ENTER OR NOT HERE I COME? THE TENTATIVE (AND NOT SO TENTATIVE) VIEWS IN THE REEVES DECISION

Finally, a SCC decision where the concurring judgments discuss at length what they say they won’t discuss at length. It’s refreshing to read a decision that is so SCOTUS in approach – an Opinion – and two concurring Opinions at that. In R v Reeves2018 SCC 56, the newest decision from the Supreme Court building on the vast case law in the area of s. 8 of the Charter, the two concurring decisions by Justice Moldaver and Justice Côté take up an issue “benched” by the Justice Karakatsanis’s majority decision. In deciding Steeves has a reasonable expectation of privacy in a shared computer, the majority deems it unnecessary to decide the ancillary issue of whether the police entry into the home shared by the Reeves and his partner was legally justified in the first place.

This situation particularly resonates for me as a professor teaching 1Ls fundamental criminal law concepts. The cases I teach are rife with “we will get to that another day” sentiment. In JA[2011] 2 SCR 440, for example, both the majority of the then Chief Justice McLachlin and the dissent of Justice Fish leave open the Jobidon issue of consensual sexual activity that involves bodily harm. Again, in Mabior[2012] 2 SCR 584, Chief Justice McLachlin, after referencing sexually transmitted diseases other than HIV throughout the judgment, disappointedly states that “Where the line should be drawn with respect to diseases other than HIV is not before us” (at para 92).  

The majority in Reevestries to employ a similar yet different tactic to deflect a decision on the issue. Instead of the tantalizing suggestion that there will be some case on the horizon which will engage the issue squarely on, Justice Karakatsanis suggests the issue may be present but assessing it is unnecessary because there was a s. 8 violation in taking the computer and, in any event, Reeves’s counsel conceded the entry was lawful (paras 20 to 21). Furthermore, and here is the brush off, the issue raises “competing considerations” and to proceed without “full submissions” would be imprudent (at para 23). As an aside, Justices Côté and Brown, in their dissent in Trinity Western University,2018 SCC 32, took this same tack on the sticky issue of the standard of review as they declined to comment on the Doré/Loyola framework“in the absence of full submissions” (at para 266).

Despite this firm “no,” Justice Karakatsanis continues to explore the complexities inherent in such a decision (paras 24 and 25). That it invokes the intersection of the public and private spheres of our lives. That it highlights the nuances apparent in how we live those lives, raising questions of where and when our privacy becomes shared and if privacy amounts to mere physical space. I have explored the multi-verse of privacy and space in a previous blog posted on my Ideablawg website entitled, “Taking a Quick Survey of the Legal Landscape Through the Intersection of the Public and Private Living Space.” Overlaid is the societal desire to maintain public safety through the investigation of crime.The issue is, as suggested by Justice Karakatsanis, “complex” and requires a “considered response.” 

Yet, the presence of “competing considerations” is exactly why the concurring justices decide to give a response, considered or otherwise. For Justice Moldaver, a tentative response is better than none. In his view, direction from the Court is needed, albeit not binding direction. Justice Moldaver often gives advice to lawyers and trial judges when the issue requires it. For instance, in R v Rodgerson,[2015] 2 SCR 760, Justice Moldaver, offers some street-smart advice on how to run a murder case before a jury. In Reeves, Justice Moldaver does something different – he anticipates the issue as an issue and, in a forthright, make no bones about it manner, he states his “purpose in writing this concurrence is to express some tentative views on the issue of police entry into a shared residence” (at para 71). But that’s not all, the reason for writing something that is not a ruling, that is not a decision, that is not really even true obiter dicta as it is “tentative,” meaning he has not really made up his mind, is to fill a gap that is “a matter of considerable importance to the administration of criminal justice — and one which Parliament has to date left unaddressed.” This statement alone packs a wallop as Justice Moldaver anticipates an immediacy that cannot wait until another day. The matter is so pressing that it cannot wait for full submissions and cannot wait until he has fully formulated his opinion. This is, in other words, a matter of critical importance. It must be said.

Interestingly, “tentative views” have been offered in the Supreme Court previously. In eight SCC decisions such “tentative views” have been expressed. In the oldest such decision, St. John and Quebec R Co v Bank of British North America and the Hibbard Co1921 CanLII 574, Justice Anglin is not expressing a tentative view as much as he is making it clear that the tentative view he had of the case was not dispelled through oral argument (p 654). The other seven SCC decisions do express tentative views on matters on the basis those issues were “not raised before us” as with Justice Cartwright dissenting in Smith v The Queen[1960] SCR 776) and Justice La Forest in Tolofson v. Jensen; Lucas (Litigation Guardian of) v Gagnon[1994] 3 SCR 1022.

An instance where “tentative views” matter, as they presage the binding ruling and have precedential impact, is in R v Bernard, [1988] 2 SCR 833. In that case, Justice Wilson’s concurring decision (at para 93 to 95), on the constitutionality of the Leary Rule limiting the effect of intoxication on mens rea, ultimately became the majority ruling of Justice Cory in R v Daviault, [1994] 3 SCR 63 (see also R v Penno,  [1990] 2 SCR 865 and R v Robinson[1996] 1 SCR 683). Not only did Justice Wilson’s opinion become law but it caused Parliament to hastily respond by adding s. 33.1 of the Code.

The “tentative views” presented in Reevesby Justice Moldaver are well-thought out and do not seem tentative at all. His analysis of the basis for the police officers’ entry into the shared home with the consent of Reeves partner is based in principle and on an application of years of case authority building upon police officer’s common law ancillary duties. In his 27-paragraph discussion on the issue, he deftly “tentatively described” (at para 96) the police common law duty to enter a residence to take a witness statement for purposes of an investigation. He sketches out five criteria to ensure the authority is carefully circumscribed through a practical and common-sense approach to the potential intrusive situation (at para 96). Despite his belief that his comments require fuller attention in the future, he continues the opinion with his further belief that his scenario for common law entry by the police, without reasonable grounds to believe an offence has been or that evidence will be found of an offence, is nevertheless constitutional (at para 97). He draws upon case authority which permits intrusive police action, in certain contained circumstances, based on reasonable suspicion. He concludes in paragraph 99, that as his criteria for entry is specifically constrained that it “may well meet s. 8’s reasonableness requirement.” Again, the discussion is not that it “will” meet or that it “does” meet but that it “may well” meet. The virtue testing is left for another day.

But the issue is not really left on the corner of the bench. In paragraphs 100 to 102, Justice Moldaver then applies his “tentative articulation of the lawful authority under which the police could enter a shared residence” to the facts of the case. He assumes his formulation is constitutional and finds it “quite possible” that up to the time of actual seizure of the computer, Reeves’s s. 8 rights remain intact. To add to this speculative brain-worthy exercise, Justice Moldaver decries the paucity of the record as it does not contain sufficient facts to properly determine the outcome of all of the five criteria formulated as part of the test.

In stark contrast is the decisive concurring decision of Justice Côté. There is nothing tentative about this presentation of the issue. She calls out the majority for declining to consider the issue considering “it was ably argued by the parties” and impacts the s. 24(2) analysis (para 105). Justice Côté takes the issue head on and makes quick work of years of carefully crafted s. 8 principles. She boldly finds that police can and should be entitled to enter a shared residence, without a warrant, based on the consent of one party alone. She does so in 13 paragraphs without the need to formulate or constrain police authority. She does so by focusing the s. 8 lens not on the accused but on the valid, subsisting and present consent of the co-habitant. In Edwards-like fashion she keeps the spotlight on the presence of the consent thereby dissolving the s.8 issue on the basis of an absence of a search or seizure. The entry is simply an everyday matter of invitation and is not the heightened arena of the state intruding into the privacy of a citizen’s life. With a flick of the switch, s. 8 disappears in favour of the down to earth realities of hearth and home. 

By deciding not to decide, the majority set the stage for a showdown but not the quick draw we are used to in reading a Supreme Court decision. Instead, we have in R v Reeves, a slow-motion decision that requires us to patiently await the right case to appear to give an authoritative voice to the tentative one. Let’s hope we don’t need to wait too long.

 

 

 

The Vice Squad: A Case Commentary on R v Vice Media Canada Inc

Criminal law, as observed in high-level Supreme Court of Canada decisions, is the legal version of urban life. Principles jostle and elbow through a crowd of issues and facts. This hum of urbanity gives this area of law an edgy unpredictable feeling. Conflict abounds and at times there is a winner take all attitude. Other times, the result in a criminal case is more nuanced as urban sprawl is contained and the chaos is smoothed over through the application of principled and balanced ideals. The decision in R v Vice Media Canada Inc2018 SCC 53, is one such case. 

The premise is not very original. For years, journalists have gathered sensitive and volatile information from hidden human sources. This is the stuff of smart investigative reporting and it offers insightful but sometimes explosive reveals. Such was the case in Vice. Let’s be clear, Vice Media is a go-getter media outlet: a newish kid on the block, who with equal doses of style and aplomb combined with grit and tenacity, present stories with the urban flair expected of a here and now media team. In this case, the journalist connected to a prize – a source who was the real McCoy – a suspected terrorist. They exchanged, as all sharp social media-ites do, a series of text messages. But these were text messages with a difference. The journalist, by communicating with a suspected criminal, entered the “it’s complicated” world of criminal law. More than merely conversational, these messages were potential evidence and as evidence attracted legal meaning and weight. It was as if a school-yard scuffle was transformed into a Las Vegas prize fight. The journalist investigation was instantly transformed into a police investigation. With that transformation, the rules of the game changed. What was driven by the written word became transported through the portals of law.

