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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confidential Informant: A Creation Story

We are all conversant with a creation story, be it biblical or cultural. We are less apt, however, to recite a purely legal creation story, where the law is not in itself created but creates. In the decision of Her Majesty The Queen v Named Person A, 2017 ABQB 552, Madam Justice Antonio applies the law and in doing so creates a legally constructed status, as confidential informant, for Named Person A [NPA]. The effect of the law or the privilege that arises, requires NPA’s identity be strictly protected and non-disclosable, subject to the “innocence at stake” exception. This is a status which NPA neither wants nor asks for. Once NPA became this pronounced creation of law, NPA became nameless. The discussion we will undertake will provide us with the ultimate creation story of how certain encounters can transform into a creation of law. With that transformation, comes the full force of the law as legal principles must be and are rigidly applied. The preliminary issue of whether NPA was, in law, a confidential informant is incredibly important. If NPA is not such an informant then the issues flowing from this status are moot. If, however, NPA is a confidential informant, then the court must decide how the Crown can fulfill its Stinchcombe obligations requiring full disclosure of NPA’s criminal file to NPA’s counsel without violating the sacrosanct confidential informant privilege. To disclose or even to edit the disclosure would reveal NPA’s identity. To not disclose would run afoul of NPA’s right to full answer and defence. Alternatively, if NPA’s defence counsel is within NPA’s confidential “circle of privilege,” then disclosure may be made within the safety of that legal privilege. This posting considers the initial decision by Justice Antonio to find, in law, NPA is a confidential informant. It is this finding which engages the law and which matters most to NPA.

First, we will start with a narrative, which is not particularly exceptional. NPA was arrested on various criminal charges. Subsequently, NPA was approached by police officers from the “human sources” unit, who handle police informants, also known as “handlers.” These handlers had been following NPA’s investigation and believed NPA could provide them with useful information to assist the police in other investigations. To induce NPA to be an informant, the handlers offered NPA the usual terms: the handlers “promised” to keep A’s status confidential; NPA, as a “volunteer,” could stop providing information at any time; and NPA was “prohibited” from disclosing the status. On this basis, according to one of the handlers, NPA agreed to be an confidential informant. Notably, there were no promises relating to his outstanding charges (paras 16 to 19).

NPA saw the “relationship” differently. NPA “never wanted” (para 27) to become a confidential informer, although NPA did give the handlers information. In other words, NPA agreed to the “informant” part but not the “confidential” moniker. Consistent with this perception, NPA immediately breached the “terms of the contract” (para 25) by “self-outing” as an informant. NPA told people of his encounter with the handlers. NPA told the police officers investigating his criminal charges and NPA told NPA’s defence lawyer. Justice Antonio does not speculate on why NPA did this, other than to confirm that NPA did not reveal the status as a ploy to force the hand of the Crown in staying the charges (para 79). We, however, can speculate that NPA might have revealed the status thinking there would be some sort of benefit from co-operating with the authorities. For instance, an agreement to plead to reduced charges for a reduced sentence. As insightfully suggested by Justice Antonio, “the police must take [NPA] as they found [NPA], existing charges and all” (para 79).

As a result of the disclosure by NPA, NPA was promptly “terminated” (para 21) as a confidential informant. This “termination” did not affect NPA’s legal status as a confidential informant. Borrowing from the lyrics to Hotel California, NPA could check out any time, but could never leave. Whether this sentiment was made clear to NPA is questionable (para 26). Despite this lack of clarity, Justice Antonio found NPA to be a confidential informant with all the “associated privileges and obligations” (para 25). I would add that those “privileges and obligations” flowed from a legal construction or legally imposed view of NPA’s brief interaction with the handlers. Moreover, once that legal principle was engaged, it was required to be applied in a “nearly absolute” manner (para 37). A few minutes in an interview room, gave NPA status close to an “officer of the court” (para 41).  It is doubtful whether NPA viewed the conferred status as anything but an albatross around the proverbial neck. Something imposed as opposed to something welcomed. As succinctly stated by Justice Antonio, “the role of a confidential informant is a creation of law enforcement, and the privilege that attaches to it is a creation of the common law” (para 41). In this creation story, NPA has a minor role indeed.

Notably, NPA’s counsel did not provide much argument or authority for the position NPA was not a confidential informer (para 23). In concluding that NPA was indeed a confidential informant in fact and in law, Justice Antonio applied the “test” from R v Basi, [2009] 3 SCR 389, 2009 SCC 52 (CanLII). The issue in Basi differed from NPA’s situation. In Basi, the Court was struggling with how a confidential informant could have counsel on a hearing to determine informant privilege when such representation would include disclosing the confidential informant status contrary to that limited and rigidly enforced “circle of privilege” that necessarily includes the handlers and the prosecutor but no one else. Justice Fish, at paragraph 36 of Basi, explained that the status as confidential informant arises when “a police officer, in the course of an investigation, guarantees protection and confidentiality to a prospective informer in exchange for useful information that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to obtain.” The question of whether the person is a confidential informant is a legal one and the judge must be satisfied of that status on a balance of probabilities (Basi at paragraph 39).

Another decision, Justice Antonio referenced to assist in the “status” hearing was R v Barros, [2011] 3 SCR 368, 2011 SCC 51 (CanLII). In Barros, the issue centered on the scope of the confidential informant privilege and was not focussed on the initial finding of that privilege. As a prelude to that main finding, Justice Binnie, on behalf of the majority, reviewed the purpose of the privilege itself.  It is important to keep in mind, Justice Binnie’s sentiment at paragraph 31 that “of course, not everybody who provides information to the police thereby becomes a confidential informant. In a clear case, confidentiality is explicitly sought by the informer and agreed to by the police.” Justice Binnie then quotes the previously referred to “test” from Basi.

