Station: Words With Gary Bauslaugh

Gary Bauslaugh -
Gary Bauslaugh
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It figures author Gary Bauslaugh is a big fan of the Bard, despite penning seemingly disparate books about justice and mercy killing, an obscure Canadian law, and university reform.

Those works frame the picture of a studiously curious guy, dedicated to fairness, and his literary craft.

“I don’t have a schedule. I wish I did,” said Bauslaugh, who works closely with editors of his well-researched books. “I often get ideas walking around town, then sit down and see what happens at the keyboard.”

What happens, as in Shakespeare’s probing plots, is the creation of brain food fertilized by a firm grip on tenets of common sense,and social irony.

So it followed that the former longtime Cowichan resident, now based in Victoria, is finishing Travels With Shakespeare, about Shakespearean festivals.

Perhaps Bauslaugh’s bent for the bard is a welcome escape from his penetrating 2010 work Robert Latimer: A Story Of Justice And Mercy.

It chronicles Latimer’s trial and murder conviction for the 1993 mercy killing of his severely challenged and ill daughter, Tracy, 12 — igniting a national debate about euthanasia’s ethics, and rights of the very disabled.

Latimer served seven years of a 10-year sentence before being granted day parole in 2007.

“I want people to come away with the notion Latimer was a good man caught in a very difficult situation,” Bauslaugh states. “He did it out of human kindness and compassion.

“How do we treat people who perform difficult acts of human kindness that are not legal?” he asked. “Do we treat them as terrible criminals, or with some degree of mercy? Mercy’s a really valued quality, but there aren’t many places in the legal system where mercy can be shown.”

So Bauslaugh chased that painstaking project with his follow-up: The Secret Power of Juries.

Juries explains a little-known, seldom-used tool called jury nullification, whereby a jury’s verdict doesn’t necessarily have to follow the law. It applies in everything from deaths and weapons charges, to drug busts, self-defence cases and many other situations where juries deem the penalties too severe.

“When the law is patently unfair, juries don’t have to find the defendant guilty, even if he (or she) is technically guilty,” he explained.

Latimer’s jury didn’t know about nullification, which was allowed in Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s landmark early ‘80s trial and acquittal, which essentially decriminalized abortion.

In the wake of that decision, the Supreme Court banned lawyers and judges from telling future juries of the little-known rule — putting the onus on education of citizens who may have jury duty.

“It makes no sense to me,” Bauslaugh said  “It’s like forbidden knowledge.”

It’s a judge’s job to follow the law, he said, but defence lawyers ought to be able to tell juries about nullification. He believes the outcome of the Latimer case may have been different but for the Morgentaler ruling.

“They would have found him not guilty,” Bauslaugh said of Latimer, “if they knew they weren’t obliged to follow the law.

“That’s why I wrote this book; I wanted more people to know about this. It established that juries are independent.”

That view of fairness fits Bauslaugh’s non-religious beliefs as a humanist.

“One issue that interests humanists is non-religious approaches to public affairs. Public business should be conducted in a non-religious manner,” he said.

Now add his schooled background spurring another looming book about reforming university education, Moving The Graveyard: Confessions of an Academic Apostate.

“Education should give kids the skills they need, not necessarily just specific training in an academic discipline,” he said, noting grads should know how to think, not what to think.

“You need to be flexible, and adapt in understanding how to find out information. I know about the university system and that’s what I write about. But I don’t expect it to have much impact.

“The book talks about how difficult it is to change curriculum; it’s harder than moving a graveyard.”

His current spadework is also uncovering “why Shakespeare plays are so fascinating to amateurs, and why so many people go to these festivals.”

“People can put on quite amazing productions just with local actors, and Duncan does a lot of that.”

To Bauslaugh, Henry IV’s character Falstaff most symbolizes society’s foibles — inside and outside courtrooms.

“Falstaff mocks the idea of honour that’s so misused by people in power. All of Shakespeare’s plays have their own fascination.”

Fact, rather than fiction, fascinates Bauslaugh most; he searched for what he’d do if not writing.

“I have no idea. It’s what occupies my time now.”


The Bauslaugh File

* Age: 73

* Born: Sudbury, Ont.

* Anti-capital punishment: "I don't like the idea of the state ending people's lives."

* Supports euthanasia/assisted-suicide: "You don't want these things to be done without careful control. It has to be legally allowed."

* Friends with: Evelyn Martens, tried 2004 in Duncan on assisted suicide.

* Favorite authors: Shakespeare, Tolstoy

* Favorite film: Twelve Angry Men

* Retired administrator in B.C. college, university systems; was VP of instruction and planning at VIU (Malaspina) in early 1990s.

* Has a PhD in chemistry from McGill; wrote scientific research papers, articles for The Skeptical Inquirer, The Humanist, Humanist Perspectives, University Affairs and Policy Options.

* Wrote a series of 17 op-ed articles for Vancouver Sun.

* Editor of Humanist Perspectives, 2003-2008.

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