The police moved quickly to secure and preserve the information, “under glass” so to speak, through the legal tools available. A production order under s. 487.014 was obtained quickly, silently and ex parte. Production orders are the aide du camp to the search warrant regime in the Code. When issued, they require the person so named in the order to hand over to the police the subject document that is in their possession or control. It is all about evidence, trial evidence, and what kind of information is needed to prove a criminal offence in court. With a stroke of a pen, the legal world encases the whirly-burly world of media in a glass case. Dynamic communication is crystallized, dryly, into documentary fact. However, this colourless coup still has some drama left to it. In this encasement, the formalistic legal rules must grapple with the equally formalistic journalistic rules. Here Vice meets Squad and legal principles run up against another as journalistic source privilege creates an impasse. It is up to the Supreme Court to reconsider the legal and journalistic landscape.

In the end, the Supreme Court agrees with the lower courts by upholding the presence of the law as the paramount concern in this media story. The production is properly issued and must be obeyed. But this story does not go out with a whimper but a bang as the Court, though in agreement in the result, does not agree in how they get there. This is truly the excitement and energy of the urban landscape as two opinions on the issue emerge. The majority, hanging onto the creation of law by the slim agreement of 5, is written by Justice Moldaver, the criminal law heavy-weight on the Court. Justice Moldaver is an experienced criminal lawyer and approaches the decision with his usual hardboiled common sense. The concurring minority decision is written by Justice Abella with her innate sense of the human condition. The setting could not be better for a decision on the realities of the urban scene.

Justice Moldaver opens with the obvious in paragraph 1 of the decision. There is an analytical framework, found in the 1991 Lessard decision, to decide the issue. As an aside, the framework, pulling no punches here, involves the balancing of “two competing concepts: the state’s interest in the investigation and prosecution of crime, and the media’s right to privacy in gathering and disseminating the news.” The issue here however does surprise. It is not a “business as usual” question, involving the application of that long-standing framework, but involves a deeper question asking whether the framework is actually workable. The law can create but, so the argument goes, the law must be useable. Principles may be lofty and imbued with high-minded values, but they must work on the street-level as well. What is said in Ottawa must be later applied in small-town Dundas, Ontario or main street Nelson, BC. If it can’t work there, it’s of no use, legally or otherwise.

Does that balance work? The majority believes it does with some refinement. Tweaking has become the new tweeting at the Supreme Court level. If it ain’t completely broke then don’t entirely fix it. Renos are a less costly measure. Justice Moldaver suggests just such a quick fix by importing a case-by-case analysis that permits a less mechanical application of rules and by “reorganizing” the applicable Lessard factors. But then, and here is where a tweak looks more like a re-do, the majority offers a modified standard of review (SOR). This, in the words of Raymond Chandler’sPhillip Marlowe in The Big Sleep, is like finding a “nice neighborhood to have bad habits in.” The spectre of SOR runs deep in the Supreme Court decision-making psyche. Rearing its head here of all places gives this decision a decidedly bête noire flavour.

We need a feel for the atmosphere before we take on this part of the decision. We are in the heightened atmosphere of “the special status accorded to the media” (para 14) as envisioned under the aegis of the Charterpursuant to s. 2(b). Freedom of expression in the form of media expression is, as I quote the dissent of Justice McLachlin in Lessard, more than the vitalness of the “pursuit of truth.” It is an expression and act of community. The press is society’s agent, not the government’s agent. Their actions give meaning to “expression” but also to “freedom.” As such, the press is “vital to the functioning of our democracy.” But, spoiler alert, the gravitas of this sentiment differs as between the majority and the dissent in Vice. It is this difference, which I suggest drives the decisions in this case more than anything else. In any event, Lessard, impresses s. 2(b) with the stamp of vitality promised by s. 2(b). It involves a boisterous labour action at a post office, the bread and butter of on the ground media reporting. The crowd was video-taped and the police wanted the recording as evidence for a criminal prosecution. Incidentally, my most recent Ideablawg podcast on the Criminal Codediscusses the sections on unlawful assembly and riots. In contrast, the facts in Vice, touch upon democracy’s innermost fear of terrorist activity. 

I should add that an additional difference in Viceis the presence of a confidential informant, who also happens to be the potential suspect. The law of privilege is an evidential oddity as it serves to exclude evidence which would otherwise be relevant and admissible in a criminal case. Through the protections afforded by privilege, the identity of a CI is confidential. This in turn promotes relationships in which vital information is exchanged. A CI is more apt to divulge information to a journalist with the knowledge there will be no adverse repercussions as a result. The kind of adverse repercussions as in Vice, where the information is used against the CI in a criminal investigation. This kind of privileged communication within a journalist relationship is not absolute and is subject to judicial discretion. Even so, the CI/journalist relationship adds a sharpness to the issue. For a fuller discussion on the vagaries of CI privilege, read my blog posting on the issue here.

In this media infused atmosphere, context is everything. That should be no surprise to anyone who has read a Supreme Court case in the last decade. In fact, we might say that context is not just everything, it is royalty, as principles seem to bend to it. Case in point is the majority’s view of the Lessardfactor of prior partial publication. Under the unrefined Lessard framework, if the information of the criminal activity sought by the state has been disclosed publicly then seizure of that information is warranted. Indeed, those circumstances may heighten the importance of that factor, which “will favour” the issuance of the order or search warrant. Justice Moldaver finds the Lessard approach turns a factor into a “decisive” one (para 39). Although it is arguable whether Justice Cory in Lessard would agree with that characterization of his comments, Moldaver J’s approach, to allow for context in assessing prior publication by favouring a case-by-case analysis, is defensible. Again, smoothing out the complexities through a good dose of common-sense driven principles.

Another area for revision involves whether the probative value of the information should be considered in the balancing and assessment of the Lessard factorsProbative value is connected to that basic rule of evidence I earlier referenced; that all relevant and material evidence is admissible. Facts, which make another fact more or less likely, are admitted into evidence as such facts have value or weight. The basic rule is subject to other rules that may render evidence inadmissible, such as bad character evidence. It is also subject to the discretionary exclusion or gatekeeper function of the trial judge to exclude relevant and material evidence where the prejudicial effect of admitting the evidence outweighs its probative value. Probative value is a measurement of the strength or cogency of that evidence. Probative value is not an absolute concept but involves relationships or connections between evidence. In fact, the probative value or weight given to evidence must be viewed in the context (there’s that word again) of the whole case. This explains Justice Moldaver’s position, at paragraph 56, that the probative value of the protected evidence is a consideration in whether the evidence should be accessed by the State. It is “a” consideration, not a stand-alone Lessard factor, as the production order proves is part only of the investigatory stage. It would be premature to place too much weight on probative value before the entire case is yet to unfold. 

This leads logically to Justice Moldaver’s further caution that probative value should not be dictated by hard evidential rules. Again, contextually and functionally this would be contrary to common sense. A production order or a search warrant is at the infancy of a case. These are investigatory tools albeit tools which may lead to trial. The information to be accessed are facts not evidence. They have not been filtered through the legal rules engaged at trial. They are anticipatory. Therefore, Justice Moldaver declines to import the Wigmore criteria of necessity to the assessment (paras 52 to 58). However, by permitting probative value as an overarching factor, the Court is scaffolding evidential concepts onto the investigatory assessment. Probative value is considered in issuing an investigatory tool, probative value is weighed against prejudicial effect in determining admissibility of evidence at trial, and, finally, probative value is weighed in light of the whole of the evidence to determine whether the State has proven the accused person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. As the standard of proof increases, how much that probative value matters also will increase.

So far, the tweaking seems more of an oil change and lube: something to make the engine work better. But now comes the overhaul as Justice Moldaver announces a change in the standard of review (paras 68 to 81). For the Supreme Court, the standard of review is to the reviewing court like provenance is to art museums. No one can really rely on the reviewing court’s decision unless there is agreement on the standard by which that original decision is assessed. The standard of reviewing the issuance of an investigatory order was determined almost 30 years ago in Garofoli. There, Justice Sopinka clarified the review was not a de novo assessment in which the reviewing court simply substituted their opinion. Rather, it is an assessment as seen through the eyes of the issuing judge, looking at the information before the judge at the time but with the benefit of any acceptable amplification on review. This test has parallels with the air of reality test, a threshold test used to determine whether a defence is “in play” and can be considered by the trier of fact. The air of reality test requires a consideration of whether a jury properly instructed and acting reasonably could acquit on the evidence. With a review of an issuing judge’s decision, the review court asks whether “there was reliable evidence that might reasonably be believed on the basis of which the authorization could have issued” (para 69). 

