. He has a fairly serious attitude as well - scorn for little ol’ citizen me trying to argue with big impressive officer. I am getting a little angry, and realising that picking a fight with an armed, evidently hostile law officer in the police station is probably not a good move at this time, get my butt out of there.
Back to the law books. I call up the Law Society of PEI (at this time not knowing what a nest of vipers I was potentially messing with), and arranged one of their $5.00 15-minute consultations which they offer to first-time clients or indigents (both of which I was at the time). The lawyer I talked to wasn’t too bad - thought I was crazy, but still talked law with me. He suggested a number of possible options at this point, including the Order of Mandamus. An Order of Mandamus is essentially an order from a judge to any government official instructing that government official to carry out some deed which he or she is legally required to do by law, but which they are not doing. I figured this covered the beer situation I was in - the cop was legally required to give me back the beer because their 30 days for filing an appeal had passed and they had not done so, but was not doing so. So I thought in my innocence, anyway.
I drew up the papers for this, dutifully took them to the court house and legally filed them, made sure everyone who needed them had copies, and a hearing date was set. And a few days after this the Crown Attorney filed an application requesting an extension of time in which he could file documents for appealing the dismissal of my ticket.
My Mandamus motion came up first. I went to the secretary downstairs, and was directed to a certain courtroom for the 10:00 AM hearing. About five past ten I began to wonder what was happening, since there was nobody showing up in the courtroom except me, and they are usually punctual in their dispersal of justice on PEI. So I went out of the courtroom to the courtroom next to it - and there were the Judge and the Crown Attorney conferring about my Mandamus motion, evidently deciding what they were going to do about it. The judge, after ascertaining my identity, informed me that the Crown had explained everything to him, and evidently (he informed me) I did not understand the law very well, and the Mandamus motion was not appropriate at this time. He would not hear my motion on this day, but if I wished to refile it I could do so. I’m not very happy, I must confess, at this turn of events - it seems I’m not going to be listened to here, but as one completely unfamiliar with the courtroom and procedures thereof, I have little choice but to meekly return home. My thoughts aren’t very meek, however. I’m getting some unpleasant ideas about what I once thought was a fair and impartial justice system.
The next week the Crown’s motion for an extension of time comes up. I am of course present, and object - if the appeal is important enough to take up the crown attorney’s and the court’s time, then surely it is important enough to get the paperwork in on time - the Crown has a substantial office staff who do most of the routine paperwork anyway. But that’s only my point of view - the judge says no problem - extension of time granted until such time as the appeal papers are filed.
Well, things are starting to get busy. I file an appeal because the judge did not hear my application for Mandamus - my original papers were fine, and I didn’t think he had any business not at least hearing me. Then I file an appeal of the decision granting the Crown more time to file his appeal - reasons as stated above. I’m still fairly green behind the ears, and think that eventually the wheels of justice will correct the situation which has become a little derailed at this point. In my opinion.
And the Crown eventually gets his appeal papers filed in response to the dismissal of the original ticket. I have to respond to this, and also the court appearances for the other appeals are approaching. And so is December - the case has now dragged on close to six months. I am in my first semester of third-year Biology at UPEI, with a heavy course load - exams are approaching, and it is important that I do well. I figure I don’t really have time to do justice to the appeals and my exams both, so I file an application to have the time for which these documents are due extended for a few weeks, until after Christmas - the date of the application is well ahead of when the appeals are due to be heard. A date is set.
Get to court for this last application, not too concerned - formality I’m thinking. There’s a person sitting in the observer’s seats, which is unusual - never has been before, anyway. The Crown is in his chair, and I in mine, when the judge briskly walks in from the back door and up to his bench. He looks at me, then to the observer. I forget the name right now, but as he looks at the person he says, “Ah, Mr. ___, I’m glad you’re here to witness this.” (words to that effect). The person’s name was known to me - it was the head of the Law Society of PEI. Then he turns to me.
“Mr. Patterson, are you a lawyer?” he says. He’s quite aggressive, loud, stern frown on the face, etc.
“No, sir,” I reply.
“Are you a law student, then?”
“Well, then, if you’re not a lawyer I don’t have to listen to you. That’ll be all for today.” (Again, words to that effect). He slammed his gavel on the bench, got up and left as quickly as he had come.
I was completely dumbfounded, and quickly angry. I had been in this court, in front of several judges, six or eight times by now, with no problems about being recognized (perhaps the opposite (in the non-legal sense) - I think I was causing them a few headaches, and was getting maybe all too well recognized). And now this one had the arrogance to say he didn’t have to listen to me. The basic decision at this point was to either blow up and start screaming and running around, or just hold it in and calm down and work it out later. I did the latter. I figured my best course was to put the court cases to the side, concentrate on the exams, and after Christmas and my trip to Ontario to see my family, I’d come back to PEI, and see how much shit I could raise through letters to certain people, the media, whatever - something I’m usually reasonably adept at.
About the first week of January I had just returned from Ontario, was resting up, getting prepared to return to university, making some plans about the court case, when I had a call from one of the secretaries at the court house. Judge ?? (forget the name, but it will be in the court documents somewhere, all of which I have stashed away), Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, wanted to see me. Could I come to the court house? Sure. We set a time.
When I got there, the secretary pointed me to the back staircase, and said the judge would be waiting for me. I got about half way up the stairs, to the first landing, and the judge was on his way down to meet me there.
“Mr. Patterson.” he said, briefly (again paraphrased) “the Crown has withdrawn all of its appeals in your case, and you can go and pick your beer up at the police station any time you like. We expect you will withdraw your appeals as well. Is that satisfactory?”
I had no idea what to do, so I agreed with him. And went and got the beer - or at least 18 pints of some beer. And drank it - it wasn’t even skunky. (I was later told by one of the court secretaries that the beer had probably been drunk by the police prior to the original court date, and they no longer had it to return, thus the refusal, the appeals, etc. - who knows?)
I also later learned that sometime in December some other lawyer had tried the same defence which I had used to get the original ticket thrown out, printing vs writing the name on the ticket, and the same judge who had accepted it from me said no way. So any precedent that may have been set by the first ruling, limited in scope though a provincial court ruling is for precedent, was no longer there. If that was what they were worried about.
But it wasn’t a very satisfactory outcome even though I got the beer back - I figured I had been screwed around royally, and would have been happier with some sort of official vindication.
Nor would anybody ever have to answer some possibly tricky questions - i.e. does a judge have the authority to not hear a duly filed motion? Does an “impartial” judge deem it suitable to discuss a case with the Crown Attorney without the Plaintiff present, and reach a decision on how to proceed (i.e. get rid of a bothersome application)? Does 30 days mean 30 days? Does a judge have the right to throw a duly-authorized representative of a defendant out of court, and refuse to listen to them? Are legal affairs in PEI normally conducted in back staircases? Are normal citizens recognized in the courts, or only members of the sacred brotherhood? (Rhetorical question - if you’re not a lawyer, they really don’t listen to you there - and they figure you’re too stupid or powerless to do anything about it.)
Well, I could go on. Obviously 18 pints of beer is not an earth-shattering matter, but the cavalier manner in which the wheels of justice rolled (or lurched) in this case may indicate some deep problems. Actually, in the light of many things I learned and experienced in years to come, what happened here was but the tip of the iceberg - the whole system is indeed rotten through and through.
But I did get the bloody beer back.