Although both Justice Binnie (para 32) and Justice Antonio (para 25) refer to the “contract-type elements of offer and acceptance” as evidence of the status, confidential informant privilege, as a creature of the law, “was created and is enforced as a matter of public interest rather than contract.” The public interest as outlined by Justice Binnie at paragraph 30, involves the incentives for those in the know to provide information to those who don’t to assist in the goals of public safety and law enforcement (See also Bisaillon v. Keable, [1983] 2 SCR 60, 1983 CanLII 26 (SCC), Beetz J. at page 93). By providing a safe “place” where these vital conversations can be done in the context of an atmosphere of protection is the underlying purpose for rigidly enforcing the privilege once it attaches. This public interest aspect assumes two premises: that the informant wants the protection and that the public interest has no interest in the impact such a status would have on the informant. The Basi “test” does not allow for a reluctant informant nor does it concern itself with the implications of the confidential informant status on an individual. The incentive is to promote law enforcement, which is a valid and convincing objective we all applaud. However, the “test” as fashioned does not encourage the police to fully inform the potential confidential informant of the true implications of the privileged status which will, not might, flow from the agreement. As noted by Justice Antonio at paragraph 26, when the handlers “ended Named Person A’s tenure as an informant, Officers X and Y used final-sounding language that might easily have led him to believe that every aspect of his short-lived role was over and he would never hear about this again.” But not so, Justice Antonio continues, “for obvious reasons, confidential informant privilege persists after the informant’s active role has ended.” Sadly, the forever status is known to the legal segment of society but not so obvious to people like NPA. These realities reveal a weakness in the Basi test as it fails to see beyond the protective veil which flows from the confirmation of the status as confidential informant. Rather, such status is derived from a moment in time when NPA speaks without appreciation of the repercussions which will come in the name of public interest.

To be fair, Justice Antonio is also concerned with NPA’s protection. Although NPA “never wanted to be a confidential informer” (para 27), NPA is “fearful of one person finding out,” namely the person he informed on. But this discussion in the decision comes after the confidential informant status is confirmed and forms part of the alternate issue on whether NPA waived his status. Waiver, presupposes status as a confidential informant.

Returning to the Basi test, it should be noted that the full test as articulated by Justice Fish requires the “useful information” to be given “would otherwise be difficult or impossible to obtain.” There is no discussion of this part of the test in Justice Antonio’s findings. Was this information “useful”? Was it “otherwise difficult or impossible to obtain”? The record is silent. Without inquiring into this aspect of the Basi test, confidential informant status can be conferred broadly by a handler who is “fishing” for information or testing out an informant’s reliability. It could be argued that without this requirement, status could be irrevocably conferred in a “offhanded way” (para 25). Leaving this phrase empty fails to serve the purpose of the informant privilege, which strives to not only encourage people to share information but also to encourage effective and efficient investigatory practices. Additionally, a more restrictive reading of the Basi test would encourage potential informants to give useful information in exchange for status. These informants, I would suggest, would be more prudent in entering into such an “agreement” and subsequently not so flippant or forthcoming with their confidential identity. It would also assist handlers in pre-screening potential informants, who may, as the Crown feared in the case at bar, “self-out” themselves purely for the purpose of forcing the Crown to withdraw any future criminal charges they may face (paras 73 to 81).

Confidential informant status has advantages and disadvantages as starkly seen in Her Majesty The Queen v Named Person A. The key to a robust and successful justice system is to provide protections and incentives for all those who play a role in it. The law of privilege once engaged is a hard-hearted companion as NPA ultimately became to appreciate. But, we, as purveyors of the law and as readers of this creation story should consider the effect of the law and how, within the confines of the Rule of Law, we can be part of that changing narrative. In this way, NPA’s personal story can inform further discussion on the future of the law of privilege in this area and whether, as with other traditional rules of evidence, it is time to re-consider the underlying logic of the rule in favour of a different, more responsive, approach. This creation story may indeed create another story about the law.

 

 

 

Episode 50 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada: Criminal Code Reform and Section 55

Welcome to the fiftieth podcast on the Criminal Code of Canada. I started this project almost four years ago and although my output has slowed down, my commitment to providing you with some insight on every Code section has not changed. In this the fiftieth episode, I would like to generally reflect on the recent proposed changes to the Criminal Code and to specifically discuss the proposed revision to section 55 “Evidence of Overt Acts,” the subject of this podcast.

The new amendments contained in Bill C-51, which received first reading on June 6, 2017, will repeal some of the sections I have discussed in previous podcasts. These are sections which are archaic remnants of the initial 1892 Code and their deletion is welcome. In my opinion, however, repealing sections is not a substitute for badly needed reform of the Code into a readable, understandable and modern reflection of societal fundamental values. Piecemeal revision can lead to anomalous results. It can also lessen public confidence in the criminal justice system. Reform may take time but it is time well spent if the Code is one in which all citizens feel they have had an opportunity to create. I know what I am saying I have said before but, in my view, smart re-visioning of our criminal justice system is a position to be repeated.

Before we discuss section 55, I want to point out that Bill C-51, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Department of Justice Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act, also proposes to repeal section 49, Alarming the Queen. I discussed this section in podcast episode 44, which the text of this episode can be accessed here. Fortuitously, we recently used section 49 in a 1L criminal law final exam. A nice send off to an obsolete section, in which the prohibited behaviour could easily form the basis of other charges such as causing a disturbance under s. 175.

Section 55 “Evidence of Overt Acts” rounds out our discussion of the offences falling under the heading “Prohibited Acts” pursuant to Part II Offences Against Public Order. It is not a substantive section, meaning it does not create a criminal offence. Rather the section is, as the headline promises, related to evidentiary proof but in the context of a procedural rule. The section sets out the parameters of the process required to establish an essential element of the prohibited act or actus reus of any of the enumerated offences.