This test is a deferential one, albeit not completely so. Although, the issuing judge is best placed to decide, there is wriggle room for the reviewing court through amplification on review. Additionally, the view through the eyes of the issuing judge is, here it is again, contextualized by the evidence before the reviewing judge. For instance, the reviewing judge can consider an application to cross-examine the affiant of the Information To Obtain as part of its review. If permitted, the evidence may provide further context to the original basis for the authorization. The difficulty with this approach, Justice Moldaver notes, is where the authorizing judge issues processex parte with only the State providing the grounds for such authorization. Warrants and investigatory orders are typically issued in an ex parte manner. The real difference in the Vice scenario is the inability for the media outlet to argue, at the time of authorization, against issuance on the basis of s. 2(b) of the Charter. They can argue this upon review, but then the standard of review is no longer de novobut on the basis of Garofoli

Deference is the true standard here. By permitting a more contextual permissive approach, Moldaver opens the door to a moveable feast of standards for review that is appears tailor-made to the situation or facts (para 74 to 81). Moving away from deference may be fairer but it also creates a non-linear hierarchy within the issuance of such orders. It also replaces deference with the other “d” word – discretion. But with that discretion comes responsibility. I have written previously of the enhancement by the Supreme Court of the Gatekeepers function in the last decade. To me, this modified Garofoli is a further indication that the trial judge carries the integrity of the criminal justice system on their shoulders. So much so, that just as Newton has “seen further ... by standing on the shoulders of giants,” trial judges raise the public confidence in the criminal justice system to the highest level. They are foundational to our justice system. 

All of this tweaking may be meaningless considering the revisions to the Codeitself now providing for the special case scenario of journalistic sources and specifically those sources arising in a national security context. Yet, the Vice decision goes beyond parliamentary intent. Indeed, the minority decision of Justice Abella does just that. Her legal world view is not suggestive of the hard-boiled common-sense of the majority decision. Instead, Justice Abella calls out the majority by emphasizing the invisible undercurrent of the majority decision which resides in the Charterand the sanctity of the freedom of the press. If the majority can be stylized as a Raymond Chandler novel, then the minority is Clark Kent in the newsroom. Tweaking won’t do here but action. The level of action is not shoulder height but up in the blue sky. The minority decision reminds us of what is at risk when we diminish the freedom of the press to the margins. It also reflects the current conflicts we see in the world today. 

For Justice Abella, the time is “ripe” (para 109) for a new world view that provides for a distinct and robust freedom of the press in s. 2(b) of the Charter. Logically flowing from such recognition is the need to change the Lessardframework to fulfill this new world vision. Not only is this change required due to the enhanced delineation of media s. 2 (b) rights but is also required by the potential violation of the media’s s.8 privacy rights. Privacy rights, through previous Supreme Court decisions in Marakah and in Jones, have also been enhanced and emboldened by the social landscape. They too matter in the application of Lessard. The issuing judge still balances under this enhanced (not just tweaked) test but does so in the clear language of the gatekeeper (para 145). For Justice Abella, the vividness of Charter rights must be viewed with eyes wide open as the judge may issue the order only when “satisfied that the state’s beneficial interest outweighs the harmful impact on the press should a production order be made” (para 145). Notably, Justice Abella agrees with Justice Moldaver on the issue of prior publication, probative value of the evidence (para 149) and on standard of review (157 to 160). Essentials remain the same, but it is the context which changes. 

Context appears to rule in the rule of law. Context is important as rules should not be created in a vacuum. In the end, law cannot be wholly theoretical, or it fails to provide guidance. However, contextual analyses beget different world views and serve to underline the differences as opposed to the similarities. True, the Vicedecision is unanimous in the result but worlds apart in the manner in which the decision-makers arrived there. Maybe this is another new reality we must accept as we jangle and jostle our way through the everchanging urban legal landscape. Maybe we need to embrace context and loosen our grip on the hard edges of legal principles. Or maybe we won’t. And that is the beauty of context – it truly is in the eye of the beholder.

 

 

 

A Fine Balance: Sentencing Suter in the Supreme Court of Canada (Cross posted from ABlawg @ https://ablawg.ca/2018/07/19/a-fine-balance-sentencing-suter-in-the-supreme-court-of-canada/)

Sentencing, Chief Justice Lamer tells us in R v M (CA), 1996 CanLII 230,[1996] 1 SCR 500, atparagraph 91, is “a delicate art which attempts to balance carefully the societal goals of sentencing against the moral blameworthiness of the offender and the circumstances of the offence, while at all times taking into account the needs and current conditions of and in the community.” This sentiment neatly encapsulates all that is sentencing: an ephemeral yet earthy task in which the sentencing judge envelopes themself in a venture engaging both heart and mind. It is a “delicate” process, not heavy-handed, which requires a deft understanding of the human condition within the clarity of legal rules and principles. It is an art, not a science, meaning it is not a base computation or a tallying up of factors given pre-determined weight. Art also suggests artistic freedom and the discretionary nature we nurture in the sentencing process. But it is a determination statutorily mandated with well-defined rules and principles. There is wriggle room but just as we must stay within our lanes while driving, the sentencing judge must not over-correct or act erratically in imposing sentence. There are parameters. Some are, as indicated, statutory, as the “sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender” (s. 718.1of the Criminal Code). Other parameters arise from the profound sense of community that envelopes us when a fellow member breaks our laws – the laws that reflect our fundamental values. We feel the impact of rule-breakers, but we also feel their angst. We all know, to some degree, we too could be similarly situated, both as victim or offender. It is at this tipping point where the sentencing judge’s task becomes even more delicate as it searches for the fair and just balancing of all which is required to impose a fit and appropriate sentence tailored to the circumstances of the offence and the background of the offender. It is this delicate or fine balancing which is at the core of the myriad of issues arising in the newest Supreme Court sentencing decision in R v Suter2018 SCC 34

True to Justice Moldaver’s view, writing on behalf of the majority in Suter, that sentencing is a “highly individualized process” (para 4), the facts in Suterare highly unusual and particularly tragic. Mr. Suter entered a plea of guilty to a charge of failing or refusing to comply with a demand to provide a breath sample pursuant to s. 254(5) of the Criminal Code. A young child was killed when the vehicle Mr. Suter was operating crashed into a restaurant’s outdoor patio where the child and his family were enjoying a family meal. As a death occurred, the maximum punishment for the refusal to provide a breath sample was increased to life imprisonment under s. 255(3.2). However, the sentencing judge accepted Mr. Suter was not impaired by alcohol at the time of the incident. Indeed, the events leading to the incident involved a highly charged emotional event in which Mr. Suter and his spouse were arguing in the vehicle. Moreover, Mr. Suter’s refusal to provide a breath sample occurred after he received, incorrectly, legal advice to refuse. The fatality was widely publicized and Mr. Suter was a victim of a disturbing and brutal form of vigilante justice (paras 1-3). 

With this unique and troubling fact situation, the sentencing judge crafted a sentence seemingly far below the norm for the offence by imposing a term of four months incarceration with a 30-month driving prohibition. The Crown appealed the sentence to the Alberta Court of Appeal resulting in a substantial increase to the sentence to 26 months incarceration. Leave to appeal to the Supreme Court was granted. Unusually, the majority of the Supreme Court found both the sentencing judge and the court of appeal were in error (paras 5-6), resulting in the Supreme Court re-sentencing Suter (para 5). In the majority’s view, a term of 15 to 18 months incarceration was appropriate (para 103). However, as re-incarceration would cause undue hardship, it was “in the interests of justice” to impose a sentence of time served, amounting to 10 and a half months incarceration (para 103). The sole dissent of Mr. Justice Gascon found the sentencing judge imposed a fit and appropriate sentence and committed no error in law (para 109). He too allowed the appeal in part but restored the original sentence. Both the majority and the dissent upheld the sentencing judge’s imposition of a 30-month driving prohibition (paras 24, 104 & 202). 

With these facts firmly in mind, the issues arising in the case are as unique as the facts and the ultimate outcome. The issues do not arise from the facts but flow from them. There is a difference. In appellate advocacy, the appellate lawyer combs through the reasons, issue spotting and identifying arguable points based on knowledge of the types of appellate issues, which regularly arise in an appeal. For instance, are there grounds for an unreasonable verdict? Did the trial judge reverse the burden of proof in convicting the offender? These are just a couple examples of the specific appellate issues arising from a case. This is not to say that there may not be identifiable non-appellate type issues, such as errors involving substantive elements of an offence, but again those too would be easily spotted and seen to be arising from the facts. In a parallel manner, the appellate decisions based on these grounds swing from one issue to the next. Uniquely, in Suter, the issues flow and are not uniquely identifiable. There is no issue spotting as the legal issues move steadily and continuously resulting in the sensation that the Supreme Court’s treatment of this appeal flow. 

On this basis, setting out the myriad swirling of issues flowing from this decision is no easy task. Identification is also encumbered by the presence of a vocal dissent. In any event, on a meta-view of the decision, the first bundle of issues directly flow from the sentencing of Mr. Suter. One such point of discussion is on the use of vigilante justice, also characterized as a collateral consequence, as a mitigating factor in the sentencing balancing exercise. In Suter, the sentencing judge relied upon the incident in mitigation of sentence while the Court of Appeal found the judge erred in doing so. Both the majority and dissent in Suter agree that vigilante justice, as a non-state collateral consequence, was a mitigating factor to be balanced with all other considerations in arriving at a fit sentence. Justice Moldaver, however, restricted the use of such a collateral consequence to prevent “legitimizing” such illegal behaviour by accepting it as part of a legitimate legal process (para 58). Justice Gascon found the sentencing judge properly balanced the incident in arriving at a fit and appropriate sentence (paras 105, 109, 113-114 & 150).

