Looking For Some Light-Hearted Law School Advice? Here’s The Ultimate Answer Courtesy of Douglas Adams

For many, the first day of law school can be overwhelming as it presents a new and unknown pathway through, what first appears to be, a maze of information. Over time, notably by even the second semester, the maze looks more manageable and no longer intimidates. By second year, the 2L student becomes adept at navigating the corners and anticipating the blind spots.  In third year, the maze is organized and colour-coded and may even shine as the 3L starts storing knowledge and skills, almost squirrel-like, to be taken out, burnished and applied in the articling year. 

This all sounds fine and even slightly poetic but when starting law school, you don’t want to wait for the happy ending, you want answers. Now. Sadly, unlike Douglas Adams and his massively metallic supercomputing thinker, Deep Thought, in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the answer is not simply 42. However, maybe we can learn something from that flight of fancy and slightly zany book. Law school, indeed the practice of law, is an adventure and like Arthur Dent, who turns out to be the ultimate hitch-hiker, what you take with you on this wild ride is what matters. 

First, what you take with you is minimal. it is important to come as you are. Indeed, like Arthur Dent, a bathrobe, metaphorically, will do. There is no law school persona to put on. Law school can change you. It can develop a sense of self by challenging your preconceived notions and view of the world. To make the best of it, keep your mind open to new experiences and new ideas. Look at things differently. Remember law school is a safe place to try on theories and discover possibilities. You can and should be creative. Remember those pan-dimensional creatures, looking like white lab mice, in Hitchhikers’ Guide – the ones who created worlds? Yup, that can be you too. 

At the same time, you need to be prepared. Ford Prefect, can offer a role model for the new law student in that regard. A towel is not just “an absorbent cloth or paper for wiping or drying.” It is a multi-purpose catch-all kind of item or your “go to” when you need just a little extra support. It is not to be thrown away as in “throw in the towel.” Success may be a state of mind but it can be tangible too, even the Bugblatter Beast of Traal knows that! Whether your “towel” is person, place or thing, don’t leave home without it.

Speaking of not leaving home without it, as this is my blog, I am going to make a pitch for the course I teach and as such is at the centre of the law school universe, and that is Criminal Law. What notto leave home without in criminal law is the Criminal Code. Yes, the Criminal Codeis my Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and rightly so. It is chock full of important information that no criminal lawyer can do without. In perusing its enumerable sections (there are 849, which does notadd up to 42, particularly when your realize there are 45 micro-sections between ss. 487 and 488), you will discover it is also in badly need of an update. Not just the Ford Prefect kind but substantive change. This is another important law school lesson that lawyers can and should be agents of change.

Another key to law school is collaboration but without forgoing individualization. That can sum up law school and even the practice of law. We are all in it together and we need to support and nurture each other. There is a collectiveness about law. However, we do not want group think like those waiting for the Great Prophet Zarquon at Milliways, the Restaurant At The End of the Universe. We want to interact with people and learn from others but in a manner that permits us to stay in our own space and our own thoughts where we critically analyze and reformulate our own ideas.

However, each one of us could use a confidante like Ford Prefect, who can be relied upon to occasionally say “Don’t Panic” when we mean to do just that. Or a Zaphod Beeblebrox, of the “two-heads are better than one” school of thought, who may have a huge ego but is all heart. Specifically, however, everyone needs a Trillian Astra; the brilliant colleague, who can figure things out even when you are still in Deep Space 9. It may be best to stay away from the Marvins, with their constant negativity and conspiracy theories, but then again, Marvin is loyal, waiting millions of years for his friends to pop up. 

Finally, remember to have fun. It may be that you don’t realize it at the time, but enjoyment can be had by reading a really good case. Similarily, a really good argument can be entertaining. But most importantly, helping others, which essentially is what the law is all about, can be joyful. Yes, law school is about your development as a lawyer and finding your voice or unique personal identity. But it is also about taking the time to look outside of yourself and look to others who will benefit from your future knowledge and expertise. And here perhaps is the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything: paying it forward by using your new found knowledge for good by helping those who are unable to help themselves by volunteering for probono activities, student legal services or a clinical project.  Law school may be a journey through the universe and beyond, but it is also a magnificent self-discovery. So long and see you in the classroom!

Unpacking R v Barton

R v Barton is a bold and intrepid decision. It is not so much a lengthy decision as it is densely packed and nuanced, examining and uncovering layers of issues. It is a case that identifies errors and then offers solutions. It is a decision that exudes the modern principled approach, now a staple in an appellate Court’s analysis of a variety of legal issues from the admission of evidence to the interpretation of statutes. Admittedly, the decision can give the reader a sense of discomfort, the kind of unsettling feeling one gets when being challenged to think differently. The kind of feeling one can have when reading something unexpected. But that does not mean the feeling is unwelcome. In this post, together we will “unpack” or identify some of the salient features of the decision. I will also try to respond to this feeling of discomfort. I caution however that the decision requires much contemplation and measured thought. What I am attempting to do here is to articulate my impressions upon reviewing the decision. I will leave to a later date in a further article an analysis of the myriad of legal issues raised in this decision through a review of precedent and legal principles.

The facts are startling, sad, and familiar. Cindy Gladue, a young Aboriginal woman, was paid sixty dollars by Mr. Barton to perform sex acts. Two interactions occurred over two days and on the second evening, Ms. Gladue died in the bathtub of Mr. Barton’s hotel room. She bled to death from a perforated vaginal wall. At trial, Mr. Barton admitted he had sexual contact with the deceased that evening. He admitted he repeatedly pumped his fist into Ms. Gladue’s vagina at which point she started to bleed. He maintained that he did not intend to harm her and that he was unaware of her condition until he awoke in the morning and found her immobile in the bathtub. In his evidence, he called the incident an “accident”. After finding her in an injurious state, Barton tried to mop up the blood, fled the scene, and discarded the bloody towel, only to return to the hotel room soon thereafter at which point he called 911. His statements after the incident, to both friends and the police, suggested Ms. Gladue came to his hotel room and asked to shower in his washroom, where he found her dead the next morning. At the time, he denied any physical interaction with the deceased. At trial, medical evidence was called on behalf of the Crown and the defence. The Crown’s expert contended the perforation was caused by a sharp object, while the defence expert disagreed and opined that weakness in the vaginal structure was the operating cause of the injury.

The trial was heard before a judge and jury in the early part of 2015 and Mr. Barton was ultimately acquitted. An application was made by the Crown, during the trial, to admit “real” evidence in the form of the vaginal tissue of Ms. Gladue to assist in understanding the evidence of the medical expert who examined the tissue (R v Barton, 2015 ABQB 159 (CanLII)). Real evidence is directly observable by the trier of fact. Like direct testimonial evidence of a witness who has personally observed an event, it does not require the trier of fact to draw an inference from the evidence, should it be accepted. Unlike direct testimonial evidence of a witness, the trier of fact becomes the direct observer, acting, in some sense, as the witness to the event. This act of “direct self-perception” or “autoptic proference” as Wigmore described it (John Henry Wigmore, Evidence in Trials at Common Law, revised by John T. McNaughton (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1961) vol. 4 at 1150), occurs with all real evidence such as photographs, audio and visual recordings, electronic and hard copy communications or the spent cartridges of a firearm. Similarly, application can be made pursuant to section 652 of the Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46  during the course of a jury trial, up until the verdict is rendered, for a “view” of “person, place or thing” located outside of the Courtroom. These direct observations made by the trier of fact become part of the evidence assessed at trial. Often, real evidence or direct observations by the trier can “speak for itself,” such as those spent cartridges but real evidence, in terms of how it fits into the narrative puzzle, is subject to interpretation. Either way, real evidence is admissible at trial if it is relevant and material to the case. Relevancy depends on authenticity. An item that does not reflect its true nature at the time of the incident is worthless and has no probative value. Applications to admit such evidence are usually, therefore, framed in authenticity terms: Is the item unaltered and unchanged? The application, in this instance, was opposed by the defence, not because the tissue was irrelevant or not authentic but because the prejudicial effect of such evidence before the jury would outweigh the probative value. This exclusionary discretion or gatekeeper function of the trial judge is an important safeguard in ensuring a fair trial while ensuring the truth-seeking function of the trial is not inappropriately compromised. This discretion is an example of the balancing done over the course of a trial. In the area of expert evidence, for instance, the trial judge has an ongoing duty to ensure such evidence stays within its scope to ensure trial fairness (White Burgess v Haliburton, 2015 SCC 23 (para 54) and in R v Sekhon, 2014 SCC 15 (para 46)). In this instance, the trial judge admitted the evidence, recognizing the probative value outweighed the prejudicial effect. It was, in the Court’s opinion, evidence to assist the jury in their consideration of the case. The trial judge also reminded the jury to decide the case fairly and dispassionately and not to base the verdict on an emotional response to the evidence. Although, as noted by the Court at paragraphs 127 and 128, standardized cautions to the jury without contextualizing the instruction to the facts of the case are meaningless.

This narrative of the admissibility of the tissue evidence highlights the balancing required throughout the trial in both the admissibility of evidence and the instructions to the jury. But this story of admissibility goes even further than the bounded space of the Courtroom. Ms. Gladue’s family was devastated with the decision to admit the tissue evidence. To the family, it was a decision that required their input and consent to protect Ms. Gladue’s dignity as an Aboriginal woman. To the friends and family of Cindy Gladue, she was “more than a statistic, more than an addict and more than a piece of tissue” (Death and Life of Cindy Gladue by Kathryn Blaze Carlson, May 15, 2015, The Globe and Mail). In the interview for the Globe article, Ms. Gladue’s mother emphasized that Cindy is “still human, she still has a name, not just ‘prostitute’.” This evidentiary application highlights the concern the Court of Appeal has in Barton with the approach this case represents: We in the justice system are attuned to categories of legal issues to which we must respond such as the admissibility of real evidence, the inadmissibility of bad character evidence, the proper use of circumstantial evidence and the correct legal articulation of the substantive law. We are not trained to be mindful of the larger view of the case which involves a self-assessment of how the case, in totality, presents. We are not recognizing that important societal values, some of which are Charter values, must also be reflected in the justice system. This includes the way we refer to a witness as a “prostitute” rather than a “sex worker” or even why that kind of labelling, done throughout the trial by all participants in the case (para 116) is required. We need to constantly ask ourselves when we prepare and present a case, “why”? Why do we need the witness to be called a “prostitute”? How does it advance the case? Is there another way of making our point that does not fall into stereotypes or is the notion simply not required as its sole purpose is just prejudicial and irrelevant? These basic questions are part of the Court of Appeal’s “re-setting” to the modern approach to the contextual appreciation of a case.

The facts of this case do not serve merely as the framework upon which the legal issues are placed but are the essence of this decision. Woven in between these facts are the legal issues, which, to extend the metaphor, become the fabric of our discussion in this post or the “unpacking” of the case. Typically, this term “unpacking” refers to an analytical unfolding of issues that are difficult to ascertain without some sort of roadmap or guide. In essence, “unpacking” suggests an opening up of the folded map or triptych to reveal the whole route. It requires us to also extend ourselves and to examine the big picture. In seeing the whole, we can then consider how these various packets of legal issues fit together to provide the final outcome. But “unpacking” can also mean what it says – that a journey has ended and it’s time to clean out the baggage. We are done but not finished as when we “unpack” we might re-fold in a different or better way or we may clean and re-start again. We may even discard. After reading Barton and after reflecting on it, this post is about both types of “unpacking”. As I have already suggested, we need to ask broader and deeper questions such as: What is the long view of this decision? Where does it lead us? What will it impel us to do?

Admittedly, all of this may seem too existential for a legal blog but as a practitioner and academic, I am enjoying the pure joy of reading a decision which challenges me to set aside a legal response and instead to think about the kind of justice system which appropriately reflects who we are as a society and who we want to be. It sparks a badly needed conversation about our approach to the law and whether it is approachable for all those impacted by it. I can’t say with certainty that I know what the justice system should look like or can look like but I can say that this is something that we all need to be engaged in because change requires hard work and dedication. It also requires all of us to step out of our comfort zone, which cases such as R v Jordan, 2016 SCC 27 (CanLII), and now Barton push us to do. However, change does not mean we give up what is essential to us as a country committed to Charter values. It simply requires us to be mindful of those values in fashioning our justice system. We should not be pressured into cutting corners or rights in the name of expediency. Rather, we should be scrupulous in our desire to see justice done. Complacency or leaving the status quo, be it trial delay or conviction of the innocent, is a dead end to nowhere. Only thought that leads to action makes a difference.

As I first suggested, the Barton decision is nuanced, providing layers of discussion: I suggest at least seven layers which interconnect. Looking at the first layer of the unpacking of issues, there is an overarching theme, which in my mind extends far beyond the case at hand, relating to instructing the jury in a clear, robust and frank manner. We in the legal profession too often rely on the probity of legal nomenclature to get us to where we are going (model jury instructions can be found on the National Judicial Institute website: https://www.nji inm.ca/index.cfm/publications/model-jury-instructions/). Barton reminds us that justice is not only for those in the know but is also for those who really don’t care to know until they are face to face with questions of justice. Clarity of thought, simplicity of explanation, and frank conversation go a long way to inform the non-legal partners in our justice system. To be truthful, this approach goes a long way for those legal minds who are in the know as well. I will call this approach to jury instructions, in legal language, the modern principled approach, which embodies the contextual approach approved of and utilized by the Supreme Court of Canada in other areas of law such as in statutory interpretation (para 21 of Rizzo & Rizzo Shoes Ltd. (Re), 1998 CanLII 837 (SCC)) and in the admissibility of hearsay (see R v Khan, [1990] 2 SCR 531, and R v KGB,[1990] 1 SCR 740 as the foundational cases). This approach is open to doing law differently, within the bounds of legal principles and within the context of the case at hand. To do otherwise would be to detach the decision-making from the unique narrative offered by each case.  

