Bittersweet result

One of the central tenets of a strong judicial system is innocence until guilt is proven. It is a belief we cherish, as should all Canadians.

Over the years here we have found ourselves having to remind readers and writers of this fact. Sometimes we have felt the sting of criticism for trying to keep heads calm while the courts decide a matter. Many times it would have been far easier to set aside that principled stand and let the floodgates of condemnation run their course.

But like much in life of value, it’s impossible to set aside beliefs out of convenience or a sense of despair that people will endlessly judge regardless of pleas otherwise.

This past Monday the court case against OPP Sergeant Roger Woods concluded when he pled guilty to careless driving. The road to this plea has been long – far too long, actually.

The incident dates back to November 2011, when Woods came upon a horse and buggy in his vehicle and hit it with such force as to seriously hurt the occupant, render the buggy useless and kill the horse. The crash was tremendous enough that the horse’s leg was torn off and the occupant was hospitalized for traumatic injuries.

Weeks passed before Woods was revealed as the driver to our readership, although many locals had pieced together who was involved. It was through those alerts and inquiries that we dug deeper to track down Woods and the subsequent charges laid.

Curiously, the OPP’s unwillingness to release his name because it was an ongoing investigation conflicted with another incident that occurred within a short period of time involving another horse and buggy accident. In that case charges and names were released quickly, as is the typical custom we have come to expect at the Advertiser.

While we accepted the explanation that officers involved with handling Wood’s case were attempting to place an appropriate charge that would stick, what has taken place in recent months has been nothing short of disappointing.

As one would expect, the paralegal representing Woods tested the Crown’s case on many points. We also know that choices are made in a defence and we would assume a client would give some parameters for how far to push certain buttons. What we found troubling was the willingness of Woods to have his fellow officers’ competence and skill set come into question when determining the vehicle’s rate of speed that fateful morning.

We also understand from talking with our reporter that mention was made about the spectre of a possible wrongful search claim on Woods’ vehicle due to an address change when the company it was stored at moved down the street, and whether or not it was significant that the speed limit sign of “50” did not state the speed limit as km/hr.

Surely, the arguments made by his defence would frustrate Woods himself had he been called to testify in court had the accused been a 19-year-old farm kid taking his daddy’s truck for a quick joy ride.

That is perhaps what troubles us most: Woods knows better and in this case would have been well advised to take his lump rather than attempt to avoid responsibility.

On all other counts, Woods appears to have acted with the grace and professionalism we would have expected from an OPP officer. In fact, above and beyond, as he shuttled his neighbour, who was the victim in this, to medical and other appointments since the accident. He was helpful at the accident scene, a point reiterated by the Crown and judge in this case.

Right or wrong, residents expect high standards from their police service. In this bittersweet ending, we hope a few lessons have been learned – not the least of which is how the unnecessary cost to taxpayers for such a defence could have been avoided.