The issue of the effect of Suter’s quasi-mistake of law can also be identified in this first sequence. I use the descriptor ‘quasi,’ meaning in this context, “apparently but not really” not for pejorative reasons but to emphasize what is at the root of the different world views between the majority and the dissent on this point of law. Neither Justice Moldaver nor Justice Gascon clearly and cogently describe what mistake of law truly is in legal terms. To be sure they discuss around the concept and drop hints, some large hints, of what their working definitions are but the reader is never entirely certain from where each position is starting. Without knowing the legal principles around this legal construct, it is the justification for the ultimate conclusion that becomes the legal construction of mistake of law. This serves to reinforce the feeling that this decision flows in a non-traditional legal judgment manner. Instead of starting with what mistake of law is in legal terms, involving academic scholarship (Glanville Williams comes to mind) and case law (mistake of law versus mistake of fact, colour of right and officially induced error have a large body of case law discussing the substantive issues) including a statutory analysis (s. 19, albeit there is a sparse discussion of this in the dissent), the Court presumes the principles and relies on the justification or their interpretation of whatever legal status they have given the term. Justice Gascon does come closer by challenging Justice Moldaver for this lack of a principled approach (para 125) but does nothing concrete to reverse the time machine and go back to the essentials of what mistake of law is in light of legal principles (paras 125 to 128). Instead, Justice Gascon fashions a template of his own in paragraph 128, in which he creates a sliding scale of blameworthiness based on a range of knowledge that could be attributed to Suter. Thus, the case authority discussion is derailed by the Court not focussing on the issues and instead allowing their decision to be pulled by the current of reasoning, justification, and the issue-spotting of errors found in one another’s reasons. 

Context is one reason why neither the majority nor the dissent gives clear direction on the mistake of law. This mistake of law, based in Suter’s reliance on bad legal advice to not provide a breath sample, is only notionally acting as a defence in order to provide mitigation of sentence. It is not acting as a defence per se. The slurring of the legal meaning of mistake of law is understandable considering the focus is not on the mistake, as operating as a defence impacting guilt or innocence, but as a mitigating factor on sentence to be balanced with all of the other sentencing considerations. Unfortunately, by not approaching the issue in a principled fashion, by allowing the reasoning to be the de facto substitute for those principles, we are never clear as to when and how mistake of law can be used on sentencing generally. The Supreme Court, as the final arbiter of all that is law in Canada, has not given us rules to live by or even rules to apply. 

The analysis of the mistake of law issue is an important one as it provides the dominant mitigating factor on sentence. Without a clear indication of the basis of this mitigation, the balancing is tainted, and the sentence imposed is rendered unfit. Using incomplete defences, which would not amount to a full defence to the charge, in mitigation of sentence is appropriate. This was not disputed in Suter (para 64 of majority judgment and para 125 of dissent and see dissent of Justice Gonthier in R v Pontes1995 CanLII 61 (SCC), [1995] 3 S.C.R. 44 at paras 75 and 87 and the Court in R v Stone,1999 CanLII 688, [1999] 2 SCR 290). The twist in Suteris the general unavailability of mistake of law as a defence unless it falls, as discussed below, within an exception such as mistake of mixed law and fact, colour of right and officially induced error. Again, without knowing the premise of the mistake, in law, we are unsure if the mistake is being used at sentencing as a defence that could not be proven at trial or as a defence unavailable at trial.

There is glancing discussion by Justice Gascon on s.19 of the Code which sets out the admonition that ignorance of the law is no excuse (para 127). There is, however, no discussion of when a mistake of law can be a defence such as when it is a matter of mixed fact and law (see R v Manuel2008 BCCA 143 at paras 16 and 17), a colour of right (see Justice Moldaver’s decision in R v Simpson2015 SCC 40, [2015] 2 SCR 827), or officially induced error such as in Lévis (City) v. Tétreault2006 SCC 12 , [2006] 1 SCR 420. Not referencing the Lévis decision is a surprise as it is that decision in which the Supreme Court outlines the very strict requirements for the defence of officially induced error, a defence traditionally only applicable in regulatory matters. A reliance on another person for knowledge of the law seems to fit squarely within the Suter form of mistake of law. Yet, there is no discussion in Suter of this point. We do not know under what form of mistake of law the Court is considering. Is it officially induced error as Justice Gascon seems to be suggesting or is it an honest but mistaken belief in law? Is the issue a mixed law and fact, permitting a defence? Or is it a question of scope and interpretation of the law, which is a feature of mistake of law? Does it even matter if the defence is available in law or not or what it may consist of if we are in the sentencing hearing stage where the procedural and evidential standards are relaxed? These and many questions are simply left out of this decision to be filled in by speculation.  Again, there are hints to their approach as the issue of the lawyer’s incorrect advice and the reliance on it is a point of discussion and disagreement. 

To be sure, duty counsel or Brydges lawyer (referring to R v Brydges1990 CanLII 123,[1990] 1 SCR 190, in which the Supreme Court found the state must provide an accused access to a lawyer upon arrest to comply with s.10(b) right to counsel under the Charter) does not, according to case law, fulfil the Lévisrequirement that the official who gives the legal advice be a government official authorized to speak on the issue. In R v Pea, 2008 CanLII 89824(ON CA) and R v Beierl2010 ONCA 697duty counsel was not considered an official for purposes of the defence. This point, seemingly at issue in an officially induced error scenario, was not discussed in Suter just as the defence itself was not directly raised.

Also, not fully discussed is the Pontesdecision, referenced earlier in this post, in which Justice Gonthier, for the dissent, enters into a principled discussion of the operation of s. 19 of the Codeand thoroughly discusses instances where a mistake of law may be a defence to a strict liability offence (paras 71 to 80). Although Pontesis decided in the context of regulatory offences, Justice Gonthier considers an earlier Supreme Court decision in R v Docherty, 1989 CanLII 45 (SCC), [1989] 2 S.C.R. 941, on the required elements of the then Criminal Code offence of wilfully failing or refusing to comply with a probation order. In his analysis in paragraph 75 of Pontes, Justice Gonthier relies on Docherty for the contention that ignorance of the law may provide an excuse where knowledge of the law is part of the mens reaof the offence. The evidence of an accused’s lack of knowledge of the legality of the breach would negate a “wilful” failure or refusal to comply. There is no discussion in Suter on the mens rea required for the offence for which Suter entered a plea and subsequently this aspect was not raised.

There is another telling dimension to the mistake of law approach. Throughout the dissent, Justice Gascon calls the offence “administrative” (paras 107, 172, 181, 183, and 201) signalling his belief the offence is more akin to a regulatory matter. This characterization renders the mistake of law defence even more applicable based on its broader usage in the prosecution of regulatory matters where knowledge of a large body of regulation is difficult. Yet, the Suter offence is in the criminal code and is not regulatory. To characterize this offence as administrative in nature deflects the issue away from the reason behind the offence not just as an incentive to assist police in the investigation of impaired driving crimes but to provide a disincentive to refuse to do so in order to escape criminal or civil liability. Courts have characterized this offence in a similar way (see R v Seip,2017 BCCA 54 at para 36).

This result-oriented perspective occurs to such an extent in Suter that we are not even sure to what standard of proof the mistake of law must be proven for the mistake to be considered in sentencing. This missing piece acts to magnify the differences between the majority and dissent. Justice Moldaver enters into a discussion of Suter’s sincere and honest belief in the mistake (paras 62-70) akin to a mistaken but honest belief assessment needed for the defence of mistake of fact. Conversely, Justice Gonthier focuses on the bad legal advice, without which, Suter would not be in court, making Suter’s “moral blameworthiness ... infinitesimal” (para 174). No one meaningfully articulates the commonalties, other than mistake can be considered on sentence. It is as if the Court is working backward from the sentence to the mistake itself. This backward glance is the source of friction between the two decisions and is most readily apparent in their perception of the importance of the legal advice on the mistake.

This framing of the so-called mistake of law scenario leads into the very different perspective on the bad legal advice given to Mr. Suter. Justice Moldaver pins the mistake of law on Suter in terms of his belief of what the law required. In the majority’s construction of legal rights and responsibilities, it is the individual and their personal choices that control the effect of the law. Justice Moldaver takes a hard-line in finding a paucity of evidence on the true substance of the legal advice given and counters that absence of evidence with the presence of the police officer, who fulfills his Charter duty by cautioning Suter to provide a sample or face the consequences of a criminal charge. To take this position in the context of a sentencing hearing, where evidential and procedural rules are relaxed (see R v Lévesque2000 SCC 47, [2000] 2 SCR 487) shows a clear desire to minimize the impact of the mistake, in whatever form it is in.  