A modern approach to jury instructions sounds grand but in the context of Barton it finds meaning. This is where the Alberta Court of Appeal provides us with guidance and helpful exemplars for the fulfillment of the modern approach. A jury instruction must provide meaningful assistance to the jury by simplifying the complex law on sexual assault while recognizing no two cases are alike. The trial judge’s role is to also “unpack” by unfolding the trial narrative with the concomitant legal issues as they are relevant in the particular case. The trier must ask, is this a case involving consent or no consent? Or is it an issue where consent is given but vitiated? If so, on what basis is there such a vitiation? This deep dive into the facts, this modern contextual approach, requires the trial judge to specifically identify the essential nature of the offence. As discussed throughout Barton, the emphasis in the charge was askew. For example, the focus should not have been on the “application of force” as required for the “assault” element of the offence but on the “sexual activity in question” per s 273.1 of the Criminal Code, which defines consent for the purpose of sexual offences. As recognized in the decision, sex, which is in and of itself a legal activity, is by nature a touching. This case is not one where the accused denied the sexual conduct so the emphasis in the instructions on a finding of an “application of force” was confusing and unhelpful for the jury (para 189). Instead, the focus for the jury should have been on the amount of force used as an aspect of the sexual activity (paras 193, 194).

Creating a jury charge that fits the case is not the only function of this modern jury instruction approach. A modern principled approach requires balance in the instructions to the jury. But balance does not mean the traditional evidential and procedural safeguards are no longer necessary. Instructions on the presumption of innocence and on impermissible inferences must be part of the discourse between trial judge and jury. However, the trial judge, who must remain balanced in thought and impartial in aspect throughout the trial, has a duty to present all evidence in a fair manner. The accused is to be judged on the evidence and not on improper inferences arising from it. In the Barton case, the trial judge admonished the jury to not engage in “reasoning prejudice” or “moral prejudice” that occurs when a trier draws an inference that the accused was a bad person and worthy of conviction because he consorted with an “unsavoury” person, in this case a “Native girl” who was a “prostitute” (para 130). This classic limiting instruction is given to ensure any potential “bad character” evidence, which is presumptively inadmissible, is not used for that impermissible purpose (see R v Mack, [2014] 3 SCR 3; 2014 SCC 58 para 57).  But in this case, the concern to protect the potential “bad character” of the accused was not informed by the gate keeper function of a trial judge that aims to provide balance and fairness into the trial. Here, again, is the problem with the silo approach to law where case approach is embodied by a check-list of issues. By this one-sided appreciation of “prejudice” in this case, as only the accused person’s prejudice, the full meaning of trial fairness, as functionalized by the gate keeper function of the trial judge, was missing.

The missing instruction, according to the Barton Court, was the lack of instruction cautioning the jury to refrain from entering into similar reasoning or moral prejudice in assessing the status of the deceased as a female, Indigenous sex worker. Similar to the instruction regarding the accused, the jury should have been told not to draw the impermissible inference that because the deceased was a “prostitute”, she implicitly consented to all forms of sexual interaction by virtue of her profession (Barton paras 116-132). This connects to the further error, discussed later in this post, relating to the lack of a section 276 application regarding sexual history evidence. The jury would also have benefited from a direction that Ms. Gladue was not less “worthy” as a person because of how she was “labeled” or defined by society as a female, as an indigenous person, and as a sex worker. Defence counsel and Crown counsel in this case should welcome such instruction as it would completely neutralize any suggestion of “bad personhood” on the part of Barton. It would also humanize the case, placing it in real terms. As eloquently referenced in para 128 of the Barton decision, the case is about relationships between race, gender and status. It is also about the trial judge’s relationship with the jury, the relationships between all parties in the case and the relationships between the justice system and the community. These relationships are at the core of the criminal justice system. They are based on trust and confidence. In these relationships we expect a “fair” trial not a “fixed” one as emphasized by the Court of Appeal in Barton (at para 262).

This kind of instruction, I suggest, is also consistent with the Supreme Court of Canada’s position on the editing or excising of an accused person’s criminal record in R v Corbett, [1988] 1 SCR 670, 1988 CanLII 80 (SCC). There, the Court considered the prejudicial effect of placing an accused’s criminal record before the jury in a situation where the accused will testify, and the resultant moral and reasoning prejudice which may arise from the accused person’s prior criminal convictions. The concern is two-fold; that the jury will find that the accused is a bad person who has a propensity to commit crimes, and therefore likely committed the present crime and is therefore worthy of punishment and that such a prior record could distract the jury from their duty to determine guilt or innocence on the basis of the evidence before them. Although the Corbett Court recognized the discretion of the trial judge to edit or excise a criminal record to ensure trial fairness, Chief Justice Dickson cautioned that such application must not result in a “serious imbalance” where the Crown witnesses may also have previous convictions and where, as a result, their credibility is attacked (Corbett para 34). This requires the judge to look at the context of the case or the long view of the facts which would be before the jury to ensure the case was not reimagined unfairly and that the truth-seeking function of the Court remained intact. This application is an example of the exclusionary discretion or gatekeeper function of the trial judge I mentioned earlier in this post in which the focus is on trial fairness. The Alberta Court of Appeal in Barton was applying the same reasoning in calling for a more balanced and contextual approach in the jury charge.  

The second layer of issues in the case, which flow from the general concern with the jury instructions, are the numerous specific “traditional” legal errors in the charge identified by the Court. I am labeling these issues as “traditional” as they are the kind of legal errors in instructing a jury one regularly argues on a murder appeal. Here too, I would suggest, the errors are connected. For instance, as I will explain further, the misdirection and non-direction to the jury on the use to be made of the post-offence conduct is related to the misdirection on the “defence” of accident. In turn, these errors are compounded by the misdirection in the charge on unlawful act manslaughter and the inadequate charge on the two potential pathways (standard and Jobidon related as I will discuss later in the post) to manslaughter. I caution again that the purpose of this post is not to thoroughly discuss the legal niceties of these errors. These errors, however, serve to highlight the entanglement of issues found in this case.

Post-offence conduct must be approached by the trier of fact with caution to ensure such potentially damning evidence is considered in its proper context (see R v White, [1998] 2 SCR 72, 1998 CanLII 789 (SCC)). There are instances where an accused person’s actions after the incident “look suspicious” but are in fact consistent with an innocent explanation. Of course, it is within the purview of the trier of fact to accept or reject evidence and to determine the weight, if any, to place on evidence. However, as with impermissible character evidence, the trier of fact should not be concerned with evidence that has no probative value and merely distracts the jury from its duty to fairly and objectively assess the evidence. The concern with post offence conduct is the potential illogical “leap in logic” which can occur should the trier unreasonably infer guilt from evidence that merely “looks bad”. This does not mean that such evidence is presumptively inadmissible. On the contrary, post-offence conduct can be useful circumstantial evidence of guilt, of motive and of credibility, as noted by the Alberta Court of Appeal in Barton (paras 57-75). The misdirection and non-direction on the use of such evidence in Barton impacted the jury instructions on Mr. Barton’s position that what happened was an accident, as his “innocent explanation” seemed to negate a proper instruction on the use to be made of the post-offence conduct (paras 63-69).

The Court in Barton raises the “elephant in the room” concern, which is whether “accident” is a positive defence the jury will be specifically instructed to consider like self defence or duress (paras 184-293). Of course, such an instruction would only be given if the defence has an “air of reality.” This test requires the trial judge to determine “whether there is evidence on the record upon which a properly instructed jury acting reasonably could acquit.” (R v Cinous, [2000] 2 SCR 3 paras 47 to 57) Without entering into a thorough discussion here on that issue, put simply, the Barton Court finds that there is no self-contained “defence” of accident as such a position merely negates the essential elements of a crime, be it actus reus or mens rea. Further, the characterization of the defence as “pure accident” in the charge (para 287) was inconsistent with Mr. Barton’s admission at trial that he repeatedly and forcibly entered Ms. Gladue’s vagina with his fist. I would add that even if “accident” is a “defence,” it is arguable whether, on the evidence, the defence had any “air of reality” such that it was properly placed for consideration before the jury. Further, this emphasis on “accident,” as it is mentioned enhances the error in misdirecting the jury on post offence conduct and on the mens rea for unlawful act manslaughter, which is based on an objective foresight of bodily harm per R v DeSousa, [1992] 2 SCR 944, 1992 CanLII 80 (SCC), and R v Creighton, [1993] 3 SCR 3, 1993 CanLII 61 (SCC). Additionally, the lack of direction on the objective dangerousness of Barton’s actions in the context of a manslaughter charge is in and of itself worthy of appellate intervention.

These “traditional” errors also led to the third layer of legal errors to be unpacked relating to the law of sexual assault, now so sadly prevalent in the appellate courts. These errors impact the substantive instructions on the law of murder and manslaughter, as the element of sexual assault causing bodily harm is integral to a proper understanding of the homicide instruction. This layer takes us back to the beginning as it reveals the fragility of the model jury instructions, the weaknesses inherent in a categorical “check list” approach rather than the modern contextual holistic approach, and the lack of a “humanity litmus test”, which reminds us that this case is about real people, whose voices (or lack thereof in Ms Gladue’s case) are being heard by real people. This set of errors impacts how we generally and traditionally approach the law of sexual assault but also reminds us of the need to step back and look at the case we are presenting and ask ourselves those “why” questions. For the Crown and the defence those “why” questions should be in the context of their theme/theory, strategic decisions including the thought processes on how to present the best and most effective case before the jury that promotes trial fairness. The Court in Barton identified legal errors in the instructions on the law of sexual assault but also in the manner in which the law of sexual assault was presented as part of a “boiler plate” or “fossilized” (para 8) instruction (paras 173-258).

This misdirection in the charge was preceded by and imbued with the missing procedure under s 276 of the Criminal Code or what is known as the “rape shield” law (paras 85-153 of Barton and for further discussion see R v Seaboyer;R v Gayme, [1991] 2 SCR 577). Again, this fourth layer of error relates to the admissibility of evidence that may lead to impermissible, prejudicial, and illogical inferences. Section 276 prohibits evidence whose sole purpose is to perpetuate the “twin myths” (para 89) relating to sexual assault complainants that prior sexual conduct, including being a “prostitute,” means consent was present at the time of the offence and that prior sexuality is a form of “bad personhood” making such a person of “loose morals” less credible. This prohibition is to ensure trial fairness and balance. The same balance that requires the instructing judge to remind the jury that Ms. Gladue, like all people in the justice system—the accused, the lawyers, the witnesses—must be treated with dignity and respect. A person is not to be “judged” by race, sexual orientation, gender or profession.

An application to use prior sexual history evidence for purposes other than the prohibited twin myths relating to consent and credibility is required whenever the accused is tried on a sexual assault charge. However, s 276 does not specifically reference homicide, which requires, according to s 222(5), an unlawful act. Such an unlawful act can be sexual assault or as in this case, sexual assault causing bodily harm. The Barton Court interprets the s 276 requirement that the application is engaged “in proceedings in respect of an offence” as including a homicide, where the underlying act is a sexual offence. This interpretation, using the modern approach as defined by Rizzo & Rizzo Shoes Ltd. (Re), [1998] 1 SCR 27, 1998 CanLII 837 (SCC), is consistent with the purpose and objective of the section. To interpret it otherwise would present an absurdity and would be contrary to Parliamentary intention in creating the protection under s 276. The section provides a mechanism whereby the accused can apply to have such evidence admitted if it is connected to a relevant matter that goes beyond the realm of myth and is needed for fair trial purposes and to fulfill the accused’s right to full answer and defence under s 7 of the Charter.

The fifth area to unpack is the obiter comments found in the reasons. There are three areas of concern involving, as already discussed, whether there is a recognized stand-alone “defence” of accident (paras 284-293), the use of public policy in defining or confining consent pursuant to Jobidon, and a call for clarification of the “reasonable steps” requirement for mistaken belief in consent under s 273.2(b). All three of these concerns are valid and worth investigating, particularly the continuing struggle to reconcile R v Jobidon, [1991] 2 SCR 714, 1991 CanLII 77 (SCC), with the much-changed legal landscape on the matter of consent since its release 26 years ago (paras 301-310 and for further discussion see my previous post on Jobidon). Again, these discussions require a detailed response for a later date, however, I would like to acknowledge the pressing issue of the clarification of the “reasonable steps” requirement as raised in Barton (paras 294-300). Section 273.2 enumerates situations where the accused in a sexual assault case cannot rely on the defence of mistake of fact in consent.  Under subsection (b) the mistaken belief in consent defence is unavailable where the accused does not take reasonable steps to ascertain consent. Soon after the release of Barton, the Supreme Court of Canada released R v George, 2017 CanLII 24267 (SCC), involving a charge of sexual interference under s 151 where the accused was 35 years of age and the complainant was 14 and a half years old. Section 150.1(4) of the Criminal Code prohibits a mistake of age defence unless the accused took “all reasonable steps”. In the George case, the Court found that where there is an air of reality to the defence of mistake of fact, the burden is on the Crown to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that either the accused did not honestly believe the complainant was at least 16 or the accused did not take all reasonable steps to ascertain the age of the complainant. Considering the similarity in wording with s 273.2, as recognized by the Barton Court, this obiter issue, which was not raised in the Barton appeal, becomes even more pressing to consider (para 294).

