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Surrey inmate fights B.C. using balance of probabilities in prison disciplinary hearings

Judge denies B.C. government’s application to strike the challenge
Statue of Lady Justice at Vancouver courthouse. (File photo)

A Surrey Pretrial centre inmate backed by the West Coast Prison Justice Society is challenging the provincial government’s use of the balance of probabilities standard of proof in prison disciplinary hearings on grounds it violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Christopher Trotchie and the not-for-profit society maintain the government should require proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Justice Karen Douglas rendered her reasons for judgment on Oct. 27, in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver. She denied the government’s application to strike the challenge, having found the plaintiffs’ case is not destined to fail and should proceed to trial.

“This action does not challenge the Act or the Regulation. Rather, it challenges administrative decision makers’ use of the balance of probabilities standard of proof at prison inmate disciplinary hearings.”

At issue, Douglas noted, is whether using the balance of probabilities standard in prison disciplinary hearings deprives inmates of “their liberty and security of the person in a manner that is contrary to the presumption of innocence.”

For its part, the provincial government submitted that using the balance of probabilities standard does not do this because presumption of innocence doesn’t apply to correctional centre disciplinary hearings.

It argued that the rationale for presumption of innocence is to guard against wrongful convictions and submitted that this consideration is unique to criminal law but does not apply to inmate discipline, the judge noted.

The trial is set for Feb. 12.

“I conclude it is not plain and obvious that the plaintiffs’ claim is bound to fail. Accordingly, I decline to strike this claim,” Douglas decided.

Douglas also noted in her reasons that Trotchie has been imprisoned in several BC Corrections’ institutions and has “significant experience with the Province’s prison disciplinary regime.”

About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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