Seeing Justice Through the VR Lens

The first few 1L Criminal Law classes are dedicated to the “big picture” wherein we discuss the purpose of criminal law in the context of the criminal justice system. Unlike the other 1L doctrinal courses, criminal law is laden with context without which the doctrinal aspects would be meaningless. The context includes, but is not limited to the following: the roles and responsibilities of the Crown, defence and trial judge; respecting the trial narrative as real life situations impacting the lives of real people; trial strategy, professionalism and ethics; procedural “choices” and most importantly, the principles of fundamental justice, which permeates all of these concepts. I try to give them a sense of urgency – how vital all the pieces are to the healthy functioning of the system.

Although I like to use the puzzle piece metaphor to explain how each concept relates to one another and the incompleteness should one piece fail or be absent, in retrospect, that metaphor is too static. It fails to connect to the modern aspect, embedded as it is in technology and imagery. A conventional puzzle is too flat to express the multifarious dimensions of the justice system and the delicacy of the model we uphold. The more appropriate parallel is an interactive 3D environment that has presence, weight and texture. In such an environment, we can more fully appreciate the impact each micro-concept has on the macro-institution. This is the justice system as seen through virtual reality optics in which all the images meld together into a coherent and cohesive whole. This cohesiveness, I suggest, comes from those principles of fundamental justice as embodied in our Charter such as the presumption of innocence, fair trial, and the “specialness” of the criminal standard of proof. Of course, the Charter also supplies dissonance to the imagery as we struggle to overlay onto this reality other protected rights coming not just from the individual charged before the criminal law but also the individual who appears before it as witness. In this sense, the pursuit of justice in this VR lens takes on complex contours and new pathways.

Admittedly, this VR depiction seems a little too much for an explanation as to why the principles of fundamental justice matter in our criminal courts but visualization or depiction of the law is as important as articulation. In my working paper on “The W(D) Revolution”, I make a case for the case by showing why the essence of W(D) still matters and how it has revolutionized the way the courts view the presumption of innocence and burden of proof. I emphasize the need to strip down our trial discourse to the essentials - that assessment of the evidence must be done through the lens of those principles of fundamental justice which underline our core values as a society. We say we do this, however, the W(D) journey is also a cautionary tale, reminding us that espousing a formulaic mantra is meaningless without a true commitment to the content of W(D) and those principles the case enshrines. Without that commitment, we are not giving meaning to those values nor are we creating an image of the criminal justice system worth pursuing. We need to view the justice system through the lens of virtual reality and experience the texture of justice as we dispense it. This is why W(D) still matters and this is why teaching context is everything.

On The DLW Decision and The Meaning of Modernity

Despite our common law system, statute law remains a key source of law in Canada. Its importance cannot be underestimated as lawmakers rely on legislation to implement policy on various social and economic issues. In many ways, legislation is reflective of who we are as a society and serves to reinforce our collective values. No other piece of legislation in Canada exemplifies this more than our Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46. Contained in this piece of legislation is conduct we deem as a society to be so abhorrent, so contrary to who we are, that we will punish those who commit these prohibited acts, often through a loss of liberty. Although the concept of codification relieves us from speculating on the substance of criminal behaviour, it carries with it the mystique of interpreting or discerning Parliamentary intent in creating those crimes. As a result, statutory interpretation is often the main issue in criminal cases as judges wrestle with words, meanings, and intentions. This process is vital in criminal law, where a turn of phrase can mean the difference between guilt or innocence. The difficulty lies in dealing with crimes that carry centuries of established meaning, such as murder, assault, and theft. Yet, the crimes so interpreted must remain relevant. In this blog post, I will explore certain aspects of the DLW judgment, 2016 SCC 22, the most recent Supreme Court of Canada decision employing statutory interpretation principles, on the crime of bestiality (section 160 of the Criminal Code). Here, the Court enters into an age old process of interpretation yet does so, seemingly, in the name of modernity. This case highlights the inherent problems in discerning or interpreting value-laden legislation as it then was and then, ultimately, as it needs to be.

Before we delve into DLW, we must set our general legislative expectations. As mentioned earlier, legislation is based upon sound public policy. Seen in this light, legislation should provide a narrative displaying the objectives and goals of the rules contained within their sections. It should provide clarity of purpose with which we can identify. Legislation should be accessible to all, not just in a physical sense, but also intellectually. Moreover, legislation, as a delivery platform, should be flexible and responsive to the societal values it is meant to emulate. However, these expectations seem to dissolve as soon as the ink dries on the paper. In the context of a written document, legislation seems to lose its dynamic quality. Indeed, as suggested by Lord Esher in Sharpe v Wakefield (1888), 22 Q.B.D. 239, at p. 242, “The words of a statute must be construed as they would have been the day after the statute was passed,” meaning that the words have a frozen quality as they encapsulate a moment in time. The key is in knowing what that moment reveals, which is crucial for the proper implementation and application of the legislation.

Although, the courts have entered into the legislative fray since time immemorial, or at least since 1235 when the first Act of the English Parliament was passed (see for example, Statute of Merton, Attorneys in County Court Act, 1235), it is still far from clear how the courts perform this interpretive function. To be sure rules have been fashioned such as the “Plain Meaning Rule,” also known as the “Literal Rule,” or the “Mischief Rule” or even the “Golden Rule.” Just to clarify, that is the other Golden Rule, not the biblical one. In any event, sprinkled liberally between these over-arching rules are specific rules and maxims, usually proposed in Latin, making the whole exercise very structured, formalistic, and confusing. Thankfully, this conundrum was noted by Elmer Driedger, long-time Solicitor for the Attorney-General of Canada and author of the seminal work in the area.  In the Construction of Statutes 2nd ed., Toronto, Butterworths, 1983, at 87, Driedger summed up all of the disparate rules into one sentence:

“Today there is only one principle or approach, namely, the words of an Act are to be read in their entire context and in their grammatical and ordinary sense harmoniously with the scheme of the Act, the object of the Act, and the intention of Parliament.”

Within the year, in Stubart Investments Ltd v The Queen decision, [1984] 1 SCR 536, the Supreme Court of Canada endorsed this “modern rule.” By 1985, the principle was deemed “oft-quoted” in Vachon v Canada Employment and Immigration Commission, [1985] 2 SCR 417 (at para 48). Despite the Court’s quick embracement of the “modern rule” or “modern principles,” decades later, it is still unclear what this rule encompasses and how “modern” it truly is. This topic is thoroughly canvassed in the fascinating article on the development and use of the “modern principle” authored by Stéphane Beaulac and Pierre-André Côté, entitled “Driedger’s “Modern Principle” at the Supreme Court of Canada: Interpretation, Justification, Legitimization” ((2006) 40 R.J.T. 131. In the paper, Beaulac and Côté persuasively argue that the principle is far from modern, even at the time of its reception by the Court. They posit the principle, as articulated by Driedger in 1983, was simply a rough summary of the main statutory principles in use at the time. Certainly by 2006, the principle was far from “modern” having been in use for years. As an aside, some of these principles can be traced to the thirteen rules of Talmudic textual interpretation, particularly rule twelve, which suggests a contextual interpretation. In any event, the Supreme Court of Canada still confers the moniker, “modern,” to the approach (see R v Borowiec, 2016 SCC 11 at para 18). Its modernity, therefore, appears to be in question.

However, in the spirit of Driedger let us first do a little interpretation on the term “modern.” In the DLW case, “modern” appears to mean “new” as opposed to “old.” Looking at the “grammatical and ordinary sense” of the word “modern,” the Oxford Dictionary, the go-to text for the Supreme Court of Canada (CanLii search found 147 SCC cases referencing the Oxford Dictionary as opposed to a paltry 11 cases for Merriam-Webster), the definition is “relating to the present or recent times as opposed to the remote past” or “characterized by or using the most up-to-date techniques, ideas, or equipment.” Indeed, in Justice Abella’s dissent in DLW, she frames the issue as the new against the old with her newer more “modern” interpretation of the crime as opposed to the majority, written by Justice Cromwell, an old hand at statutory interpretation cases, as the purveyor of the old fashioned, decidedly out of sync with today’s realities.

Abella J accomplishes this new/old dichotomy through her deft use of metaphor directed at the majority decision. The opening paragraph of her dissent utilizes agricultural metaphors of abundance (at para 125) describing the “fertile field” of statutory interpretation with the “routine harvest” of “words and intentions” as “planted” by the lawmakers.  This metaphor brings to mind not only quantity but also the longevity of the interpretative technique as she then extends her position that the crime of bestiality must receive a modern interpretation despite the fact it is a “centuries old” crime (at para 126) whose “roots” are “old, deep, and gnarled” (at para 125). Thus an interpretation of the crime, based on tradition as per the majority under Cromwell J, is not a living tree but an ancient inaccessible relic of the past. Cleverly, Abella J’s opening of the issue is an effective foil to Justice Cromwell’s majority where he characterizes bestiality as a “very old” crime in his opening paragraph (at para 1) but one which cannot be made “new” without clear Parliamentary intention and certainly not through judicial intervention. In paragraph 13, Justice Cromwell hands Justice Abella her thematic metaphor by setting out the “root” of the issue as an interplay between common law and statutory intention. A similar technique was used by Justice Karakatsanis, with Justice Abella concurring, in the dissent in the Fearon case, [2014] 3 SCR 621, 2014 SCC 77 (CanLII), wherein Justice Cromwell too authored the majority decision. There, through the deliberate choice of word use, the dissent of Karakatsanis J breathes modernity in stark contrast to Cromwell J’s reliance on traditional legalistic nomenclature (for further discussion on this see, as published on my website, my previous blog entitled A Fresh Look At Fearon: How Language Informs The Law).

In fact, Justice Abella is right: the issue in DLW is very much bound up with the old and the new as the court is faced with the task of defining the meaning of “bestiality” as it relates to a disturbing child sexual abuse case where a family pet was used to molest a child. The “old” or “traditional” view of bestiality, undefined in the Criminal Code but as gleaned through common law, has the requirement for penetration. This definition fails to not only capture the conduct in DLW but also fails, according to Justice Abella’s dissent, on a cultural, social, and public policy level as well. The irony, in the context of interpreting our codified criminal law, is the reliance on the common law conception of the crime. Since its inception in 1892, the Criminal Code has been the only source, with one limited exception, for identifying which conduct should be considered criminal. If conduct is not proscribed in our Code as a crime, then it is not one. In other words, the common law, or those unwritten rules which have developed over time, cannot create a crime. The only exception being the common law offence of contempt of court pursuant to s. 9 of the Criminal Code. Otherwise, only our Parliament under s. 91(27) of the Constitution Act, 1867 has the authority to create criminal law. Nevertheless, the common law is not ignored in the interpretative process. For the majority, the common law remains unchanged by codification and therefore can be equated with Parliamentary intention. To go any further, in the view of the majority, the courts would be creating a “new” crime, which is not within the judicial function. Conversely, for Justice Abella, the common law conception of bestiality reinforces the present need to move beyond it.

In this sense “modern” can also denote more than a chronological time. It can also, according to the Oxford Dictionary, refer to a “current or recent style or trend in art, architecture, or other cultural activity marked by a significant departure from traditional styles and values.” In this definition, looking at legislation as a “cultural activity” in the broadest sense, Justice Abella’s reading of the term proposes a departure from the traditional “modern principles” through the lens of current societal interests as reflected in the present policy decisions behind the creation of crimes. However, in the realm of traditional statutory interpretation, although Parliamentary intention -through the scheme and objectives of the legislation- lends context to the statutory interpretation process, such context does not necessarily include a deep dive into the policy behind the legislation. Certainly, Driedger’s principles do not directly make reference to it. This lack of clarity, according to Beaulac and Côté in their article, has resulted in uneven judicial treatment of policy in statutory interpretation. For instance, in Canadian Broadcasting Corp v SODRAC 2003 Inc, [2015] 3 SCR 615, at paragraph 55 the majority decision written by Justice Rothstein (Cromwell J, among others, concurring) effectively cautions against the dissent’s use of policy considerations in textual interpretation. In that case, Justice Abella, yet again, writes the main dissenting position. The DLW decision, therefore, is just another example of this interpretive tension. However, considering traditional statutory interpretation in discerning Parliamentary intention was reluctant to go beyond the four corners of the document, the now ubiquitous use of Hansard to elucidate on such intention shows how far the court has and can move from tradition towards modernity. This will definitely be a continuing dialogue within the court to watch for in future cases.

So what of the modernity of the principle in use in the DLW case? It has already been established that this principle has been in use for years and, according to Beaulac and Cote, may even be a mere reiteration of what had been in use prior to 1983. However, as Beaulac and Cote also recognize, Driedger’s principle is both a “method of interpretation” and a “framework for justification.” It is that dual nature, which provides an inherent flexibility to the principle, permitting it to discern or interpret even the most profound words found in our rules of law. Its application, as seen through the discourse in the DLW case, cannot be confined by the four corners of a piece of legislation but must permit a deeper analysis involving societal values and purpose to remain meaningful. In short, it requires, a touch of modernity.

This blog is also posted on Ablawg website: www.ablawg.ca

 

 

Section 24 - Attempting the Impossible: Episode 29 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada

In the previous podcast we tackled the possibilities but in this podcast we will discuss the impossibilities. Section 24 of the Criminal Code pertains to attempts to commit an offence in an “attempt” to clarify what it means under our criminal law to commit an attempt of a crime. The difficulty with an attempt crime can be traced back to the essential elements of a crime and to the reluctance of the criminal law to attach liability to “evil thoughts.” Thus, in criminal law is the requirement that for a crime to be committed there must be both a prohibited act or actus reus and a criminal intent or mens rea as highlighted by the Latin maxim actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea, which translates to “there is no guilty act, without a guilty mind.” Not only must these two elements be present for a crime but they must also coincide.

