Why Serena Vermeersch’s murder demands a deeper public interest dialogue

I am not a legal expert, but I believe that the issues provoked by the Serena Vermeersch murder demonstrates a need for a deeper discussion beyond tough-on-crime talk or reforming criminals

The questions surrounding the release and freedom of the man who is accused of murdering Serena Vermeersch highlights a challenge for justice in our constitutional monarchy.  Regardless of the tools that do exist that may or may have not been able to allow our courts and police to have prevented this crime to have occurred, the difficulty and effort they have to make to gain authorization in their use represents the battle of principle that truly obstructs the public safety and security many are seeking.

One of those principles, a core of any modern democracy, is the constraint in the use of power by our government, legal systems, and other leading institutions.  By this, we legitimately place very high standards and burden of proof on these authorities to justify their actions, including the laws they write and implement that intend to prevent crime and protect the public.

The other key principle is the individually focused basis by which we define our rights.  One reason for this, in addition to allowing the freedom by which we all thrive, is to protect the minority, in its many forms, from the potential oppression of the majority which is consistent with the previous principle.  In the case of convicted criminals, this essentially includes the right to resume their lives, though often conditionally, once they have paid their debt to society.

One significant aspect of this individual bias in our rights is the higher degree of confidence and awareness we all have about our individual interests versus that of the broader society.  The resulting recognition and respect to protect and pursue our self interests, through which individual rights are written into the Charter of Rights and Freedoms within our Constitution, gives it the benefit of the doubt in our legal system, even when public safety is in question as it was when Vermeersch’s accused killer was set free.

That enshrined status of the individual combined with the constraint of authority is what limits the ability of the police, courts, and even Parliament in writing laws, from preventing the circumstances that led to Vermeersch’s tragic death.  Not that there is anything wrong with the shackles on authority as that remains a core basis by which modern democracies exist and function toward the benefit of all of its citizens.  The risks to society associated with the wrong use of power, whether through abuse, false pretenses, or incompetence, are too great to be permitted unchallenged.  (This is a core reason against capital punishment, but that’s for another discussion).

On the other hand, while our individual rights are deservedly treasured as well per se, that makes it just one of many pillars that supports and defines our society, not the primary directive by which the public interest should be guided.  Yet in the argument over the freedom of a recognized threat to the community was before the legal system, as it was when Vermeersch’s accused killer had fully served his sentence, his individual rights won over that of the common good.  The real question then is if and how we can better counter the individual rights argument in our political and legal system.

Does this mean that our individual rights need to be curtailed?  I don’t think so, though one thing that can be said, consistent with this discussion, is that more responsibility should be demanded from us as individuals, just as we do governments, especially as our own power continues to grow through technology.  Our ready access to tools that increasingly enhance and expand our ability to affect each other’s lives increases the importance of this understanding.  It is partly by this principle that the courts impose conditions to convicts upon their release, but in the case of Raymond Caissie, this was not enough.

To truly challenge such potential threats to society, we need to elevate the status of the public interest to a more equal or even greater footing than individual rights in our legal system.  The real problem is that public interest is a loosely defined term that does not hold up well against scrutiny, especially in a court of law.  As the accused in Serena Vermeersch’s murder demonstrated, citing public safety by itself is not always good enough.

I believe that an understanding of public interest can be developed that can continue to respect individual rights, improve our collective safety and security, and uphold a consistent standard by which convicted criminals can be held against to pursue reform.  We should never have to feel helpless watching another innocent person die under these circumstances before we seek out more permanent solutions to its cause.

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Posted in Canada, Justice, Public Policy
One comment on “Why Serena Vermeersch’s murder demands a deeper public interest dialogue
  1. This really answered my downside, thanks!


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