The criminal justice system can be a cold mistress, where decisions made from on high can leave grieving victims feeling dismissed, ignored and uncared for.
Charges can be laid, or dropped, with little concern to the desire of those involved.
It can be a place where a dead body can mean harsh judgment and harsher punishment, or a place where the guilty can walk away by paying a simple fine.
Take the case of Ann Wyganowski, a Toronto woman who struck and killed a 75-year-old grandmother while leaving her chiropractor’s office last year. This week, the Toronto Sun reports, Wyganowski was assessed a fine of less than $400 for failing to yield, and her other charges were dropped.
Here is the Sun’s summary of the incident:
Court heard the 54-year-old vice-president of HZX Business Continuity Planning was turning north out of her chiropractor’s driveway and looking left at the traffic when she struck and then ran over Shi. She continued driving until honking witnesses finally alerted her to what she’d done and she returned to the scene.
This incident left a grandmother dead, a family grieving and the woman responsible fractionally lighter in the pocketbook. Her lawyer argued that the incident has been as difficult for her as it has been for the victim’s family.
That seems like heartless hyperbole, but the conclusion seems to consider that claim true. Had the Crown pursued a careless driving charge, it could have resulted in a higher fine, a possible driving suspension and potential jail time.
The family of the victim was devastated to learn the deal had been made, and son John Pan was even almost stopped from entering a victim impact statement.
“Human life has virtually no value,” Pan told the newspaper. “To us, it’s like (the lawyer) killed our mother a second time and it’s even worse because it’s on purpose.”
It seems a dissatisfying way to conclude a case that ended in death. But in the end, court is not about satisfying the wants of a victim’s family.
Former attorney general Michael Bryant was charged with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving causing death after a 2009 incident in which a cyclist died. Those charges were later withdrawn because the Crown didn’t believe there were reasonable grounds for conviction.
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In a more recent case, 51-year-old Leslie McDonald, was charged with criminal negligence causing death when her grandson Maximus Huyskens died after being left alone in a hot car.
Those charges have not yet been tested, but one suspects the family, still grieving from the death of the child, is not leading the campaign to have his grandmother thrown in prison.
According to criminal defence lawyer Tushar Pain, it is not uncommon for such cases to result in lower charges under the Highway Traffic Act. When police don’t suspect anything more sinister than a simple accident, the most common charges tend to be careless driving and failure to yield.
“Driving in an inherently dangerous activity. Sometimes there are horrendous consequences that are nothing more than just bad circumstances,” Pain said, not specifically discussing the Wyganowski case.
“As much as we may want to look and blame someone, sometimes that factors are just not there to support anything else.”
Pain told Yahoo! Canada News that the court’s decisions will not always satisfy the families involved. But they can always pursue civil litigation.
Sue the person involved may seem excessive, but in some cases there can be little other recourse.