What is justice. More specifically, how should a society treat those who break its laws. It’s a philosophical question that is as old as human culture. The ancients largely decided that justice was retributive—that offenders be punished, and punished proportionally to the offense—the Christian Bible’s “eye-for-an-eye,” although this principle was already long established, appearing in the Code of Hammurabi, the Babylonian legal text, some 1800 years before the birth of Christ. On the other hand, Social Contract theorists argue that the most just outcome is that which benefits the largest number of people. The Canadian justice system tilts toward the latter—particularly when it comes to sentencing. Lengthy prison sentences as a form of incapacitation and deterrence are comparatively rare, even for the most heinous crimes. This despite a 1996 Supreme Court decision specifically noting that retribution be factored into sentencing: “Retribution is an accepted, and indeed important, principle of sentencing in our criminal law,” said the court in R. v. M. (C.A.), a case involving the lengthy sexual, emotional, and physical abuse of children by their father. Yet ask most Canadians whether our legal system is too tough or too lenient and polls consistently report the public says that it’s too lenient. A 2018 Angus Reid poll found that 62 percent of respondents said that the justice system was “too soft.”
Which brings us to the case of Anderson Wormald, the driver who ran down the subject of this week’s main story, Faith Flagg, and injured another teenager, six years ago last week. To be clear, Wormald has served his jail time, and, as far as we know, fulfilled the other conditions which the sentencing judge imposed upon him, and he has not re-offended. By the lights of the Ontario justice system, the best outcome for the largest number of people has been achieved.
Not included in Helen Tran’s excellent story is the victim-blaming that arose in 2015, as details of the collision emerged, then again around Wormald’s trial, and then again upon his release from jail. The gist of it was that “those kids had no business being out so late,” and were by implication in some part culpable for their own injuries. While not widespread, some proponents of this repulsive argument were louder than others, and the loudest one that I remember was Marianne Stewart, then the owner of the Fenwick Pie Company, next-door neighbour to The Broken Gavel Restaurant, which Wormald ran with his partner, Yvonne de Jong. After selling her business, Stewart would go on to work at the Gavel. She was elected to Pelham Town Council in 2018. Stewart did not acknowledge a request for comment over the weekend as to whether she still held this view. I hope not. It’s the equivalent of blaming a sexual assault victim for “asking for it” through their choice of clothing, or for having had a drink too many.
I recently criticized someone I otherwise generally respect for lacking sufficient empathy. I don’t want to be found wanting in that department myself. I have had drinks at bars, and I have gotten in a car and driven home. That said, I don’t believe I’ve ever driven while legally impaired, and certainly never driven when I thought that I was incapable of doing so safely. Yet I also know that alcohol clouds judgment, rarely to the benefit of the drinker.
There are always at least two sides to any story, and Wormald surely has his. Unfortunately, he has declined our repeated invitations to tell it. Upon his release from jail and our hearing community expressions of anger at what was perceived to be a too-short sentence, the Voice offered Wormald a platform to speak to that community, to express contrition (or not), to acknowledge the ongoing suffering of Faith Flagg and her family (or not), to share how jail functioned as a rehabilitative influence (or not). This past weekend, we again attempted to get his perspective, again to no avail. Similarly, Sharon Crowe says that Wormald has never reached out to Faith or her family. Of course, this is his right. His debt to society has been paid.
A phrase I’ve occasionally heard related to this case is that “it’s been difficult for everyone.”
Read the story. “It” has been a hell of lot more difficult for some than it has been for others—and will continue to be for a lifetime to come. Although it is paused now, the original 2015 GoFundMe page for Faith still exists, at www.gofundme.com/f/faithforfaith While we did not receive word before press time as to whether the page would be reactivated, if you want to consider making a contribution, take a stroll by there sometime in the next few days to see.
In the meantime, as coronavirus variants continue to spread and numbers of daily cases continue to spike everywhere, stay home, stay safe, and stay well. See you next week. ◆
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