Guestpost #47: Courtney Walker – Ten things I’ve learned from sitting in the courts at Old City Hall

Courtney is a writer, director and improvisor. Her very clever blog is here:  http://cjwalker.wordpress.com/

Her ITC bio is here: http://www.impatient.ca/people/courtney-jane-walker/

Preface: the summer after my second year of university I got my first job in TV as a researcher for the CBC show “This is Wonderland.” This required me to sit in the courtrooms in Old City Hall and just watch, and listen.
  1. The justice system is full of the most vulnerable members of our society – the mentally ill. People suffering from mental illness make up a huge percentage of the population of the Don Jail. They get bounced from court to jail to hospital to halfway homes and then usually re-offend because they have been given no opportunity to get help. These people are almost always the poorest citizens of this city as well.
  2. The schizophrenic mind is a powerful and sometimes terrifying thing. It has the ability to recall huge amounts of information and to divine startling conclusions from that information. One woman was arrested for possessing a weapon because she kept showing up in Queen’s Park with giant gardening shears. She thought she was the Queen’s Park gardener, and when police tried to stop her she threatened them with the shears because in her mind, they were stopping her from doing her job.
  3. Judge Ted Ormston is one of the best human beings on the planet. He started mental health court and has since diverted thousands and thousands of mentally ill people out of the justice system and into the healthcare system where they can receive treatment. These people might never otherwise get this opportunity. Mental health court is also one of the most heartbreaking places. The pain that these families have suffered is unimaginable – a schizophrenic son arrested for nearly beating his elderly mother to death who is his only caregiver, people who don’t speak English who are unable to understand what is happening to them and why because the court can’t find the right translator…. it goes on. But there are also moments that are transcendently funny and illuminating. This place is a living, breathing reminder that comedy and tragedy are inextricably linked in the human experience.
  4. Here are some broad racial generalizations: If you see 15 Vietnamese men in the box in drug bail court they are there on grow op charges. Tamil gang members almost always carry machetes in the trunk of their car along with a small cache of firearms.
  5. Lawyers have to find the best thing for their client (or the crown) by working in, under, through and around and the rules and regulations that make up the criminal code. Many of them are incredibly creative and wonderful people. And some of them are spiteful, cranky assholes.
  6. Our justice system still runs entirely on paperwork. If your paper file gets lost in the shuffle and doesn’t make it from bail court to plea court and the clerk can’t track it down then you’re going to back to the don jail. Tough Shit friend, you’re S.O.L.! This system desperately needs to be computerized. Even PCs would do. It would save so much time and would help to ensure that people don’t fall through the bureaucratic cracks.
  7. People are so weird and wonderful. There was a guy in drug court up on possession for the purpose who had an afro sculpted into a perfect Mouseketeers hat. Not just the ears, the ENTIRE HAT.
  8. We need to legalize marijuana immediately. The amount of time that is wasted in these courtrooms with petty possession charges is staggering. Judges see a charge for possession of marijuana and they almost always just throw it out without a second thought. And think of all the spare time the police would have to help stop actual crimes from occurring!
  9. Same goes for prostitution. You almost never see Johns in court but you ALWAYS see women who have been brought in on charges on communication for the purpose of solicitation. These women are almost always addicted to crack, and many of them are single mothers. The system is obviously much harder on the actual sex workers than it is on the people who seek their services. If North America could grow up and realize that prostitution isn’t going away then maybe we could start to address the myriad of challenges that sex workers face – poverty, violence, substance abuse, health issues, let alone a society that stigmatizes and oppresses them.
  10. People really like to steal baby formula and razors. Sometimes the baby formula is to feed their own kids, but usually it’s to sell to convenience stores at a deep discount (along with the razors). So don’t buy your baby formula or razors at convenience stores. Or do, if you’d like to support the black market razor/baby formula market.

6 Comments

Filed under tenthingsivelearned, Uncategorized

6 responses to “Guestpost #47: Courtney Walker – Ten things I’ve learned from sitting in the courts at Old City Hall

  1. I would have liked to have seen that perfectly sculpted Mousekateer hat/afro. I really would.

  2. A + B = C

    If A = I love Courtney, and B = This was informative, C = Good blog post

  3. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I without fail enjoying every minute bit of it. I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.

  4. Pingback: Meanwhile, in other parts of the internet… « Eat It

  5. Pingback: Top Ten Guestposts from 2011 | tenthingsivelearned

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