Justice Gascon pins the mistake on the duty counsel lawyer and then frames Suter’s duties within a Charter framework. The dissent leans on the Charter as an explanation for why Suter was acting under a mistake of law relying on Charter protections not as stand-alone arguments where rights are breached but to provide the basis for inferences as to why people choose to do what they do. Thus, Suter’s failure to blow, despite the police officer’s dire warning that a failure will result in a criminal charge, is waved away by Justice Gascon as a reasonable response of an accused to information from an agent of the state – the very agent who is attempting to build evidence against him. This emphasis on the state as the bad actor so to speak builds a much different narrative than the majority. It also fails to acknowledge some case authorities that have tackled the issue of officially induced error where the police caution to provide a sample is confusing (see R v Humble2010 ONSC 2995). Again, we are on uncertain ground by not knowing what the mistake of law is predicated on and who the “authorized” officials are in the scenario. The Suter decision is directionless on this and yet the appeal provided a perfect opportunity to provide clarity on these issues, despite the uniqueness of the fact situation. 

Nestled within these correlated issues and directly arising from the sentencing hearing, flows the discussion on the application of the 2015 Supreme Court decision on sentencing principles, R v Lacasse2015 SCC 64, [2015] 3 SCR 1089. Where Suter is set in a unique factual circumstance, Lacasse involves the all too often scenario of impaired driving causing death. There is, sadly, nothing unique about the facts there. Indeed, the Lacassedecision is broadly based and serves to clarify general sentencing principles and the role of the appellate courts in considering a sentence appeal. Suter, while applying Lacasse, resurrects some of those self-same issues. Notably, Justice Gascon dissented with the then Chief Justice McLachlin, giving Sutera déjà vu flavour. Some might even say based on Justice Gascon’s dissent, that far from applying Lacasse, the Court in Suteris doing just what Lacasse attempted to avoid – the “tinkering” of the quantum of sentences at the appellate level. In Suter, as in Lacasse, moral culpability, proportionality and gravity of the offence drive the foundational underpinnings of the decision.

The next issue, flowing from the first two, involves the larger discussion on the role of the Supreme Court in sentencing appeals – not just appellate courts – but as the court of final appeal. This is not just a purely jurisdictional discussion as found in R v Gardiner1982 CanLII 30 (SCC),[1982] 2 SCR 368, and as distilled by Chief Justice Lamer in paragraph 33 of the M(CA)decision. This is a complex interplay between the roles of trial courts versus appellate courts in determining fitness of sentence that flows beyond jurisdiction. Appellate intervention is hierarchical yet infused with deference. Deference to the trial judge is a continual appellate theme, as it symbolizes the core of our common law justice system. This is a system where judicial parameters are laid down in principle but not rigidly adhered to. There is, as mentioned at the start of this post, wriggle room for the judges to apply their own common sense and discretion, based naturally in law so as not to be unreasonable or erratic. It flows from judicial independence and from a desire to inject into the process a good dose of humanity in the form of equity. 

Deference to the trial judge in Suter becomes not just an issue arising from the appeal but becomes a tool used by the dissent of Justice Gascon (paras 161 – 178). For Justice Gascon, the majority becomes a court of first instance as they exercise their own discretion, wielded through their own judicial lens by sentencing the accused ab initio. All of this, to Justice Gascon’s chagrin, to ‘tinker’ with the sentencing judge’s perfectly principled original sentence. Justice Gascon goes so far as to ‘call out’ Justice Moldaver for obfuscating the real reason for the increased sentence imposed by the majority as a pandering to the public/government’s tough on crime agenda, particularly in the area of impaired driving (para 159). This deference is hard won as Justice Gascon himself admits that he would have “personally ... weighed the gravity of the offence more heavily than the sentencing judge” (para 170). His challenge to the majority is a clear indication that the court is divided philosophically, politically and legally. Deference in Suter becomes not just trial judge deference but deference to the Rule of Law, to the independence of the courts and to each other.

Indeed, Justice Moldaver commences his reasons by applying an earlier Supreme Court case, R v Mian2014 SCC 54, [2014] 2 SCR 689, on the scope of appellate review (see my earlier blog posting on the issue on my ideablawg website). Mian raises the spectre of a reasonable apprehension of bias at the appellate level when the appellate court raises issues not identified by appellate counsel. In Mian, it is not so much the raising of the new issue which is problematic but raising the issue without giving counsel the ability to respond. In Justice Moldaver’s view this opportunity was given in Suter

But flowing from the Mian concern is the additional problem or error of the court of appeal in sentencing Suter for offences of which he was not charged (paras 35 to 44). The procedural concept of an appellate court raising new issues on its own motion becomes an error in law as the court of appeal created a “novel and confusing” form of impairment “by distraction” akin to a careless driving or dangerous driving delict (para 38). According to Justice Moldaver, by doing so, the court of appeal was “circumventing the sentencing judge’s finding that this accident was simply the result of “non-impaired driving error” (para 38). Again, deference to the trial judge re-appears, as finding of facts is the province of the trial judge, who lived and breathed the evidence, not the appellate court, who merely reads it. This is particularly important in sentencing as a sentencing judge can sentence an accused on uncharged offences arising from the facts, but those aggravating features must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt (see R v Angelillo,2006 SCC 55, [2006] 2 SCR 728). There is a further concern with this position as it reflects on Justice Gascon’s concern with the majority’s decision to re-sentence Suter. Sentencing as an art is a collage of facts and principle where the emotional content of the accused’s background and the gravity of the offence colour the decision-making. Who better to do this than the original sentencing judge.

Indeed, who better? Briefly looking at previous sentence appeals decided at the Supreme Court level, the re-sentencing of Suter is unique. The Court may remit the matter back to the trial judge for imposition of sentence where the Court enters a conviction overturning an acquittal (see for example R v Bradshaw, [1976] 1 SCR 162,1975 CanLII 19 (SCC)Rv Audet, [1996] 2 SCR 171, 1996 CanLII 198 (SCC),and R v Ewanchuk, [1999] 1 SCR 330, 1999 CanLII 711(SCC)). The Court may also remit the matter to the lower appellate court for re-consideration pursuant to that court’s power under s. 687 of the Criminal Code to vary the sentence imposed (see for example Lowry et al v R, [1974] SCR 195, 1972 CanLII 171 (SCC)and R v Loyer et al, [1978] 2 SCR 631, 1978 CanLII 194 (SCC)where the Supreme Court ordered the matter back to the court of appeal to pass a new sentence upon hearing of sentencing submissions by counsel at page 204). Rarely does the Supreme Court re-sentence an Appellant but never before has the Court found both the trial judge and the court of appeal to be in error in the fitness of sentence imposed (according to my Canlii database search). The Supreme Court has no direct statutory authority to impose sentence as in the case of a provincial court of appeal. 

Although re-sentencing in toto has not happened previously, the Supreme Court has adjusted a sentence. For instance, in R v Morrisey[2000] 2 SCR 90, the Court varied the sentence to properly account for pretrial custody. Also, the Court has adjusted a sentenceto bring it into conformity with a joint submission on sentence such as in R v Anthony-Cook,2016 SCC 43, [2016] 2 S.C.R. 204. Prior to Suter, the closest the Court came to imposing a sentence is in R v Middleton,2009 SCC 21, [2009] 1 SCR 674, where Justice Cromwell, dissenting in part, found the sentence to be illegal but refrained from deciding what sentence he would impose considering the outcome of the appeal per the majority’s decision (see paras 112 -113).

Justice Gascon, to put it mildly, did not approve of this re-sentencing. As mentioned earlier, he found the new sentence imposed by the majority to be effectively a non-sentence as it amounted to time served. Consistent with this view, Justice Gascon labelled the majority’s decision as a “stay” of the sentence (para 158). The Supreme Court has stayed the passing of sentence in previous appeals but not in conjunction with re-sentencing, such as in Suter, where the Court actually applies sentencing principles and balances the required considerations to arrive at an actual sentence quantum. In R v LFW2000 SCC 6, [2000] 1 SCR132 for example, the Court found the conditional sentence was inappropriate and a term of incarceration was required. The then Chief Justice Lamer stayed the passing of that imprisonment as the offender had completed the conditional sentence and it would be “very difficult” for the sentencing judge to re-sentence (para 32). In another decision, the Court restored but stayed a conditional sentence order where the offender had already served the period of incarceration ordered by the court of appeal (see R v RNS2000 SCC 7,[2000] 1 SCR 149). Suteralso differs from R v Fice, [2005] 1 SCR 742, 2005 SCC 32 (CanLII), where the Supreme Court found the court of appeal erred in upholding an illegal conditional sentence order but stayed what would otherwise be a penitentiary sentence. The Court in Ficedid not enter into a sentencing assessment and the stay appeared to be with consent of all parties (para 46).

It should also be noted that the concept of imposing time served on a sentence appeal even if a longer sentence was appropriate is not unusual. Provincial appellate courts of appeal regularly take into account whether it would be in the interests of justice to re-incarcerate the Appellant when a sentence appeal is allowed (see R v Reddick1977 ALTASCAD 199 (CanLII)at para 4; R v Mann1995 CanLII 321 (ON CA)and R v Maxwell-Smith2013 YKCA 12(CanLII) at para 21). What is unusual is the fact that it is the Supreme Court doing it. Justice Moldaver, who sat as a trial judge and as a court of appeal justice, is very familiar with sentence appeals and the pragmatic outcomes needed. We see in Sutera clear division along the lines of practical realism on one hand and principled rule-based approaches. 