A good example is the entertaining 1968 UK case of Fagan v Metropolitan Police Force in which Fagan accidentally rolled onto a police officer’s foot but once he realized he had done so, he swore at the police officer and turned off his car. After a few agonizing moments, Fagan turned on his car and rolled off of the officer’s foot. Fagan was charged and convicted of assault police. On appeal, Fagan tried to argue that there was no assault in law as his criminal intent or mens rea did not manifest itself until after the prohibited act or actus reus of rolling onto the officer’s foot. The House of Lords found this argument too narrow and explained that the prohibited act can be a continuing action and indeed in Fagan’s case they found that from the time Fagan rolled onto the foot to the time he subsequently rolled off was one continuing transaction, during which  Fagan formed the criminal intent.

So what does this great case narrative have to do with attempts? In the case of attempts it becomes very difficult to know when the actus reus and the mens rea coincide as the prohibited act is a subtle one and falls short of the actual criminal act. Indeed, attempts are known as incomplete or inchoate (not fully formed) crimes. There are other crimes, which fall under this incomplete or unfulfilled category such as counseling to commit a crime not committed under s. 464 and conspiracy under s. 465. The issue then is identifying when an act of attempt occurs as it is not the completed act and yet it is also not the mere thinking of the act as that would criminalize mere evil intentions. Thus, an attempt takes place before the completion of the intended crime but the Courts must decide at what point the attempt is complete and criminal liability will attach. Something more is required and section 24 instructs us on how that “something more” is determined in a criminal case.

Section 24 has two subsections and reads as follows:

24(1) Every one who, having an intent to commit an offence, does or omits to do anything for the purpose of carrying out the intention is guilty of an attempt to commit the offence whether or not it was possible under the circumstances to commit the offence.

(2) The question whether an act or omission by a person who has an intent to commit an offence is or is not mere preparation to commit the offence, and too remote to constitute an attempt to commit the offence, is a question of law.

Other than s. 463, which we will get to much much later and deals with the punishment for an attempt, s. 24 is the only section in the Code dealing with attempts. The difficulty is that this section doesn’t exactly tell us what it means to commit an attempt of an offence. The section does however give some legal clues, which the courts have then used together with common law interpretations of attempts to fill in the doctrinal meaning of “attempt.” From subsection (2), and from case law, we can say that an attempt is complete when the accused person’s actions go beyond “mere preparation.” This usually means the next step done with the intent to commit the crime, after preparation is complete. There also must be proximity in time between the act and the intention.

Who decides when preparation is complete? Subsection 2 tells us that it is the trial judge, who determines this issue as a question of law. Therefore, if a jury tries the matter, the trial judge will instruct the jury on this issue. The jury, as triers of fact, will then apply the legal principles to the facts to determine if the accused is guilty or not guilty of the attempt.

Not only does the prohibited act for an attempt require specific findings based in law but the intention required for an attempt is specific as well. The mens rea required for an attempt is the mens rea required for the completed offence. But in the case of attempt murder, the intention required is the highest level of subjective mens rea under s.229(a)(i), intention to kill, and not the slightly relaxed intention under s. 229(a)(ii).

I am now going to add my own narrative to this issue by relating the circumstances of the first case I did as a lawyer. I was called to the Bar in March and within the week, I was representing a client charged with an attempt break and enter. Certainly, one can envision an attempt break and enter – for example here are the facts from the 1986 Alberta Court of Appeal Gochanour case wherein a homeowner was awakened by noises at her living room window and when she looked out the window she saw the exterior screen was ripped open and someone was running from her residence. In my client’s case, the allegation was that the client, who was under the influence of alcohol at the time, was found in a fairly upscale neighbourhood with a stick in his hand. The police found scratches around the lock of a front door of a nearby house. The client was discharged at the preliminary hearing but as we can see from s.24(1), not on the basis of impossibility – as it is impossible to open a locked door with a stick – but because a properly instructed jury acting reasonably could find no evidence that the client used the stick for the purpose of committing a break and enter of a residence.

Impossibility is therefore not a defence to an attempt and therefore one cannot argue that because the completed offence was not possible, the accused must be acquitted of the attempt to commit the impossible offence. This proposition holds true whether or not the offence was legally or factually possible. But, as we will discover this does not necessarily hold true, for practical purposes, for every charge.

Let me wrap up the discussion of section 24 by offering some thought-provoking examples. A pickpocket who attempts to steal from an empty pocket is still liable to be charged for an attempt theft. Although this is legally fair, the question may be is it morally right? Should someone in that position face a possible criminal record and/or jail?

Here are some offences in which one may not be able to be charged with an attempt – even though according to s. 24 charges are possible. It is difficult to conceive of an attempt to commit a criminal negligence under s.219 – although this may be a too simplistic conundrum - it is hard to imagine how someone can attempt to be negligent. It is also difficult to conceive an attempt to be found in a common bawdy house according to s. 201(2)(a). How can someone attempt to be found in a place as required by the section? We can also apply this concept outside of the Criminal Code and to the quasi-criminal regulatory field. Can someone attempt to speed? Can someone attempt to commit an absolute liability offence, which requires no intention at all? Or in the regulatory field, can the defence argue that attempt charges are indeed not possible as they would be inconsistent with the spirit and purpose of those regulatory acts or that pursuant to, the enabling provincial statutes such a concept is inconsistent with the Act. For example, the defence could rely on s. 3 of the Provincial Offences Procedure Act or for federal acts s. 5 of the Contraventions Act, which provide for the application of the Criminal Code to regulatory offences as long as such sections are not inconsistent with the regulatory Acts. Of course, the contrary argument might be that those regulatory statutes are procedural while the concept of an attempt is a substantive issue. What has been made clear by case law is that someone cannot be charged with an attempt to commit an incomplete crime such as mentioned earlier in this podcast – counseling to commit a crime not completed and a conspiracy. So in the end, perhaps there is a defence to the impossible!

 

 

Episode 29 of the Ideablawg Podcast on the Criminal Code of Canada - Section 24 - Attempting the Impossible

Age As A Defence – Section 13: Episode 15 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada

In previous podcasts I have spoken of defences, a legal construct which an accused person can use in answer to the charge. There are two essential elements of a crime: the actus reus or prohibited act, which is the illegal behaviour and the mens rea or the guilty mind, which is the fault requirement. Some defences, negate the actus reus or prohibited act requirement of a crime, meaning that the accused cannot be convicted of the crime as the prohibited act was not committed by the accused voluntarily. This would occur, for example, in the following scenario: a person was driving his car with the window partially open and a wasp flew into the car, attacking the driver, and causing him to drive erratically. In that instance, a charge of dangerous driving under s.249 of the Code would fail as the prohibited act or bad driving was involuntary. The accused did not choose to drive in such as manner but external circumstances, beyond the accused person’s control, caused him to do so.

Another category of defences, known as justifications and excuses, are available even though the accused could be found guilty of the crime. If such a defence is successful, the accused is acquitted of the crime as he or she may be justified in committing the crime or may be excused from responsibility. In Episode 11, I explain these defences more thoroughly and I discuss the defence of duress, an example of the defence of excuse, in my previous blog here. Although these defences, if accepted, typically result in a full acquittal, the exception is the defence of provocation, a form of justification, which is only a partial defence, reducing murder to manslaughter, per s.232 of the Criminal Code. See my previous blog on the issue.

There are also defences, which negate the mens rea or the criminal intention required for a crime. Mistake of fact is such a defence where the accused believes in a set of facts, which, if true, would exonerate the accused. In those circumstances, the accused would not have the intention required to commit the offence.

Still another category of defences, which also relates to the mens rea of an offence, is where the accused is incapable of forming the intent required. Incapacity is difficult to use as a defence and tends to require expert medical evidence to establish the incapacity such as in the defence of intoxication (a common law defence, which has been severely limited by the Code under section 33.1) and mental disorder under s. 16 (or insanity as it was originally called). Another form of incapacity, which does not require medical evidence, is incapacity based on age. This is where section 13 comes into play – in fact, child’s play – as the section reads:

No person shall be convicted of an offence in respect of an act or omission on his part while that person was under the age of twelve years.

Interestingly, the word “child” is not used in the actual section, although it is used in the descriptive heading for the section, Child Under Twelve. As there is no statute of limitation on criminal offences, meaning that a person is still liable for a crime committed years previously, not using the descriptive word “child” in the actual section does make sense. Also note that although the section states a person under twelve years of age cannot be convicted of an offence, he or she may be charged with an offence. Again, if you have been listening/reading my previous podcasts, the Code seems to be focused on the “end game” of conviction and punishment.

Furthermore, this type of incapacity differs from intoxication and mental disorder as the simple proof of age, which is easily done, bars conviction. Intoxication and mental disorder as a defence, not only may require medical evidence but are complex defences, and in the case of mental disorder, has a complex procedure in the Criminal Code.  Certainly, in the case of mental disorder, an alternate mental health system is available to take over when the criminal law cannot.

So why is there such a limitation and why is it set at under twelve? Perhaps it is time we do a little historical review to find some answers.

In the 1892 Criminal Code, section 9 prohibited conviction of a person under seven years of age. Traditionally, English common law did not attach responsibility to young children for crimes, as children, like the mentally challenged, could not understand the consequences of their actions and therefore could not be held responsible in criminal court. This was the norm until the advent of the 1980 Young Offenders Act, which replaced the Juvenile Delinquents Act, when the present day age of twelve was substituted for the age of seven. This change in age was supported by psychological and medical research, which showed that the neurological development of a young person was not fully advanced until well into the teens. Thus developed the concept that a person under twelve years of age was incapable of forming the criminal intent. The research on this issue is certainly more complex as I have summarized and I invite you to do your own research on this topic. Needless to say, some academics presently question whether the child is truly incapable of forming an evil intent, although most agree that a child, due to developmental factors, should not be treated the same as an adult. Certainly Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act is based on that premise.

Politics has also come into the issue as the Conservative Party in 1999, through a private member’s Bill, attempted to change the age of incapacity to a child under ten years of age. This Bill did not survive but this concept has survived and may be raised yet again by the government particularly as the now Justice Minister, Peter McKay, was the sponsor of that 1999 amendment.

Additional pressure to change the age of incapacity comes from media reports of children under the age of 12 committing crimes, usually murder, both here and in the UK. It should however be noted that in terms of statistical evidence, 61% of the offences committed by young offenders are committed by the oldest offenders between the ages of 16 and 17. I know all of this fails to explain why the age barrier is under twelve as opposed to under eleven or under thirteen. I believe much of this is connected to societal perceptions and expectations, which do change over time.

To be sure, even though the criminal justice system is not engaged when a child under twelve commits a crime, the social service system can and will deem such a child in need of protection and he or she will be taken into the child welfare system. The focus is then on the reason why the child acted inappropriately and focuses on treatment and not punishment. However, the difference between these two concepts tends to become blurred in the eyes of a young person. An example of this in Alberta is the Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Act wherein a child using drugs or alcohol may be taken into a protective “safe house.”

Although the child welfare system may seem to be a kinder and gentler way of dealing with a troubled child, the system is rife with problems such as the power of the state to take children from their biological families and the difficulty of treatment without the fair trial procedures as would be required in the criminal courts. On the other hand, the stigma of a criminal charge and the use of the process-oriented criminal justice system, even if it is supposed to look towards rehabilitation of a young person, tend to provide band-aid solutions, where there are consequences, a bit of treatment, but no long-term solutions.

In the end, the criminal justice system is probably not the answer for a troubled child but the child welfare system may not be either. Perhaps, it is time for us to start thinking of alternative ways, proactive ways, to ensure that all children have the opportunity to engage in play and not crime.

 

 

 

Episode 15 - Section 13 Age As A Defence: The Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada

Section 11: The Parallel Universe of Criminal and Civil Law: Episode 13 of the Ideablawg Podcast on the Criminal Code of Canada

Today we will step out of our criminal law comfort zone to talk a little bit about the civil law, in particular how criminal and civil law reside in a parallel universe due to section 11 of the Criminal Code.

To start, let’s discuss how civil law and criminal law differ from one another. First, it should be noted that when I speak of “civil law,” I am using this term generously to refer to the legal system controlling private disputes, particularly where there is harm caused either physically (tort law) or through a breach of contractual obligations. Another definition of “civil law” may be the civil law tradition, which comes from the Continental legal tradition (The Napoleonic Code for instance), and involves codified civil statutes governing society, such as found in Quebec.

As you probably already noticed, the main difference between criminal and civil laws is the type of parties engaged in each of these systems. Civil law is between private individuals, whilst criminal is between the state or the government and an individual, although a corporation can also be charged with a criminal offence. Thus, in criminal law we are concerned with public wrongs and harms against society. As, I have mentioned before, the criminal law underlines society’s fundamental values and is reflective of how we view our society at any given time.

As a result of this differing viewpoint, civil and criminal law employ different legal processes, on occasion differing legal rules, and even a different standard of proof. To reflect the specialness of the criminal law, the burden of proof, which is on the state, is beyond a reasonable doubt, and for the civil world it is proof on a balance of probabilities, which is a lower standard of proof than the criminal one.

The civil law also employs some different types of remedies than the criminal law, although sometimes not. Criminal law remedies are about punishment, with the concomitant ideals of retribution and rehabilitation. Typically, civil remedies are about compensation, to ensure the injured party is recompensed for the harm caused. However, there are occasions where these remedies do meet such us in the criminal law when compensation is ordered or in civil law when punitive damages are assessed. This blurring of the lines between civil and criminal law is best seen in the regulatory field of legislation. For further reading on this issue, My Masters Thesis considered the criminalization of regulatory offences and the use of the civil punitive sanction as an alternative.