Section 55 presently reads as follows:

In proceedings for an offence against any provision in section 47 or sections 49 to 53, no evidence is admissible of an overt act unless that overt act is set out in the indictment or unless the evidence is otherwise relevant as tending to prove an overt act that is set out therein.

This section will be slightly revised if Bill C-51 passes as presented. The changes are very minimal, deleting the reference to s. 49, as it is repealed, and making slight wording adjustments to make the section more readable. The import of the section remains the same and it will read as follows:

55 In proceedings for an offence against any provision in section 47 or sections 50 to 53, evidence of an overt act is not admissible unless that overt act is set out in the indictment or unless the evidence is otherwise relevant as tending to prove an overt act that is set out in the indictment.

Essentially, the section requires an “overt act” to be specified in an Indictment for any of the offences enumerated in section 55 before the court before will admit evidence of such acts at trial. This requirement to specify an overt act in the Indictment is mirrored by section 581(4) of the Criminal Code, a section relating to the form of the counts in the Indictment and the sufficiency of such counts. Subsection (4) requires that where an accused person is charged with the offences, as enumerated under s. 55, “every overt act that is to be relied upon shall be stated in the indictment.”

Although the above explains why we have this procedural/evidentiary section amongst these criminal offences, questions still remain: what exactly is an “overt act” and why is there such a special procedural concern placed on this type of act for these particular offences? These offences are sections we have already encountered in previous podcast episodes and relate to Part II offences against the public order. Section 55, however, does not refer to all offences under the Part but specifically the punishment for treason, the offence of assisting an alien enemy to leave Canada or failing to prevent treason, the offence of intimidating Parliament or the legislature, and the offence of sabotage. These are offences which directly impact our national security interests and are also offences where the modus operandi might include a conspiracy. It is the offence of conspiracy from which the concept of overt acts is most applicable. In order to examine this connection, let’s try to define an “overt act.”

The phrase “overt act” does not appear in any of the enumerated sections found in section 55 but it is found in section 46, which describes the offence of treason, as opposed to section 47, which merely sets out the punishment. The phrase is also found in section 48, another section relating to the charging limitations for treason, requiring that if the charge is based on “an overt act of treason expressed or declared by open and considered speech” the charging document or Information must set out the overt act and the words and the Information must be laid “under oath before a justice” within 6 days of the time the words were spoken. In terms of the rest of the Criminal Code, the phrase is only used in the previously mentioned section 561. See Episode 43 of these podcasts, where I discuss “overt act” as it relates to sections 46, 47 and 48. As I mentioned earlier, treason and overt acts seem to go hand in hand with conspiracy as a treasonable “overt act” for purposes of the section. The crime of conspiracy, under section 46, is therefore a “manifestation” of the intention to commit high treason or treason as required for section 46(2)(d). As I explained in that previous episode, this treatment or really clarification of an overt act as conspiracy is consistent with the original description of treason under English common law and the 1892 Criminal Code.

Before we discuss the phrase itself, now that we wandered through the Criminal Code looking for an overt act, let’s wander a little bit off the path to find where else the phrase “overt act” appears in legislation. Interestingly, and importantly if you are an agriculturalist in the Maritimes, “overt acts” are referenced in the 1990 Newfoundland Poultry and Poultry Products Act, RSNL 1990, the repealed Prince Edward Island Poultry and Poultry Products Act and the repealed and re-enacted Agricultural Development Act of New Brunswick. In the Newfoundland statute, “overt act” is part of the definition of “ship”, “shipping”, “transport” and “transporting” which are defined as the “overt act of a person leading to the movement” of poultry and poultry products by certain specified means or conveyances. Certainly, not the kind of “overt act” contemplated under s. 55.

Now to the definition. An “overt act” is outward behaviour, which consists of readily ascertainable actions. A good example would be the description of the overt act under section 48 as “expressed or declared by open and considered speech.” We can find other examples from three World War One treason cases. In the first case of R v Snyder (1915), 24 C.C.C. 101 (ONCA), the overt act of treason consisted of the acts of the accused in helping people leave Canada to fight with the “enemy” during World War One such as bringing the people to a farm for purposes of then sending them overseas. Rex v Bleiler, a 1917 decision from the then Alberta Supreme Court (Appellate Division), offers another example of overt acts consisting of attempting to sell a “certain device” to the German Emperor or his agents. The case, sadly, never explains exactly what this device is but the overt acts involved the accused writing letters, recommending the device and offering it for purchase, to the German Ambassador to the United States. In these letters, the accused professes his loyalty to Germany and requests the details of the purchase be done secretly. The final case in the trilogy, is from 1918 decision of the Quebec Court of Appeal in The King v Schaefer, a case I referred to previously in the episode 43 podcast on treason. Of interest is the dissenting decision. The facts of the case suggest the cruel effects of wartime prejudices and the use of treason as punishment for ethnic origin and community loyalties rather than for the protection of the public. The facts are best read as excerpted from the dissent of Mr. Justice Lavergne as follows:

1 Israel Schaefer is a Jew who came to reside in Canada some twenty years ago or more. In the first years of his residence here, he became a British subject being naturalized under the Canadian statutes. In October 1914, he had a family of numerous children brought up here. His principal business since many years was to sell transportation tickets, both steamship and railway tickets. He was known as an industrious and very respectable citizen.
2 In October 1914, he sold transportation tickets from Canada to a port in Bulgaria. Bulgaria, at that time, was not at war with any other part of the British Empire. The number of tickets sold is alleged to have been ten. In addition he is alleged to have provided these ten people with documents to further transportation to the boundary line between Roumania and Austria-Hungary. The ten tickets were not all sold on the same date, but at different dates, in October 1914. This was done by Schaefer in the course of his ordinary business...
4 These people or most of them had come from Bukovina, which country formed part of Roumania and part of Austria. Most of these people, if not all of them, spoke Roumanian Language.
5 Schaefer was only charged with assisting the public enemy, but was only charged with assisting ten persons to leave Canada by selling them steamship tickets to a country not at war with Great Britain.
6 He is also charged with counselling these people to speak the Roumanian language. Another charge of furnishing these people monies was not pressed, was virtually abandoned, no attempt whatever was made to establish that allegation. The persons to whom Schaefer sold tickets having been resident in Canada for a few years were in the position of alien amis, and presumed to have paid local allegiance to our Sovereign. The fact that they were not arrested shows that the authorities did not regard them as offenders.