The sixth unpacking involves the notion of appellate review of an acquittal. Section 676(1) of the Criminal Code confines an appeal against acquittal by the Attorney General to a question of law alone. This limitation arises from the core values of our justice system. As articulated by Justice Wilson in the majority decision of R v B(G) [1990] 2 SCR 57, 1990 CanLII 115 (SCC) at 66, the restricted appellate review “reflects the fundamental principle that an accused is presumed to be innocent until proved guilty by proof beyond a reasonable doubt”. In B(G), Justice Wilson reviewed what the term “question of law” entails. Although factual errors alone, as in an unreasonable verdict or sufficiency of the evidence, would not amount to a question of law, a misapprehension of fact could be if it amounted to a misdirection on the law (pages 70-72). Throughout Barton, the Court is careful to characterize the errors as irreversible misdirections and non-directions of law.

As raised earlier in this post, the recent Supreme Court of Canada George decision may have an impact on the obiter legal issues raised by the Court in Barton on the clarification of the “reasonable steps” requirement for a defence of an honest belief in consent under s 273.2(b) of the Criminal Code. George was a case of an appeal against acquittal and it is the comments on the jurisdiction of appellate review of an acquittal, which may pose further discussion points in the review of the Barton decision. For the appellate Court to intervene in an appeal against an acquittal, there must be an error in law and that error must materially impact the not guilty verdict. The threshold for such materiality is quite high. There must be at least an error that with a “reasonable degree of certainty” has a material effect (George para 27). In paras 6 and 52 of the Barton decision, the Court suggests the identified legal errors “might reasonably” have a material bearing on the outcome, which could suggest too low of a threshold. However, later in the reasons the Court clearly finds the specific legal errors did have a material bearing on the acquittal. In any event, although it might seem like semantics, I could see an argument made on a further appeal that the threshold they used was too low. Additionally, the Court in George discussed the concern with conflating what are factual issues with legal issues, whereby the “legal” errors are actually factual ones (George para 17). Again, it would be difficult to suggest the Barton Court entered into the same error. 

A final comment to make, the seventh unpacking, is a connection I see with some of the research I have been doing on the evolving role of the trial judge in a criminal case as the trier of fact, the arbiter of the law, and the gate keeper and guardian of the courts, and the impact the sense of community or societal values is having on this “enhanced” version of the trial judge. I jokingly refer to the new and improved vision of the trial judge as “gate keeper on steroids” but really a trial judge does not sit alone but sits in the heart of the community of justice. It is the relationship or connection between all individuals in the criminal justice system which interests me and which I believe profoundly impacts the way the courts impart justice. It also, in my view, explains why we are now struggling, in an existential way, with our conceptions of what the justice system should be. Cases like Barton, Jordan and even older cases such as R v Anthony-Cook, [2016] 2 SCR 204, 2016 SCC 43 (CanLII), R v St-Cloud, [2015] 2 SCR 328, 2015 SCC 27 (CanLII), and R v Lacasse, [2015] 3 SCR 1089, 2015 SCC 64 (CanLII), signal a new modern approach to criminal law. If this is so, then we need to be prepared to answer the issues raised in those cases, to be modern in our aspect and approach while continually ensuring the fundamental values embodied in our presumption of innocence and fair trial principles are not diminished and remain central to that modern approach.

The Barton decision is fresh and challenging. It will impact, not only the re-trial of this case but also future cases and has already been cited in a recent Alberta Court of Appeal decision (R v ARD, 2017 ABCA 237 at para 57). We are put off balance by the intricacies offered by the decision but then only until we re-adjust to a new balance. The unpacking we have just undertaken is a step toward discussion and review of what has been done in the past and whether the past can be a jumping off point that, as the Court recommends in Barton, allows for a “re-setting” to the modern approach.

 

 

Episode 41 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada: Section 43 - Correction Of A Child

 

Section 43, correction of a child by force, is another section of the Code, which protects those people who use force in certain limited circumstances. Indeed, the heading for this section and the next section 45 is entitled Protection of Persons In Authority. Section 43, and for that matter s. 45, are not sections protecting peace officers but are designed to protect people who may use force as a result of a relationship he or she may have with the recipient of the force. In the case of s. 43, the relationship is parental or quasi-parental as between a child and a parent or a child and a schoolteacher.

Let’s read the section in full:

Every schoolteacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using force by way of correction toward a pupil or child, as the case may be, who is under his care, if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances.

I am sure many of you reading this or listening to this podcast might be a little surprised that this type of protection is in the Code. The idea of hitting a child, be it a parent or worse a teacher, seems out of step with the fundamental values of our society and a throw-back to when age-based relationships were construed as hierarchal and power driven. As we will explore in this podcast, the Supreme Court of Canada acknowledged these concerns but in the final analysis the Court found there is a place for such a section in the Code, albeit in limited circumstances. In this podcast, I intend to explore some of these issues, which might give us pause for thought in assessing whether this section is a relic of the past or not.

Section 43 was thoroughly canvassed in the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada case Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law v. Canada (Attorney General), [2004] 1 SCR 76. The opening statement of the majority decision, authored by Chief Justice McLachlin, speaks volumes on the essence of the defence:

The issue in this case is the constitutionality of Parliament’s decision to carve out a sphere within which children’s parents and teachers may use minor corrective force in some circumstances without facing criminal sanction.

The phrase “minor corrective force” envisioned by the Chief Justice adds clarity to the Court’s characterization of the defence as permitting “reasonable physical correction.” Essentially, it is this formulation of the defence, equating “reasonable” with “minor” force, which saves the section and places the defence in a neat continuum of what is acceptable and was is not acceptable societal behaviour.

I will not go into the niceties of the s. 7 arguments in the case, although I highly recommend those listening to this podcast to read the full decision as the argument presented to the Court takes a fresh approach to the protections found under s. 7 through the perspective of the victims or recipients of the force, in this case children. It is highly illustrative of the unique and persuasive arguments, which are available under the Charter.

The case also highlights the emotive issues involved by viewing the constitutionality of the section through the lens of another legal phrase often conjured in cases involving children: the “best interests of a child.” In what manner this phrase applies in the criminal law context is an interesting discussion, which requires a full blog posting. In any event, as found by the majority, the concept may be a legal principle but at least in 2004, it was not a principle of fundamental justice as required for the application of s. 7.

Let’s turn to the essential requirements of s. 43, as interpreted by the Supreme Court of Canada. First, the section requires the force used to be for the purpose of correction/discipline. Such acts would be “sober, reasoned uses of force” that “restrain, control or express some symbolic disapproval” of the behavior. Although this element is understandable, the allowance for force to “express some symbolic disapproval” is a puzzling concept in the legal arena. Certainly the symbolic use of force is used in the broader context of military expression, such as retaliatory strikes. However, the symbolic nature of that force seems to be based on generating fear and domination over a populace. In the context of s. 43, it becomes difficult to envision force as a symbolic expression other than, as an example, an antiquated response to foul language – washing a child’s mouth out with soap or tugging on an ear to show disapproval. Whether or not this kind of symbolism can truly be viewed as “sober, reasoned uses of force” remains open to debate.

The second requirement, which takes the perspective of the recipient of the force, is the need for the child to benefit or learn from the forceful act. If a child is too young or developmentally challenged, use of force, even if for corrective purposes, is not appropriate and s.43 defence cannot be used.

Next, the Court must consider whether the force used is reasonable in the circumstances. The “reasonableness” of the force is delineated by reference to what is acceptable in society by looking at international standards and expert opinion. Again, corporeal punishment used on a child under 2 years of age is considered harmful, as may be such punishment on a teenager. The majority also considered force used to the head area as inappropriate. Additionally, using a belt or implement to apply force is unacceptable. In the end, reasonableness under the section is constrained by who is receiving the corrective punishment, the manner in which the punishment is being applied, and the target area of that force.

In the case of teachers, any type of corporeal punishment used - what comes to mind is the application of a ruler to the hand - is not reasonable force. Teachers, however, may need to remove a child or restrain one but any other force, even I would suggest “symbolic force,” is not acceptable.

In the end, the Chief Justice viewed the section as a necessity in the realities of family relationships when she stated at paragraph 62:

The reality is that without s. 43, Canada’s broad assault law would criminalize force falling far short of what we think of as corporal punishment, like placing an unwilling child in a chair for a five-minute “time-out”.  The decision not to criminalize such conduct is not grounded in devaluation of the child, but in a concern that to do so risks ruining lives and breaking up families — a burden that in large part would be borne by children and outweigh any benefit derived from applying the criminal process.

This above recognition of the limits of the criminal law, limits which we as a society desire and need in order to maintain our fundamental social constructs, really does define this section as it is presently applied. In fact, I represented a client who was charged with assault as a result of restraining a teen, who was acting violently and was under the accused’s care. It was this section, which provided the litmus test and ultimately resulted in his acquittal.

More controversial, however, is the use of the section where punishment is meted out on the basis of cultural or religious norms, which differ from “Canadian” norms. In those instances, what may be acceptable punishment in the accused’s social circle may not be acceptable in the broader Canadian view. In the dissenting decision of the Canadian Foundation for Children case, Justice Arbour raised this possible dichotomy in support of the position that the concept of “reasonableness” under the section is more of a moving target and less of an articulable standard. She commented in paragraph 185 that:

Corporal punishment is a controversial social issue.  Conceptions of what is “reasonable” in terms of the discipline of children, whether physical or otherwise, vary widely, and often engage cultural and religious beliefs as well as political and ethical ones.  Such conceptions are intertwined with how other controversial issues are understood, including the relationship between the state and the family and the relationship between the rights of the parent and the rights of the child.  Whether a person considers an instance of child corporal punishment “reasonable” may depend in large part on his or her own parenting style and experiences.  While it may work well in other contexts, in this one the term “reasonable force” has proven not to be a workable standard. 

Finally, I leave this podcast with a more esoteric or philosophical view. As touched on by the Chief Justice, the truth behind this section, and all of the sections, which justify the use of force, may not reflect the kind of society we truly want: we want a society free of violence and the threat of violence. However, the reality is that even our rule of law carries with it an aspect of violence. As Walter Benjamin opined in his “Critique of Violence,” not only is violence the means to preserving the Rule of Law, “Law-making is power-making, assumption of power, and to that extent an immediate manifestation of violence.”

This concept is further explored in Robert Cover’s electrifying article entitled “Violence and the Word,” which reminds us that whenever the justice system metes out punishment or even pronounces a judgment, a person is coerced to do something they do not want to do. In some instances the force is minimal, in others it involves a total loss of liberty. It is this use of force, which we try to contain, hoping its use will be based on reason and equity. Yet this “force” still remains part of what we would all consider a well-run society and fundamental to the justice system.

Section 43, albeit a seemingly simple defence is in reality a section, which causes one to re-think the meaning of force and its place in today’s society. It has been more than a decade since the Court has expounded on this section. As a result, it will be interesting to see how this section holds up to the ever-evolving societal conceptions of law’s function in our private relationships and law’s responsibility to protect vulnerable members of our society.

For more on Robert Cover, read my previous blog discussing his work here.

 

Ideablawg’s Weekly Connections: Inside The Courtroom

Although criminal lawyers have an intimate knowledge of the courtrooms in which they practice, what do we really know about courtrooms elsewhere? We assume other courts would be all fairly similar but having practiced in Ontario and appeared in a myriad of courtrooms from Toronto, to Windsor, to Lindsay, and beyond, I can say courtrooms do differ. But how do courtrooms in other jurisdictions look? What about other countries? What goes on in them anyway? Well, thanks to the Internet, there are options and tools to help anyone peek into the inside of a court and to see, and perhaps understand more clearly, what exactly is going on inside.

1.   The International Criminal Court (ICC): I have written about the International Criminal Court in previous blogs, most notably here. This past week, the ICC trial chamber has been hearing the Ruto and Sang prosecution. William Samoei Ruto, the Deputy President of the Republic of Kenya and Joshua Arap Sang, head of operations of Kalenjin language radio station KASS FM in Nairobi, are charged with crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute. Ruto and Sang are being tried for their role in the ethnic violence ocurring after the 2007-2008 Kenyan elections. The ICC distributes a video summary of weekly cases in their video series called “In The Courtroom.” The Ruto and Sang matter is this week’s installment showing the courtroom and the various members of the court as well as excerpts of the testimony of a witness, whose identity is carefully protected through use of a pseudonym, facial pixilation, and voice distortion. After the hearing summary, there is a short explanation about the court process including the possible prison terms and where such a sentence would be served. Not only does this video give us an opportunity to experience a totally different kind of criminal court but it gives us a better appreciation of the difficulties surrounding the prosecution and defence of international crimes.