Now that we understand the differences between civil and criminal, let’s take a look at section 11 of the Criminal Code to try and figure out what it means and what it is doing in our Criminal Code.

Section 11 is entitled Civil Remedy Not Suspended and reads as follows:

No civil remedy for an act or omission is suspended or affected by reason that the act or omission is a criminal offence.

As an aside, a similar section can be found in the 1892 Criminal Code under s. 534. It is under the General Provisions of procedure section of the Code, while the present section 11 is under the General Part.

On the face, the meaning of the section is fairly clear: a civil action may proceed despite a parallel criminal action. In other words, a person charged with an offence can also face a civil suit for his or her actions and that civil case can continue at the same time as the criminal prosecution. However, as discussed in the last two previous podcasts, as the court retains an inherent jurisdiction over its process, a judge, in exceptional circumstances, can suspend a civil case until the criminal matter concludes. The circumstances for such abeyance would involve the right of the accused to a fair trial and the prejudicial effect of a continuing civil case. It must be emphasized that this power is discretionary and there is no automatic right to stay a civil case until a criminal matter is completed.

Another concern for an accused facing a civil suit is the civil requirement for questioning the parties on the suit. Such responses may later incriminate the accused at the criminal trial. However, there is protection for the accused under s.13 of the Charter, which prohibits the use of such testimony in a criminal proceeding, except in a prosecution for perjury or “for the giving of contradictory evidence.” Therefore, the state cannot advance such incriminatory evidence at the accused’s trial unless the evidence forms the basis of a perjury charge or unless the accused testifies at the criminal trial and his testimony at the criminal trial is contradictory to the previous testimony in the civil proceeding. In that instance, the civil testimony does not go in for the truth of its content but can be used to cross-examine the accused on a prior inconsistent statement. However, under provisions in the Canada Evidence Act, an accused must still answer the questions put to him when questioned in a civil case.

There are cases where the civil trial judge has stayed the civil proceeding when the accused is facing criminal charges in the United States. In that forum, the accused, as a Canadian citizen, would not be entitled to invoke the protection of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and would not be protected by the Canadian laws.

Our final consideration is why is the section in the Code. I suggest the section is in place to reiterate the differences between criminal and civil law. The sections speaks of civil remedies or the outcome of a civil case and also a civil suit’s purpose – to enforce a right of the party, which has been harmed, or unrecognized by the other party’s actions. This enforcement is between these two parties – not between Her Majesty and the accused - therefore the action is in respect of different parties. The harm is a private one, and again does not underline the social values at stake in a criminal case. Finally, the standard of proof is lower in a civil suit and therefore a civil remedy may be ordered even if an accused is ultimately acquitted of the criminal case – see the O.J. Simpson trial as an example of this.  So they are different proceedings, for a different reason, making parallel proceedings possible. Finally, there is a desire that civil matters, like criminal cases, be heard in a timely manner to ensure the integrity of the civil system. Of course, with the caveat that, in matters of justice, the criminal case will prevail.

 

 

 

Episode 13 of the Ideablawg Podcast on the Criminal Code of Canada: Section 11

Section 5 – The Criminal Code and The Canadian Forces: Episode 8 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada

The following is the text version of Episode Eight of the Ideablawg Podcasts. The podcast can be found at the end of the text.

In this episode, we are still in Part I, the General part of the Criminal Code. As the title of this Part suggests, many of the sections under this Part are broad statements applying to the Code as a whole – like the previous section 4, which included some general terms and procedures. Section 5 also makes a sweeping statement but about the military. Section 5 reads as follows:

Nothing in this Act affects any law relating to the government of the Canadian Forces.

Well, that sounds very straight forward – The Criminal Code does not affect martial or military law. Or, in other words military laws take precedent over the Criminal Code. Now, that is quite a statement – an exemption from the Criminal Code for the military? Is that what this section is really doing?

Well, not exactly. Certainly members of Canadian Forces are not exempt from the Criminal Code but they are exempt from the procedures found under the Criminal Code if the military decides to try a member for a Criminal Code offence before a military tribunal. Thus, in accordance with Section 130 of the National Defence Act any Criminal Code offence committed by a member of the Canadian Armed Forces or any person accompanying the Canadian Forces has also committed an offence under the National Defence Act (hereinafter NDA) and the Code of Service Discipline, found under Part III of the NDA applies.

These two sections – s. 5 in the Criminal Code and s. 130 in the NDA – create a separate judicial scheme for the armed forces. This concept is not new and has been a cornerstone of our military disciplinary regime from the conception of the armed forces. The Parliamentarian right to legislate on military matters was given under the Constitution Act, 1867 through s. 91(7). It has also been argued that the legitimacy of this federally created military judicial system is recognized by s. 11(f) the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which exempts military offences, even if punishable by five years imprisonment or more, from the right to a jury trial.

The purpose of such a separate regime is ostensibly to enforce military discipline. However, the courts have interpreted that purpose generously. For instance, in the 1992 Supreme Court of Canada Genereux case, the court considered the application of s. 11 of the Charter to military trials involving Criminal Code offences. The majority of the court speaking through the decision of Chief Justice Lamer, reiterated that s. 11 of the Charter did apply to military courts or, as in the Genereux case, the proceedings of the General Courts Martial. The Chief Justice explained:

Although the Code of Service Discipline is primarily concerned with maintaining discipline and integrity in the Canadian Armed Forces, it does not serve merely to regulate conduct that undermines such discipline and integrity.  The Code serves a public function as well by punishing specific conduct which threatens public order and welfare. Many of the offences with which an accused may be charged under the Code of Service Discipline, which is comprised of Parts IV to IX of the National Defence Act, relate to matters which are of a public nature.  For example, any act or omission that is punishable under the Criminal Code or any other Act of Parliament is also an offence under the Code of Service Discipline.  Service tribunals thus serve the purpose of the ordinary criminal courts, that is, punishing wrongful conduct, in circumstances where the offence is committed by a member of the military or other person subject to the Code of Service Discipline.”

However, we must remember that it is the choice of the military or, in some cases, the federal government, whether or not to prosecute a member under the Code of Service Discipline. For example, the infamous case of Col. Russell Williams was heard in the civilian court. So too was the spying case of sub-lieutenant Jeffrey Delisle (I have written previous blogs and this case here and here), although apparently the military was not pleased with the government’s decision to try him in the civilian court.

This military judicial regime is actually a two-tiered system. Most discipline matters are dealt with under the summary trial procedure at the unit level where the maximum punishment is thirty days incarceration.  The more serious and formal process is a court martial with a “legally qualified military judge” presiding. In this procedure the accused are entitled to counsel and a member of the Judge Advocate General prosecutes the case. A court martial may be by way of a General Courts Martial, which consists of a judge and a panel of five members of the Armed Forces, or a Standing Courts Martial, which is a military judge sitting alone. Both Courts can impose a sentence of life imprisonment.

Although this military system has been in use for years and has seemingly been upheld by SCC decisions, there are significant pressures for reform. In a recent paper, presented by Professor Michel William Drapeau, a retired Colonel who once was the Director of the National Defence Headquarters Secretariat and is now a law professor at the University of Ottawa, for The Global Seminar for Military Reform held at the Yale Law School on October 18-19, 2013, Professor Drapeau argues strongly in favour of reform of the military judicial system based on the worldwide trend to reduce military jurisdiction and reintroduce civilian jurisdiction, particularly where criminal offences are involved.

In Drapeau’s view, reform is needed so our military conforms to accepted human rights practices and based upon previous calls for reform from within Canada through the 1998 Royal Commission into the repugnant actions of some members of the armed forces in Somalia and through the 2003 Lamer Report, written as a five year review of the NDA after legislative changes were implemented as a result of the 1998 Commission. In this excellent paper, Drapeau outlines a number of reform recommendations, which, if accepted by the government, would ensure that military justice is not only on par with our civilian criminal justice system but consistent with our global role as a model of a free and democratic society. I also recommend another paper presented at this seminar written by the Honourable Gilles Letourneau, a retired judge of the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada and the Federal Court of Appeal but also the Commissioner for the 1998 Somalia Inquiry mentioned earlier, entitled Two Fundamental Shortcomings of the Canadian Military Justice System.

I leave this topic reluctantly as quite frankly it is so complex and interesting I would like to delve deeper into the issues I have briefly raised. I encourage everyone to go out and learn more on how the military judicial system operates. In particular, there are a number of recent Charter cases in which it has been argued that various sections of the NDA are unconstitutional. Although, the applications have been dismissed, they were decided at the court martial level and I believe we will be seeing more such challenges in the future and some on appeal.

Of course, this podcast will be published the day before November 11, Remembrance Day, and whatever criticisms there may be of the military judicial system, I think we can all agree that our veterans and current members of the Armed Forces should be lauded and remembered for their courage and bravery. On that note, I would like to conclude this podcast with a poetry reading. Every November 11, my family and I mark Remembrance Day with readings from war poets such as Wilfred Owen from WW I (I recommend Dulce Et Decorum Est) and Keith Douglas from World War II (I recommend How To Kill). I have written a previous blog on war poetry, which can be found here called “Lest We Forget,” which includes these poems and a poem by F. R. Scott, a civil liberties lawyer and a previous Dean of McGill Law School. I have written a blog posting called Poetic Justice wherein I discuss the role of poetry in law and discuss Scott’s poetic legacy. (As an aside, Norman Bethune was in love with Marian Scott, F.R. Scott’s wife.)

I could, of course, end this podcast with the most famous Canadian war poem, In Flanders Field, by John McCrae, but instead I will read another of McCrae’s poems, not as well known but just as meaningful, entitled Disarmament:

One spake amid the nations, "Let us cease

From darkening with strife the fair World's light,

We who are great in war be great in peace.

No longer let us plead the cause by might."

 

But from a million British graves took birth

A silent voice -- the million spake as one --

"If ye have righted all the wrongs of earth

Lay by the sword! Its work and ours is done."

 

 

Episode 8: Section 5 and Military Law Ideablawg Podcast

Section 4(3) Possession – An Example of Judge-Made Law: Episode Six of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada

I ended last episode with a bit of a teaser: I said in this episode we would explore the old adage: possession is nine-tenths of the law. Well, sorry to say, this is not the law, particularly in the criminal law meaning of “possession.” What we will explore in this podcast is what section 4(3) tells us about the meaning of “possession” and what it does not.

Once again, we will encounter the difficulty of using the Criminal Code as an inclusive repository of criminal offences. According to section 9 of the Code, which we will be discussing on these podcasts very soon, all crimes in Canada are in the Code, except for the common law crime of contempt of court. However, although all crimes are found under a particular section of the Code, on the plain reading of a particular section one cannot be certain of the requisite elements. Sometimes, we need to look elsewhere in the Code for further illumination, such as s. 2 definitions or the definitions found under the relevant Part.

More often, we need to look at case law for the answer. This reality suggests the concept in s.19 of the Code, that ignorance of the law is no excuse, is a bit of a joke, as certainly the average reasonable person, who has no legal training, could not access with certainty the requirements for each crime. This is even more evident when case law does not just define certain words used in a section but actually reads into the section additional words.

This is the case with the s.4 (3) meaning of “possession.” This section is a perfect example of how the Courts have restricted or narrowed the prohibited act of a crime, as originally conceived by Parliament, through legal interpretation. Of course the courts do not do this whimsically. There is a method to their madness and the modifications ensure the integrity of the criminal law as a whole. In the case of possession the added requirements ensure the law is not overly broad and does not capture those whom we would consider legally and perhaps, although not necessarily, even morally innocent. The big puzzle is why Parliament doesn’t take the hint and, in the next round of omnibus Criminal Code changes, amend the section accordingly. To not do this smacks of “ostrich-in-the-sand” kind of mentality. Or better yet, is to liken the attitude to the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal from the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy– what you can’t see isn’t there.

In any event, with this lengthy introductory rant, let’s look at section 4 (3), which reads as follows:

For the purposes of this Act,(a) a person has anything in possession when he has it in his personal possession or knowingly(i) has it in the actual possession or custody of another person, or(ii) has it in any place, whether or not that place belongs to or is occupied by him, for the use or benefit of himself or of another person; and(b) where one of two or more persons, with the knowledge and consent of the rest, has anything in his custody or possession, it shall be deemed to be in the custody and possession of each and all of them.

What we really want to focus on is the concept of joint or constructive possession under s. 4 (3)(b), which requires “knowledge and consent.” The difficulty with this definition started with the Alberta case, from the sixties, Marshall.  The teenager, Daniel Marshall hitched a ride with some friends from B.C. intending to make his way home to Alberta. During the ride, the other teens smoked a hookah pipe filled with marijuana, which Marshall passed along but did not partake. When the Alberta police stopped the car for a broken headlamp, billows of marijuana smoke drifted out of the open windows. Everyone was charged with joint possession of marijuana on the basis of s. 4(3). Marshall was convicted at trial on the basis there was knowledge and consent per the wording of the section. The Alberta Supreme Court, Appellate Division, as it then was, disagreed, finding that consent required more than the mere presence of Marshall in the car and that although he consented to be in the car, that did not mean he consented to the presence of the drugs. Furthermore, the court, in discussing whether or not Marshall was a party to the possession, noted that Marshall had no power to control the people with the drugs nor was he the driver of the car.

This control aspect was applied directly to the meaning of possession in the 1983 Supreme Court of Canada Terrence case. In this case, the issue was possession of a stolen vehicle and Terrence’s presence in the vehicle as a mere passenger. In referring to and approving of the lower Court of Appeal for Ontario decision in the case, the SCC agreed that an element of control was required for proof of possession. In their view, if control was required for proof of being a party to an offence, then, similarly, control was required for joint possession, which was also a mechanism for deeming multiple parties legally responsible for a crime.