It was the opinion of the dissenting justice in the case that as the overt acts alleged were not connected to “any hostile intention or action,” the charge of treason must fail. Further, the dissent noted that the Indictment set out the acts of the people who left the country as assisting the enemy, not Schaefer, and there was no allegation of conspiracy. Additionally, there was no evidence these people in any way assisted the enemy other than they spoke the language and wanted to go home. Thus, there could be no inference that the overt act outlined in the Indictment manifested an intention for assisting the enemy or any other such treasonable acts. The majority disagreed and upheld the conviction for treason. In their view the Indictment sufficiently described the overt acts of treason being a treasonable design to assist the enemy and the overt acts in furtherance of it. This case presents quite a differing view of the overt acts and highlights the impact of contextual societal events can have on decision-making.

There are several cases, more recent ones, on the sufficiency of counts in an Indictment and specifically, in the case of a conspiracy charge. Certainly, section 55 could engage a sufficiency argument in the appropriate case and therefore this section, although only related to a few offences against the public order, has a relationship to other procedural sections in the Code. We will get to those sections as we continue our journey through the Criminal Code.

 

 

 

 

Some Thoughts On Teaching Evidence

This week I began teaching Evidence, a required course for the 2Ls. This is my first time teaching the course and yet the rules and principles of evidence seem second nature to me. True, this can partly be explained by my legal career, involving criminal trial and appellate practice, in which I used these principles on a very practical basis. Perhaps, it can also be explained by the fact these rules and principles are generally a matter of common sense and human experience. Certainly, the basic rule of the admissibility of evidence is predicated on that concept: admissible evidence, as a matter of common sense and experience, is relevant when its introduction tends to make a fact more or less probable than the fact would be without it.

However, this initial feeling of comfort and familiarity with the rules and principles of evidence is perhaps why teaching and learning evidence is so crucial to a modern legal education. True, many of the 2Ls in my course will not be trial and appellate lawyers and many of them won’t be obsessively sifting through Supreme Court of Canada judgments to find thematic connections. Rather, evidence is meaningful not because of the rote application of the rules but because of the underlying purpose of these rules which cause us to question the rules and principles themselves. In many ways, this exploration of evidence leads us to re-consider the meaning of law itself.

To make my case, I will refer to some examples from this first week of the course by starting with this concept of “common sense.” Indeed, throughout the trial process, common sense and human experience is a common theme, albeit traditionally it is often perceived through the lens of judicial experience. In support of this contention, read Justice Moldaver’s approach to many criminal law issues in which he applies the “common-sense” paradigm, such as in the 2012 Walle decision or the 2015 Tatton case. I have written further on these decisions here and here. Or, if your bent is more to the civil side, read the 2012 Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Clements v. Clements where the “but for” test for causation is applied in a “robust common sense fashion” by the majority. However, it is in the consideration of the community sense of how legal constructions are perceived, which seems to be now recognized as a legitimate reference point in judicial interpretation. A previous posting I wrote on this issue considering the SCC case of Anthony-Cook discusses this very point.

Another evidential concept requiring meta-reflection involves the first matter of consideration in the course: what is evidence in the broadest sense, outside of the legal premise. This question leads one to realize that evidence is not just an old shoe or a scrap of paper starting with the words “IOU.” Evidence is about relationships. There are no absolutes in evidence nor are there inherent qualities of an item which makes something, anything, a piece of admissible evidence. These things can only be viewed in relation to the “other.” The shoe is evidence only as it relates to the expert witness who describes the tread as similar to the tread found at the scene of the crime. The scrap of paper becomes evidence of an intention or a promise to pay in a civil action. The above describes just one sort of relationship evidence engenders. There are many more, replete with meaning both inside and outside of the courtroom.

One such outside connection is based on the overarching purpose of evidence as it relates to the truth-seeking function of the trial process. This is a cornerstone of our adversarial system and why we, almost smugly, suggest our form of justice is superior to the investigatory form found in continental Europe. Bringing differing facts to court permits the trier of fact to get at the truth of the matter bringing to light the real events. But what is “truth”? Is it an absolute or is it merely a chimera of what was and is, therefore unattainable? As the historian Carl Becker, a strong proponent of historical relativism, suggested in his provocative piece, “Everyman His Own Historian” published in 1932, the present recollection of the past is really a creation of our own history. Essentially, he argues, as we describe past events we imbed created memories “as may be necessary to orient us in our little world of endeavor.” Are we then constructing a false sense of comfort and security when we suggest our evidentiary rules advance the “truth-seeking” function of our justice system? These are the kind of questions to be asked when faced with the law of evidence.

Another example will make my final point on the expanding properties of thinking about evidence. After discussing the basic rule of admissibility in the second class of the course, we discussed the general exclusionary discretion which permits the trial judge to exclude admissible evidence if the prejudicial effect of the evidence outweighs the probative value. The obvious first question arising from this exception to the basic rule of admissibility involves the meaning of “discretion.” What does it mean, in the legal context, to exercise discretion and what are the repercussions of exercising or not exercising such power? Notice, I used the word “power” to describe the exercise of discretion. Notice, I mentioned that using discretion creates an outcome, of which some will cheer and others will decry. Discretion as a power, as the excellent casebook used in the course, Evidence: Principles and Problems edited by Deslisle, Stuart, Tanovich and Dufraimont suggests, can also be revered or jeered. As pointed out in the readings (pages 176-178), discretion can be a tool of the authoritarian state as every tyrant imposes his will through the exercise of discretion. Conversely, discretion can be the mark of the most tolerant and accepting society as it considers an individual as a concept worthy of respect and personhood even in that individual’s darkest moments. Discretion therefore can be the face of compassion or the mask of fear and terror. In the case of exclusion, discretion is a delicate balancing act in which the rule of law acts as the tightrope and the trial judge as the safety net. But, whether this in fact takes place provides us with more questions to consider.