2.   You Be The Judge: This is a great online interactive tool created by the Ministry of Justice in the UK to explain how a judge sentences an accused. The website allows the viewer to observe various criminal cases and to make interactive decisions, based on various factors, to determine the length of incarceration. The viewer/player experiences the courtroom setting and benefits from a number of “asides” from the Bench explaining the process. Through polls taken during the hearing, the viewer can see, in a risk-free environment, if their decisions are consistent with other viewers and with the sentencing judge. I have used this website in my undergraduate criminal justice classes to show how a sentencing judge uses his or her discretion with the rule of law to come to an appropriate and fit sentence.

3.   The Model Court: In a previous blog, I wrote a short piece on the intersection of law and art based on readings from a group of essays in Thousand Eyes: Media Technology, Law and Aesthetics published by Sternberg Press. In the journal are photographs of the “Model Court,” which is a collaborative research project involving a group of artists, Sidsel Meineche Hansen, Lawrence Abu Hamdan (who does some fascinating aural work in the area of the political role of voice in law called Aural Contract), Oliver Rees (he’s so supercool I can’t even describe what he does, so just check out his website) and architect, Lorenzo Pezzani. The project “uses the structure and technologies of the courtroom to interrogate the signifying and controlling role architecture plays in contemporary art and society.” By offering a “model court” as a container of ideas of “jurisprudence, evidence, and the hidden apparatuses that become the essential constituents of tribunals,” the project extends us beyond the courtroom into a representative space, which pushes the traditional four-wall envelope to give us an alternative view of justice. 

Ideablawg’s Weekly Connections: The Olympics Edition

Of course, this week is all about the Olympics and when sport and law sometimes intersect.

1.   The Dispute: How does the IOC (International Olympic Committee) decide which sports should be included in the games? Although the Olympics have come a long way since the Ancient Greeks competed in a handful of events, there are a number of sports not included in the games and a few, which have been dropped over the years. Baseball and softball were not on the roster for the London Olympics but considering Tokyo will be hosting in 2020, this may change. Wrestling was off and then on again.  The Olympic rules require all sports to be reviewed after every Olympics with sports to be added or dropped by a two-thirds majority vote. There are, of course, those sports, which have been added to the Olympic lineup, such as golf, rugby (reappearing) and kitesurfing (new) in the 2016 Olympics.   At Sochi there were new events such as team figure skating and the snowboard and ski slopestyle.  Women’s ski jump was a new event this year but not without some controversy. The quest for gender equality in the ski jump event evolved over time, culminating in a legal challenge by high-ranking women ski jumpers before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and Paralympics. The British Columbia Court of Appeal, in dismissing the women’s case, found that the Charter could not apply to the selection of the 2010 events as and that even if the Charter did apply there was no breach of equality rights under s.15(1). Although, the question of whether VANOC or the Vancouver Olympic Committee was a government entity was easily answered in the negative, however the more difficult question was whether in organizing and staging the event VANOC was carrying out governmental activities. Even though there was governmental support for the Olympics, the Court found that this fact was not decisive on the issue of selection of Olympic events. In deed, neither VANOC nor the governmental agencies supporting the host City were involved in the selection of events. Thus, it could not be said that VANOC was the decision-maker and therefore the Charter could not apply.   Even so, the Court considered the reach of the equality s.15. In finding there was no breach the Court stated, “section 15(1) sets out constitutional guarantees of equality that are broad in scope, but it does not constitute a general guarantee of equality.  Rather, the section guarantees equality only in the way that the law affects individuals.  Where the law is not implicated in discrimination or inequality, is not engaged.” As the law or statutory authority was not engaged by the right or lack thereof to compete in the Olympics, s. 15 was not available and was not breached. A leave application to the Supreme Court of Canada was dismissed with costs. In the end, women’s ski jumping was approved for inclusion in Sochi. Unfortunately, none of the women who brought the court case won a medal in the sport, but what they did, in the end, win a victory for the sport.

2.   The Crime: Remember when Olympic scandals read like soap operas? If your memory needs refreshing, take a backward glance at the Tonya Harding – Nancy Kerrigan incident, when Kerrigan was attacked by a hammer to her knees, before the 1994 Olympics at the Women’s Championship and could not compete. That year Harding won and then lost as it was revealed that she was involved in the conspiracy to assault Kerrigan. But don’t worry, Nancy Kerrigan went on to perform in the Ice Capades while Tonya is now a professional boxer. Irony on ice?

3.   The Sabotage: What is it about skates? The Kerrigan/Harding incident did not stop some members of the American short track team from sabotaging Canadian Olympic gold medalist Oliver Jean’s skates in 2011. Despite this admission, the skater who did the deed accuses the coach for pressuring him to do it. The ISU or International Skating Union’s disciplinary commission considered the case last year and laid the blame for the incident squarely on the coach. This year at Sochi the Canadians were careful to check their skates before competing.

4.   The Dissent: Controversy swirled at the Olympics over the lack of gay rights in the host country and the lack of desire to meet with the Vancouver envoy supporting gay rights. But dissent escalated even further when Pussy Riot, the female punk rock activists, who were jailed last year after performing a “blasphemous” song in the Moscow Cathedral, were arrested but released in Sochi and then whipped by Cossacks – yes, there are still Cossacks. Read about their angry music video on the debacle entitled "Putin Will Teach You To Love Your Country" here

Ideablawg's Weekly Connections: From Pronouncing to Pronouncements

This week I looked at the dual nature of the word “pronounce.” Although in both meanings to “pronounce” is a speech word, the effects of the meanings are very different.

1. Pronounce: In this meaning – to make a sound of a word or letter with your voice – is something we do everyday. Even in this digital age, the speech act is integral part of being human. However, how we pronounce our words has developed over time and the dialect or way in which we pronounce a word has changed radically in the English language. For example, every teen is required to read Shakespeare, typically Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Hamlet, but inevitably with present-day pronunciation. True we recognize the words and the grammatical structure differs from ours but few of us consider that pronunciation in the 1500s was quite different. Thanks to the linguist, David Crystal, Pronouncing Shakespeare, is possible. Listen here for the correct pronunciation (i.e. as Shakespeare would have pronounced them) in Romeo and Juliet. To follow along, the text is here. Just to connect Shakespeare to law, I remind everyone of the famous passage in Act 4, Scene 2 of Henry the IV, wherein Dick states "the first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers," which presages the disintegration of society and the beginning of anarchy.

2. Pronounce: Another aspect of pronouncing a word is to speak the word properly. In law, Latin words and phrases are common. Indeed, two such phrases come immediately to mind when I teach criminal law. The first is actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea, which means there is no guilty act without a guilty mind and from where the terms mens rea and actus reus, the essential elements of a crime, come. As an aside mens rea and actus reus are never used in the Criminal Code of Canada. The second Latin maxim is the causation concept of de minimis non curat lex or the law does not concern itself with trifles. Although the Latin language is liberally sprinkled throughout legal textbooks and case law, Latin is not a required course in law schools. But thankfully there are opportunities for self-study. Just buy Wheelock’s Latin and go online for the correct pronunciations. Your law professor will thank you for it.

3. Pronounce: The second meaning of the word is to declare or announce something formally or officially. A Judge, when he or she renders a decision, is making a pronouncement. How the Judge or trier of fact comes to a decision is a matter of much academic speculation and argument. Critical legal theorists spend much of their academic career trying to articulate this seemingly inarticulable process. Is decision making predictable? Is it based on preconceived views of the trier of fact? Is it random or guided by an innate sense of justice? These heady questions are still being deconstructed in legal jurisprudence. As a primer, read Benjamin Cardoza on The Nature of the Judicial Process for an enlightened view on the subject.

4. Hazmat Modine: to end this week’s connections, I decided to move completely away from my theme and leave you with some excellent music and an example of how our world seamlessly mixes all genres to produce new sound – kind of like how our pronunciations have changed over time. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Ideablawg Weekly Connections: From Twibel to Chaucer

This week, I surfed the Internet and did some reading the old-fashioned way – nothing like holding and having a book - so let’s look at the week in review:

1.   Google Glasses are being talked about and well they should! As the next step in computer/human interface, these glasses would really come in useful in the courtroom when you need to bring up that name of a case – you know that name! Google Glasses could tell you that. Of course, Google Glasses can also keep the lawyers busy as in the case of the California woman, who was charged with distracted driving while wearing her special specs. The California law makes it illegal to “drive a motor vehicle if a television receiver, a video monitor, or a television or video screen, or any other similar means of visually displaying a television broadcast or video signal that produces entertainment or business applications, is operating” and, as she was also speeding at the time, a puzzled police officer pulled her and her Glasses over. The Judge, however, acquitted the feckless (not specless) woman, as there was no evidence the Google Glasses were operating at the time of the incident. My only question is: how could you ever prove that? Maybe the police need some new technology? Can that laser catch speeders and readers?

2. Peter Ackroyd, a British writer, historian and biographer, has written numerous fiction and non-fiction books, mostly about his beloved London. I have read a number of his books, most notably London Under, about what is found under the city – you’d be surprised what’s there - and The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein, a fictionalized backgrounder to the good Doctor. I have recently read a raft of his biographies; some from his brief lives series, including Turner, Poe, Newton, and Chaucer. The Chaucer bio was fascinating as Geoffrey Chaucer was a minor Court official, who really only wrote as a side career. He also had some legal training and was used by the Kings (he survived more than one) for delicate diplomatic missions to France and Italy. Not only does Ackroyd give us non-fictional accounts but he usually ties these peregrinations to a fiction book as well. For instance, he did a marvelous re-working (or translation) of The Canterbury Tales and then re-worked them even more to write Clerkenwell Tales. I also recently read his fascinating biography on Charles Dickens. By the way, watch for the Dickens movie to be released with Ralph Fiennes as the venerable, and love-struck (read the book to see why – the movie is called The Invisible Woman) author. Of course, Dickens did work as a law clerk in Chancery Court when he was young and his novel, Bleak House, brings his past experience to life (or death as we are talking wills) with a comedic flare that is both cynical and heartwarming. I have written a couple of blogs on Dickens in the past here and here

3. Back to law and the Internet – this time law and the Smartphone as Courtney Love successfully defends against a defamation case caused by her tweeting that her attorney, in her Kurt Cobain estate case, was “bought off” not to represent her.  Apparently, the tweet was supposed to be “private” and the jurors agreed. A “private” tweet therefore was not considered “twibel,” which is a libelous tweet of course. Not only is this the first twibel case but, I think also the next word to make it as the Oxford Dictionary Word! Selfies is so last month!

4. I have also been reading some law and imagery articles and I have been particularly struck with articles written by Peter Goodrich, who is the Director of the Law and Humanities program at the Cordozo School of Law. His writing is witty, vivacious, and thought provoking. Try reading his article on Specters of Law: Why the History of the Legal Spectacle Has Not Been Written, which speaks of the visible and the not so visible legal tradition that lawyers have constructed. 

The Ideablawg Connections Of The Week

This week, I am launching a new segment on my blog, The Ideablawg Connections Of The Week, wherein I will recommend items, some law related and some not, connecting them to other areas of interest. These items may be Internet based or print based (yes, there is still such an animal) and may be for viewing, reading, listening, or creating. This week, I recommend the following:

  1. A film about Walter Benjamin, philosopher, critic, and prolific writer, whose critical thinking and sharp analysis of the world around him modernized the essay genre. Walter Benjamin, a German Jewish intellectual, committed suicide when he was turned back from a border crossing with Spain and France during the German occupation of France in WWII. This film is nuanced and provocative. For further reading of Walter Benjamin, read his magnum opus entitled The Arcades Project, a blinding riff on life, the universe, and everything inspired by the shopping arcades of Paris, or a compilation of his essays in Illuminations, edited with a forward by Hannah Arendt, which is reason enough to read this. Then read Hannah Arendt’s, Eichmann In Jerusalem, her controversial series of articles for The New Yorker, covering Eichmann’s trial and decide for yourself what “banality of evil” means. To help you decide, read Deborah Lipstadt’s concise analysis of it in The Eichmann Trial and then watch the 2012 biopic, which may mean an Oscar nomination for Barbara Sukowa. For a law connection, read articles on Hannah Arendt as an International Criminal Law theorist.
  2. And now for something completely different: A NPR article of an interview John Rizzo, counsel to the CIA after 9/11, who has just written a memoir entitled Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA, in which he discusses, among other things, his views on “enhanced interrogation techniques” or what we would call “torture.” Look for his last word on the subject of “waterboarding,” which he states, “…if the Justice Department had concluded — that these techniques constitute torture, we would never have done them. So I can't say they were torture. I didn't concede it was torture then, and I don't concede that it's torture now.” Really? Tell that to a group of Toronto lawyers, who called for Dick Cheney’s arrest for war crimes based on these interrogation techniques, when he was in Toronto in October 2013. Let’s also reflect on the Queen’s Bench of Alberta Justice Yamauchi’s decision in Simpenzwe, that “it is not just a dental drill or waterboarding that extracts confessions out of people. Equally sinister are the “more subtle, veiled threats that can be used against suspects.”
  3. Totally unrelated is this article on the 10 “must have” apps for 2014. I like mailbox.
  4. Atlantic Cities regularly has articles of interest to the committed urbanite. They also have a number of articles on crime and, although US-centric, they nevertheless remind us of the Canadian experience. The article on “Nearly 50 Percent of Black Men Have Been Arrested by 23” is sobering. Although, Canada does not compile such data, read the consistently excellent and relevant reports issued by the Canada’s Correctional Investigator, Howard Sapers,  and his recent report on “A Case Study of Diversity in Corrections: The Black Inmate Experience in Federal Penitentiaries.”
  5. Finally, go see American Hustle, the Hollywood version of the 1980s ABSCAM – remember those grainy videotapes of payoffs by fake Sheiks – well watching it in Technicolor is so much satisfying and entertaining, including Christian Bale’s not well-disguised impression of the Mel Weinberg, a Bronx fraudster and confidence man. Is it just me or is Bale channeling Rob Reiner’sMeathead” in All In The Family?

