678 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 77 PART 5 SEPTEMBER 2019
igation fodder for injured people, “trial lawyers”, and insurance companies.
Divorce was difficult and usually unheard of.
In short, Ocean Falls possessed few of the requirements for an active law
practice. There was no poverty. Everyone made a good wage. Anonymity
was impossible. Criminal laws were largely ignored as there was little
crime, and what there was, was administered outside of the justice system
by the members of the community themselves. Criminals, whether juveniles
or adults, couldn’t get away with anything. Infractions were dealt with
by the community without institutional or bureaucratic intervention.
Ocean Falls retained two resident RCMP police officers and a marine
detachment of the RCMP to keep a handle on what crime there was. The
marine detachment encountered more serious crime than the resident constabulary.
Abuse of alcohol at Bella Bella, Klemtu, and Oweekeno Village
and the many canneries at River’s Inlet kept them busy and they frequently
dealt with drownings where alcohol was also a contributing factor.
The resident police seemed to have very little to do. They lived in an
apartment above the courthouse, which was just below my bedroom. I was
their closest neighbour. There was a little jail cell on the main floor of the
courthouse building that I could look down upon from my bedroom window.
It was rarely occupied except on weekends when drunken fishermen
would be locked up to howl off their concerns. If there was trouble, it usually
involved booze. Liquor fuelled much of the activity on the coast and no
place was quite like Ocean Falls when it came to the consumption of alcohol.
The nearest beer parlour and liquor store were at least a hundred miles
away. Most crime was limited to petty assaults usually fuelled by alcohol in
the beer parlour of the Martin Inn or in Branch 144 of the Royal Canadian
The most vicious assaults occurred on weekends in the summer when
the fishing fleet gathered in town to fuel up, buy groceries, and stock up on
booze at the government liquor store. Many of the serious assaults and confrontations
involved Indigenous visitors from Bella Coola, Bella Bella,
Owikeeno, Klemtu, Hartley Bay, and the Charlottes (Haida Gwaii), who
sometimes settled—or extended—grievances amongst each other that
extended back generations.
The most enduring jurisprudence arising from life in Ocean Falls is an
assault case: Cromarty v. Monteith,1 a decision of Mr. Justice J.O. Wilson, one
of the most respected judges of the B.C. Supreme Court. This case is still the
leading authority in British Columbia on the effect of a plea of guilty in a
criminal case on the issue of liability in a civil case. While the guilty plea is
not conclusive evidence of liability in the civil suit, it is compelling. All of