It is true that teaching about evidence can amount to naval gazing with that inward eye, which can leave us in a state of doubt about almost everything. However, this constant drive to re-examine and re-assess our traditional rules and principles is what, in my view, make our rule of law admirable and meaningful. In this light, perhaps talking about evidence in a law classroom is one of the most “relevant and material” journey in a law career.

 

Modernizing Circumstances: Revisiting Circumstantial Evidence in R v Villaroman

This blog also appears on the ABlawg.ca website:

My past two blog posts have a thematic connection and this post is no exception. I have modernity on the mind and so, apparently, do the courts. You may recall that theme in my discussion of the DLW decision (2016 SCC 22 (CanLII)) in which the Supreme Court of Canada, in the name of the “modern,” or the “modern approach” to be exact, entered into the time-honoured process of statutory interpretation only to come to the decision that the 2016 concept of bestiality under s 160 of the Criminal Code was no different than the common law concept of bestiality as subsumed into our codified criminal law in 1892. Justice Abella, hoping for a more modern approach, disagreed. Then, in my last blog post, I discussed the “smart” use of technological evidence to weave a persuasive narrative at trial. In the Didechko case (2016 ABQB 376 (CanLII)), the Crown relied, to great effect, on evidence emanating from the technological traces left by the accused to construct a case based on circumstantial evidence. Didechko serves as an exemplar of a thoroughly modern approach to another centuries-old process. Now, in this post, I will make another case for the modern as the Supreme Court of Canada in Villaroman (2016 SCC 33 (CanLII)) clarifies a very old rule on circumstantial evidence, one predating our Criminal Code, found in the English 1838 Hodge’s Case (168 ER 1136).

First, a few words on circumstantial evidence. We are all probably aware, contextually, of the difference between circumstantial and direct evidence. The most popular explanation in jury instructions and the best understood example involves rain and goes as follows: Imagine we wake up in the morning and when we peek out of the window to look at the weather for the day (this example is obviously pre smart phones) we notice the road, the sidewalk, and the ground is wet and rain is falling from the sky. We accept, therefore, that it is raining, and if we have been in Calgary all summer, we might even say “it is raining again.” A similar example was used in the Villaroman charge to the jury (at para 23). This is an example of direct evidence which, according to Watt’s Manual of Evidence 2016, page 49 at para 8.0 “is evidence which, if believed, resolves a matter in issue…the only inference involved in direct evidence is that the testimony is true.”

Circumstantial evidence is trickier and involves a more complex thought process. It differs from direct evidence as its probative value is found in the inferences to be drawn from the facts. Returning to our example, if we look out of our window and we see the road is wet but the sky is clear, we cannot directly aver to what the weather was like before we woke. We can, however, draw a “rational” or “reasonable” inference from the state of wetness and say “it was raining sometime before” but we did not observe that happen. We are not “direct” witnesses to this assumed event. In fact, we could be very wrong about our inference. For instance, if the road is wet but the sidewalk and ground is not, then we cannot safely assume it rained. A more “rational” or “reasonable” explanation may be that the City of Calgary street cleaners came by and washed the road. According to Watt’s Manual of Evidence 2016, page 50 at para 9.01, “it is critical to distinguish between inference and speculation.” An inference is “logical” (R v DD, [2000] 2 SCR 275, 2000 SCC 43 (CanLII) at para 18), “justifiable” (R v Charemski, [1998] 1 SCR 679, 1998 CanLII 819 (SCC) at para 33), “common sense” (Justice Moldaver in R v Walle, [2012] 2 SCR 438, 2012 SCC 41 (CanLII) at para 63), “rational” (R v Griffin, [2009] 2 SCR 42, 2009 SCC 28 (CanLII) at para 34) or, as preferred by Justice Cromwell writing for the Villaroman court, “reasonable” (at para 30). Conversely, speculation can lead to erroneous inferences. Speculation is tenuous as opposed to probative. Mere speculation strikes at the heart of the criminal justice system as it can ultimately lead to miscarriages of justice. It can cause the trier of fact to make an improper “leap” unsupported by the evidence.

To be cognizant of these improper “leaps” as a trier of fact is vitally important. As seen in Didechko, circumstantial evidence may be the only evidence of guilt or innocence. It is therefore essential, as a defence lawyer, to be able to argue persuasively that the circumstantial evidence does not amount to proof beyond a reasonable doubt as it is not reasonably sufficient to infer guilt. It is this argument, that the circumstantial evidence is “equally consistent with the innocence as with the guilt of the accused” (Fraser et al. v The King, [1936] SCR 296, 1936 CanLII 25 (SCC) at page 301), which is at issue in Villaroman but, as we will see, with a modern twist.

Mr. Villaroman was charged with various pornography related offences as a result of images found on his laptop computer, including a charge of possession of child pornography pursuant to s. 163.1(4) of the Criminal Code. As with most other possession offences, the possession element of the offence is where the circumstantial evidence was key to the prosecution’s case. The elements of possession are a curious mixture of statutory requirements and judicial interpretation, requiring proof of knowledge, consent, and control. Although section 4(3) of the Criminal Code clearly identifies knowledge and consent as elements of possession, the additional element of control is not found in the section. Rather, control is a judge-made requirement based on case authorities.

