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Vancouver Sun - Top Stories

Last Updated: Saturday 23 January 1999  TOP STORIES

Child-porn case judge gets death threat

The Vancouver Sun

Neal Hall, Sun Court Reporter Vancouver Sun

A B.C. Supreme Court judge who triggered an outpouring of invective when he struck down a section of the law on child pornography will get special protection after receiving a death threat this week.

Attorney-General Ujjal Dosanjh said Friday he has instructed officials in his ministry to work with Vancouver police to ensure the safety of Justice Duncan Shaw, who ruled last week that possession of child pornography was not illegal because it violated the Charter rights of a Vancouver man.

"I'm absolutely disturbed that in British Columbia a judge would be threatened," Dosanjh told reporters at a news conference. "It is one of the most cherished principles in our system of justice that we allow judges the ability to deal with complex and sometimes very difficult and controversial issues before them, but without fear."

Lloyd McKenzie, a retired B.C. Supreme Court judge who now serves as an information officer for the courts, said never in his 40 years as a judge and lawyer has he seen anything like the emotional outcry against Shaw in letters to the editor and on radio talk shows.

"The level of hate that has been directed at him is remarkable," he said. "People are phoning me and phoning a number of other people at the Law Courts, including the judge's secretary, just heaping invective upon the judge."

McKenzie said angry phone calls starting pouring in to the Law Courts as soon as Shaw's judgment became public last week. The threat was made earlier this week in a phone call to a secretary at the Vancouver Law Courts, he said.

He refused to discuss details of the threat against Shaw, 66. Asked how the judge was taking it, McKenzie said: "He's just carrying on as a judge. You can't say he's elated by the public outcry."

But he pointed out that Shaw realized his ruling would be controversial. "He's found this the most difficult judgment he ever wrote. He based it on the conception of the law, not whether it was going to be popular."

Shaw acquitted Kitsilano resident John Robin Sharpe, 65, of charges of possessing child pornography, ruling the prohibition violated Sharpe's freedom of expression rights.

But the judge upheld the law concerning sale and distribution of child pornography, finding the protection of children should come before the Charter rights of the accused in that regard. Sharpe still faces two counts of selling or producing child porn and will go to trial Feb. 1.

Sharpe, a formerly married father of two grown sons, represented himself in court after customs officials and police seized computer discs, books and photographs depicting nude children.

A Victoria law professor who has written texts for judges said the anti-Shaw storm was a break with tradition in Canada.

"It is unusual in Canada for judges to be personally attacked for their judgments, especially if they are making a good-faith effort to apply the law, Charter protections, to a difficult issue," said Gerry Ferguson.

Ferguson said Shaw is in a difficult spot because tradition dictates judges must let their written decisions speak for them, without commenting further.

Sharpe has also come under fire this week. Posters featuring his photographs and comments on having sex with young people have been tacked up around his neighbourhood. He also has received at least one threatening call.


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