The last set of issues flow from the previous ones as we read between the lines of this judgment. Such a close reading reveals both this Court’s approach to criminal law and the sense of discordant approaches within the Court itself. Examples of this can be seen in the majority and dissent positioning around mistake of law and deference. It is also viscerally read in the tone and approach of Justice Gascon’s dissent with a specific part dedicated to pulling apart the majority’s position to the point of parsing in all of its minutiae the majority’s reasoning (paras 156 – 159). This dissection reminds me of the Supreme Court’s own caution not to cherry-pick or parse a trial judge’s reasons but to view the whole of the reasons in determining whether an error was occasioned and if there is an error, the significance of it (I discuss this more thoroughly in a soon to be published paper in the Manitoba Law Journal entitled The W(D) Revolution). Justice Gascon’s dissent shows this is easier said than done.  

This extensive point by point response to the majority and even the majority’s anticipatory responses to the dissent belie a tension hitherto not seen to such a degree in the Supreme Court. Even in the heady days of the Nineteen- Nineties when the court was fractured, there was a sense the Court was still attempting to talk to us, the legal community, albeit disparately, about the legal principles. Suter feels different. In Suter the judges are airing their laundry so to speak and speaking as they probably do behind closed doors where they engage in no doubt vigorous debate about the issues. Is this the transparency Chief Justice Wagner is encouraging from the Court? Or, as parts of this judgment feel, is this exclusionary as the legal community becomes the child in the room who can sense the tension from the parental tone of voice but cannot understand the meaning of the words? In some ways we are not privy to the deeper discordance that may lay behind this judgment – perhaps the differences between principal and pragmatism, which seems to permeate this judgment.

This leads us finally to a discussion of not what lies between the lines but how those lines are written and the judgment as a unique literary device that may challenge our idea of how the law is not only decided but also represented in Canadian case law. I mentioned this earlier, but the judgment reads as a discourse in which the majority and dissent write for themselves and between themselves. This may suggest an American approach where the SCOTUS render opinions, not judgments, and as such tend to be opinionated in their approach by consistently responding to one another either directly in the opinions or through footnotes. Whether Suter signals a change in writing style and approach will be a matter of record as this newly minted Wagner court renders decisions on decisive issues. 

This decision is important. It discusses novel issues in a novel way. It exhibits an approach from the Supreme Court which we have not seen before. It impacts an area of criminal law in much need of legal discussion considering much of what a trial judge does in criminal law focuses on the criminal sanction. But the Suter decisionis wanting as it leaves us wanting more. Sentencing is a delicate art and requires a fine balance between oft opposing principles. So too, a Supreme Court judgment requires that self-same balance to help us navigate our clients through the legal maze. Although Suter fails to achieve this balance, it does leave a legacy of the further work which needs to be done by the legal community 

Criminal Law Rules! The Contextual Use of Criminal Law Principles and Charter Values in Groia v The Law Society of Upper Canada ​​​​​​​

The hot off the presses decision in Groia v The Law Society of Upper Canada confirms my belief that criminal law matters in all areas of law. Criminal law principles are foundational and have a reach beyond criminal case law. This is most evident in the rules of evidence where those principles do not distinguish between areas of law. Evidence is evidence no matter the context. It is the courtroom that gives the rules of evidence its perspective, not any particular area of law. There is a caveat to that proposition: some evidential rules blossom and find deeper meaning in the criminal law context where Charter rights provide a signpost to evidential rulings. In many ways, Groia borrows from the texture of criminal law, not only in the specific areas I will touch upon in this blog posting. The concept of fearless and resolute advocacy, peppered throughout the Groia decision, defines the criminal defence lawyer’s duty to her client. A client who faces the ultimate sanction of our justice system, a potential loss of liberty and societal condemnation. In some ways, the fact that Justice Moldaver, who authored the majority decision in Groia and began his litigation career as a criminal lawyer, references criminal law principles in the Groia judgment should not surprise anyone. Yet, to see not only outright usage of criminal principles but to also detect an almost metaphysical reliance on criminal law analysis brings a welcome richness to this decision. It also helps that the case is situated in a quasi-criminal law environment as a prosecution by the securities commission. A prosecution with a decidedly criminal law bent as Jay Naster started his career as a Crown prosecutor.

I need only concentrate on a few paragraphs of the decision to illustrate my premise. First, the outright usage of criminal law principles is palpable in Justice Moldaver’s finding that Groia’s conduct did not amount to incivility. In Moldaver J’s view, Groia made an honest mistake in his understanding of the rules of evidence, mistaking the Crown’s obligation to disclose relevant and material evidence with an obligation to consent to the admission of such producible evidence. Crucially, this honest mistake was sincerely held, an important factor in the analysis on whether there was a basis for Groia’s in court conduct. As Justice Moldaver suggests in paragraph 93, requiring an honest but mistaken belief as the foundational precept for the civility analysis is taken straight from the 1980 criminal law Pappajohn decision.  

Pappajohn is itself a seminal case, and a foundational one at that, taught in all first-year law school criminal law courses. It provides the foundational elements of mistake of fact in a sexual assault context - the defence of mistaken but honest belief in consent. It is the start of a long line of cases where the Supreme Court struggles with the parameters of such a defence and when such a defence should be left to the consideration of the trier of fact, known as the air of reality test. It is also an infamous case, which at the time of the trial in the late '70s caused a shock wave in Vancouver high society as wealthy business man, George Pappajohn was tried, convicted and incarcerated for the rape of a real estate agent. The case eventually led to the 1999 Ewanchuk decision where the Supreme Court made it clear that no means no and only yes means yes. On the pop culture side, the Pappajohn trial is also one of the cases dramatized in the radio series, and then later  television series, created by George Jonas(journalist) and Eddie Greenspan’s (legendary criminal defence lawyer) entitled the The Scales of Justice. When I teach Pappajohn, I bring in the script as published in the book series for the class to get a sense of the real-life drama surrounding the decision. Too often when we look at cases we forget the facts are not just a written narrative or story but are based in real life events. 

Although, Justice Dickson wrote for the dissent in Pappajohn, his framing of the defence of mistake of fact was adopted by the majority decision, authored by Justice McIntyre. It was Justice Dickson, who clarified the defence in Canada as an honest belief that need not be reasonably held as opposed to the English authority in Tolson (see pages 150 to 154 of Justice Dickson’s dissent in Pappajohn), which suggested the belief must be an honest and reasonable one. Later case law on the issue, particularly Chief Justice Lamer in Davis, emphasizes the need for the belief to be honestly or sincerely held, for the defence to cross the air of reality threshold. Reasonableness is not required but is a factor in determining the honesty of that belief. It is, in other words, part of the credibility assessment of the belief but not a controlling pre-requisite. In Groia, Justice Moldaver relies on this crucial distinction between an honest belief sincerely held and an honest and reasonable belief as a defining basis for finding Groia’s conduct as not deserving sanction (see para 92).

But that is not the only basis for this finding. The subtler reliance on criminal law principle comes as Justice Moldaver speaks of another aspect of Groia’s conduct; whether he was acting in good faith. Contrary to the dissent's interpretation of the majority’s position on this, Justice Moldaver suggests he is not conflating reasonableness with good faith. Indeed, he maintains these concepts act separate and apart. Here, Justice Moldaver relies on criminal law Charter language as he defines the concept of good faith in the same terms as the s.24(2)Grant analysis. Section 24(2) is a remedial section, triggered once the court finds a violation of a Charterright. It is a criminal law remedy as evidence can be excluded under this section on the basis of a breach that brings the administration of justice into disrepute.Grant is a sophisticated analysis that heavily relies upon societal norms and aspirations. It is a remedy that engages long-term goals of society and is firmly situated in the kind of society we want to live in as well as the kind of behaviours we will or will not tolerate as a society. It is firmly fixed in the public confidence in our justice system. Section 24(2) plays an educative role, a disciplinary role and an aspirational one. It is retrospective, in the sense it must revisit the past actions of the authorities in breaching the Charter, but it is prospective in its relief. Admittedly, after doing a couple of presentations on s. 24(2), I am attracted to the Grant analysis as I find the test to be an elegant and inspirational one. 

But back to Groia and Justice Moldaver’s pulling into the mix conceptual images from s. 24(2) in the shape of good faith. Part of the s. 24(2) analysis requires the court to assess the seriousness of the breach, in other words the seriousness of the Charter infringing conduct. In Groia-terms this can be equated to the seriousness of the alleged professional misconduct. Justice Moldaver in paragraph 93 enters into an ersatz s. 24(2) analysis as he describes good faith on a sliding scale “The more egregious the legal mistake, the less likely it will have been sincerely held, making it less likely the allegation will have been made in good faith.” This is exactly what is done in a s. 24(2) analysis. There, the court situates the police conduct on a “scale of culpability” with “inadvertent or minor violations” at one end and “wilful or reckless disregard of Charter  rights” at the other (see R v Paterson, 2017, SCCat para 43). All of this is, of course, reviewed in light of all of the circumstances of the case – in other words a contextual analysis.