Thus in the Villaroman scenario, the prosecutor would have to prove Mr. Villaroman was aware of the child pornography on his computer, that he consented to the pornography being there, and that he had a measure of control over those images. The mere fact the images are found on his computer is not enough evidence of those essential elements. The Crown would need to figuratively, if not literally, place Mr. Villaroman’s fingers on the computer keys, at the time the prohibited images were knowingly captured by his computer, in order to prove possession. To do so, the Crown must rely on circumstantial evidence. In response, the defence must persuade the trier of fact that there are other reasonable or rational inferences which do not lead to guilt. As an aside, in Villaroman, Justice Cromwell equated “reasonable” with “rational” but, as mentioned earlier in this post, favoured the descriptor “reasonable” as the correct legal nomenclature (at paras 32 to 34).

The twist in Villaroman involves the source of those reasonable inferences or alternatives which lead to innocence. Traditionally, case authorities required that the inferences arise from the facts. In other words, there must be an evidential foundation for the defence’s position. However, by 2009 in the Khela decision ([2009] 1 SCR 104, 2009 SCC 4 (CanLII) at para 58), the Court found such a requirement effectively reverses the burden of proof by necessitating the defence “prove” facts in support of inferring innocence. Justice Cromwell in Villaroman makes it perfectly clear that this modern take does not invite speculation as long as it is within the range of reasonable inferences (at paras 35 to 38).  He gives two examples: one old and one new. In the 1936 case of Martin v. Osborne, [1936] HCA 23; 55 CLR 367, the High Court of Australia considered the admissibility of similar fact evidence as circumstantial evidence that the respondent, who was driving a commercial vehicle, was transporting people for pay contrary to legislation. In allowing the appeal against acquittal, Justice Dixon noted at page 375 (see para 40 of Villaroman) that “in the inculpation of the accused person the evidentiary circumstances must bear no other reasonable explanation” and further found at page 378 that the innocent inference was simply “too improbable.”

In the newer example from 2014, Justice Cromwell cited the Alberta Court of Appeal decision in Dipnarine (2014 ABCA 328 (CanLII), 584 AR 138) in which the court explained that circumstantial evidence need not “totally exclude other conceivable inferences” (at para 22) and that “alternative inferences must be reasonable and rational, not just possible” (at para 24). However, as the court further explains, “the circumstantial evidence analysis” (at para 25) is not a separate venture but is, in essence, the application of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Ultimately, the trier of fact must “decide if any proposed alternative way of looking at the case is reasonable enough to raise a doubt” (at para 22). These reasonable alternate inferences can arise from either the presence of evidence or an absence of evidence. For instance, taking possession as an example, if there is no evidence of one of the necessary elements of knowledge, consent or control, the Crown has not proven the case and the accused person must be acquitted. This re-affirmation of the power of none is a step in the modern direction.

So what of Mr. Villaroman? At trial, the trial judge convicted Mr. Villaroman on the basis of the circumstantial evidence while the Alberta Court of Appeal set aside the conviction and entered an acquittal for the very same reason. The Supreme Court of Canada found the trial judge’s analysis was reasonable while the Alberta Court of Appeal’s position relied too heavily on “hypothetical alternative theories” (at para 67) which were “purely speculative” (at para 70). In other words, the appellate court “retried the case” (at para 69) by making that impermissible “leap” from the “reasonable” to the “improbable.”

The final nod to modernity in Villaroman is Justice Cromwell’s consideration of the form of the jury instruction on circumstantial evidence (at paras 17 to 24). In this discussion, Cromwell J sits firmly in today as he quotes approvingly from a passage written by Charron JA, as she then was, writing for the Ontario Court of Appeal in the Tombran decision (2000 CanLII 2688). There, in paragraph 29, she rejected the traditional “formulaic approach” to jury instructions in favour of “the modern approach to the problem of circumstantial evidence” which discusses all of the evidence, including circumstantial, within “the general principles of reasonable doubt.”

In modern terms this case suggests the jury need not be instructed in a finely constructed manner. Indeed, the Court, in a very modern turn, reiterates a theme they have been pursuing for years – that there are no “magic incantations” (WDS, [1994] 3 SCR 521, 1994 CanLII 76 (SCC) at page 533) or “foolish wand-waving or silly incantations” (a shout out to Professor Snape in Harry Potter) needed to “appeal-proof” jury instructions. The charge to the jury must remain nimble, tailored to each individual case and created by the judicial gatekeeper who is expected to weave a legal narrative for the trier of fact. Should there be no jury, then it is incumbent on the judge to be mindful in their approach to the evidence. To be modern, therefore, requires mental acuity and agility not pondering recitations of old rules but fresh iterations, perhaps on an old theme, but yet thoroughly modern.

 

The Probative Value of Technological Evidence (Revised)

As posted on the ABlawg website: www.ablawg.ca:

Corrigendum:: In the original version of this blog posting, the reference to Madam Justice Germaine as the trial judge was incorrect and is now corrected, with apologies, to Mr. Justice Germain.

“After a while circumstantial evidence can be overwhelming!” remarked Mr. Justice Germain in the recent Alberta Queen’s Bench decision, R v Didechko, (2016 ABQB 376, para 86). In this case, Germain J infers guilt on charges of failing to report an accident where death ensues pursuant to s. 252(1.3) and obstruct justice pursuant to s. 139(2) from the circumstantial technological evidence advanced by the Crown prosecutor. The use of such technological evidence, global positioning or GPS and telecommunications cell tower usage, is not unique. Rather what is singular is the evidential purpose for which it is proffered by the Crown as the only evidence available to establish the required factual connection between the accused and the crime. This case is a portent of the future as technological advancements make it possible, and necessary, to use such technological evidence for the investigation and successful prosecution of crime. Didechko is a persuasive example of a “smart” prosecution wherein the Crown utilizes all the evidentiary tools available to create a cohesive and, ultimately, unassailable prosecution. It is also a wake-up call for all those in the legal system to be mindful of the potential effects of technological advances in building a legally cogent case.