This case law restricting the meaning of joint or constructive possession under s. 4(3) does make sense and does ensure that responsibility is properly meted out. However, the concept can be a bit of a stretch. Take for example the 2001 Mraz case from the Saskatchewan Provincial Court wherein the accused was acquitted of possession of marijuana. There the judge found there was no control, even though the accused shared a “joint,” one of the many euphemisms for a rolled marijuana cigarette and apropos here as we are talking about joint possession, with his co-accused. There was no control because the co-accused had full control of the bagful of marijuana from which the previously smoked “joint” came. There was some dispute as to where the bag was found, as the accused believed his co-accused kept it on his person, while the bag was actually found in the car under the seat.

As a quick aside, this leads me to consider the origin of the slang “joint” used to describe a rolled marijuana cigarette. Although I am loath to use Wikipedia, the webpage on the etymology of the slang “joint” seems credible. “Joint,” which is derived from the French word “joined” was used in the 1800s to refer to an annex to a main room. The term picked up an unsavoury flavour when in the late 1800s it was then used in reference to a run-down bar or even an opium den. In the thirties the slang was used in reference to a heroin hypodermic needle because the needle was often shared. The same reasoning is applied to the use of the word “joint” for a marijuana cigarette, as it too, as seen in the cases of Marshall and Mraz, is usually shared.

Thank you for joining me. In the next podcast we will complete our discussion of section 4 when we look at the three “esses;” subjects, sexual intercourse, and service.

Episode Six Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada Section 4(3) Possession as an Example of Judge-Made Law

Section 4 Of Cabbages and Kings and Stamps!: Episode Five of the Ideablawg Podcast on the Criminal Code of Canada

The following is the text of episode 5 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code  of Canada. The podcast is found at the end of the text. Enjoy!

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
 "To talk of many things:
 Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

- Lewis Carroll from The Walrus and The Carpenter

Welcome to Episode Five of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada. Today’s episode is a kickoff as we begin to tackle the potpourri we call section 4 – a housekeeping section, which tidies up the various loose ends of criminal law. It brings to mind Lewis Carroll’s poem The Walrus and the Carpenter and particularly the excerpt I quoted at the start of the podcast. But instead of cabbages and kings, we will chat about postcards, stamps, valuable securities, chattels, possession and joint possession, expressions, sexual intercourse, service and notification, and attendance.

But no oysters – theft of oyster beds will come much later down the road – probably next year - when we discuss section 323.

The task today will involve a discussion of section 4 in subsection (1) and (2), and remember we are in Part I of the Code called the General Part. These subsections, as I said, tidy up some of the definitions we encountered in s. 2. Section 4 (1) reads as follows:

For the purposes of this Act, a postal card or stamp referred to in paragraph (c) of the definition “property” in section 2 shall be deemed to be a chattel and to be equal in value to the amount of the postage, rate or duty expressed on its face.

We see a few words in this paragraph that call out for definition. We are told the section is referring to the definition of “property” under that section 2 definition, but the paragraph really begs the question because now of course we also want to know the definition of “postal card” and “stamp” and “chattel.”

First let’s take a look at s. 2(c) “property.” It says:

any postal card, postage stamp or other stamp issued or prepared for issue under the authority of Parliament or the legislature of a province for the payment to the Crown or a corporate body of any fee, rate or duty, whether or not it is in the possession of the Crown or of any person;

That is of course important to know because the term “property” is used throughout the Code. Indeed a simple word search reveals that the word “property” appears in 161 sections of the Code. Take note that the word “property” is not found under s.322, which is the offence of theft, as the crime involves the taking of “anything, whether animate or inanimate.” Property, as defined under s. 2 is much more restrictive, as the definition in (a) and (b) actually refers to itself - “property.” It is only (c) which gives a concrete example of what property may be – postal cards, postage stamp or other stamp issued by the federal or provincial governments.

However, a word of caution: case law has considered the seemingly broad actus reus or prohibited act in the theft section and has overlaid a concept of property. Thus, in the 1988 Supreme Court of Canada Stewart case, confidential information was not considered “anything” in accordance with the theft section. Even so, as explained in the SCC 1992 Milne case, the criminal law concept of property does differ from the civil law, just as the purpose of criminal law differs from the purpose of civil law. More on this when we get to that section.

So s. 4(1) is adding onto that (c) definition – clarifying it for us – by advising us that “postal cards, postage stamp or other stamp” is a chattel with a value equal to the amount expressed on its face. So if you have a stamp for 5 cents its value is 5 cents. Now, that may be a problem as I now purchase stamps with no number value but with a “p” embossed on a nice red maple leaf placed in the stamp’s corner, which, so the post office assures me, means the stamp is “permanent” and can be used anytime as it is worth the going rate no matter when it is used or when it was bought. The other problem is that a 5 cent stamp may actually be a rare stamp and worth much more than the face value. The offender may be charged with theft but which punishment section applies under s. 334? Is it theft of property valued over $5000, which is an indictable offence and punishable by a maximum of ten years? Or is the stamp valued under $5000, which is a summary conviction offence with a maximum of eighteen months imprisonment?

To answer that question, we need to look at the definition of “stamp.” “Stamp” is only defined under the counterfeit stamp section 376 as “an impressed or adhesive stamp used for the purpose of revenue by the government of Canada or a province or by the government of a state other than Canada.” Not a very helpful definition for the police who want to charge the thief with the theft of the priceless 5 cent stamp, which is worth over $5000 dollars.

The next question is: what is a chattel and why does this section 4(1) insist on deeming the post card and/or stamp as one?  A chattel is an item of personal property, either animate or inanimate, which is moveable as opposed to real property, which includes land and improvements, which is not moveable. For example, when you purchase a house, which is real property, the items inside the house tend to be chattels, like the furniture, unless it is affixed to the house like the glass fireplace doors. Those items affixed to the real property stay and those, which are moveable, the chattels, usually go with the seller unless the item is specifically referred to in the purchase agreement. What does this mean for our postal card and stamp? It means these items are personal property even though they are government issued. Also they are moveable and thus chattels.

Onto s. 4(2) for which the marginal note explains is on “value of valuable security.” This subsection helps us determine the value of a valuable security, where value is material, in the context of the Criminal Code by expanding on the definition as found under section 2. So the purpose of this subsection is similar to subsection (1). Before I read this subsection, let’s go to the section 2 definition that reads as follows:

“valuable security” includes

            (a) an order, exchequer acquittance or other security that entitles or evidences the title of any perso

(i) to a share or interest in a public stock or fund or in any fund of a body corporate, company or society, or

(ii) to a deposit in a financial institution,

(b) any debenture, deed, bond, bill, note, warrant, order or other security for money or for payment of money,

(c) a document of title to lands or goods wherever situated,

(d) a stamp or writing that secures or evidences title to or an interest in a chattel personal, or that evidences delivery of a chattel personal, and

(e) a release, receipt, discharge or other instrument evidencing payment of money;

 Section 4 (2) further defines “valuable security” as:

  (a) where the valuable security is one mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) of the definition “valuable security” in section 2, the value is the value of the share, interest, deposit or unpaid money, as the case may be, that is secured by the valuable security; 

(b) where the valuable security is one mentioned in paragraph (c) or (d) of the definition “valuable security” in section 2, the value is the value of the lands, goods, chattel personal or interest in the chattel personal, as the case may be; and 

(c) where the valuable security is one mentioned in paragraph (e) of the definition “valuable security” in section 2, the value is the amount of money that has been paid.

How ironic that the purpose of this subsection is to clarify the intrinsic value of the security as opposed to subsection 1, which speaks only of face value. Of course this kind of clarity is required as the valuable security may be a deed to property, which is a document showing land ownership, and is therefore merely a representation of the actual property. Thus, the deed itself is a piece of paper with very little value but it represents much greater value in accordance with the value of the actual land.

For those of you wondering what “exchequer acquittance” means, the term comes to us from English law, in fact I found a similar definition of “valuable security” in the Irish Larceny Act 1861. The “Exchequer” is the Royal Treasury. Originally, the Exchequer was also a Court of Law concerned with revenue, like our Tax Court, but later merged with the then King’s Bench. As a government department, the Exchequer was in charge of the national revenue of the United Kingdom. An “acquittance” is a document, which acquits or discharges an obligation and acts as a “receipt in full.” So an “exchequer acquittance” is a receipt for payment of revenue to the government. Clearly, the relevancy of this term today is questionable. Just another example of how our Criminal Code needs to be streamlined and updated.

On that note, I will end this podcast with Shakespeare’s Henry the IV, Part I Act 3 Scene 3 and an exchange between Sir John Falstaff and the future Henry V or as he was known then, Prince Hal, wherein they discuss Falstaff’s bumbled robbery and the positive resolution of it at court. By the way, as an aside, that is a Shakespeare aside, the PBS Hollow Crown series presenting the history plays of Richard II, Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2, and Henry V is outstanding and very worthwhile to watch. In any event, Hal then boasts “I am good friends with my father and may do any thing.” Without skipping a beat, Falstaff urges the Prince to “Rob me the exchequer the first thing thou doest, and do it with unwashed hands too.”

Thank you and come back next time when we continue our discussion of section 4 of the Criminal Code and whether or not possession is really nine-tenths of the law.

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 5 Section 4 Of cabbages and Kings and Stamps!

Part One of the Supreme Court of Canada’s Decisions In The Sniffer Dog Cases: Don’t Throw Out The Principle With The Bath Water!

Question: When is a legal principle clarified by unanimous court but when the principle must subsequently be applied, unanimity goes out the window? Answer: When the Supreme Court of Canada delivers a much anticipated and needed decision on an issue, which, depending on the outcome, may change the face of police investigatory practice. That is the case, of course, in the two sniffer dog decisions in Chehil and MacKenzie, which were supposed to clarify the standard of “reasonable suspicion.” However, instead of the much-needed direction from the Court, the Supreme Court of Canada leaves us with a ruling that fails to clarify. As we all know, legal principles do not live in a vacuum and if they cannot be applied consistently and with some prediction, then the principle becomes a tool of the law and not the rule of law.

Still, the cases do tell us something, about which I have consistently written: that a seemingly objective standard is a fallacy as it is applied through the subjective sensibilities of the assessor, the judge, and in the context of facts, which themselves are founded on a subjective view of the receiver. Chehil and MacKenzie are cases in point: Chehil sets out the principle, to which everyone on the Court agrees, while MacKenzie applies it through the judicial lens. Unfortunately, the judicial lens is of varying strengths and degrees: not everyone on the Court sees matters the same way. The decision is therefore a fractious one. If our Supreme Court of Canada cannot agree then how can the majority, written by Justice Moldaver as I predicted, find the trial judge, who heard the evidence, is wrong. Can one even be wrong when applying an objective reasonable person standard? Are there two reasonable people? Do we even know how a reasonable person thinks? Ah, there’s the rub and there is the tautology: objective standards are only as good as the facts behind them.

If the above seems like a rant, well I suppose it is: the decisions, when read together are puzzling. Moldaver’s MacKenzie decision is even more so when read against the trial judge’s reasons. Unfortunately, one cannot get beyond the admonition of the trial judge when he found it possible “that the observations of the accused claimed to have been noticed by Cst. Sperle were enhanced after the drugs were located.” This kind of after the fact decision-making seems to permeate the SCC decision too but understandably so as in fact there were drugs found and the accused was a drug courier. But what we must all keep in mind is the purpose of the Charter is not to exonerate criminals but to provide oversight when the awesome powers of the state are used,  in whatever circumstances. Just as innocent people may come under scrutiny in a criminal investigation, as pointed out by Madame Justice Karakatsanis in Chehil, so too seemingly guilty people will benefit from inappropriate state intrusion. This is what safeguards our fundamental principles in a free and democratic society.

It is in this context that we must review and analyze these cases. In part two of my case comment, I will do just that.

 

 

Let’s Talk About the Canadian Criminal Code: Episode Two Section 2 (and s. 2.1) - Definitions

Welcome to episode two of the Ideablawg Podcast entitled: Let’s Talk About the Canadian Criminal Code.

Last week we discussed the short but complete section 1 “naming section.” This week we will talk about its polar opposite: the hefty yet incomplete section 2.

As discussed in the last podcast, there is a method to the madness of writing legislation. Indeed the framework or structure of a statute is not whimsical but follows certain prescribed formats. These formats may differ slightly from statute to statute and from levels of government as we learned when we talked about preambles to an act as opposed to a purpose section found within a statute. But in essentials, statutes tend to look very similar.

One of these similarities is found in section 2 of the Criminal Code – found under the interpretation segment of the Code, entitled “definitions.” These words and phrases are definitions of key terms used within the Criminal Code.

Now I called this section hefty yet incomplete. Hefty, because this section 2, which is not broken down into subsections as other sections of the Code are, provides us with a long alphabetical list of words in which some terms are defined quite lengthily. In fact, there are 73 words listed under section 2 from “Act” to “Writing.” Of the 73, 2 are repealed: the term “feeble-minded person” was repealed in 1991 and “magistrate” in 1985 as these terms are no longer used in the Criminal Code. Of course, Canada no longer has any “magistrates” as they are now known as “provincial court judges.”

The term “feeble-minded person,” however, comes from the old rape provisions in the Criminal Code, namely s.148, and came into force through the 1922 Code amendments.   It is difficult to read this old section without cringing:

s. 148. Every male person who, under circumstances that do not amount to rape, has sexual intercourse with a female person

(a) who is not his wife, and

(b) who is and who he knows or has good reason to believe is feeble-minded, insane, or is an idiot or imbecile,

is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for five years.