Interestingly, this 24(2) like analysis intersects with the honest but mistaken legal mistake analysis undertaken by Justice Moldaver. As part of the s. 24(2) good faith assessment, the court considers whether the police were relying on an erroneous view of the law at the time of the events. This view of the law may be correct at the time but later changed through case law or it may be erroneously held through a mistaken understanding of the law (R v Vu2013, SCC para 69 & R v Duarte, 1990, SCC, para 60). However, there is an obligation on the police to be up to date on the law. They cannot rest on wilful blindness. A noted difference in the analysis is the requirement in Paterson at paragraph 44 of the majority reasons of Justice Brown that the good faith errors be reasonable. Negligence, in accordance with this standard, is not good faith and neither are unreasonable errors based on ignorance (see R v Buhay, 2003, SCC at para 59). As an aside, Justice Moldaver dissented in Paterson. In any event, this discussion must be kept in context – what Justice Moldaver is discussing is civility not competency. The line must be clearly drawn to ensure the integrity of our adversarial system and the buttressing concept of resolute advocacy.

It should finally be mentioned that at no point does Justice Moldaver reference s. 24(2) or the pertinent case law. In a contextual analysis such as this one, anything goes. Which leads me to the last point in this brief blog that obviously the Groia decision continues the Supreme Court’s predilection to contextualize. This modern approach to everything 'where context is everything' first appears in statutory interpretation principles (see Rizzo Shoes, 1990, SCC at paras 21 and 22) but has outgrown the written law to be a favoured solution to all problems. The contextual approach opens the rule of law door, which so often in the more rigid application of law is closed. Whether this open-door policy is a good one, I leave for another day but needless to say, the Supreme Court is certainly consistent. In the end, by using criminal law principles and Charter aspirations in areas not traditionally considered true criminal law, the idea of 'context is everything' is getting a large and liberal interpretation. In a very real sense, criminal law rules!

Leaving A Paper Trail: A Comment on Bill C-75 (also posted on www.ablawg.ca)

Receiving the newest Bill tabled in the House on proposed changes to the criminal justice system brings to mind the image of opening gifts at a birthday party. Each gift is scrupulously wrapped in an array of cheerful paper with shiny ribbons. As each bundle is displayed, there is a jostling amongst the party goers – each eager to see the gift unwrapped to reveal the prize inside. The image goes only so far when it comes to the government’s proposed amendments to the Criminal Codetabled last week under the auspices of Bill C-75. Underneath the wrapping, over 300 pages of paper, is no prize but a maze of amendments and changes – a patchwork of pieces – some of which significantly change the criminal justice system. Although some of these amendments are welcome, others signal a significant shift in our criminal justice system. Change can be good and can improve our concept of justice. However, even the smallest change must be calibrated toward a goal we all share: maintaining the fine balance between protection of the public and protection of the individual within that system who is faced with a potential loss of liberty. We must not sacrifice one for the other. Change must be viewed not as a piece of a maze but as a part of a whole through long-term strategic vision. Unfortunately, this omnibus Bill in many respects fails to be visionary. Rather, short-term administrative efficiency seems to be the prize under the mountain of paper.

To be sure, there are changes we can all agree upon such as the repealing of some decidedly dead offences disabled by the application of the Charter. The best Albertan example of the danger in leaving things unchanged that have been changed is found in the original decision of R v Vader,2016 ABQB 505 (CanLII). In that decision, s 230, unconstitutional since 1987 as a result of the seminal decision of Justice Lamer, as he then was, in R v Vaillancourt, [1987] 2 SCR 636, 1987 CanLII 2 (SCC), was resurrected to convict the accused of murder. That error was easily and quickly undone as, in Pandora Box fashion, the lid was slammed shut with the s 230 conviction adroitly converted into the constitutional manslaughter conviction (see R v Vader2016 ABQB 625 (CanLII)). Bill C-75 explicitly repeals s 230, and that is a good change.

In C-75, there are also some expected changes, such as the abolishment of peremptory challenges to jury members under s 634 to be replaced by the more meaningful challenge for cause procedure. Although these changes are for good public policy reasons (see my earlier post on the Stanley / Boushie case here), such changes, which turn an automatic process into a discretionary one, still require thoughtful and mindful decisions by all those involved, counsel included. Changes can provide better and more equitable outcomes, but changes do not, in and of themselves, guarantee there will be change, they only make change possible. 

There are also some unexpected changes or at least changes some of us feared but doubted would occur. For further comment on the efficacy, purpose and reason for retaining, in some form, the preliminary inquiry, see my previous post on the issue as part of a case commentary written in April of 2015, “Does the StinertDecision Signal the End of the Preliminary Inquiry?”. The abolishment of the preliminary inquiry, except for the most serious offences, is one change we feared for years and are still probably in a state of denial about as our fears have become a reality. I suppose we should be relieved that the process was not entirely eradicated but perhaps that was the plan; to lull us with a sense of false security. 

Another, smaller change, yet completely unexpected and unwanted is an important evidentiary change under the soon to be added s 657.01, permitting the admission of the “routine” evidence of a police officer at trial in affidavit format, without the hearing of that evidence. This evidence is not given in real time. It is not even given orally. It is proffered as affidavit evidence. In other words, it is tendered on paper. This effects a precarious step, a paper-thin one, toward the potential future of trials by paper in the criminal court. 

As mentioned earlier, part of the difficulty with this government’s approach to Criminal Coderevision is the lack of long-term strategic vision. Reading these amendments, there is a sense that some of these changes were made without thinking them through to their ultimate end and without mentally testing them in a real trial scenario to determine how they will ultimately play out in court. For these changes to be meaningful and workable, yet still upholding the principles of fundamental justice, we rely on our government, before they change the law, to ask themselves why they are in fact changing it. We want the government to think before acting and ask whether the contemplated change is for the better.  Finally, we rely on the government to make these changes in an effort to enhance the criminal justice system while preserving the protections of those whose liberty is at risk. I emphasize to enhance, not to make the system more efficient. Efficiency cannot be and has never been the only reason for reform. Efficiency is not what we want from our justice system. That is not what the Jordan (2016 SCC 27) and Cody(2017 SCC 31) decisions are all about. Cultural change involves a bundle of values not a bundle of paper being efficiently pushed about.

As is typical with omnibus Bills, instead of stopping at what needs to be done, the government went above and beyond by also adding under the proposed s 644(3), an ability to convert a jury trial in mid-trial into a trial by judge alone, in the event the number of jurors fall below the number required to continue the trial. Although this can only be done by consent of both parties and therefore appears innocuous and not worth commenting on, my question is – why? A decision to have a jury trial is an accused’s Charterprotected right. Why would the loss of that right as a result of the inability of the jury to continue logically mean that the accused is good to go without one? Why incentivize a change which should not occur for that reason? Why not, instead, permit a jury trial to continue with less jurors than presently permitted? It seems that this change as with the admission of routine police evidence, sworn but not tested through viva voceevidence, is for one reason only – expediency. 

I harken back to Justice Lamer’s comments on the role of expediency in criminal law in Re B.C. Motor Vehicle Act, [1985] 2 SCR 486, 1985 CanLII 81 (SCC)(at para 85). This decision is an early Chartercase on the unconstitutionality of an absolute liability regulatory offence where there is a potential loss of liberty through a term of imprisonment or probation. An absolute liability offence requires no proof of a mental element and is therefore, where there is a potential loss of liberty, contrary to the principle of fundamental justice, “from time immemorial”, that an innocent person not be punished (para 85). Justice Lamer recognized that administrative efficiency is the driving force behind such regulatory offences, as the regulatory regime could be enforced quickly and efficiently through proof of the prohibited act only. To climb into the mind of the regulatory defendant, often a corporate one, would prove to be too difficult and contrary to the overarching objective of regulation, which is protection of the public from unsafe regulatory practices. However, where a criminal law sanction is used, Justice Lamer opined that only in exceptional circumstances, such as “natural disasters, the outbreak of war, epidemics,” would such administrative efficiency “successfully come to the rescue” of such a breach of s 7 (at para 85). Otherwise, life, liberty and security of the person should not be “sacrificed to administrative efficiency” (at para 85). These sage words written thirty-three years ago still have meaning. The principles underlying the Charterand indeed “from time immemorial” cannot be thrust aside in circumstances where the government has alternatives or simply, in a rush to please, has not given careful consideration to those changes. The justice system may be bending under its own weight, but the answer is not to shore it up with a quick and easy fix.

The admission of “routine police evidence” in paper format, as mentioned earlier in this post, serves as another prime example of the government giving all due consideration to administration without considering the rationale or “end game”. Presently, through our rules of evidence, we can make judicial or formal admissions at a criminal trial pursuant to s 655 of theCriminal Code. The section reads very broadly and confers a discretionary right on the defence to “admit any fact ... for the purpose of dispensing with proof”. Typically, such admissions are made in a written and signed agreed statement of fact or agreed admissions, depending on the nature of such admissions. They are often used to admit continuity of an exhibit which a police officer has seized in order to relieve the Crown and the officer from minute descriptive recitation of exactly where the exhibit was located at every point in time of the investigation. Such admissions can save court time and are efficient. They are to be used as indicated – to dispense with proof. This signals to all parties that if a fact is not admitted, the Crown must prove it. Easy and simple to use. Fair and efficient. Enter, the proposed s 657.01, permitting police evidence be admitted at trial in affidavit format. The first question to be asked is why? Why do we need such a paper heavy process when the accused already has the use of s 655?

