A recent decision by the ontario Court of Appeal to dismiss a Crown appeal of the so-called "Roma case" should be of great concern to every citizen who seeks both justice and wisdom from our legal system.The case dates back to August 1997, when members of a neo-Nazi and white supremacist group held a demonstration outside the Lido Motel in Toronto. There, a number of recently arrived Roma refugees from Czechoslovakia were being housed by Canadian immigration authorities.
These demonstrators, wearing masks to conceal their identity, carried flags bearing images of the iron cross, the symbol of the Confederacy and the hated swastika. They carried signs proclaiming, "Honk if you hate Gypsies," "Out Gypsies out," "You're a cancer" and "Canada is not a trash can."
The refugees, mostly women and children, were terrified. The demonstration reminded them of the hatred, assaults and murder they had faced in their home country.
Following a lengthy investigation, police charged seven individuals with promoting hatred against an identifiable group - the Roma.
One of them pleaded guilty. But the six others who went to trial were eventually acquitted - on a technicality
Provincial court judge Russell Otter accepted the defence position that the Crown had not proven that the terms "Roma" and "Gypsy" mean the same thing. The Crown sought to amend the charge to read "Roma a.k.a. gypsies." This was refused.
The Crown then sought to have the court take judicial notice of the synonymy of the terms. This was refused. The Crown finally tried to have the case reopened so that evidence could be presented to demonstrate the interchangeability of the terms. That, too, was rejected and the charges were dismissed.
Now the Court of Appeal, the province's last legal recourse, has also refused to accept what many common citizens know - that the derogatory term "Gypsy" refers to the Roma people.
The Appeal Court noted that the original trial judge " should probably have acceded to the Crown's request and taken notice of these definitions." But despite this acknowledgement, the court still held that this "error" was not sufficient to overturn the decision.
Seventeenth-century English jurist Sir Edward Coke wisely observed that "reason is the life of the law; nay, the common law is nothing else but reason."
At their first acquittal, the six neo-Nazis laughed and congratulated themselves for fooling the system. They, at least, were very clear that their purpose in demonstrating in front of that motel in Scarborough was to express their hatred of "Gypsies." Would that our courts had possessed such clarity.
Bernie M. Farber is the executive director of the Canadian Jewish Congress. Len Rudner is the CJC's director of community relations.