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Canadian Press
Friday, January 22, 1999

Judge in child porn case receives threat

by Ian Bailey

VANCOUVER (CP) -- The judge who handed down a bombshell decision on child pornography has received at least one death threat.

The telephoned threat prompted British Columbia's attorney general to announce on Friday that he will order increased security for Justice Duncan Shaw who effectively struck down the law against possession of child pornography with his ruling a week ago.

A spokesman for the B.C. Supreme Court confirmed a threat was called in against Shaw but said the details are vague.

"One of the secretaries received a threat on his head. I don't know the language of it, but that was the reaction she had to it", said Lloyd McKenzie, a retired judge who now serves as information officer for the court.

Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh said he was dismayed at news of a threat against Shaw, suggesting that judges "have to be able to work in an environment of absolute independence and without any fear".

"We may disagree with their decisions", said Dosanjh.

"At that point, we have the obligation to either appeal the decisions or to change the law."

Dosanjh's department will appeal the decision, which has upended the ability of the police and the Crown to legally attack the possession of child porn.

Dosanjh also said he will ask court officials to work with police to make sure that Shaw is properly protected.

But he declined comment on specific measures that will be put in place for the veteran judge, indicating he will leave it to those officials to decide how to proceed.

Speaking for the Supreme Court, McKenzie said that in 40 years as a judge and lawyer he has never seen anything like the battering Shaw is taking in letters to the editor, on call-in shows, and elsewhere.

"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."

Shaw has been under fire because he acquitted Vancouver resident John Robin Sharpe, 65, of charges of possessing child pornography, effectively striking down the Criminal Code section on possession.

Shaw wrote that the section interfered with Charter provisions on freedom of expression.

Sharpe, the divorced father of two grown sons, represented himself in court after customs officials and police seized computer disks, books, and photographs depicting nude children.

Critics have not only disagreed with Shaw's decision, but raised questions about Shaw's competence, values and fitness to carry on a judicial career that began in 1987 when he was appointed to the bench after almost 30 years as a lawyer.

McKenzie said Shaw is aware of the controversy, but intent on his job and working on another case.

"This is a difficult, complicated, intricate demanding job -- being a judge", he said.

"He knows that. He has been at it for 10 years, and he will carry on. I know he will. He is a man of character and strength."

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

"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 without commenting on them.

"The judge is in an unhappy position of being subject to personal attack and not being able to defend himself", said Ferguson.

He suggested that some agency, possibly the Law Society of British Columbia, should stand up for the principles of independence Shaw was exercising when he ruled on the Sharpe case.

Sharpe, who still faces additional porn charges, has also been under fire.

Posters sporting his photographs and comments on having sex with young people have been tacked up at stores in his neighbourhood.

Sharpe has received at least one threatening call.


Copyright © 1999 by The Canadian Press. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.