Comment: The "Paperback Novelist" Strikes Again

Justice Watt appears undeterred. Professor David Tanovich is likely unhappy. In his opinion, Justice Watt is "out of control". In the opinion of others, Justice Watt's refreshing style is welcome. I tend to agree. His writing style is engaging, to the point and effective.
In a recent article Kirk Makin commented on the writing style of Justice Watt and stirred up this controversy: The judge who writes like a paperback novelist. In a recent judgement, R v Roks2011 ONCA 526, released after that article, Justice Watt offered a quotable quote similar to that offered in R v Simon2010 ONCA 754 - a decision which was noted in Makin's article.


R v Simon2010 ONCA 754
Jason Porter was a drug dealer. He was shot and killed in his home. Everton Cribb and Allister Simon, the appellant, were present when he was shot and killed. Cribb had wanted to buy some drugs and contacted an acquaintance he met in jail to help him set up the deal. A deal was struck between Crib and Porter to buy some drugs.
Cribb and his friend, the appellant, drove together with others to Porter’s place in Hamilton. Cribb was armed with a .45 calibre grey-coloured handgun. The appellant was armed with a 380 mm silver plated handgun.
At Porter’s residence Cribb and the appellant had entered to finalize the deal. During the deal a scuffle began between Porter and Cribb. Some witnesses would later testify that during the scuffle the appellant had a gun trained on the two men. Evidence about who fired the fatal shot that entered Porter’s chest varied.
At trial the appellant was convicted of second-degree murder. He appealed. On appeal the appellant argued, inter alia, that the trial judge erred in permitting the jury to consider the appellant’s liability under section 21(2).
In dismissing this ground, and all grounds of appeal, Watt JA held that it matters not whether the appellant was the shooter and that the instruction on and liability under section 21(2) was appropriate. In so holding Watt JA offered the following quotable quote:
Handguns and drug deals are frequent companions, but not good friends. Rip-offs happen. Shootings do too. Caveat emptor. Caveat venditor. People get hurt. People get killed. Sometimes, the buyer. Other times, the seller. That happened here [para 1].
R v Roks2011 ONCA 526
Adrian Roks operated a tanning salon, Even Tan. Roks met and became fast friends with Sam Paskalis. Paskalis would later testify that he and the appellant, along with John Magno concocted a plan to burn down Magno’s business and make a fraudulent insurance claim. Paskalis’ role included ensuring the inventory was moved out before the fire and setting the fire. Tony Jarcevic was ultimately recruited to set the fire. Jarcevic had training in fire suppression.
Things did not go as planned. There was an explosion. Jarcevic died in the explosion.
Roks was ultimately charged with second-degree murder in relation to his death. Roks was convicted after trial and appealed.
On appeal Watt JA, for the court, held that the trial judge’s finding that “the appellant committed murder was unreasonable” [para 138]. In place of that conviction Watt JA entered a conviction for manslaughter.
In doing so Watt JA noted that the “unlawful object” was the insurance fraud [para 139]. The “dangerous act” was the arson [para 140]. However, Watt JA held that the “deficit in the prosecutor’s proof of murder…resides in the failure of the evidence as a whole to ground the conclusion that the appellant knew that the death of a human being would likely occur from setting the fire at Woodbine” [para 141]. While recognizing that this could be proven by circumstantial evidence, the inferences therefrom must be “the only rational inference available” [para 142].
In coming to this conclusion, Watt JA offered the following quotable quote:
Things don’t always work out according to plan. Failures occur at different times and for different reasons. Sometimes, the flaw is in the plan. At other times, the execution is faulty [para 1].
Whether you like his writing or not, few could disagree that these quotable quotes make a point. Anyone who reads them will understand that point. Its effective. It makes the criminal justice system, the law, accessible to anyone who cares to read it. I applaud it.
DG Mack
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