 

 

The Golden Thread Metaphor: Section Six And The Other Presumption Of Innocence Episode Nine of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada – Text Version!

The presumption of innocence – the concept that an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty - is easily the most well known legal principle. As important as this principle is to our concept of justice, the presumption of innocence has become much more than a legal tool. It has become part of the fabric of our society. Today, every citizen is aware of the presumption of innocence in a criminal case. This principle has transcended the legal arena to become one of our society’s fundamental values. It is not only a value understood by all but it is part of our culture.

Indeed, as an example of the ubiquitous nature of the presumption of innocence, we can find the concept used as a title of a book, such as in Scott Turow’s novel, Presumed Innocent and the movie version with Harrison Ford. Or used as almost a character flaw as in one of my favourite legal literary heroes, Rumpole of the Bailey, written by John Mortimer Q.C. In those stories, Horace Rumple, the rumpled everyman barrister, finds personal solace in his belief in “the health-giving qualities of claret, of course, the presumption of innocence, and not having to clock into chambers in the morning.” In the classic play/movie 12 Angry Men, when Juror #8, played by Henry Fonda, reminds Juror #2, played by John Fiedler, that “the burden of proof is on the prosecution. The defendant doesn’t even have to open his mouth. That’s in the Constitution,” we nod our heads in agreement and relief. Although many of us could not say which section of the Charter (s. 11(d): “to be presumed innocent until proven guilty”) encapsulates this concept, we all take comfort in knowing it is there.

But there is another place where the presumption of innocence is recorded in Canadian law and that is section 6 of the Criminal Code, which is entitled “presumption of innocence,” the first part of which reads as follows:

Where an enactment creates an offence and authorizes a punishment to be imposed in respect of that offence,

(a) a person shall be deemed not to be guilty of the offence until he is convicted or discharged under section 730 of the offence; and

(b) a person who is convicted or discharged under section 730 of the offence is not liable to any punishment in respect thereof other than the punishment prescribed by this Act or by the enactment that creates the offence.

Now, that’s not really the “presumption of innocence” we have come to expect, is it? When you read this section it just does not seem to have that visceral punch I talked about earlier when reacting to the lines spoken in 12 Angry Men. It also does not seem to be conveying the deep, and almost personal societal, values underlying this fundamental premise.

First, let’s look at the wording. Unlike the Charter equivalent, there is nothing in section 6 about a “presumption” only a “deeming.” So the very word, we hang on when discussing innocence, the “presumption,” which gives the concept such solemnity, is gone. Second, there is nothing in the section about “innocence” although the title suggests it. However, as we know from my previous podcasts, in the Criminal Code the headings are there for convenience only and do not form part of the section itself. Instead, I would suggest, the section seems to be contrary to the presumption of innocence as it focuses instead on the concept of guilt and punishment. The section describes the circumstances in which the court can finally impose punishment. Now to be sure the court needs to hold off until conviction, but as soon as that pre-condition is fulfilled the sanctioning regime kicks in and punishment is not only available but also inevitable. Section 6(1)(b) continues this punishment theme by ensuring that the punishment can only be that as prescribed or authorized by law but it adds nothing to our concept of the presumption of innocence. So this section is not really about the fundamental premise of our criminal justice system, the golden thread of criminal law, but about when punishment can, and will, be meted out.

To understand why this section reads as it does, a little legislative history is in order. The section first arose in 1886 legislation on punishment entitled An Act Respecting Punishment, Pardons, and the Commutation of Sentence, and was not only subsumed into the first Criminal Code but was placed in the latter part of the Code where the punishment sections resided. The purpose of the section was not therefore to trumpet the fundamental principle of the presumption of innocence but to reinforce the applicability of punishment at the time of a finding of guilt. This concept of punishment only upon conviction was not only consistent with English criminal law but was consistent with chapter 39 of the Magna Carta which stated that:

No freemen shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor send upon him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.

In the original Latin phrase of this article “nisi per legale judicium parium suorum vel per legem terrae,” the Magna Carta protects the accused from punishment without judgment of his equals and in accordance with “the law of the land.” So this idea that an accused is guilty only when he is found guilty, remained under the general punishment section of the Code until 1955, when it was moved to the front part of the Code, namely to section 5(1), but was still viewed as a punishment section as it was then entitled Punishment Only After Conviction. However the wording of the 1955 section does resemble the wording we have today under section 6. It is not until the 1985 revision of the Code, when the section was repealed and reinvigorated as section 6 that it becomes the more venerable presumption of innocence. Of course this reconstitution (forgive my pun) came after the 1982 enactment of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Understanding this legislative history does give us a better sense of how it came into the Code but why it was renamed the presumption of innocence is an unanswered question requiring deeper investigation than an Internet search. Certainly, looking at case law, this section is rarely invoked as authority for the principle of the presumption of innocence. A quick survey of cases reveals there are only a few such cases (these cases can be found here, here, here, and here) where section 6 was relied upon as propounding the concept but always invoked with the constitutionalized version found under s. 11(d) of the Charter.

Although I cannot explain why this presumption section is so named, I would like to take a few moments to consider where the concept of the presumption of innocence arose in the first place. In my earlier posting on the issue, I suggested, through the academic writings of George Fletcher that the concept actually migrated to criminal law from the English civil law. I do not want to return to that discussion, instead I want to take us to the moment when the presumption of innocence becomes imbued with the gravitas it now enjoys – the particular moment when the presumption of innocence transformed into the fundamental principle it is today. I have already alluded to that moment earlier in this podcast when I described the presumption as the “golden thread of criminal law.” In first year law school there a few seminal or landmark English cases we discuss and end up knowing virtually by heart. One of them is the case where this “golden thread” metaphor is first used, the 1935 English House of Lords case of Woolmington v. DPP.  The facts of the Woolmington case do not concern us here but the decision, what is written by the then Lord Chancellor of Great Britain, Viscount Sankey, does.

In order to set the stage for this momentous decision, I need to give a quick legal backgrounder on Lord Sankey and the great impact he had on Canadian law. After the Supreme Court of Canada in 1925 found women were not “persons” under the British North America Act and therefore ineligible to sit in the Senate, the case, known as the Persons case, was appealed to what was then the highest level of appeal, the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Civil appeals to the Privy Council were abolished in 1949, while criminal appeals ended in 1933. Lord Sankey, as a member of the Privy Council, wrote the appeal decision in the Persons Case or Edwards v. Canada (Attorney-General). In the case, reversing the Supreme Court of Canada decision and finding women were indeed “persons,” Lord Sankey commented on the argument that historically women were disbarred from public office. Despite this historical fact, Lord Sankey concluded that “the exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours” and that “customs are apt to develop into traditions which are stronger than law and remain unchallenged long after the reason for them has disappeared.” In the Persons Case there was no reason why women could not discharge the parliamentary duty of office. In terms of the efficacy of the actual British North America Act, which today we call the Constitution Act, 1867, Lord Sankey, famously remarked that the Act “planted in Canada a living tree capable of growth and expansion within its natural limits.” This metaphor of the Constitution as a living tree has taken root since the 1930 Persons Case and has become a guiding doctrine in our constitutional jurisprudence.

Needless, to say Lord Sankey has a way with words and the Woolmington case was no exception. On the issue of presumption of innocence, Lord Sankey surveyed the textbooks on the issue and was perplexed to find a suggestion that the presumption was one of guilt and the burden was on the accused to prove otherwise. After running through more cases, Lord Sankey described the fundamental importance of the presumption as:

Through-out the web of the English Criminal Law one golden thread is always to be seen that it is the duty of the prosecution to prove the prisoner's guilt subject to what I have already said as to the
defence of insanity and subject also to any statutory exception.

Lord Sankey then connects the presumption of innocence with the burden of proof, which requires the Crown to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This connection is explored in my previous blog on the issue. So, it was Lord Sankey who gave use this strong visualization of the presumption of innocence and turned the principle into something much more.

How Lord Sankey came to this golden thread metaphor is puzzling. I suggest that this metaphor must have come from the Greek myth of Ariadne and Theseus. Ariadne gave Theseus a golden thread to help him escape the Minoan Labyrinth after he killed the Minotaur. Thus, the presumption of innocence, as the golden thread of Ariadne, leads the accused out of the maze-like machinations of the criminal law.

This thread theme is reinforced by a further metaphor, which I also referred to earlier in my podcast; that the presumption of innocence is part of the “fabric” of our society. Indeed, I found a 1965 case, R v Dixon, from the then District Court of Ontario, written by Mr. Justice Robinson wherein he describes the presumption as the “golden thread” that “runs through the warp and woof and is thus firmly imbedded in the whole fabric of the administration of English and Canadian criminal justice.” When I first read this passage, not unlike a Wiki page, I thought someone added the phrase “warp and woof” for a joke. But, like a good researcher, I looked up “warp and woof” and found the following definition:

The essential foundation or base of any structure or organization; from weaving, in which the warp — the threads that run lengthwise — and the woof — the threads that run across — make up the fabric: “The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are the warp and woof of the American nation.” This expression, used figuratively since the second half of the 1500s, alludes to the threads that run lengthwise ( warp ) and crosswise ( woof ) in a woven fabric.

So this thread metaphor is taken in a different direction but is also a good candidate for explaining Lord Sankey’s “golden thread” turn of phrase. By the way, I did take my research a little further to find other cases that have used this archaic phrase. I found only a few cases, some which were actually about fabric making but there was a use of this metaphor in two Supreme Court of Canada constitutional Division of Powers cases; Reference as to the Validity of Section 6 of the Farm Security Act, 1944 of Saskatchewan and the 2009 Consolidated Fastfrate Inc. v. Western Canada Council of Teamsters. Notably, in the 2009 case, Mr. Justice Binnie used the phrase in a delicious quote invoking the world of the 1860s:

The current Canadian economy would be unrecognizable to the statesmen of 1867 and, to borrow an analogy from Thomas Jefferson, one would not expect a grown man to wear a coat that fitted him as a child.  The coat is of the same design, but the sleeves are longer and the chest is broader and the warp and woof of the fabric is more elaborate and complex.  Adopting a purposive approach to constitutional interpretation, as we must, what is important is not how transportation was viewed in 1867 but rather to match in our own era the level of regulation (federal, provincial or territorial) appropriate to the nature and scope of the undertaking.  Now, as in 1867, when a transportation undertaking connects or extends “beyond the Limits of the Province” its regulation is assigned by the Constitution Act, 1867 to the federal level of authority.

In 1859, Charles Dickens also used a golden thread metaphor in A Tale Of Two Cities, to suggest a strong bond of familial love created by the indomitable Lucie. Although, there is a strong affiliation between the criminal law and the presumption, I still prefer the Greek myth connection. I should recommend here my previous blog on Charles Dickens and the law called Charles Dickens Is On The Side Of Justice wherein I discuss some of the more legally minded passages of Dickens’s novels. 

One final aside on this golden thread metaphor brings us to American literature and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, where Hester is required to sew a letter “A” onto her clothing as her punishment as an adulterer. As time wears on, Hester proudly marks her shame with an “A” made of golden thread. For Hester, the golden quality of the thread reflects the shame of the community who branded her with their cruelty.

In some way the golden thread of the presumption of innocence protects us from a similar fate – a society devoid of compassion - or as Chief Justice Dickson, as he then was, reminded us in the 1986 Supreme Court of Canada Oakes case, the presumption of innocence "confirms our faith in humankind; it reflects our belief that individuals are decent and law‑abiding members of the community until proven otherwise." To me, his words are indeed golden.

 

 

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.

Whose Life Is This Anyway? The Canadian “Right To Die” Debate Part One – Definitions and A Story

Sue Rodriguez was an active and intelligent woman when she was diagnosed with the debilitating and ultimately fatal, Lou Gehrig’s disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 1991. Indeed, it is her wit and poise many of us remember when we recall the headlines she generated. Her quote, “whose life is it anyway,” spoken in a slow drawl, her ability to speak being slowly taken away by disease, still resonates with Canadians today as once again our courts grapple with the most basic issues of life and death.

As with all controversial issues, the right to die has taken a “life” of its own as it extends over all areas of deeply held beliefs such as philosophy, science, law, religion, politics, and socio-economic concerns. The issue has been considered in all forms of media and in all manners of legal cases. It has been touted in Kevorkian-like advertisement and debated in the highest offices of the land and yet, it is a profoundly personal issue, which transcends nationality and ethnicity.