The term also applied when considering the old insanity defence under the now amended (as of 1991 there is no insanity defence but an offender may be found NCR or “not criminally responsible” as a result of a mental disorder) s.16 of the Criminal Code. Unlike the rape provisions, this term when used in the context of insanity, applied equally to men and women. Interestingly, in the 1984 Supreme Court of Canada decision, rendered a year before the term was repealed, Justice Dickson, as he then was, in the Ogg-Moss case, agreed that the term was “somewhat disturbing to modern sensibilities” but was really equivalent to saying “mentally retarded” or “developmentally handicapped.” Of course, both of those terms today are deemed completely inappropriate as well. The term “mental disability” is now the preferred adjective. There is still a sexual offence related to this: sexual exploitation of person with mental or physical disability under s.153.1 and it applies to both men and women, married or not.

Amazing that the term, “feeble-minded person,” was only repealed in 1985.

I also call out this so-called definition section as being incomplete. Incomplete, because not all words used in the Code are defined. This has a twofold significance: as not every word which we would like to be defined is defined and not every word which is defined is found under this section.

Let's tackle the first thought: not every word we would like to be defined is defined in the Criminal Code. As we ramble through the Code, we will be faced with some crimes for which some essential elements of the prohibited act are not defined for us. At this point our only recourse is to go to the case law. Case law produced, by judges, interpret statutes together with principles found in the common law and come up with legal interpretations or definitions of the words used.   If there is no case law on the word or phrase then a lawyer is forced to be creative and come up with a definition, which they hope the trial judge will accept. To be frank, the best starting point to do this is the dictionary. How is this word defined in Webster or Oxford? Then, how is it defined in case law? In other jurisdictions? And so on. To me this is the fun part of being a lawyer – when you can be part of the creation of the law.

An example would be the phrase “planned and deliberate” under s.231(2) of the Code, which is the section outlining when murder is deemed first-degree. The term is only important for sentencing classification and comes into play only after the Crown has proved beyond a reasonable doubt the intention required for murder as found under s.229. This phrase is not defined in the Code but is neatly defined in case law to mean the follows: planned - a scheme or design previously formed, and deliberate - considered and not impulsive.

Now the second thought: not every defined word is found under this section, tells us that there are other places in the Code where words are defined. For instance, there are definitions, as referred earlier, at the beginning of some Parts of the Code such as Part VI Invasion of Privacy.

There are also definitions found within sections of the Code such as the term “crime comic” under s.163(7).

Then there are the hidden gems such as the term “negligence,” an extremely important term as it signifies the level of intention required to commit an offence and is used for one of the most serious offences in the Code s.222(5)(b) manslaughter. Yet, “negligence” is defined only by reference to a title of a section. In section 436, entitled Arson By Negligence, a fairly recent offence in the Code from 1990, the actual section setting out the crime does not use the word “negligence” but instead defines it as follows:

“Every person who owns, in whole or in part, or controls property is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years where, as a result of a marked departure from the standard of care that a reasonably prudent person would use to prevent or control the spread of fires or to prevent explosions, that person is a cause of a fire or explosion in that property that causes bodily harm to another person or damage to property.”

“As a result of a marked departure from the standard of care that a reasonably prudent person would use” is the definition, found in case law, of criminal negligence. I leave it to you to decide if this is indeed a “hidden gem” or merely another example of the complexities of our Criminal Code.

So, in the end, section 2 is not only a list of some definitions but is also a list of what is not defined in the Criminal Code.

 But of course it is not that simple.

For example, let’s look at a recent definition added to section 2 – “justice system participant.” The definition is a list of very specific categories of people who come under this term, such as under

(a) “a member of the Senate, of the House of Commons, of a legislative assembly or of a municipal council.”

Caution is required, however, as the definition is also very broad: under (b) it is also

“a person who plays a role in the administration of criminal justice.”

The definition does go on to list examples, but clearly this definition is not exhaustive. Imagine if we went to the dictionary for a definition of a word and it said etc, etc, etc.. Not overly helpful is it – so again we are down to case law and a possible argument in court in order to define the definitions and give them boundaries.

Before I close, I would like to discuss s. 2.1, which is a new section added in 2009. This section also provides us with definitions; in fact it is entitled “further definitions – firearms.” Okay, so instead of amending section 2, the government simply added a section 2.1 with firearm specific definitions.

Well, no not really.

Section 2.1 merely points us to the place where the listed terms are actually defined. The section lists words such as “ammunition” and “replica firearm” and tells us that those listed words have the same meaning as in s. 84(1). If we go to s. 84(1), we see a section defining a number of terms, including the ones listed under s. 2.1. This s. 84(1) is in fact the definition section for Part III of the Code on Firearms and Other Weapons. As mentioned earlier a Part may start with definitions of words found within the particular Part. Certainly, there are no definitions in the Code, which contradict, meaning there are no definitions of a term for one Part of the Code and then a different definition for the exact same term in another Part. So why did the government add this s. 2.1? For clarification? For extra emphasis? Why?

Well, in my view, Section 2.1 instead of clarifying actually does the reverse as it leaves the impression that if the word is only defined under a particular Part, that does not necessarily mean that word, if found elsewhere, has the same meaning.

And to make us even more confused, there is a federal statute with definitions, which apply to all federal legislation, as long as it is consistent with that legislation, called the Interpretation Act.

Now that’s confusion for you, that’s the Criminal Code for you, and that is the podcast for this week.

Next week we will discuss this Interpretation Act a bit more when we look at the last of the interpretation sections in the Code: section 3

Please note: This is the text of the Episode Two of my podcast. I do not have the audio file attached but will be sending out the actual podcast in a separate file.

The Ideablawg Criminal Law Trend for 2013-2014: On Sentencing and On Podcasting

I start my criminal lectures at MRU with a current events “sweep” of criminal cases to ground the principles and the legal “speak,” learned throughout the course, with what is really going on out there in the real world of crime. This connects concept to context, which is so important in law, in order to teach the student to apply principles to a real life fact situation. This acquired aptitude requires the student to be comfortable outside of the academic rigour of law books, a much-needed skill in the lawyering world, which promotes creativity as the context forces the student to visualize alternate solutions for the legal problem.

As I teach in Alberta, I tend to look locally when I scout out the criminal law news of the week. This past week was so full of connections that we spent a good half hour discussing three of these current cases. Interestingly, the cases themselves were connected as they all referred to the sentence imposed in each particular case.

Of course, sentencing is the last act in a criminal case where there is a conviction. Most of the “legal business” of criminal law is concerned with pre-sentence matters such as the elements of a criminal offence and the application of criminal procedure, particularly in the Charter era. Sentencing is not even taught in the mandatory first year criminal law courses and some law schools do not even offer a sentencing law course. And yet, it is the sentence, the punishment to be imposed, which garners the most public attention and hence catches the most media attention as well.

The reason for this preference is varied. My theory on the popularity of sentencing cases in the media is that sentencing tends to be easily understandable to the average citizen. Everyone appreciates the significance of time in jail. No one needs the Criminal Code to explain that. Furthermore, sentencing is the only piece of the case in which the human aspect is so “front and centre,” no longer taking a backseat to the incident itself.

The victim, at a sentencing hearing, has the right to “speak” through the “victim impact statement” and is not merely a piece of evidence required by the prosecution to fulfill the legal requirements. Instead, the victim becomes a true stakeholder in the outcome as the Judge listens to the victim, not as a witness to the events, but as a participant, whose life was irretrievably changed.

The role of the convicted accused is also transformed from the defensive position wherein a legal “wall” is built around the accused to protect but also to minimize intrusion. It is only at the sentencing hearing that the accused steps out of a caricature of an accused and becomes filled in with the life stories all too familiar in the criminal courts of childhood troubles, conditions of abuse, and social failures. No wonder, it is the sentencing arena to which the public can so readily relate and which brings home, literally, the real life angst of the criminal law. 

On that note, it was unsurprising that the class started our current events journey with the Baumgartner case from Edmonton in which twenty-two year old Travis Baumgartner became the first Canadian to be sentenced for consecutive parole ineligibility terms for multiple murders under amendments to the Criminal Code from 2011. Section 745.51 of the Criminal Code permits such a sentence may be imposed by the trial Judge. Note the permissive “may” as the trial Judge is not mandated to impose such a sentence. Indeed, the section also includes the factors to consider in making the decision such as the character of the accused, the nature of the offence, and the circumstances of the incident. If the sentencing arises from a jury trial, the Judge must also consider the jury’s recommendation on whether or not the parole ineligibility should be consecutive under s. 745.21.

Baumgartner, a security guard shot four of his colleagues as they took ATM monies from the busy University of Alberta student HUB Mall.  Three of the guards died and the fourth survived. Baumgartner, as part of a plea negotiation, entered a plea of guilty to one count of first degree murder under s.231(2), two counts of second degree murder, and one count of attempt murder. As indicated by Associate Chief Justice Rooke in his reasons "these assassinations and executions were carried out by a cold-blooded killer, all with the simple motive of robbery." In sentencing Baumgartner to the agreed upon total sentence of life imprisonment with no chance for parole for forty years, Justice Rooke found the offence was “some of the most horrendous crimes that anyone can imagine.” However, it was not a case for the maximum parole ineligibility of seventy-five years, as Baumgartner was not the worst offender, being a young man with no prior criminal record and in recognition of the guilty plea, which showed remorse for his actions.

These amendments to the Criminal Code, part of the tough on crime agenda of Harper’s government, did attract much controversy. Critics voiced concerns over the political motivation of the change, suggesting it was merely a “political stunt” done to assuage the public fear of crime without any hard evidence such a change would in fact change crime statistics. In a word, the changes appeared to be more about “retribution bordering on vengeance” as characterized by D’Arcy Depoe of the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association and less about the sentencing principles of rehabilitation and deterrence.

On the other hand, sentencing is a punishment and does have an aspect of retribution for retributions sake. Certainly, the public outrage over concurrent sentences for multiple murders is understandable on a gut-level whereby a murder of one is equated with the murder of many. The controversy over this and the other numerous sentencing changes to the Criminal Code, such as the mandatory minimum sentences, is far from over, hence my suggestion that the hot button criminal law issue for 2013-2014 will focus on sentencing and these new amendments.

The other case we considered in class, another robbery case, was closer to the academic home as we discussed the 18 month jail sentence imposed on the ex MRU President Meghan Melnyk. Unlike Baumgartner, there was no joint agreement on sentence. As an aside, it must be pointed out that a sentencing Judge is not bound by a joint submission on sentence. In any event, considering the maximum sentence for robbery is life imprisonment, the sentence, in the eyes of the class seemed light. However, considering the position of counsel on sentence: defence asked for a conditional sentence or in the alternative ninety days, while the Crown asked for four years imprisonment being the typical “starting point” for such offences, the 18 month sentence appears to be within the range.  The eyebrow raising part of the matter was Melnyk’s concept of community work. Prior to sentencing she appeared at local High Schools discussing her situation and her gambling problem. Judge Brown, in sentencing Melnyk observed that she was paid for each appearance. This will definitely not be case when Melnyk fulfills the other part of her sentence when she is released from prison - 240 hours of community service.

The final case discussed was a sentence appeal argued before the Court of Appeal for Alberta. The Crown appealed the sentence imposed on ex-Stampeder running back, Joffery Reynolds, who was convicted by former Assistant Chief Judge Stevenson (of the provincial court and is now supernumery or a relief judge) of assaulting (actual convictions were for assault causing bodily harm under s. 267, assault under s. 266, and being unlawfully in a dwelling house under s.349) his ex-girlfriend for which he received a ninety-day sentence to be served intermittedly on weekends and two years probation as well as an apology letter and a five thousand dollar donation. The Crown’s position on sentence at trial and at appeal was for a two to three year sentence, an odd range considering a two year sentence is served in a provincial reformatory and a three year sentence is served in the much harsher federal system.

At trial, the defence recommended a non-custodial, particularly as Reynold’s celebrity status caused a media flurry and a diminishment of his public status. The Crown on appeal pointed to the sentencing Judge’s failure to consider the domestic nature of the offence. In discussion, the class clearly agreed with the Crown on that note, believing their relationship to be something more than just “buddies” as submitted by the defence.

This decision will be interesting as it may tackle the difficulty in sentencing the celebrity and it may also clarify the meaning of “domestic assault.” As an aside, the provincial government recently brought forward legislation to end intermittent sentences, which were used to allviate the burden of imprisonment where an offender had gainful employment. This may not be an issue raised on appeal but I believe this will cause a clash in the courts when the jail refuses to fufill a Judge's order to do so. Keep posted on this issue as well.

The other cases I had but were not discussed I will repeat here but I will not elaborate on today. Another sentencing case – the Paxton dangerous offender application is ongoing before Justice Martin. The Court of Appeal also heard an appeal against the conviction of the young offender in the Cavanagh murder case, which involved a “Mr. Big investigation.” Finally, a little off the crime path but still in the public welfare arena is the concern over work-related deaths in Alberta and the need to tighten regulatory laws in the area. The province recently went to the administrative efficiency of ticketing offenders, both employees and employers, in real-time for real-time breaches. However, the call is for more prosecutions, better outcomes, and a more serious consideration of criminal code charges for work-related incidents.

These cases, in my view, also signal some Canadian criminal law trends as the use of dangerous offender applications increase, as the courts struggle with unique investigation techniques in a Charter world, and as the public demands more and better action in the regulatory field. Keep an eye on my future blogs as we trend through the year.

On a final note is a new upcoming addition to this blog as I enter the world of podcasting. I intend to offer a short podcast on sections of the Criminal Code.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Terrorism And Exceptional Circumstances: Is There A Public Interest In the Right To Counsel?