In order to appreciate the intelligence of this prosecution, we must review the facts as potential evidence at trial. At the core, Didechko is factually simple. In the early morning hours of October 14, 2012, the eighteen-year-old victim, Faith Jackson, is hit by a motor vehicle. Two firefighters, who by happenstance were nearby when the collision occurred and observed the event, provide immediate assistance but to no avail as Ms. Jackson soon succumbs to her injuries at the hospital. Later that day, the police find a damaged motor vehicle at the side of a road. Using the vehicle identification number, the police can easily establish ownership by a car dealership. Thus far, the investigation uncovers facts which, at trial, can be easily established through witnesses (i.e. the manager of the dealership) and/or documentary evidence. These facts, when tendered into evidence by the Crown, are an example of direct evidence, which, if believed, resolves an issue without any drawing of inferences by the trier of fact. Typically, direct evidence is given by eyewitnesses to an event or issue, such as in this case, the observations of the firefighters who saw the incident unfold.

However, finding a damaged vehicle does not end the matter. In order to establish Mr. Didechko’s legal responsibility the Crown must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, two vital factual connections: that the abandoned vehicle was the vehicle involved in the fatality and if so, that Mr. Didechko was in care and control of that vehicle at the relevant time. There must be a nexus between the prohibited conduct (the unreported collision) and the person accused of the crime. In terms of the first matter of proof, identity of the vehicle, Mr. Didechko’s counsel, through an agreed statement of fact filed pursuant to s. 655 of the Criminal Code, admitted it was the involved vehicle. That leaves the crucial issue of identity of the driver as the main issue at trial.

Upon further investigation, the facts reveal that at the relevant time, the abandoned and damaged car, which was the dealership’s demonstration vehicle, was signed out by Mr. Didechko. This can be proven by both direct evidence and by Mr. Didechko’s own admission to the police. But this evidence is still not enough to connect Mr. Didechko to the incident as he reported the vehicle stolen during the relevant time period. In other words, According to Mr. Didechko, he was not in possession of the vehicle when Ms. Jackson was killed. According to his police statement, he was asleep at his father’s home at the time of the incident. However, he gave the police a number of contradictory statements regarding when, where, and how the vehicle was taken. There is also evidence, from video recordings and witnesses, that Mr. Didechko attended a number of bars that evening and consumed alcohol. The police now have a possible motive for Mr. Didechko to mislead the investigators regarding his involvement in the hit and run. But how to prove this in court? The direct evidence at hand is not enough to attribute legal responsibility to Mr. Didechko for the fatal collision. It is suspicious but lacks probative value.

A decade ago a Crown prosecutor faced with this dilemma would determine that there was no reasonable likelihood of conviction and withdraw the charges. A decade ago, the police investigators would agree, having exhausted their investigative techniques. But the situation is different now. In Didechko, the police dig deeper and access information that normally lies hidden: the technological footprint of a person’s daily life. As we make our daily rounds, technology follows us. Our smart phones and computers record our contacts, our thought patterns, and our location. Our cars convey us through the City with technology recording the places we go and the speed at which we do it. This information is there waiting to be mined. In the Didechko case, the police mined this information but it is the Crown prosecutor who turned the data into a persuasive narrative and probative evidence of identity.

The Crown thus weaves an overwhelming case by piecing together seemingly disparate evidence, much of which is circumstantial evidence, from which a trier of fact can draw reasonable inferences. The cell phone transmissions provide the location of Mr. Didechko at the relevant time and place, both at and near the scene of the incident and at and near the location where the motor vehicle was abandoned. It establishes the falsity of Mr. Didechko’s statement that he was sleeping at his father’s home at the time. This evidence ties Mr. Didechko to the vehicle as the vehicle’s GPS traces the path of the incident. Evidence of the people he contacts during and after the incident is available through cell phone records, which also connect him to the incident and to the vehicle. For example, Justice Germaine draws an inference from a timely conversation between Mr. Didechko and his brother (based on cell phone records) as the vehicle returns to the scene (based on both GPS from the vehicle and cell tower positions) where the fatally injured Faith Jackson lies. Presumably, according to Germaine J, Mr. Didechko does so in order to assess the state of his jeopardy and the next steps he will take escape criminal liability.

To establish these technological facts, the Crown does not merely rely on the records and data but calls experts to explain GPS and the cell phone system to establish accuracy and reliability of the evidence. It should be mentioned that the defence fully canvasses the admissibility of the technological evidence in a previous application (see R v Didechko, 2015 ABQB 642). The Crown then builds the case further by explaining the interplay of these technologies and creating an exhibit mapping the connections between the cell towers and the use of the cell phone and as connected to the positioning of the motor vehicle. Again, weaving the circumstantial evidence into proof beyond a reasonable doubt. A final piece of evidence emanating from a text message sent by Mr. Didechko some two hours after the incident neatly sums up the case: “something bad happened sry” (at para 73). It should finally be noted that this same technology also assists the accused in his acquittal of dangerous driving causing death pursuant to s. 249(4) as the GPS evidence could not conclusively show he was driving in a manner dangerous to the public.

The use of GPS and cell phone tower evidence at trial is not novel. For instance, GPS evidence is used in Fisheries Act prosecutions, such as in R v Fraser, 2012 NSPC 55. Such evidence is also used in criminal prosecutions to establish a conspiracy or a common purpose to commit an offence such as in R v Crawford, 2013 BCSC 932. It has also been used to assist in assessing the credibility of witnesses in a “he said/she said” sexual assault allegation, such as in R v Aulakh, 2012 BCCA 340.  Rather, what is novel in the Didecheko case is the utilization of this technological evidence as a combined narrative on the ultimate issue of guilt or innocence. Justice Germain at para 30 of the decision suggests that “modern technology has changed the way in which police investigate crime.” I would change that sentiment only slightly to suggest that modern technology has significantly changed the legal landscape and we, as members of the legal community, must be ready to embrace it.