Throughout this vastness of ideas and beliefs, it is essential to keep in mind that at the very core of the issue, there is always an individual, a person who is suffering, a person who wants a choice where a choice is not legally given. Sue Rodriguez was such an individual those many years ago when she took her right to choose to the Senate and to the Supreme Court of Canada. In the end, it was Sue Rodriguez who choose to die “on her own terms” outside of the law, even though her last wish was to remain one who respected it.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are actually two different concepts. Euthanasia is the deliberate act undertaken by one person with the intention of ending the life of another person in order to relieve that person’s suffering. There are three forms of euthanasia: voluntary, non-voluntary, and involuntary. Voluntary euthanasia occurs when the act is done in accordance with the wishes of a legally competent individual or on the basis of a valid medical directive prepared when the patient is competent to authorize the procedure. A competent individual is capable of understanding the nature and consequences of the decision to be made and capable of communicating this decision. Non-voluntary euthanasia occurs when the act is done without knowledge of the wishes of a competent individual or, with respect to an incompetent individual. This form of euthanasia may attract criminal sanctioning. The third and last form is involuntary euthanasia occurs when the act is done against the wishes of the individual. This act is indistinguishable from murder or manslaughter and should attract the full force of our criminal law.

The Criminal Code of Canada, pursuant to s.14, essentially prohibits euthanasia by stating: “No person is entitled to consent to have death inflicted on him.” It is a core traditional principle of our criminal law that an individual cannot consent to his or her death. Indeed, one cannot even consent to grievous injury, which explains why even in a consensual violent sport like hockey, Todd Bertuzzi was charged with assault causing bodily harm. Whether or not the sentence imposed, a conditional discharge, was appropriate is another matter for a later blog. In any event, even in the medical sense, a doctor who gives the patient a lethal injection would be criminally liable. Also in the Criminal Code are legal duties placed upon medical personnel, which require them to perform their duties with all due care, requirements contrary to taking a patient’s life.

Therefore, euthanasia is clearly contrary to Canadian criminal law, and should be prosecuted as first-degree murder, because there is an intent to cause death, which is the definition of murder, and the act is most often planned and deliberate, which is the definition of first-degree murder. However, the Canadian reaction to euthanasia scenarios have fallen short of first-degree murder charges and have tended toward lesser charges such as charges of second-degree murder, manslaughter, and administrating a noxious substance. The charge decisions have definitely been influenced by the circumstances surrounding the euthanasia as a response to human suffering and the desire to relieve the suffering, such as in the Robert Latimer case.

Another factor is the unpredictable nature of juries, who are required to make decisions according to the rule of law but can be swayed by emotional factors as well. Finally, it can be legally difficult to prove murder in euthanasia cases. The Crown prosecutor must prove a legal and factual casual connection between the accused’s actions and the death. Typically, medical evidence is required to make this required connection. In euthanasia cases, it may be medically difficult to prove the exact cause of death when a person is in any case close to death and taking considerable pain medication. 

Assisted suicide, on the other hand, is the act of intentionally killing oneself with the assistance of another who provides either the knowledge to do it or the means to do it, or both. Assisted suicide is specifically prohibited in our Criminal Code under s.241, in which counseling someone to commit suicide or aiding or abetting someone to commit suicide is contrary to the law. Even if the person in question does not die from the aid, the person so assisting may be guilty under the section.

The difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide is therefore dependent on the type of involvement of the third party: euthanasia is when the action of a third party intentionally causes the death of a patient such as through the administration of a lethal injection and assisted suicide is when a third party provides the means and/or information necessary but the actual act causing death is carried out by the patient herself.

My next posting will continue outlining the legal background to this debate with a survey of the legal decisions made on the issue. However, to start and end this posting with Sue Rodriguez is essential: she was a real person suffering from the effects of a debilitating disease and her choice, to end her life when she saw fit, not when it was beyond her control, was her truest wish.

 

The Incivility of Civil Disobedience: Part One

Civil disobedience is a familiar phrase these days what with the Occupy movement occupying public space and now University students protesting higher tuition rates. The term “Civil Disobedience” was coined by American author, writer, poet, naturalist and all around polymath Henry David Thoreau as the title of an essay originally published in 1849 as "Resistance to Civil Government." At the time, Thoreau was the voice of a country struggling with itself, both politically and morally. His was a voice of reason but also one of deep moral principle. In 1846, Thoreau was arrested and imprisoned for a failure to pay his poll taxes. Poll taxes were levied on all eligible voters as a prerequisite of voting and were the main means of raising funds for local governments. The poll tax, which anti-slavery abolitionists like Thoreau refused to pay, was levied to fund the Mexican War in a bid to extend American slave territories. The amount of the tax, even at that time a paltry $1.50, was viewed by Thoreau as too high a moral price to pay. Although his Aunt, against his wishes, paid the fee and Thoreau was released after only one night in jail, his essay on the experience remains today the first in a line of many personal actions of civil disobedience. I say “personal” as there was already an American example of group disobedience in the form of the famous Boston Tea Party, an act of disobedience heard across the ocean by King George III and the British Parliament.

Martin Luther King Jr., in another example of personal disobedience to the law, would also pen a famous piece of prose in the Letter from the Birmingham Jail. In this acerbic response to his critics, King tackles head on the moral and ethical issue of obeying “just” and “unjust” laws. To support his actions, King refers to St. Augustine’s position that an “unjust law is no law at all.” He also uses as a stark analogy the ultimate “unjust” laws of Nazi Germany. The letter became a touchstone for the civil rights movement and the idea that morally “unjust” laws should not and could not be followed became a permanent fixture in the American psyche.

Unsurprisingly, in Canada, acts of civil disobedience have been most pronounced in Aboriginal rights issues such as in the Burnt Church conflict involving the traditional fishing rights of the Mikmaq nation of Atlantic Canada. Another high profile case of civil disobedience was the Ipperwash Crisis and the police shooting death of Native activist, Dudley George.  Of course, more recently, the Occupy Movement is another example of collective disobedience. Canadians even have a “how-to” book for such practices with the Protestors’ Guide to the Law of Civil Disobedience in British Columbia. This document is easily accessible on-line and is written by Leo McGrady Q.C., a well-known BC lawyer specializing, on the union/employee side, in labour relations. No surprise, as BC has seen more than its share of civil unrest relating to teacher labour issues. Read my previous blog on the Legal Politics of Seussville for more on the issue.

With this little history lesson, my next posting will deal with the legal aspects of civil disobedience. How have the Courts reacted to this issue? Is the Charter engaged when acts of civil disobedience are stopped? And finally, what kind of legal defences are available when such acts become subject to the criminal courts?

 

Let’s Talk About: Property Rights & The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Alberta election is heating up and is soon to be decided as Albertans go to the polls on Monday, April 23, 2012. One of the many controversial issues raised by the Wildrose leader, Danielle Smith, is on property rights and the absence of such rights guaranteed in the Charter. Smith, on her Wildrose website, suggests the “fundamental role” of government is the “protection and preservation of property rights.” As part of her platform on this “fundamental” issue is the promise her government would “entrench property rights.” She would do this by implementing an Alberta Property Rights Preservation Act, entrenching “basic property rights in the Alberta Bill of Rights” and spearheading “a national initiative to add property rights to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” 

Really? Are we really to believe that this “pressing” issue of property rights should be shoulder to shoulder in our Charter along with our fundamental freedoms such as freedom of expression, freedom of conscious, and equality rights. Should our preoccupation with individual, political, and democratic rights take a back seat to issues of ownership and possession? What will this mean for our criminal law and the ability of the government to reasonably search and seize property for a criminal investigation? Does the corporeal trump the spirit? Is property, which not everyone has the ability to own, require the special attention and protection of our most Supreme laws? Why should property rights, which were specifically and deliberately left out of the Charter, now be placed back in?

Not that we would ever see the unanimous agreement to do so that is required before the Charter could be amended. Do we need the kind of property rights litigation, which occurs in the United States, where property rights were specifically enshrined in their Constitution and viewed as sacred as life itself? And if we feel we do want this protection, are we prepared for the result. For a good discussion on the history of American Constitution property rights, read the SCC decision in Reference re ss. 193 and 195.1(1)(C) of the criminal code (Man.).

Danielle Smith may have taken a page from her namesake, Adam Smith’s, Wealth of Nations, with a call to protect life, liberty and property but fails to recognize the positive obligation protecting property would place on the government. Thus, we would need a robust and interventionist government, willing to step into the property rights fray. Entrenching property rights would mean not less government but more government, as the Courts would be busy reviewing the government’s ability to regulate and protect the national interest in the name of the economy. Take for instance the issue of natural resources and the role ownership of such resources would play under a property Charter rights scenario.

Canada does in fact have some experience with protection of property rights as section 1(a) of the Canadian Bill of Rights, 1960, the statutory, quasi-constitutional precursor to the Charter, protects “the right of the individual to life, liberty, security of the person and enjoyment of property, and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law.” While this still enacted statute can still be used to “protect” property rights, the legal interpretation of this right has not provided the protection the Wildrose maintains they can provide if elected. 

But would such entrenchment of property rights really “protect and preserve” an individual’s right to their property as touted by the Wildrose? It is instructive perhaps to look at the case law on property rights in the Bill of Rights. This passage of the Bill of Rights was considered by the Supreme Court of Canada rather recently in the 2003 Authorson case, in which disabled veterans attempted to require the federal government to pay past interest on pension funds despite legislation minimizing Crown liability. The end result of the decision, dismissing the veterans’ claim, was to uphold Parliament’s right to expropriate property without compensation.

Legally, an “entrenchment” of property rights does not in and of itself suggest an individual’s right to property would be absolutely guaranteed. Indeed, considering all of our rights under the Charter are not absolutely protected, any “new” Charter rights would be treated similarly. According to s. 1, all of the Charter rights are subject to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.  In addition, both Parliament and each provincial legislature, including Alberta, have the authority to enact legislation contrary to the rights guaranteed in the Charter through the Charter notwithstanding provision contained in s. 33.

Therefore, the Wildrose is promising, in a very heated election, something they cannot themselves guarantee. Undoubtedly these are the best promises to make: no one can take them to task for merely promising to try. Interestingly, the Authorson case was written by the then Alberta appointment to the SCC, Justice Major, who is now trying to sort out the MLA compensation debacle. Of course, the proponents of property rights would suggest it is the poor wording of the Bill of Rights, offering property protection in accordance with due process, which is the problem and which can be easily fixed.

But even if the Charter was amended and property rights were absolutely protected as desired by the Wildrose, the question still remains whether or not protecting property rights is in the best interests of Canadians. If we say “yes” to property rights, then we must be prepared for all kinds of litigation overrunning our justice system such as: litigation on the right of the government to tax individuals; litigation on the government’s right to make decisions on natural resources; litigation on intellectual property rights including copyright and access to information; and litigation regarding criminal law and search warrants as discussed in the SCC case of Quebec (Attorney General) v. Laroche. We could even see spill-over litigation in the area of economic rights, which traditionally has been unprotected by the Charter as discussed in the SCC Gosselin case, which could put Canada’s economic health at risk by promoting the financial sovereignty of the individual at the expense of a strong economy and healthy society.

Thus, in the end, we must decide if property rights are worth protecting in our country knowing the possible legal pitfalls, which may ensue. Let’s ensure the next thirty years of Charter litigation promotes our fundamental freedoms as individuals of choice and free will, entitled to respect and dignity, instead of a document weighed down by possessory rights and self-interest.

Blogs As Graffiti? Using Analogy and Metaphor in Case Law

Legal reasoning requires the decision-maker to use both factual and legal analogies and precedents. Legal precedent provides a solid foundation for a decision as it is based upon an earlier decision, typically from a superior level of court, made in the same circumstances to the one being decided. Analogy is a much subtler concept, involving similarities between the two situations. Analogy, therefore, requires an analytical dissection of the two circumstances to find comparables. The beauty of analogy is not only in the similarities, but in the dissimilarities as well: oftentimes it is the distinctions between the cases that matter. Although there are a set of principles and rules to assist in the appropriate use of precedent and analogies, courts have also used metaphoric language to come to legal conclusions.

A metaphor “expresses the unfamiliar in terms of the familiar.” A connection is therefore made between seemingly unconnected objects with the happy result of revealing the objects true and very real similarities. Metaphors are rich and varied and a very compelling way of defining an object or concept. Advertising uses metaphors the best: for example, the “life is a journey” concept “flies” well when considering travel options. As a subset of metaphor is the language technique of “simile,” whereby the comparison between the two objects is proffered more directly by suggesting one object is like another. A simile such as “this fog is like pea soup” conjures up an immediate physical description of the fog, which transcends describing the fog as merely “dense.” But how useful is the use of figures of speech in case law? Is it a  “good fit” (using a tailor metaphor) with the legal principles of precedent and analogy?

Let’s look at a recent example. On March 2, 2012 the UK High Court in considering the issue of defamatory blog comments in Tamiz v Google Inc Google UK Ltd, found Google Inc., the provider of the blog platform, not responsible for the clearly defamatory comments. Justice Eddy came to the conclusion using a “wall covered in graffiti” analogy: Google is like the owner of a building and the defamatory comments are like graffiti placed on the external wall of the building. Just as the owner of the wall is not responsible for the content of the graffiti, Google, as the mere provider of the “space” in which the comments were made, is not responsible for the content of the blogs. Justice Eddy recognized that the owner of the wall or “internet space” may, once the graffiti or comments are made, remove or “whitewash” (do I sense another metaphor here? Whitewash as in censorship perhaps?) the comments. As stated by Eddy J., “That is not necessarily to say, however, that the unfortunate owner must, unless and until this has been accomplished, be classified as a publisher.”

