No wonder Saskatchewan has the highest crime rate in the country. While countless drug dealers, car thieves and cold-blooded murderers roam the streets unpunished, some provincial prosecutors have decided to crack down on people like Nicole Marchand—whose only offence was shopping at a garage sale.
Two summers ago, the Prince Albert woman paid $20 for a used digital camera she found at a neighbourhood bazaar (Marchand also bought three “Last Supper” paintings and a few pairs of pants). The price tag was such a steal, she later testified, that she “grabbed it” before anyone else had the chance.
Later that August, however, Marchand was short of money and desperate for groceries. So she pawned her new camera and its red carrying case, promising the broker behind the counter that she would buy it back as soon as she mustered up enough cash.
In the meantime, though, police officers conducting a routine check of local pawnshops discovered that the camera had been snatched during a home invasion a few weeks before the yard sale. Marchand was promptly charged with possession of stolen property and hauled into court, where she faced a possible two-year jail sentence. Simply put, the Crown claimed that the defendant should have known her bargain-basement purchase was the proceeds of crime. And if not, she should have at least been suspicious enough to ask where the camera came from before handing over her $20 bill.
“It’s ridiculous,” says her court-appointed lawyer, Peter Burns. “It’s obvious that this trial should not have taken place.”
The judge agreed. After a half-day of testimony, Justice Stephen Carter ruled that Marchand did nothing illegal. He also highlighted one important fact that prosecutors seemed to overlook (or at least ignore): when police seized the camera from the pawnshop, the memory card still contained Marchand’s photographs of her grandchildren. “If she was pawning a camera she suspected was stolen,” the judge asked, “why leave her personal photos on it?”