The recent tragedy in Boston and the terrorist related charges in Toronto and Montreal have left North Americans reeling: the concept of domestic terrorism and our society’s ability to, not only respond but to also intercept such events has become an issue. In the case of Boston, the investigators have invoked the public interest exception to the giving of Miranda rights or, in Canadian terms, the right to remain silent and the right to counsel under the Charter. Coincidently (or not), Harper’s government introduced the reinstitution of the extraordinary powers in the Anti-terrorism Act on the day the Canadian terrorist plot was uncovered. These powers were subject to a “sunset clause” whereby their viability is to be reviewed and re-enacted every three years. Not surprisingly, the powers were re-enacted by Parliament within days of the Toronto/Montreal terrorism arrests.

There is no question these powers are extraordinary, permitting “investigative detention” on the basis of suspicion alone, not just for the brief period approved by our Supreme Court of Canada but also for an extended period of time, up to three days. This power is, on the surface, completely contrary to the long list of legal rights an individual has when suspected of a criminal offence as found in sections 7 to 14 of the Charter. In order to understand how this piece of legislation can survive a Charter challenge, we must look to the concept of “public interest.”

As early as 1985, in the earliest days of Charter jurisprudence, the Supreme Court of Canada, even while creating a Charter vision, was also envisioning a world without a Charter. In the Re B.C. Motor Vehicle Act case, Mr. Justice Lamer, speaking for the majority, tackled the still troubling issue of the need for criminal intention for a criminal offence as opposed to the no-fault concept found in absolute liability offences. In the Courts opinion, section 7 of the Charter through the “principles of fundamental justice” required mens rea or criminal intention for crimes. However, the same principles did not require full criminal intention for a public welfare or regulatory offence. For those quasi-criminal offences, where jail was a possible sanction, the SCC found the minimum intention required was a less fulsome type of intention akin to negligence. However, if a public welfare offence, where jail was a possible sanction, required no fault element as in an absolute liability offence, this violated s. 7 of the Charter and was deemed unconstitutional. No fault was only available for regulatory offences where jail was not a penalty. Justice Lamer, in coming to this conclusion, made two very interesting, and now very relevant, remarks on the “public interest” dimension found in Charter analysis and on the possibility of the inapplicability of the Charter in certain circumstances.

One of the arguments in support of absolute liability or no-fault offences urged that the “public interest” necessitated such offences in certain public welfare situations where the public good was at issue and the risk of public harm was engaged. Justice Lamer agreed but underlined the limited application the “public interest” aspect would have in Charter analysis. In his view, the public interest was not relevant to whether or not absolute liability violated the principles of fundamental justice under s.7 as a loss of liberty where no intention was required would always be contrary to s. 7. However, it was relevant to the s.1 analysis, section 1 permitting the reasonable limitation of a Charter right, which the government could establish was “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” Thus, the government in establishing this justification could refer to and rely upon the “public interest” as a justification.

Another argument supports no-fault offences on the basis they are easier to prove and therefore more efficient or the “administrative expediency” argument. In the case of regulatory breaches, such efficiency would permit timely responses to scenarios of possible public harm. Justice Lamer soundly rejected the sacrifice of Charter values to administrative efficiency but with an important caveat: such a s.1 justification could only work “in cases arising out of exceptional conditions, such as natural disasters, the outbreak of war, epidemics, and the like.” 

It is this seemingly innocuous throwaway line (or obiter dicta), which I suggest will become the permission to suppress Charter rights in the name of terrorism.  In this way, an individual’s rights are not giving way to societal rights, in the sense that societal concerns trump individual protection. Instead, an individual rights actually become imbued with a “public interest” dimension. Thus, no longer can we speak of categories of rights created to protect the individual as the lines between rights become blurred. Indeed, we must now recognize that the individual is subsumed into the collective through the ever-present spectre of the “public interest.” Continuing on this line of reasoning, it is easy to see how even the jealously guarded right to counsel becomes expendable when “exceptional conditions,” like terrorism, rears its ugly head. Time may also show that this dimension will be carried further and become part of the right itself, not just a tool for justification by the state under s.1 but I will leave that analysis for a future posting!

 

 

What’s Up At The Supreme Court of Canada: A Peek Into The February Criminal Hearing List

Four criminal appeals, from across the country and spanning diverse areas of criminal law, will be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada this month.

The Belanger case from Quebec will be the first to be heard on February 12. This case raises the issue of objective mens rea in the charge of dangerous driving causing death. As discussed in previous postings, in recent decisions the SCC has increasingly shown favour with objective mens rea as a standard of liability in criminal law. The Belanger case will be of great interest to see if this trend continues.

Next to be heard on February 15 is the Blacklaws case from British Columbia, which raises the issue of severance of counts where there were two different complainants, both sex trade workers, but the circumstances of each incident involved similar facts. Although the majority of the BC Court of Appeal allowed the appeal against the refusal of the trial judge to sever the counts, the Chief Justice disagreed and found no error. 

The Ontario case of Youvarajah will be heard on February 20. This case raises an interesting issue of whether an Agreed Statement of Facts signed and used as a basis of a guilty plea for one accused can then be admitted in the co-accused’s trial for the truth of its contents.

Finally, the Newfoundland Taylor case, to be heard on February 22, turns on the adverse inference a trial judge can draw when alibi evidence is not disclosed in a timely manner. In this case, the trial judge specifically rejected Taylor’s evidence at his sexual assault trial, where credibility was the sole issue, on the basis that his denial amounted to an alibi, which had never been previously disclosed to the police.

Significantly, all of these cases raise complex and novel issues in the area of criminal law without raising Charter issues. I will discuss each case in detail as the hearing dates draw near. 

Is The Law Round?

Neil Degrasse-Tyson is an American astrophysicist who is also a cult hero. His books, written for the layman, are extremely popular and readable. He has almost a million followers on Twitter. The Imaginary Foundation, an experimental research think tank, which also hosts a website and blog where they post cool ideas, has multiple postings on Degrasse-Tyson. There is even a magical video as part of the Symphony of Science series where one of Degrasse-Tyson’s lectures is to put to music.  In short, he rocks. His lecture series, which I have had the opportunity to watch, are informative, interesting, and hilarious. He is above all thought provoking and the lecture I recently watched on “On Being Round,” started me thinking about the connection between “being round” and the law.

“Being round” is such an important concept in our physical world because all objects want to be round. Being in a state of roundness is being in the most efficient shape as it provides the largest surface area for an object. It is, in other words, the natural shape for an object. Rain, is spherical as it falls from the sky. Our stars, planets, and even the observable Universe are round. However, other forces, such as gravity, may squash the sphere either a little, like our earth to make it more an oval shape, or completely, like our flattened solar system. Either way it is the circle shape that is the most natural and most sought after shape.

So applying this premise, I ask is the law round? In many ways the law is, particularly if you consider that roundness means that two ends meet to complete an object or an event. Certainly in the civil context, usually the best-case scenario is where the parties come to an agreement before a trial of a matter. This is the most efficient and equitable outcome.

There is also continuity and stability with roundness. The rule of law is in place to provide a familiar and thus stable form of discourse in society: we all understand what a stop sign means and we all have the same expectations when we see it. However, despite this, there are times when people do not act as the rule of law dictates. In these instances, the bubble bursts and the completeness of the law seems to be imperfect. Like the forces of gravity causing our planet to bulge in the middle and therefore deviate from the perfect spherical shape, the law must provide an outlet or a mechanism for those situations when the perfectness of the law is broken. Criminal law attempts to provide another set of rules for those instances, perhaps making the law more elliptical in shape than perfectly round.

There is one instance in the criminal law, where roundness is everything: the sentencing circle. The sentencing circle is an innovative sentencing practice, which arose out of the need to provide a more meaningful and relevant outcome to criminal offences for the Aboriginal community. Our criminal law, based in English common law, imposes sentences based on traditional sentencing concepts such as deterrence, retribution, and rehabilitation. These concepts are decidedly based on Western ideals and do not accommodate differing cultural practices. This rigidity translated into a disproportionate amount of Aboriginals in the criminal justice system, resulting in a disproportionate number of Aboriginals serving jail sentences. It was clear that the traditional precepts of the criminal law did not resonate with the Aboriginal community. It was equally clear that the adversarial system so entrenched in our criminal law was part of the problem. This conflict-oriented system was at odds with the Aboriginal values of community and collective respect. The idea of a sentencing circle embraced the concept of reconciliation and collaboration requiring the input of the community, not just the judge and case law, in crafting an appropriate, and hopefully rehabilitative, sentence. Thus the “round-table” becomes part of the criminal law nomenclature.

Unfortunately, unlike nature, “being round” does not guarantee success. According to the 2011-2012 Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator, released by Howard Sapers, the number of Aboriginal offenders in the penitentiary system has increased. In fact, over the past ten years the Aboriginal inmate population has increased by 37.3% and although only 4% of the Canadian population is Aboriginal, 21.4% of the penitentiary population is Aboriginal. Although, sentencing circles are not typically used for the most serious offences and this could explain why the numbers in the penitentiary system are still high. However, this does not mean that alternatives to traditional criminal law do not work. Indeed, to “think outside of the box” and to be open to different legal solutions, may in fact, make the law more transparent, more equitable, more efficient, more impactful, and well, more round.

Is This The End of Subjective Intention? The Supreme Court of Canada and the Walle case

Presently, there are essentially two different kinds or categories of criminal intent: subjective and objective. Intent or mens rea is the fault requirement of a crime. Without intent or the intention to do the prohibited act, there is no crime and the accused should be acquitted. Traditionally, the criminal law recognized only one category of intent: subjective mens rea as the basis for a criminal offence. Subjective intent requires the prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this accused intended his actions. This requires the trier of fact to contemplate on the thought processes of the accused as presented through the evidence. Subjective intent differs greatly from objective intent, which sets up as a model of behaviour the standard of the “reasonable man.” Thus, the trier of fact when considering an objective mens rea offence must consider what a reasonable man would have done in the circumstances. If the accused fails to act in accordance with this standard or model of behaviour, the accused is deemed guilty of the offence, even if the accused did not intend the consequences of his actions.

Objective intent can be a harsh standard as it can be argued that those individuals who are not “average” or have some deficiencies of character cannot possibly reach the standard of a reasonable man. On the other hand, the criminal law’s main thrust is to protect the public. In harsh terms then, the criminal law punishes those who are unsafe to protect the majority of people who are fully aware of what is a reasonable course of action in the circumstances.

I stop to reflect on the term “reasonable man.” This traditionally was the term and equally traditionally this was the standard: a reasonable and sober man. Not a woman, but a man. Obviously when society accepted the equality of the sexes, this phrase was changes to “reasonable person.” Of course there is no description of a “reasonable person.” One cannot simply look up the phrase in a dictionary and find a full description or even a picture of such a venerated individual. No, triers of fact are left to their own devices in conjuring up such an individual, presumably because the trier of fact is assumed to be a reasonable person. In almost a tautological argument, the presumed reasonable person assumes a reasonable person for the purposes of determining the guilt or innocence of an accused person.

As a result, the objective standard of intent is not favoured by the defence and yet, unsurprisingly is favoured by the prosecutor. It is much easier to rely on a concept of reasonableness, than it is to determine a particular person’s intention. As the bar is lowered, convictions occur more readily in an objective mens rea crime. Typically, however such crimes were reserved to unsafe licensed behaviour such as careless use of a firearm or dangerous driving. A licensed activity requires a certain licensing standard and thus if you fall below that standard while involved in a dangerous activity, then objective mens rea should apply: common sense dictates it must. And that is where we come to the new Supreme Court of Canada case of R. v. Walle, 2012 SCC 41.

Adrian Walle was charged and convicted of second-degree murder, when he shot at point blank range with a sawed-off .22 calibre rifle, Jeffery Shuckburgh, a Calgary bar owner who at the time was escorting Walle off the premises. Walle’s trial counsel argued that the rifle went off due to an unintentional movement made by the accused. In other words, Walle’s actions were not voluntary as he acted without awareness of his actions, in other words the shooting was purely accidental. A prohibited act or the actus reus of a crime must be a voluntary act. Without a voluntary prohibited act, there is no crime. This argument had little basis in the evidence and the trial judge, sitting without a jury as occurs when a case is complicated or based on legal argument, made the following finding in convicting the accused:


I am satisfied, beyond a reasonable doubt, that when the accused Walle deliberately pulled the trigger, in the circumstances I have just described, he knew that the reasonable and probable consequence was that he would either cause Mr. Shuckburgh’s death or would cause him grievous bodily harm which would likely cause his death and was reckless, whether death ensued or not.


The trial judge also relied upon the “common sense inference,” which contemplates the reasonable person or that a “sane and sober person” intends the reasonable and probable consequences of his acts. On appeal, counsel for the defence argued that the trial judge was wrong to rely upon this “common sense inference” without recognizing that Adrian Walle was not only under the influence of alcohol at the time, but was also suffering from various psychiatric disorders including “Asperger’s disorder, paranoid personality disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, adult antisocial disorder, and alcohol abuse disorder.”

 

The Supreme Court of Canada unanimously disposed of this appeal. In a judgment written by new appointment Mr. Justice Moldaver, who I have written on in previous posting, the court easily rejected this argument on the dual basis that this argument was not raised at the time of trial and that a trier of fact need not refer in the reasons to every piece of evidence proffered. As long as the decision appears to be based upon the relevant evidence, which it was in this case, the reasons are sound. The fact the issue was not raised at trial merely goes to trial tactics. Trial counsel views a case in a certain way and crafts a trial position as a result. Often, counsel will at trial pursue this theory solely and thus not raise very possible argument on the case as it would detract from the chosen position.