This colourful and powerful analogy, although not truly a legal analogy, becomes the defining moment of this case. Google Inc. is then “cut” (sorry another tailor metaphor) from the case. But as compelling as this analogy is, the question still remains whether this is sound reasoning; sound enough to extricate Google from a lawsuit?

Let’s delve deeper into this analogy: Google provides the wall. Using the analogy to its fullest, Google doesn’t just provide the wall; Google owns the wall - as in the owner of the building with the graffiti sprayed on it. Taking this analogy further, Google owns the wall, which is then provided to others, bloggers, for their use. But the owner of the building does not “provide” the graffiti makers with a wall to spray. In fact, the graffiti on the wall is there without the consent of the owner.

Furthermore, the owner of the wall does have responsibilities to, as Justice Eddy so eloquently put it, “whitewash” or remove the offending marks. Not to do so, is usually in contravention of a City by-law, making the provider of the wall responsible for removal of the comments. Is that not the issue really in this defamation case? Removal of the comments is what is at the core of the lawsuit. Removal, which if it is not done in a timely fashion, does implicitly suggest the owner “likes” (as in Facebook “likes” if you need a metaphor) the comments.

The recent, Supreme Court of Canada case, Crookes v. Newton, is another slight twist on the provider as publisher conundrum. Newton, as the owner and operator of a website, provided hyperlinks to other Internet material, one such link contained defamatory comments regarding Crookes. The majority of the SCC, was careful to “contain” (yes, another building metaphor) the argument to the issue of hyperlinks as a form of expression and not as a form of publication. To hyperlink is not to “like” or approve of the linked material – it is merely to extend the research to another document and provide the reader with another source of information, which the reader can then access or not, and agree with or not.

To come to this conclusion the majority used good old fashion legal precedent and legal analogy based on case law. However, the generous use of metaphor assisted in creating a more compelling argument. In dismissing the Crookes publication argument, Justice Abella used the space or size metaphor to visually describe the spatially immense implications of “broadening” the meaning of publication in the circumstances of the case. Movement metaphor was also used to discuss the “innocent dissemination” exception as passive – almost robotic, without thought or action. The most powerful metaphor by far was the crux of the case as “hyperlinking is referencing”; a print metaphor, using visions of University research papers and academic writing. Then, to give the argument further weight (metaphor), Charter values are brought into the discussion with the caution against restricting the “flow” of information – a movement metaphor and a water metaphor.

The above illustrates an excellent use of legal principles and figures of speech to arrive (journey metaphor) at a cogent argument that has “legs.” This is another movement metaphor that implies the argument is not only a successful one but also a decision that will “achieve strong audience acceptance or interest.”

Which brings me back to the analogy in Tamiz and the dual difficulties found in that decision. The case highlights the difficulty in using analogy or figure of speech to enhance the already cogent legal analogy or precedent. It also shows the care which must be used in using figures of speech to make a point: if so used, the analogy or metaphor must logically connect the two objects as any fallacy arising from the connection will most certainly detract from the argument or finding.

We use metaphor constantly in making sense of the world around us. I highly recommend the book “Metaphors We Live By” written by the linguist George Lakoff and philosopher Mark Johnson for further reading on this fascinating subject. As a result of this seminal book, there is now a whole area of legal jurisprudence on the use of metaphor in legal reasoning (see also publications by professor Steven Winter). Being aware of this human penchant for metaphor and connection does provide another analytical tool (a device or work metaphor using the mind as physically embodied in the hands using a tool) to enhance our reading of legal text. It also provides us with a different view of legal argument and how that argument is communicated through case law.

Crime And Punishment: “Changing Lives Through Literature”

Judge Willmore of the 1st District Court in Logan, Utah may just have the right idea: impose a meaningful sentence on offenders, which will positively impact their lives and give them an incentive to make the right choices in the future. Judge Willmore does this through rehabilitation through education, when he requires offenders to read and, on occasion write a report on, Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables as part of their sentences.

Les Misérables, Hugo’s tour de force exposes the societal ills of 19th century France through an intertwining story of lost youth and redemption. It is a story of hope for those who have done wrong in the past and an example of how acts of kindness can turn evil into good. An excellent read for those in trouble and who want to turn their lives around.

Such alternative sentencing options are unusual in a system that prefers deterrence to rehabilitation, yet the idea of using literature to rehabilitate is not a “novel” idea. In Massachusetts, for example, a Judge has the ability to sentence an offender to a special program called “Changing Lives Through Literature.” To be eligible, the offender must consent and must not be a sex offender or convicted of murder. Once ordered to this “treatment by books,” the offender must attend a three-month course, taught by a College level professor, wherein they read up to 6 novels. After completion of the course, the offender discusses the novels with the Judge, the Professor, and the other offenders who are participants. By all accounts, the program has been successful and has peaked the interest of other Districts across the United States. Although, I have found reference to the program starting in Canada, I have not been able to confirm this.

The idea of rehabilitative self-improvement has been used beyond the courtroom as well. The “Books Through Bars” program in California sends “quality reading material to prisoners and encourage creative dialogue on the criminal justice system, thereby educating those living inside and outside of prison walls.” The program itself has expanded to provide publication opportunities to prisoners, prison libraries, and other educative forums.

The Canadian justice system would benefit from such forays into literature as rehabilitation. Certainly the sentencing regime found in the Youth Criminal Justice Act could provide a platform for such unique sentencing programs. Clearly, education goes hand in hand with self-worth, which many offenders are lacking. The therapeutic effects of a “good read” should not be underestimated and need to be explored in an era where traditional sentencing practices seem an incongruous fit with today’s society. Perhaps it will be only a matter of time and, of course funding, before we see the positive effects of “doing time” through reading but in the meantime, read Les Misérables for yourself and enjoy the educative effects of good literature.

Reading The Riot Act

Riots or violent disturbances of the peace are part of the human psyche. As early as 44 B.C., when the Roman mobs attacked the houses of Brutus and Cassius in an angry response to the untimely death of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March, the world has since experienced riots in every era. Riots occur for a multitude of reasons: from student protest as in the 1229 University of Paris students’ strike to revolution as in the Boston Tea Party of 1773 and from the various race riots in the United States throughout the 1900’s to the obscure reason of advant-garde music, when in 1913 the audience in the Paris Théâtre des Champs-Élysées listening to the debut of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring ballet broke out in a violent booing frenzy. There have been riots over various alcoholic beverages as in the London Gin Riots of 1743 or the Beer Riots in Bavaria in 1844 or then only ten years later, the Portland Rum Riot. Sadly, I missed the Champagne Riot in 1911 France. However, increasingly, riots are not about protest but about a lack of sportsmanship or too much sportsmanship as in the case of the recent hockey related riots in Canada.

The Stanley Cup Riots, and I use the plural as there has been more than one (two in Vancouver, five in Montreal, one in Edmonton during playoffs), have been particularly egregious, costing the municipalities millions of dollars in damaged property and even millions more in prosecuting and punishing the participants. The Nika Riot of AD 532 might have been the first sports related riot, happening in the Hippodrome at Constantinople, then the centre of the remaining Roman Empire in the East. The two factions, Blue and Green, were supporting their chosen chariot race teams when both sides demanded the city release Blue and Green prisoners, who had been arrested, earlier, for disturbing the peace. In a moment, this sporting event became political and over the next few days a not unfamiliar scene played out as the Emperor Justinian first apologized and, when the mob was still not pacified, then slaughtered thirty thousand Blue and Greens in the Hippodrome. Ironically, it was Justinian who codified all Imperial laws into the Codex. See my previous posting on the codification of our criminal laws into the Criminal Code.

Although we no longer “read the riot act,” as they no doubt did in 18th Century England when the Riot Act was first enacted, our criminal law does prohibit “unlawful assemblies and riots” under the Criminal Code. The 1715 Riot Act gave a Justice of the Peace or another person so authorized to disperse “groups of twelve people or more being unlawfully, riotously, and tumultuously assembled together, to the disturbance of the publick peace” upon proclaiming:

Our sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God save the King.

If the crowd did not disperse within an hour of this proclamation, the authorities had the right to “seize and apprehend” the rabble-rousers who would be subject to the death penalty.

Although the Riot Act was finally repealed in 1973, the Canadian offences of unlawful assembly and riot, under sections 63 and 64 of the Criminal Code respectively, are a distant reminder of the original crime. Instead of twelve people “unlawfully, riotously, and tumultuously” assembled, the Canadian counterpart, unlawful assembly under s. 63, requires three or more persons “with intent to carry out any common purpose” who:

cause persons in the neighbourhood of the assembly to fear, on reasonable grounds, that they

(a) will disturb the peace tumultuously; or

(b) will by that assembly needlessly and without reasonable cause provoke other persons to disturb the peace tumultuously.

Similarly, section 64, defines the offence of riot as an unlawful assembly, presumably as per s.63, “that has begun to disturb the peace tumultuously.” Therefore, an unlawful assembly is about to become a riot, although not quite there, while a riot is exactly that: a full-blown tumultuous affair.

The defining term for these offences, in both the Criminal Code offence and the 1715 original crime, is the word “tumultuously.” To understand the meaning of this word, which is not defined in the Criminal Code, case law is needed. In the Berntt case, arising from the first Vancouver Stanley Cup Riot in 1994, at issue was the clarity of the meaning of the word “tumultuously” as found in s.64.

Defence argued the term was vague and therefore did not provide a clear understanding of the essential requirements of the crime. Without such clarity, defence argued, the accused’s ability to make full answer and defence was compromised. To try an individual on the basis of a vague law and, therefore, to potentially deprive the individual of his or her liberty if convicted would be contrary to the principles of fundamental justice under s.7 of the Charter.

The British Columbia Court of Appeal, in deciding the issue, referred to the 1992 Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Nova Scotia Pharmaceutical Society and Justice Gonthier’s comments on the importance of limits, provided by clear language, which delineate our laws and permit legal debate. However, language provides boundaries only and are mere guidelines as stated by Justice Gonthier in the following passage:

Semantic arguments, based on a perception of language as an unequivocal medium, are unrealistic.  Language is not the exact tool some may think it is.  It cannot be argued that an enactment can and must provide enough guidance to predict the legal consequences of any given course of conduct in advance.  All it can do is enunciate some boundaries, which create an area of risk.  But it is inherent to our legal system that some conduct will fall along the boundaries of the area of risk; no definite prediction can then be made.  Guidance, not direction, of conduct is a more realistic objective. 

With guidelines comes context and in the end, the court found the word “tumultuously” must be read in conjunction with the other words used in the offence such as “riot” and “unlawful assembly,” which connotes a violent disturbance as opposed to an uproarious, perhaps even jubilant, crowd. History also imbued the term with particular meaning as the crimes, through their very definition, related back to old England and the Riot Act.

Thus, as they say, what goes around comes around and what was once a crime is still a crime. Interestingly, the discussion of boundaries and limits is exactly what the crimes of unlawful assembly and riot are all about: it is the lack of boundaries and limits that marks the behaviour as crimes as opposed to a Canada Day event on Parliament Hill where the crowd gathers in celebration and bon ami.

Sadly, as a coda to this posting, Ryan Berntt, the accused in question, was shot in the head by a police officer’s rubber bullet during the riot and sustained brain damage. In the end, it is individuals, both in the crowd and out of the crowd, who suffer the most. It is the individuals, not the crowd, who stand charged or must face the inevitable morning-after clean up. Perhaps this sobering reality is worth remembering. 

Why Is This Still A Crime? Crime Comics and the Criminal Code

Today, in my criminal law class, we discussed what is a “crime.” We defined “crime” as any form of human behaviour designated by lawmakers as criminal and subject to penal sanctions.” This definition of crime is both narrow and broad: broad as any form of behaviour can be considered a crime, yet narrow as it is only those behaviours so designated by the law makers, which are considered crimes.

Let’s look at that premise more closely. Any behaviour, so designated, can be a crime. For example, opium was legal until the turn of the century when the 1908 Opium Act was enacted. On the other hand, coffee is legally consumed in Canada but was historically subject to bans and restrictions in many countries such as Turkey and pre-Revolutionary France.

Furthermore, no matter how morally repugnant certain behaviour may be, the conduct is only criminal if so designated. In other words, it is not a crime unless our government says so. Clearly then, criminal law is fluid: it changes over time in accordance with  society’s fundamental values.

And yet, there are crimes still found in our Criminal Code, which do not resonate with today’s values and leave us to wonder why the behaviour is still designated as criminal. Section 163(1)(b), which makes it illegal for anyone to make, print, publish, distribute, or sell a “crime comic,” is a case in point.

A crime comic, as defined under s.163(7), is a “magazine, periodical, or book that exclusively or substantially comprises matter depicting pictorially” the commission of crimes, either real or fictitious, or any events leading to the commission of a real or fictitious crime. Thus a crime comic, deemed illegal under the Criminal Code, can easily be that super hero comic book purchased at the corner store or that cool graphic novel on Louis Riel.