Let’s go through a faux question and answer period to illuminate the point. The response to those “why” questions may be as follows: admissions under s 655 are formal and therefore binding and conclusive. The new proposed section permits admissions of fact informally, permitting the accused to lead evidence contrary to those affidavit facts, leaving the trier of fact to make the final determination of the issue. I see. Good point. However, so the response may be, if this form of evidence is to be treated like all evidence, in that it is subject to the assessment of the trier of fact, then what exactly is the point? Aha. Clever. But, the responder responds, the point is to relieve the police officer from attending court. A police officer’s attendance, if not required, costs the government time and money. Oho, is the response to that salvo. So, the reason for this is administrative efficiency. Not quite, is the response. An accused can also request an officer attend. Really? So, says the responder. So now the burden is on the accused to speak up and ask for an officer to attend court, to give evidence as is his or her duty, and to present themselves for cross-examination only upon request despite the principles engaged in full answer and defence. When once the status quowas the Crown shouldering the responsibility to present in court testable evidence as part of their obligation to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, now the accused must request it. What was a given is now a discretion. Another point in time for the possible exercise of judicial discretion. Another addition to the now enhanced gatekeeper function of the trial judge. Another point in time where a self-represented accused might be overcome by an overly cumbersome process. Hmm. This seems awfully familiar. Isn’t this what happened to the preliminary inquiry? Once it was a default position to have one unless the accused waived it. Then, it became a request. Now, it will be virtually gone, but for exceptional penalty circumstances. But this is mere process – relax, is the final word from the government. The final response may be – look at what happened with expert evidence – complacency in its admission and a failure to test the evidence resulted in miscarriages of justice until courts were forced to recalibrate the focus. 

Finally, we have the Charter statements on these new amendments so crucial to the governmental approach. These statements, according to the government website on the issue, “are intended to provide legal information to the public” on “some of the key considerations that inform the review of a proposed bill for consistency with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” In this instance, the government provides justifications for the amendments, couched in Charter speak, relying on a broad range of rights, such as s 7 in its various forms, the s 11(b) right to a trial within a reasonable time, the s 11(d) presumption of innocence, and the right to equality under s 15. However, when viewing the admission of “routine police evidence,” for instance, this concern for the Charter feels ingenuine. Despite the government’s Charter statementsto the contrary, a sacrifice of one Charterright, such as limiting s. 7 full answer and defence, for another Charterright, such as using administrative expediency to temper s. 11(b) unreasonable trial delay, is not consistent with the spirit and vision of the Charter. Balancing may be needed but balancing requires a proper weighing of these rights in light of our case law. As Justice Iacobucci remarked in the majority decision in R v Oickle, [2000] 2 SCR 3, 2000 SCC 38 (CanLII), the Charterrepresents the “bare minimum below which our law must not fall” (at para 31). Indeed, “the Charter is not an exhaustive catalogue of rights” (para 31). From “time immemorial” we have assiduously protected due process rights as a reflection of our rule of law. Our government may want us to accept the bare minimum but we in Canada deserve more. We see the government’s attitude in those carefully crafted Charterstatements, which on the surface advance transparency but are so carefully polished, they reflect rather than reveal. Self-serving in nature, these statements publicly maintain the proposed changes are consistent with or advance Charter rights, but it is more by the saying that these changes do this than by the fact they truly do. In other words, by saying so, the changes become so. So, it is written, so it is or must be. Whether written in stone or merely on paper, those statements should not be the outward public face of these changes. Again, Canadians deserve better – we deserve to hear the rationales and the potential outcomes. Hear it, not find it in the trail of papers.

(with thanks to the ABlawg team for editing this piece)

Keeping up with the Joneses in the Supreme Court of Canada: The Triumphal Return of the Presumption of Innocence

In addition to the criminal, evidence and advocacy courses I teach, I also teach 1Ls Legislation. Statutory interpretation looms large in that course. One of the analytical tools used in interpreting a statute, albeit in the context of the modern approach, is the concept of absurdity. If the plain reading of the statute would result in an absurdity, then the Courts will look for other interpretations consistent or harmonious with the context and scheme of the Act. Absurdity is a powerful interpretative tool and fits nicely in the legal trope: Law is reasoned and reasonable. It is also logical and helpful. Law is not absurd. This concept of absurdity transcends statutory interpretation and is an overarching principle of law generally. The proper response to Dickens’s Mrs. Bumble should therefore be: the law is not “a ass.” With the recent release of R v Jones, the Court clears up a true absurdity or as Justice Côté for the majority puts it, a “catch-22” situation, relating to whether Jones has standing to argue the Charter issue. Better yet, the Supreme Court clears up this concerning conundrum with the powerful and triumphal use of the presumption of innocence. This summarizes in a nutshell why the recent Supreme Court decision in Jones is a welcome addition to s. 8 case law.

The decision does not have the powerful punch found in the companion decision of Marakah, but it has “legs.” What is this “major major” issue? Put simply, according to previous case law (R v Edwards, 1996 SCC), in order to engage a justiciable Charter issue, the accused must establish a reasonable expectation of privacy (REP) in relation to the thing seized. It must be remembered that s. 8 protects people not places or things. The purpose of the right to be secure from unreasonable search and seizure is to maintain an acceptable societal balance between an individual’s right to be free from state intrusion and the state’s need to intrude into an individual’s private life to maintain public safety and law enforcement. This “push-me pull-you” sense of balance is constantly being recalibrated by the courts in an effort to protect core democratic values underlying the Charter. This recalibration cannot be done in a vacuum but within the context of what currently matters to us as a society. In our courts, context is everything: from the meta-analysis of statutes as found in the modern approach to statutory interpretation to the specific flexibly-applied factors in the REP analysis. In order to argue REP, the accused must be literally or metaphorically standing in ground zero or in the circle of impact. If outside this Charter imbued impact zone, the accused cannot be aggrieved and cannot argue for exclusion of the evidence under s. 24(2).

Typically, it is not difficult to draw a circle of impact around the accused, particularly if the search or seizure are items personally connected to the accused. What does raise standing difficulties is where identity or ownership is in issue. Here’s the rub: once you admit you have standing, as in “you are the person sending the text messages about trafficking in firearms,” you cannot ethically suggest at trial “you are not the person sending the text messages about trafficking in firearms.” This Schrödinger’s cat-like conundrum requires counsel to make tactical decisions which may chip away at an accused’s right to make full answer and defence. The accused by taking the “not me” position is in essence giving up the right to argue a Charter violation. The Jones decision thankfully challenges that presumption and fixes it.

First, let’s start our analysis with the Edwards decision. In that decision, the majority, authored by Justice Cory, were less than impressed with the accused’s position on appeal, which was markedly different than at trial on the issue of ownership. The accused at trial testified that the drugs found in a third-party’s apartment were not his drugs. That position was maintained in the appellate court. It was only in the Supreme Court of Canada that the accused changed a “fundamentally important aspect of the evidence” in admitting that the drugs were indeed his property. This could not be countenanced as by changing the position the Appellant was relying on a different aspect of the REP, namely privacy in the drugs as opposed to REP in the apartment where the drugs were located.

In Jones, the situation was different. The accused did not lead any evidence he was the author and sender of the message. Instead, the defence relied on the Crown’s “theory” that the accused was the author and sender. The application judge found the accused could not rely on speculative “evidence” and therefore he had no standing to raise the s. 8 issue. But, as mentioned, how else could the defence advance a pressing Charter argument without compromising the defence? A legitimate goal of a trial is to put the Crown to the test of its case and to require the Crown prove all essential elements of the offence beyond a reasonable doubt. One of those elements is identity of the owner of the illegal item. If identity is in issue, the defence cannot “have its cake and eat it too” by arguing in the alternative. Once an admission is made on an essential element such as identity of the owner, it is an admission of fact that cannot be admitted for limited purposes only. Law, ethics and the Charter prohibit such a paradoxical stance.

Justice Côté recognizes the unfairness inherent in the standing paradox and soundly rejects the absurdity of the outcome. At paragraph 19 she approves of the defence’s reliance on the Crown’s theory as a foundation for the Charter argument and leans on a purposive, normative approach to the paradox. This approach involves two strands invoking the low hurdle required to overcome the subjective component of the REP analysis and invoking the Charter itself.

First, some background on the REP factors, which are situated in and viewed through the factual circumstances of the case. The factors are a tailored-made, come-as-you-are assessment. Yet, it is an assessment that must be nestled in the social fabric. In a previous blog posting (also a podcast!) on s. 6 of the Criminal Code – the codification of the presumption of innocence – I alluded to the golden thread metaphor of that presumption. That concept of the golden thread, arising from Lord Sankey’s decision in the Woolmington case, maintains the presumption of innocence and the Crown’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt by conceptually weaving the presumption of innocence into our social fabric. Similarly, Justice Côté’s solution to the standing paradox connects back in web-like fashion to the presumption of innocence. It does so through an acknowledgment of the generous interpretation of the REP factors as normative ones and through the protective nature of the Charter right against self-incrimination under s. 13.

The nexus point for these justifications to permit an accused to have section 8 standing even where they deny connection to the offence is that golden thread of innocence. It is nice to see its triumphal return as a recognition of the normative values we hold. It is also an essential reminder that at the heart of the REP analysis is the preservation of those societal values. In many ways, section 8 principles and the section 8 analysis of those principles serve as a perfect view into the justice system with the golden thread as the ultimate symbol of why the right of the state to intrude into our lives must be tempered by the right of an individual to be free from such intrusion.