The secondary argument on appeal, raised by the intervenor’s in the case, the Criminal Lawyers’ Association of Ontario, cause the court more concern. The crux of that argument involved the propriety of using the “common sense inference” in circumstances where the accused is clearly not an individual who practices common sense due to his psychiatric issues. Such an inference essentially imports an objective mens rea standard into a crime which is considered one requiring subjective intent. To convict of murder, the prosecutor was obliged to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Walle intended to kill or that he was reckless as to whether death would be a consequence of his actions. Murder is not based on what a reasonable person should have done at the time. However, manslaughter is an objective mens rea crime, which requires an accused to have an objective awareness that his actions will cause bodily harm. In murder, the accused must be subjectively aware that his actions will cause death.

Of course, in Walle’s case, the argument is a strong one. Certainly, Mr. Walle would definitely not be the poster-boy for a reasonable person nor would he be described as “sane and sober.” Despite this, Justice Moldaver rejected this argument but with a caveat. In his view, the “common sense inference” “provides a jury with a marker against which to measure the rather amorphous concept of intent.” The instruction also cautions the jury that such an inference may be made but is not required to be made in their deliberations on intent.

Leaving aside that the Walle case did not employ a jury, Justice Moldaver’s comments highlight the difficulty with the concept. To view the inference as “a marker against which to measure” in my mind clearly suggests the objective standard of mens rea is at work. Indeed, it is difficult not to view this inference as anything but applying an objective standard based upon the trier of facts conception of what a reasonable person would have done in the circumstances. Thus, the objective standard is not only alive and well in Canadian criminal law, it has crept into the very heart of criminal law precepts, which require those core crimes such as murder and theft, require subjective intention. This inevitably should leave us wondering if the categorizing of the intention required for a particular crime is history, in favour of what the Supreme Court of Canada likes to call the “principled approach” to legal decision-making.

In closing, I refer back to the finding of the trial judge mentioned earlier that “when the accused Walle deliberately pulled the trigger … he knew that the reasonable and probable consequence...” By the trial judge using that phrase “reasonable and probable,” he has blurred the lines between objective and subjective intention, ensuring that the concept of “reasonable person,” whoever that may be, is an integral part of the crime of murder.

The Supreme Court of Canada in a much earlier 1990 Charter case said, in the majority judgment written by Chief Justice Lamer, this about the importance of subjective mens rea in R. v. Martineau:


In my view, in a free and democratic society that values the autonomy and free will of the individual, the stigma and punishment attaching to the most serious of crimes, murder, should be reserved for those who choose to intentionally cause death or who choose to inflict bodily harm that they know is likely to cause death. The essential role of requiring subjective foresight of death in the context of murder is to maintain a proportionality between the stigma and punishment attached to a murder conviction and the moral blameworthiness of the offender. Murder has long been recognized as the "worst" and most heinous of peace time crimes. It is, therefore, essential that to satisfy the principles of fundamental justice, the stigma and punishment attaching to a murder conviction must be reserved for those who either intend to cause death or who intend to cause bodily harm that they know will likely cause death.


In the end, it is clear that there was ample evidence to uphold Walle’s conviction, but as they say, bad facts lead to bad laws. The question is whether this approach is a foreshadowing of what is to come in terms of the Court’s position on intention or whether it is merely a specific response to a particularly heinous crime.

 

Extraditing Magnotta: Explaining the Extradition Treaty

Not unexpectedly, Luka Rocco Magnotta, aka the alleged “body-parts” killer, was arrested, without incident, in Berlin, Germany. As he was arrested outside of Canadian jurisdiction, Magnotta may only be transferred to Canada pursuant to treaty agreements between the two countries. The Treaty now in force dates from 1979 and governs both the extradition of fugitives facing charges (or having been convicted facing sentence) in Canada when found in Germany as well as those fugitives from German justice found on Canadian soil.

In 2004, a supplementary Treaty was implemented between Canada and Germany.  For the most part, this supplement merely clarifies or simplifies the language of the original, but there are a few substantial changes to the document, which I will note. One significant change is a broadening of offences subject to extradition: in the original Treaty, an extraditable offence needed to be listed on a Treaty, while in the amended version, the schedule or list requirement is deleted. Thus, any criminal offence, which is a criminal offence in both Germany and Canada, is subject to the Treaty. In extradition, it is the substance of the crime, which is relevant, and therefore it is of no matter that the crimes may be described differently in each country. As long as the essential elements of the crime are similar, the crime is subject to the extradition process.

There are, of course, some exceptions. For instance, extradition will not be granted for “purely military” offences. Extradition may also be refused if the charge is purely politically motivated or if the charge merely persecutes the fugitive on the basis of race, religion, nationality or political opinion. Some offences are excluded from these exceptions, such as murder and kidnapping.  Also, if the fugitive is a national or a citizen of the country in which he or she is found, and is not therefore a national of the requesting country, the fugitive will not be produced to the requesting country, but prosecuted in the found country.

Additionally, extradition shall not be granted if the alleged fugitive has already been tried and acquitted for the crime or the fugitive has already completely served his or her sentence for the offence. A significant change from the 1979 Treaty is the treatment of situations of amnesty: now extradition may be refused if the fugitive was pardoned or received amnesty for the crime. In the 1979 Treaty, a fugitive was still subject to extradition in cases of amnesty.

Consistent with Charter decisions, the treaty suggests extradition “may be refused” should the crime be one for which the death penalty may be imposed where the other country does not impose the death penalty. However, a fugitive may be extradited, in those circumstances, where the requesting country agrees not to impose the death penalty.

A further possible ground for refusing extradition is on the basis of a conviction of an offence of “contumacy.” The term refers to a disobedience of a court order or a refusal to obey an order, such as a summons. An example would be where the accused failed to appear in court for his trial on a criminal matter and he was convicted in absentia or in the person’s absence. In this instance, extradition may be refused unless the requesting state agrees to permit the fugitive to test the underlying conviction as well. This safeguard ensures that the fugitive’s conviction will be proven properly, based on the facts and evidence and not on the basis of a mere failure to appear. 

There are also various procedures to be followed in requesting extradition under the Treaty. Previously, the request must come through diplomatic channels, but the 2004 amendments now requires the request to come from the respective departments of justice from each country, yet still permitting the use of diplomatic channels where appropriate.

Procedurally, documentation must be sent to support the request. Such information is required to establish the identity of the fugitive, a description of the crime alleged, and proof a warrant for arrest is outstanding. In certain circumstances, if required, information justifying the charges may be sent and presented as well. If the information provided is insufficient, instead of discharging the fugitive for want of prosecution, the state must now request the needed information from the requesting state.

When extradition is finally granted, the fugitive is surrendered to the requesting state’s authorities with the requesting state bearing all expenses of transport. This surrendering may be postponed if the fugitive faces charges in the surrendering state or the state may, as provided by the 2004 amendments, “temporarily” surrender the fugitive to be returned at a later date.

There is a further caveat to the extradition process, which is known as the “rule of specialty.” This rule requires that the fugitive be only tried in the requesting state for those crimes for which he was surrendered. He may face trial on no other charges. This requires particular attention by the requesting state to ensure that all appropriate charges are before the extradition court.

What does this all mean for the Magnotta case? Press reports have suggested Magnotta will be consenting to his surrender to Canada. Considering the provisions of the Treaty, the charges for which he faces, the fact he is a Canadian national, and the documentary evidence, which is readily available to be sent to Germany, Magnotta’s consent makes sense.  On extradition for this charge there appear to be no valid arguments, which could be raised, to stop his surrender to Canadian authorities. Even with consent, it will take some time before Magnotta will be sent back. Formal requests do still need to be made and certain documents are required to be sent and signed. Additionally, in light of the Treaty provisions, the Department of Justice will need to first complete the Canadian investigation to ensure Magnotta will be surrendered for all offences he might possibly face in Canada. Only then, will Magnotta return to face the real issues of guilt or innocence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Defence of Civil Disobedience: Part Two

In my previous posting, I outlined the historical significance of civil disobedience, tracing the creation of the phrase from Thoreau, who turned an innocuous poll tax into a deeply personal articulation of one’s beliefs, to the present iteration of collective disobedience against government policy. Today’s posting will take these concepts a step further into the legal realm.

The definition of “civil disobedience’ as found in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, suggests the act is a “non-violent” form of group protest. This definition conjures up a vision of peaceful sign-bearing protesters, shouting slogans, and holding hands in solidarity before dispersing for a musical interlude and barbecue. This peaceful concept of civil disobedience no longer seems to fit the bill as today’s more complicated issues require a much higher shock quotient to get the attention of the media and then ultimately the government. Hand in hand with this more virulent form of disobedience is the more intransigent reaction by the government: as crowds shout “hell no, we wont go,” the government lawyers are busily drafting court applications for injunctive relief.

Injunctions, as I thoroughly discussed in my previous posting on the Occupy Movement, are a favoured response by the government as, if successful, results in a court imposed order for the disobedience to stop and then turns the protest into legally recognized unlawful conduct. This can have enormous repercussions as an injunction can not only effectively shut down any future protests, but can also provide legal precedent on the ultimate issue at stake: the fundamental freedoms protected under s. 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms involving s.2 (b) freedom of expression rights, s. 2(c) freedom of peaceful assembly, and s. 2(d) freedom of association. As discussed in previous postings, the Charter is not absolute and the Courts try to balance societal rights with the individual freedoms found under section 2. As a result, although the Courts may find a violation of s. 2 rights by the government seeking an injunction, where societal harm or violence is caused, the Courts tend to find such injunctions a reasonable limit in a free and democratic society under s.1.

The government may also respond to civil disobedience through the criminal justice system. Typically, such response is reserved for the clearest examples of law breaking such as the destructive effects of a rioting crowd. In those cases, the law is most severe, imposing harsh sentences on those who destroy property and harm others under the flimsy disguise of a "cause".

Criminal contempt charges may also be laid when injunctions are not obeyed. This scenario is subtler as it does not involve harmful action but involves inaction: a failure to obey a law, which has been declared valid by the courts. The justice system deals with this form of disobedience slightly differently. Here again Charter violations may not provide a valid defence, but may be taken into account as a mitigating factor on sentence.

To raise a valid defence on a criminal charge arising out of civil disobedience is a challenge as any moral or ethical arguments for committing the prohibited acts do not change the essence of the crime committed. The best way to explain this is through the Robin Hood scenario. Robin Hood and his Merry Men stole from the rich to give to the poor. When we hear this story we usually give Robin the “thumbs up” for fighting against tyranny and greed. We also cheer as he takes the gold from evil King John, knowing that the good King Richard will absolve Robin of any guilt. But, in terms of criminal law, a bandit is a bandit no matter how you slice it. Although Robin Hood may have a valid moral argument for his actions and therefore an excellent motive for breaking the law, the law is clear: the guilt act and the guilty mind are present and therefore Robin Hood is guilty of highway robbery. He may receive a suspended sentence from a sympathetic court but he is still a convicted felon.

There is, however, a possible defence available. In Perka v. the Queen, the Supreme Court of Canada, when considering the common law defence of necessity, suggested such a defence may be a valid defence to acts of civil disobedience. In the necessity defence both the prohibited act or actus reus and the fault requirement or mens rea is complete. Therefore, all essential elements of the crime have been fulfilled and the defence merely excuses the blameworthy conduct.

Essentially, the accused acknowledges the wrongfulness of the action but in the circumstances the accused should not be punished for the crime. Excuses are typically limited to emergency situations wherein the accused had no choice but to break the law. As our criminal law punishes only those who choose to act criminally, an excuse can exonerate an accused of a crime. In the necessity scenario, the accused must choose between two evils.

However, such exoneration comes with a price: the defence of necessity is only accepted in certain, very limited circumstances. There are three elements to the necessity defence. Firstly, the accused must be facing imminent peril or danger. Secondly, there must be no reasonable legal alternative but for the accused to break the law. Thirdly, the harm inflicted by committing the crime must be proportional to the harm, which would have been caused if the accused followed the law and not committed the crime. As a result, necessity is rarely advanced and even rarely accepted as a valid defence. When it is accepted, the Court views the behaviour as a form of moral involuntariness.

How does the necessity defence work in practice where there are acts of civil disobedience? The best case examples are not from usually staid Canada, but in the protest fuelled United States. In the 1969 case of United States v. Moylan, the appellants were charged with the destruction of government records, records they seized from a government office and burned with napalm in protest of the Vietnam War. Counsel for the defence, the “radical lawyer” and activist William Kunstler, argued that the jury should have been instructed that they “had the power to acquit even if appellants were clearly guilty of the charged offenses.” This “right’ was based in moral arguments as the appellants were protesting a war “outrageous to their individual standards of humanity.” Furthermore, the war itself was illegal and therefore citizens had an obligation, in the name of justice, to break the law in order to enforce the law.

The United States Court of Appeals Fourth Circuit Judge Sobeloff, took a page from the Robin Hood myth and found no matter how sincere the appellants were in their actions, and no matter how strong their moral arguments were, they still committed crimes for which they must be accountable. In upholding the law Justice Sobeloff remarked:

To encourage individuals to make their own determinations as to which laws they will obey and which they will permit themselves as a matter of conscience to disobey is to invite chaos. No legal system could long survive if it gave every individual the option of disregarding with impunity any law, which by his personal standard was judged morally untenable. Toleration of such conduct would not be democratic, as appellants claim, but inevitably anarchic.

The best known case of a jury being invited by defence to eschew the law and decide a case on their own moral conscious, was in R. v. Morgentaler, when Morris Manning, Q.C. invited the jury to acquit Dr. Morgentaler of violating the "bad" abortion law. The Supreme Court of Canada chastised Manning for his emotional appeal, finding that such an invitation would “undermine and place at risk” the jury system. In support of this position, Chief Justice Dickson referred to the British 1784 criminal libel case of R. v. Shipley and quoted Lord Mansfield as follows:

So the jury who usurp the judicature of law, though they happen to be right, are themselves wrong, because they are right by chance only, and have not taken the constitutional way of deciding the question. It is the duty of the Judge, in all cases of general justice, to tell the jury how to do right, though they have it in their power to do wrong, which is a matter entirely between God and their own consciences.

