Madam Justice Southin not known to back down

Date: 7/1/99
Time: 3:51:42 PM


Thursday, July 01, 1999

Madam Justice Southin not known to back down Outspoken judge doesn't shy away from speaking mind

Susanne Hiller National Post


Ian Lindsay, The Vancouver Sun John Robin Sharpe outside the B.C. Court of Appeal in Vancouver yesterday after the court upheld the dismissal of charges against him of possession of child pornography.



Justice Mary Southin


Madam Justice Mary Southin, a veteran of the British Columbia Court of Appeal, is considered by the legal community in Vancouver to be a tough, single-minded judge who has a history of making controversial statements.

"She is considered here to be a respected, hard-working judge who has, what I would call, a scholarly approach to the law," said Tom Woods, editor of The Advocate, the Vancouver law review.

"She's a tough judge. She expects council to be well prepared and to perform to a high standard. She's single minded and is someone who is not afraid of shrinking from a decision that she may anticipate being unpopular.

"She has a very direct manner, and a very direct way of expressing herself," Mr. Woods said. "She is not known to back down. She doesn't always find herself in agreement with the rest of the panel."

Judge Southin made headlines in April when she said society's views toward child pornography may change over time, perhaps to the point where it becomes acceptable.

"We have to recognize that our views about these matters might change radically," she said during the first day of the appeal hearing of the ruling that legalized the possession of child pornography in B.C.

She noted that Lady Chatterly's Lover was once considered pornographic, but now isn't. Her questions during the hearing shocked many in the courtroom. She asked, for example, whether teenagers who are 14 to 17 can still be considered children, and why some of the children depicted in the pornography case involving John Robin Sharpe are considered exploited when it appears they posed for sexually graphic photos for profit.

"Whether we like it or not, isn't a fair assumption that they did it for the money?" she asked.

Judge Southin also wondered what legal grounds Canada had for being concerned about children in Third World countries.

"What are we doing pontificating about street kids in Brazil?" she asked. ". . . We don't have international obligations to stop kids starving to death in the streets of Brazil?"

Judge Southin graduated from the University of British Columbia's law school in 1952 and has been on the court of appeal since 1988.

In 1997, the parents of a teenage girl filed a formal complaint to B.C Chief Justice Allan McEachern and Canadian Judicial Council, over comments Judge Southin made when she threw out an former teacher's sexual assault convictions.

The complaint said "atrocious" comments were made by the judge during the appeal of Ian Crocker, a former Mayne Island teacher. The parents' letter quoted Judge Southin as saying, "What's the matter with parents on Mayne Island to let their children go on a camping trip with only one adult?"

The letter also complains Judge Southin said: "Let us keep in mind that these are not severe assaults such as brutal rape or buggery of little boys."

In an article printed in a 1995 issue of The Advocate, published by the Vancouver Bar Association, Judge Southin argued that the current justice system is "not helping to prevent young people from becoming killers."

"Sometimes," she wrote, "I have the uneasy feeling that to some who are concerned in the administration of justice, the taking of life is of no special significance -- to kill a man or to kill his dog is all of the same moral quality."

In the article, she argued that children's' names should not be protected under the Young Offenders Act. The act, she wrote, is "one of the law's sillier provisions, at least in cases of serious crime."

She said children should not have the right to remain silent and suggested that the Young Offenders Act should treat troubled youths the same way good parents treat their children.

"A wise parent who suspects his child is up to no good does his best to ferret out the truth," she said. "He does not advise the child that he has a right to remain silent. He does not ask for a warrant to confine his erring offspring to the house. He admits of no right of appeal."

In 1988, Peter Brown, chairman of Canarim Investment Corp. Ltd., complained embarrassing comments made by Judge Southin damaged his reputation. The comments were made during an investments trial, in which Mr. Brown's company was a third party in the proceedings. Judge Southin questioned a $120,000 cheque that was paid to Mr. Brown for introducing a group of financial investors.

"Doesn't seem to bear any rational resemblance to rational and decent human behaviour at all, does it?" the judge asked.

David Roberts, a Vancouver lawyer who has known Mary Southin for 45 years, had this to say about the Sharpe ruling:

"I think that this decision shows a fair amount of intellectual integrity because she certainly would not take kindly to child pornography.

"She would abhor it. But she had the courage to decide what she perceives as right, in light of the Charter [of Rights and Freedoms], whether she likes it or not."

"She is a very intelligent person and the legal community views her that way, she has the memory of an elephant," he added. "She is fairly straitlaced and has a very perceptive view on the difference between right and wrong. She is quite plain spoken."







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