Judge, Provincial Court of British Columbia

“Prohibition makes all of us – not just the user or the addict – less safe and secure.”

Jerry Paradis
We are all saddened to say goodbye to Law Enforcement Against Prohibition board member Judge Jerry Paradis, who passed away on February 16, 2010 from cancer. Jerry’s rare combination of expertise and compassion will be impossible to replace.

Having presided over 1,000 drug-related cases in the Provincial Court of British Columbia before his retirement in 2003, he came to realize that drug policy, not simple drug use, was responsible for so much unnecessary death, disease, crime and addiction. He authored “A Modest Proposal for a Sane Drug Policy,” the title of which captures both his personality and his quest for a rational approach to social policy. He was exceptionally intelligent and knowledgeable, but he was never arrogant or condescending.

His trip to Colombia with Witness for Peace demonstrated his personal commitment to social justice and his identification with the victims of bullying. He was appalled by what he termed a “prohibit and punish” approach to drug use and was tireless in promoting humane, workable alternatives. In reference to those who fashion and benefit from drug prohibition, he simply wondered, “How do these guys sleep at night?”

It is telling that while he was known for “lenient” sentences in drug-related cases, he was almost literally never overturned on appeal. Working within the constraints of the legal system he was able to combine his sensible, empathetic side with the intellectual rigors of jurisprudence.

Above all, Jerry was a kind, thoughtful and supportive friend. He had a wonderful, down to earth quality that made people gravitate to him and respect his judgment. He played a pivotal role in stabilizing LEAP and helping it to remain vibrant.

He will be missed.

Jack Cole, executive director

Jerry Paradis obtained his law degree from the University of British Columbia in 1969. By 1975, he had already been appointed to the Provincial Court of BC, on which he served as a judge until his retirement in 2003. Canada’s provincial courts handle about 95% of the country’s criminal cases, and so Jerry dealt with over a thousand drug cases, be they for possession, trafficking, or production. “My awareness of the futility of and damage caused by prohibition came gradually,” he related, “but I can say that I was without any doubts from the late ’80s on.” Nevertheless, Jerry’s judicial oath required him to apply the law, and that’s what he did…as temperately as he could. Although he garnered some media flak for what some saw as his leniency, he was successfully appealed only once. “In other words, although the media occasionally had trouble with my drug-case decisions, the prosecutors almost never did.”

Shortly after retiring, Jerry found himself even more seriously pondering the drug issue, and the result was a research paper, “A Modest Proposal for a Sane Drug Policy”. Jerry also wrote an occasional column for his local community newspaper, The North Shore News, several of which were devoted to various aspects of the issue. He wrote of how the current policy on drugs diminishes everyone. “It diminishes judges by requiring them to shut their minds off from the irrationality of what they are required to do. It diminishes the lawyers on both sides of the table – the prosecutors, by forcing them to pursue people and issues that they know full well belong in the field of health care; and defense counsel, by forcing them to play silly charter-of-rights games instead of dealing with real issues. And it diminishes the police by forcing them to see drug users as the other, the prey, and therefore as not worthy of much serious second thought.” The greatest irony that Jerry observed from scanning the notes he made on each of the 1,000+ drug cases over which he presided is that “the same number of people are still choosing to ingest mood-altering substances, the same proportion are addicted, and there is the same persistent but increasingly lucrative and efficient system of supply. We – citizens, police, judges – have lived and worked within the orthodoxy that all drugs are inherently evil (except, of course, alcohol) and that prohibition and punishment can rid us of them. How wrong we have been.” This is why Jerry is a member of LEAP.

Judge Jerry Paradis passed away on February 16, 2010.