Where did this crime come from? In this instance, we can blame the United States. In the 1940s a genre of comic books known as “crime comics” appeared. In truth, some of the comics were in “bad taste” depicting gory scenes of violence, however, the bulk of the comics were inevitably the triumph of good over evil. Either way, the books did not, as suggested by the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, promote or contribute to the commission of crimes by juveniles.

In fact, despite the very public contention of American psychologist Dr. Fredric Wertham that the crime comic books were connected to the increase in juvenile crimes, there was no scientific basis for this position. Unfortunately, by the time the true facts were exposed, the issue had become so political the government was moved to regulate the comic book industry. In Canada, the result was even more significant as the Criminal Code was amended in 1949 to add crime comics as an offence “tending to corrupt morals.”

In the 1950s, the offence was tested by a group of comic book vendors in Manitoba. Mr. Roher, the chosen offender, was convicted of selling a crime comic, specifically “No. 62, April, Dick Tracy.” The cover of the comic book is particularly gruesome as it depicts Dick Tracy floating in the water, near death, while a once masked villain shoots at him. Definitely a crime is being committed but we all know, Dick Tracy, the crime fighter will prevail. He even says so in the corner of the cover as he studies his radio watch, which cries out: "calling all crime stoppers." This fact, however, was meaningless in the eyes of the law as Mr. Roher was convicted of selling this crime comic.

In upholding the conviction in 1953, Chief Justice McPherson describes, in detail, the “bloodthirsty” events illustrated in the comic. According to McPherson C. J., “the legislature wished to enact laws to protect the children of this country from the evil effects of being subjected to publications dealing with crime.”

The Chief Justice also considered the defence available under the section, which is still preserved in the present day offence, known as the defence of the “public good” whereby:

No person shall be convicted of an offence under this section if the public good was served by the acts that are alleged to constitute the offence and if the acts alleged did not extend beyond what served the public good.

In dismissing comics as serving the public good, the Chief Justice commented on the defence as follows:

The only defence under this section I have ever heard suggested is that by reading these publications the child acquires a desire to read. To me it is a strange basis upon which to start child education and, logically considered, could be quite easily adapted to other phases of training; for instance, by starting children on "home-brew" they might become connoisseurs of fine liquors and whisky and eventually experiment with a drink of milk!

Clearly, the Chief Justice was not a fan of the funnies! Or was he really just a man of his times, immersed in the hysteria of the moment and in tune with the public fear caused by the increase in juvenile crimes? This may explain why the conviction was upheld and why the crime found its way into the Criminal Code, but it does not explain why this crime is still part of our criminal law.

Perhaps we could imagine an inappropriate comic, aimed at children, which we would not want published and sold but do we need the criminal law to regulate that scenario? Furthermore, as the section now reads, appropriate material could be subject to the offence, despite the defence of public good, such as the graphic novel by Chester Brown on Louis Riel or the Fantastic Four.

So, why this is still a crime is a valid question to ask and a valid question to keep asking as society changes and our laws do not. By questioning and asking “why,” we are ensuring that our laws reflect who we are as a society and if they do not, then it is incumbent upon our law makers to provide an acceptable answer.

 

Spy Vs. Spy

Spying, once a remnant of the Cold War as dramatized in John le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and now a major motion picture complete with authentic seventies gear, is now back in the news and our psyche. Tales of spoiled Arctic sovereignty and clandestine meetings is presently all over the media as a result of the charges laid against naval officer, Jeffery Delisle, for allegedly disclosing state secrets to a foreign entity under s. 16(1) of the newly enacted Security of Information Act. These are the first charges under this Act. He is also charged under s. 122 of the Criminal Code for breach of trust in connection with his duties. Mr. Delisle is still in custody awaiting a bail hearing, now scheduled for January 25.

The charging document for the offences, the Information, which contains the specific charges against Delisle allege the offences under s.122 of the Criminal Code and s.16(1) of the Security of Information Act occurred between July 6th, 2007 and January 13, 2012 in Ottawa, Kingston, Halifax, and Bedford. Another charge under s.16(1) suggests a separate incident of communicating safeguarded information occurred between January 10, 2012 and January 13, 2012 in Halifax and Bedford, Nova Scotia. Delisle was arrested by RCMP on January 14. One can speculate that RCMP surveillance observed the January 10 to 13 transaction, which then lead to the charges. Delisle lives in Bedford.

Although the Government is not revealing any information on the charges, experts in intelligence suggest Russia is involved. This seemed to be confirmed by four Russian diplomats leaving Canada, but recent reports suggest some of these men left for other reasons and were not expelled from the country. This whodunit will most certainly be played out in the media for weeks to come. Indeed, CBC already has created a time-line of significant espionage events in Canada. Most the incidents involve China and Russia but do not involve the laying of criminal charges.

In fact, there is a paucity of charges relating to spying in Canada. There are cases of individuals who are not admitted on the basis of espionage. Under the Immigration Refugee Protection Act, individuals who are found to be “engaging in an act of espionage or an act of subversion against a democratic government, institution or process as they are understood in Canada” in accordance with s. 34(1)(a) are inadmissible into Canada. There are also cases of leaking secret information within Canada. The O’Neill case involved the investigation of Juliet O’Neill, an Ottawa journalist, who wrote a news article concerning Maher Arar, who was deported illegally by the USA to Syria where he was tortured. Subsequent information revealed that Canadian authorities had provided information, which lead to his improper rendition.

O’Neill’s home was searched by the RCMP under the very same piece of legislation with which Delisle is charged: the Security of Information Act. The allegation involved the leaking of secret official information under s.4 of the Act. Justice Ratushny found “the allegation of criminality against O’Neill in the Warrants that is the abusive conduct in this case and that amounts to an intimidation of the press and an infringement of the constitutional right of freedom of the press” and therefore the obtaining and execution of the Warrants offended “the public’s sense of decency and fairness and does undermine the integrity of the judicial process.” Juliet is now the media contact for Oxfam Canada.

The first Official Secrets Act was enacted on the heels of the British counterpart in 1890, which was eventually subsumed into the Criminal Code. On the eve of World War II, the official Official Secrets Act was enacted and remained in force until it was finally replaced by the Security of Information Act in 2001 after years of criticism. It was the 1969 Mackenzie Commission or the Royal Commission on Security, which described the Official Secrets Act as "an unwieldy statute, couched in very broad and ambiguous language.” Despite this call for reform, the Act was not dismantled for thirty years. According to The Canadian Encyclopedia, there were only 22 Canadian prosecutions under the Official Secrets Act. The most notable case, involving virtually half of the 22 prosecutions, was as a result of the revelations of Igor Gouzenko in 1945. Gouzenko, who was working in the Russian Embassy in Canada as a cipher clerk, fled the Embassy and defected with over a hundred documents proving there was a Russian spy network in Canada. He lived in hiding in Ontario until his death in 1982 and is considered “the man who started the Cold War.”

Now, some 67 years later, we are back to the beginning. It is a new and improved Act but there is, or may be, Russians involved. No Cold War but perhaps the cold shoulder as a result of the incident. Which brings me to the title of this posting: Spy Vs. Spy. This past October was the 50th Anniversary of this dynamic or, shall we say, dysfunctional duo. Spying, it appears has been around a long time, and by all evidence, appears to be here to stay, whatever the climate.

The Internet Is Here To Stay!

Earlier, something extraordinary happened: there was a paperless revolution. Across the Internet many major websites did the unheard of and went “dark,” meaning the websites were unavailable to users. Although unavailable, these “dark” sites had a message to their madness: Stop SOPA/PIPA. SOPA is an acronym for the Stop Online Piracy Act and PIPA stands for Protect IP. Both USA Bills are purportedly for the protection of intellectual property rights, but in reality the Bills are much more.

SOPA, in particular, gives broad authority to shut down websites, even foreign websites, without notice for “committing or facilitating” copyright infringement. The overreach of the legislation has the potential to adversely impact many websites we read and use on a daily, maybe even hourly, basis such as YouTube, Twitter, Open Culture, and Brain Pickings. For further explanation of the issues read the articles here and here. For an excellent understanding of why Canadians should be worried, read this blog by Michael Geist.

Of course, in Canada the Copyright Act protects copyright material from being distributed and published on the Internet without the copyright holder’s permission. However, there is presently no formal policing of the Act and it is the copyright holder’s responsibility to claim the right and seek enforcement. Interestingly, besides the Copyright Act, which has its main objective to protect intellectual property, there are other Canadian statutes in which the Internet is referred to as a tool to enhance, not detract, from the valid objective of the legislation.

For example, in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, which provides a mechanism for determining the efficacy of projects affecting the environment, a number of sections require the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to “establish and maintain an Internet site to be generally accessible” in order to provide public access to records and reports related to assessments. Thus, this remarkable piece of legislation provides transparent governance through the best possible platform: the Internet, which permits the greatest number of people the fullest access to possibly life-changing information. There are other Acts, which also require some form of Internet access as in the Civil Air Navigation Services Commercialization Act. Instead of restricting access, the Government is embracing it with this, dare I say, “anti-1984” legislation. Yes, we are out of the eighties and there the Internet shall stay!

Of course, the idea of restricting the use of information on a platform dedicated to global dissemination of ideas is not only counter-intuitive but also highly ironic. If the Information Highway cannot carry information, then what do we call it? Somehow the Information Cul de Sac just doesn’t cut it. Certainly, protection of intellectual property is valid but let’s hope we can accomplish protection and increase our worldly knowledge at the same time.

Public Disasters and the Criminal Law

The tragic and unfortunate Costa cruise ship disaster is a good example of how popular social activities, which are inherently legal and legitimate, can turn, on a dime, into a textbook criminal case. It is no surprise the Captain of the ill-fated ship is being investigated for a number of offences, including manslaughter. Indeed, after reading the victims’ accounts of the disaster, it should be expected. But caution is required when demanding “justice” for public disasters through the aegis of the criminal law.

Usually, government uses regulation to control legitimate and desirable activities, which if carried out improperly or without due care, would result in harm to individuals or the public at large. Any breach of regulation may result in a charge under the statute, which is then known as a public welfare offence. Thus, our local dry cleaner, which provides us with clean shirts and starched collars, must conform to government rules regarding the safe and proper use and disposal of chemicals.

When the failure to fulfill regulatory requirements is significantly outside of the public welfare scheme, the conduct becomes criminal and must be framed by the Criminal Code. When the Exxon Valdez struck a reef in 1989 and spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into the Alaskan waters, the criminal law was invoked. In 2000, the Walkerton tainted water scandal, which left seven people dead and scores ill from e-coli­ bacterial ingestion, resulted in criminal charges of public endangerment, fraud, and breach of public trust against the two town managers. So too, when the British Columbian Ferry, Queen of the North, ran aground in 2006 causing both an environmental and social disaster (2 people died), the navigation officer, who had control of the ship at the time, was charged with criminal negligence causing death.

However, when these public welfare matters are criminalized, they are treated like any other criminal case. The conduct, which initially arose from legal activities, becomes part of the criminal law nomenclature as it is labeled as manslaughter, criminal negligence, or even murder. By labeling and identifying this conduct as criminal, the matter leaves the public opinion arena and enters a legal one where the case must adhere strictly to all relevant legal principles. Consequently, what appears to be an open and shut case of manslaughter may, in a courtroom, deteriorate into a plea to a lesser charge or even an acquittal.

Not only are legal requirements at issue in such a case, but other factors may impact the prosecution’s ability to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt such as the credibility of witnesses, the conduct of the police, and the availability of institutional resources.  Admittedly, these factors are present when dealing with any criminal case, but when dealing with a public welfare crime, it is very difficult to prove the essential fault element or required criminal intention, which typically deals with a failure of a person to act in accordance with a required standard of care.

In a public welfare case the alleged offender is under a duty or standard of care, which would require him to fulfill his duties and responsibilities with all due care and attention. For a Crown to establish a failure of care, to the criminal standard needed for conviction would require evidence relating to the standard of care and a detailed examination of what those duties and responsibilities are in the circumstances.  Prosecutors would need to delve into corporate culture and industry standards. As a result, such trials can be lengthy and complicated with unsatisfying results.

That explains why the Exxon Valdez’s Captain, charged originally with criminal mischief, operating the Exxon Valdez while intoxicated, and reckless endangerment, and a misdemeanor charge of negligently discharging oil, was only convicted of the misdemeanor and was sentenced to $50,000 restitution order and 1000 hours of community service. It also explains why the town managers in the Walkerton case pleaded guilty to the lesser offence of common nuisance with one accused receiving a conditional sentence of nine moths and the other, a one-year jail term. Finally, it explains why the BC ferry navigator, Karl Lilgert, has yet to be tried on his charges, although the incident occurred in 2006. Lilgert’s preliminary hearing was heard in May 2011 and he is now in the Supreme Court system as he awaits a jury trial.

So, for those awaiting a speedy outcome from the Costa tragedy, or indeed, any other public disaster, they will be disappointed. For the few who actually stick with the case to the bitter end, the result may be even more socially disconcerting. All of this may lead us to wonder if our criminal law can appropriately respond to crimes of such epic proportions and make us re-consider if it even really should in the first place. The problem is: what’s the alternative?