BY TERESA MALLAM
Last week my column was, in hindsight, kind of dark and dismal. A real emotional downer, as I went from a column on celestial star gazing to navel gazing, with my look back at how terrible my 2020 was — not thinking that most readers were probably knee deep in their own problems.
Sorry about that.
So I thought I should make up for that lapse in judgment with a little levity, regaling readers with a few true tales from my time covering court and crime in Quesnel. A good beat because the city was then number one on Maclean’s list of worst places for crime.
Most days spent sitting in court, notebook in hand, pen jotting frantically, were very mundane as I listened intently to the proceedings, always looking for those “golden nugget” quotes.
Some days, court stories required real effort to churn out and make interesting. Other days, they practically wrote themselves. In July 1989, there was a case before provincial court Judge Nick Friesen for him to decide who owned a prized 150-pound Red Woddler/Yorkshire cross pig.
A man stood accused, charged with theft of the pig from its original owners. Court was told that they’d searched the countryside before finding – at a nearby ranch – a pig that resembled theirs, right down to the woddlers under its “chinny chin chin.”
After hearing from both sides, Friesen said he preferred the evidence of a farmer who testified that when the pig was returned to her 70-acre farm, three months after it went missing, it ran through two gates, over a field, and then ran a distance of two city blocks to find its own pen.
“The pig knows best,” he said.
The wheels of justice squealed to a halt. The accused man was found guilty and fined $250. However, the pig in the middle had been given a three-month reprieve – its owners had intended butchering it just before it went missing.
Back at the office, the proof readers had a hay-day with the cheeky headline in the next day’s Quesnel Cariboo Observer. To wit:
“This little piggy went wee, wee, wee – all the way home.”
Then there’s an item chronicled in my March 21, 1990, Day In Court column aptly titled, “Sober as a Judge.”
A 63-year-old Quesnel man was brought from custody into provincial court – again before the very quotable, presiding Judge Friesen – on a charge of impaired driving. The accused man pleaded not guilty. Why was he in custody?
Because the previous day, he’d arrived in court too intoxicated to face his trial. So this time, the sheriffs were taking no chances and escorted him into court – after his overnight stay, courtesy of Her Majesty the Queen.
Thus the accused arrived on time, quite sober for his morning appearance. But he was bewildered that his case had not been heard yet. And Judge Friesen was more than happy to enlighten him about what had transpired:
“You were sober at 9:30 a.m. and drunk by 1:30 p.m.,” he said, adding, “So we couldn’t have your trial.” Friesen then reminded the man of his legal obligations and suggested that he see his lawyer before leaving the building.
However the man wanted to explain to the judge why, in the intervening hours awaiting his court appearance, he had spent his time imbibing.
“Well, you see Your Honour, I have this bladder problem … I need to drink nine quarts of beer a day.”
I swear, on a stack of Bibles, this is the truth.
But my favourite story is the one when the court was attempting to have a young girl sworn in as a witness. Judge Friesen very kindly and patiently posed a few routine questions to the youngster such as her name, age, where she now was (in a courtroom) and he asked her if she understood the difference between right and wrong. She did.
Then came the zinger.
“And do you know who I am?” asked Friesen.
The little girl paused only briefly before turning her cherub face towards the judge.
“Well, you’re … uh, kind of like…God,” she said
At that, people in the gallery burst out laughing and Friesen himself couldn’t contain his sense of humour, or his delight, as he explained ever so kindly that he, well, he wasn’t quite like that.
The little girl was sworn in, court was adjourned, and, once again, my story was already written in my head, long before I got back to the office.