To be free is to live under a government by law . . . . Miserable is the condition of individuals, dangerous is the condition of the State, if there is no certain law, or, which is the same thing, no certain administration of law, to protect individuals, or to guard the State.  ...

In opposition to this, what is contended for? -- That the law shall be, in every particular cause, what any twelve men, who shall happen to be the jury, shall be inclined to think; liable to no review, and subject to no control, under all the prejudices of the popular cry of the day, and under all the bias of interest in this town, where thousands, more or less, are concerned in the publication of newspapers, paragraphs, and pamphlets. Under such an administration of law, no man could tell, no counsel could advise, whether a paper was or was not punishable.

Certainly, it is valid to be fearful of a capricious jury who are guided by their own prejudices and sensibilities but there is an attraction to the ability of a jury to “do the right thing” and acquit in circumstances where the law is unjust, not just unfavourable, but unjust. When I was a student at Osgoode Law School in 1983, Morris Manning came to the school and reenacted his Morgnetaler jury address, an address which did result in an acquittal for the doctor. It was a moving piece of advocacy, which did stir the moral conscious. In the end, I was questioning the moral and legal basis for a law, which could send Dr. Morgentaler to jail. Ultimately the court system did work for Dr. Morgentaler, due to our Charter, the best defence against tyranny and injustice.

What does all of this mean for the ongoing student protests in Quebec? It is unclear where the Quebec government will go. Certainly the new laws they have introduced to stop further protest has only fueled more acts of civil disobedience. As with the occupy movement, these acts have gone viral and the issue has become one of students’ rights and the moral obligation to speak out against seemingly “bad” laws. However, to speak out against laws is much different than acting out criminally. It will ultimately be up to the Courts to draw the line between the two.

 

 

The Cabbie and the Glider: A Tale of Two Bail Hearings

Two stories surfaced in Canadian legal news this week: the Montreal cab driver, charged after running down a man after he attacked his cab and the British Columbia hang glider operator charged after a woman he was flying with fell to her death.

The Montreal story went viral after a video was posted showing part of the altercation. It is shocking to see the cab driver bombarded by the mob but equally shocking to see his cab turn into the crowd and run down the victim. As heated as the incident was, the bail hearing appearance on May 2 was more so as an outraged group of cab drivers descended on the Montreal courthouse to lend support for the driver. The media picked up story after story from the crowd of cabbies, many of whom were immigrants, of humiliating and violent incidences of passenger misconduct involving racially motivated comments.

According to media reports, the 47 year-old cab driver of Haitian origins, Guercy Edmond, was released on a “promissory note”, with conditions, in the amount of $3,000.00. He was released on bail after a tongue lashing by Quebec Judge Jean-Pierre Boyer over the length of time the cabbie sat in custody (four days) and the crown attorney’s failure to review the video-tape, posted on YouTube of the altercation. He faces charges of aggravated assault under section 266 of the Criminal Code, assault with a weapon (presumably the cab) under s. 267, failing to stop at the scene of an accident under section 252, and dangerous driving causing bodily harm pursuant to s. 249(3).

By way of explanation, our criminal law system, based upon the English common law tradition, presumes an accused will be released from custody without conditions. This bail presumption is very much connected to our cherished presumption of innocence: upon arrest, the accused is presumed innocent until proven otherwise by the crown prosecutor in a court of law before an impartial and independent judiciary. The bail presumption is also consistent with our Charter rights: section 11(d), which constitutionally protects the presumption of innocence, section 11(e), which gives the accused the right not to be denied reasonable bail without just cause, and particularly the s. 7 right to liberty, which cannot be deprived except in accordance with our principles of fundamental justice. On this basis, the bail procedures in the Criminal Code require unconditional release. For example, section 515(1) of the Criminal Code states that:

Subject to this section, where an accused who is charged with an offence other than an offence listed in section 469 is taken before a justice, the justice shall, unless a plea of guilty by the accused is accepted, order, in respect of that offence, that the accused be released on his giving an undertaking without conditions

Any decision contrary to this fundamental principle of release can only be done in very restrictive circumstances. However, there are exceptions to the general rule, where the presumption is not for release (also known as a “reverse onus” situation where the accused must “show cause” why detention in not required), for more serious offences such as murder (section 469 offences) or for those accused already on a prior form of release.

Consistent with our desire to protect the innocent, section 503 of the Criminal Code requires an accused, who is not released upon arrest, to be brought before a justice of the peace or provincial court judge for a bail hearing within 24 hours of arrest without unreasonable delay or as soon as practicable. In Alberta, due to a “promise” made by Ralph Klein when he was Premier, there are 24-hour bail hearings available. In any event, once brought before a judge, the Code does permit a bail hearing to be adjourned for a maximum of three days without the consent of the accused. Thus, Mr. Edmond, who was arrested on Sunday, April 29, appeared before a judge, within twenty-four hours of his arrest, on Monday, April 30. At that time, the hearing was adjourned within the three-day time limit, without requiring consent of the accused, to Wednesday, May 2.

In Mr. Edmond’s case, the crown was objecting to his release from custody. Our criminal law requires an accused to be released from custody unless there are cogent reasons not to release the accused. If, as in the case of Mr. Edmond, the Crown objects to release, the Crown must “show cause” or justify why the accused should not be released. In fact, even if the accused is released, the crown must also “show cause” why conditions to that release would be required.

There are three grounds for detention under s. 515 (10) of the Criminal Code. Section 515(10)(a) requires the justice to order detention where it is necessary in order to ensure the accused’s attendance in court. Section 5151(10)(b) requires a detention order where it is necessary for the “protection or safety of the public” including a substantial likelihood the accused would commit further offences or interfere with the administration of justice. The last ground deems detention is necessary to “maintain confidence in the administration of justice.” This last ground requires the justice to consider evidence relating to the strength of the crown’s case, the seriousness of the offence, the circumstances surrounding the offence, and the potential sentence to be imposed upon conviction.

On this basis, clearly, Mr. Edmond, who had no prior criminal record, enjoyed the support of his family and peers, was the financial support for his wife and two teenagers, and who allegedly committed the offences in extreme circumstances, would be an excellent candidate for release. In other words, the crown would be hard pressed to justify his detention. This is the reason why the judge was less than impressed with the prosecutor at the time of the bail hearing: there was no justifiable legal reason why the crown should not have consented to the release of Mr. Edmond. Although the police, in certain circumstances, also have the authority to release an accused from the police station, the charges laid against Mr. Edmond were serious enough to require his attendance before a judge. Mr. Edmond is to appear in court, to set a date for trial, on June 20.

Just a note here on the form of Mr. Edmond’s release. According to the media reports, Mr. Edmond was released on a “promissory note,” which is not one of the authorized forms of release under the Criminal Code. Again, due to the presumption in favour of release without conditions, the forms of release available run from the least restrictive to the most restrictive. The least restrictive form of release is known as an “undertaking,” with or without conditions. This release, also known as a Form 12 release, is a document signed by the accused wherein the accused “undertakes” to attend court on a particular date and time. If there are conditions, such as reporting to a police officer or remaining in a particular jurisdiction, they are listed on the signed form as well. The next form of release, more restrictive than an undertaking, is a recognizance. A recognizance requires the accused to acknowledge a debt to the Crown, which is forfeited if the accused fails to appear in court. The amount is specified in the document and may or may not require the amount to actually be deposited with the court. A recognizance may also require a surety, who is a third party willing to ensure the accused appears in court and follows any release conditions. A surety may also be required to acknowledge a debt to the crown, which may be forfeited if the accused breaches bail. Considering Mr. Edmond was released with a monetary amount ($3000) attached, most likely the form of release was a recognizance with no sureties and no deposit.

One of the conditions of Mr. Edmond’s release requires him to not pick up fares on St. Laurent Blvd. between Sherbrooke and St. Joseph Sts. between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., which is within the same area in which the incident occurred. According to the evidence read into court, before the events before the video recorded the altercation, started in the cab after Edmond picked up “very drunk” passengers, one of who was the victim, Benoit Kapelli. While in the cab, Edmond was subjected to racially motivated comments and was assaulted by Kapelli, who ultimately left the cab while kicking at the vehicle. Edmond confronted Kapelli, but the other passengers joined in the attack of the cab. Edmond was able to drive away but was still tracking the passengers as they walked. At this point, the explanation for the events become vague as Edmond’s cab either deliberately or accidently swerved into a lamppost close to Kapelli, resulting in the cab’s front fender falling off. Later, as seen in the video, a pedestrian throws the bumper at the cab. Again, watch the video here to see the final moments of the incident.

The hang glider’s fate was not so certain as the Judge adjourned his bail hearing to Friday, May 4 in anticipation of gathering more evidence. The evidence, of course, is actually inside the accused, William Jonathon Orders, who swallowed the crucial memory card capturing a video of the fatal flight. As they say “this too will pass” and with the passing it is likely Mr. Orders will then be released on bail. Mr. Orders is charged with willfully attempting to obstruct the course of justice pursuant to s. 139 of the Code for his attempt to hide the evidence from police investigation. No doubt further charges, such as criminal negligence or even manslaughter, will ultimately be laid, when the physical swallowed evidence is finally retrieved.

 

 

This Takes Precedence! How the Bedford Case Empowers Legal Precedent

The Bedford case is interesting on many levels. On the public level, it recognizes the modern realities of what historically has been considered a vice in our society. On the private level, it recognizes the harshness of the prostitution laws on those whom the laws were meant to protect. On the Charter level, it recognizes the breadth of the principles of fundamental justice in our society while giving shape and meaning to the phrase “life, liberty and security of the person.” Finally, on the legal jurisprudence level, the case recognizes the importance of a flexible concept of case precedent.

In a previous posting, I discussed a judge’s use of legal and factual analogy to come to a decision in a case. The concept of legal precedent, whereby a decision is made based on previous similar decisions typically from a superior level of court, not only provides a solid basis for a decision, it also gives the decision an aura of authority and power. Power, in the sense of persuasive power.Authority, as in the correctness or soundness of the decision. It is a remarkable tool, which serves a dual purpose: the power and authority arising from precedent maintains the rule of law in the legal sphere and in the public sphere. Precedent, used appropriately, empowers the words of the court and gives them the force of the law. For further discussion on the coercive power of judicial pronouncements, see my postings here on Robert Cover and his seminal essay on “Violence and The Word.”

In Bedford, the majority needed to deal with the issue of legal precedent to lend their decision an air of legitimacy. The prostitution laws at issue had already been the subject of previous constitutional arguments before the highest level of court: the Supreme Court of Canada. To make pronouncements again and by a lower court seemed officious and redundant. In the case of the prostitution laws, the stakes were even higher as the laws were the second-generation iteration of what were originally known as the “soliciting laws.”

In the 1980s, after the advent of the Charter, the government was forced to change the soliciting laws as a result of the Supreme Court of Canada’s interpretation of the word “solicit” as found in the section. The original section prohibited “everyone who solicits any person in a public place for purposes of prostitution."

In the 1978 Hutt case, the Supreme Court of Canada defined “solicit” as pressing and persistent conduct. Hutt, a 23 year-old prostitute working on the infamous Davie Street in Vancouver, British Columbia, had made eye contact with a potential client driving slowly by her. Hutt smiled and the client, an undercover police officer, smiled back and stopped his car. Hutt jumped into the car, agreed on the cost of her services, and was promptly arrested. The SCC, by defining “soliciting,” found that a mere nod of a head was not enough to fulfill the actus reus or prohibited act requirements under the section. Soliciting required something more than just agreeing to sex for money. It required the prostitute to accost and importune, not just smile.

The result of the decision was explosive: the police refused to lay charges under the section. This public pressure caused the government to finally change the section in 1985 to the present day offence of communication for the purpose of prostitution under s. 213 of the Criminal Code. The meaning of “communication” is much broader than “solicits.” One can communicate through word or gesture and would most certainly describe Hutt’s contact with the undercover officer.

But that was not the end to the narrative. The new section, created in the new Charter era, was further scrutinized; not on the basis of nomenclature but on the basis of constitutionality. This was done preemptively through a reference to the Supreme Court of Canada. As discussed in previous posting, a reference permits the court to pre-vet an issue and to make pronouncements on the efficacy of legislation before it is enacted and subject to legal attack. In the Reference on the prostitution sections, the Court found the new communication for the purpose of prostitution laws were inconsistent with freedom of expression under s. 2(b0 of the Charter but were justified in a free and democratic society and thus appropriate.

Fast forward to today and the similarities are apparent. One of the arguments in the Bedford case, attacked the constitutionality of the very same communication section as previously considered by the SCC. In that instance, the Bedford decision sits solidly behind legal precedent by dismissing the argument as already decided by another, more authoritative court. The more interesting issue is the constitutionality of the other prostitution related charges: keeping a common bawdy house under s.210 and living off the avails under s.212(1)(j). It is here the court relied on a more flexible and contextual approach to legal precedent, while still upholding the concept of court hierarchy.

Two scenarios were discussed. One scenario contemplated the ability of a trial court or lower level court, to permit counsel to build a record of evidence, which would then form the foundation of a future argument before a higher and thus more authoritative court. This higher level court would be in the position to revisit the issue to determine if the passage of time has changed the issue to require a new and different look at the issues involved. The other scenario, contemplates situations where the issues to be argued may be related but are framed differently enough that a decision on the matter is not tied by the rules of legal precedent. This flexibility permitted the court in Bedford to come to a decision on the case and to tackle, head-on, the modern paradox found in the overly broad prostitution sections.

Although the passages on precedent are not the crux of the Bedford case, the court’s view of the issue brings or shall we say, drags, traditional legal principles into the 21st century and beyond.