Justice seems hard to find in tragedy

Kamloops Daily News
February 22, 2013 01:00 AM

There will be some in the community who will see the sentence handed to a Kamloops man involved in a tragedy that saw a man shot and then killed in a tragic car accident as an example of how our courts are failing us.

It's not. If anything, the case of Kaelyn George Taylor is an example of how the court tries to recognize the complexity of the human condition. It also reveals that, despite the court's best efforts, the task of making sense of human failings is a difficult task.

Taylor, 22, set in motion a chain of events that led to the death of Ben Kirkey, 25, in a tragic vehicle accident.

In provincial court Thursday, Taylor accepted responsibility for accidentally shooting Kirkey with a shotgun as he and others shot skeet at a backcountry stag party.

Several young people were present. Some were drinking, at the same time as they were shooting skeet. Taylor took a turn with the shotgun, even though he had never used a firearm before.

He accidentally discharged the second barrel of the double-barreled shotgun, striking Kirkey in the wrist, causing a serious injury to the other man's arm. Kirkey's friends did their best to bandage the wound, called for medical help, and loaded him into a truck to be transported to meet an ambulance.

On the way, the truck crashed on a curve on the gravel road, and Kirkey and the driver were thrown from the truck. Kirkey died later that night as a result of the injuries he suffered in the crash. The wounds caused by the shotgun blast were not lethal, a judge was told.

Taylor pleaded guilty to careless use of a firearm. He was handed a conditional discharge, meaning he will not have a criminal record. The driver of the truck, on the other hand, has been charged with the much more serious offence of impaired driving causing death. His B.C. Supreme Court trial is pending.

It's natural to be angry when people - especially those with bright futures and tremendous capacity for good - die senselessly. We want answers, we want some kind of cosmic bill to be paid.

With that in mind, some will no doubt think Taylor escaped justice unscathed. They will question how it is Taylor - the man who set in motion the tragic chain of events - was handed so lenient a penalty.

He will not have a criminal record as long as he successfully completes 12 months of probation. He must perform 50 hours of community service work as well.

Some might also question how fair it is the driver of the truck - a man who clearly was engaged in a desperate attempt to help a badly injured friend - will face a far more serious criminal proceeding than the man who started it all.

There is no easy answer beyond one simple one - such is the unfortunate nature of systems of justice. At times, it doesn't feel just, and that make us resentful.

The mistake we make, however, is linking the two events - the shooting and the crash. When we break the chain apart, as reason requires we must, it is easier to rationalize how judges make these decisions.

Canada's justice system largely recognizes intention behind criminal acts. We punish people for doing things and meaning to do them. We do not hold people as accountable for events clearly beyond their ability to foresee.

In this instance, Taylor's mistake was to handle a firearm he knew little about. He accidentally fired the weapon as he tried to set it down. The events that ensued were beyond his control.

The crash - the event that claimed Kirkey's life - was another, different circumstance. The fact is, making Taylor pay a greater price for acts he could not envision nor control would be unjust.

The events of May 26, 2012, were tragic on many fronts. It's hard to comprehend or find sense in the sad, ironic circumstances that led to the death of one of our community's best young men.

The biggest mistake in all of this would be to expect our court system to make sense of it for us. Judges are incapable of doing so.

True justice - the kind of that incorporates accountability, forgiveness, healing, compassion and understanding - must happen outside the realms of the criminal courts.

© Copyright 2015 Kamloops Daily News

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