The Hart Case: A Long Way From Wray?

Upon review of the newest Supreme Court of Canada case, the much-anticipated Hart case on the admissibility of confessions resulting from Mr. Big investigations, it is worthwhile to return to the basics. Certainly Mr. Justice Moldaver, in his majority decision, did when he concluded that in the first prong of the applicable evidentiary test is the judicial weighing of the probative value of the evidence against the prejudicial effect. Although Justice Moldaver returns to the 1981 Rothman case as a basis for this “old school” rule, the evidential principle comes from the 1971 Wray case.

John Wray was charged with what was then called non-capital murder – a capital murder was punishable by death and at that time was reserved for the killing of on-duty police officers and prison guards. The victim was shot during the course of a robbery and there were no witnesses to the actual shooting. It was only through the police investigation, namely a lengthy police questioning, that John Wray ultimately signed a statement indicating where he disposed of the rifle used to shoot the victim. The rifle was found in the place so indicated and Wray was charged. At trial, after a voir dire on the admissibility of Wray’s statement, the trial judge ruled the statement inadmissible as it was not voluntarily given. This ruling was not the subject of the subsequent appeals. The issue on appeal was the trial judge’s further ruling that Wray’s involvement in the finding of the rifle was inadmissible as well. The Ontario Court of Appeal unanimously upheld the trial judge’s decision. The majority of the Supreme Court of Canada, with Mr. Justice Martland writing the decision, allowed the appeal and sent the matter back for a new trial.

Although this is a case where the evidence was found to be admissible, it is the principles enunciated in this case which impacted the manner in which trial judge’s viewed admissibility of evidence thereafter. Now, it must be remembered that this case is pre-Charter and yes, there is such an animal. It should also be remembered – and I will not try to sound as if I am nagging – that there are important admissibility issues to consider separate from the usual Charter based arguments. The first consideration when faced with a confession in a case is to review the voluntariness of the statement to ensure the statement was given freely and without hope or advantage. So, although Wary is certainly pre-Charter and if determined today, the analysis under the Charter lens would no doubt differ, the case started a line of reasoning, which can be traced to the Hart decision we have today. What is also fascinating about this line of reasoning is to see how this discretionary evidential principle of exclusion or admissibility – whichever way you want to view it – starts as a very restrictive and rarely to be exercised act to the pro forma requirement of a “new common law rule” as articulated by Justice Moldaver in Hart.

Justice Martland’s reluctance to “approve” of a discretionary exclusion of evidence is palpable. Yet, the English authorities require it.  He clarifies the difference between the “unfortunate” effect on the accused of relevant admissible evidence, which would be prejudicial to the accused and the “allowance of evidence gravely prejudicial to the accused, the admissibility of which is tenuous, and whose probative force in relation to the main issue before the court is trifling, which can be said to operate unfairly.” Of special note are the adjectives or qualifiers used by Justice Martland when he finally articlulated the discretion as arising “where the admission of evidence, though legally admissible, would operate unfairly, because, as stated in Noor Mohamed, it had trivial probative value, but was highly prejudicial.” Notice the emphasis added. The added practical difficulty for Justice Martland with excluding evidence on the basis of “unfairness” was the interpretation of that word. In Martland’s view, therefore, the discretionary exclusion of relevant and probative evidence should be “very limited.” This restrictive view of the discretion was reiterated in the Hogan case, in which Justice Martland was a member of the majority.

Within a decade of the Wray judgment, as per the Rothman case, the limited discretion reluctantly approved of by Justice Martland is referred to as an “exclusionary rule” by the then, Justice Lamer, concurring with the majority. Interestingly, Justice Lamer refers to the Wray principle, while Justice Martland writing for the majority does not. Rothman sets out the test to determine whether or not a person taking a statement from an accused is a “person in authority” and broadened the circumstances in which a statement may not have been given freely and voluntarily.

Post Rothamn, the evidential world changed as common law evidential rules become imbued with Charter values. But this transition was not easily done or easily accepted. In Corbett, the Supreme Court of Canada struggled with the constitutionality of s. 12 of the Canada Evidence Act, which permitted the questioning of any witness, including the accused person, on his or her criminal convictions. Although the decision is unanimous in the sense that all six members agreed that s. 12 of the CEA was constitutional and recognized the trial judge, under common law, had the discretion to exclude admissible evidence (however Justices McIntyre and Le Dain did not see this discretion as permitting a trial judge to circumvent a clear legislative directive as found in s.12), there was disagreement over the exercise of that discretion. Thus, it is in Corbett, where Justice Martland’s reticent discretionary rule becomes a fully recognizable discretion in the trial judge to exclude admissible, yet prejudicial evidence. But Corbett, although not mentioned in the Hart case, seems to raise similar concerns. Through the exclusionary discretion of the trial judge, together with other evidential rules that limit the use to be made of the evidence, the law protects the right of the accused to a fair trial, which includes, as stated by the then Chief Justice Dickson, the right “not to be convicted except on evidence directly relevant to the charge in question.” This protection “strives to avoid the risk of prejudicing an accused’s trial.” These words are echoed by Justice Moldaver in the Hart case as he speaks of the “risks inherent in the Mr. Big confessions,” which require a legal response in order to protect “accused persons, and the justice system as a whole” from “abusive state conduct.” It is, therefore, Martland’s reluctant rule, the seemingly rare discretion, which blossomed under the Charter lens, which the Hart Court turns to as the legal protection needed. Yes, we have come a long way since Wray and there is no looking back.

 

 

 

 

 

Section 23.1: The "Limitless" Criminal Law - Episode 28 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada

One of the interesting learning moments for me, resulting from this Criminal Code podcast, is the realization that the criminal law has changed in the past three decades, which, in common law time, is a fairly short period of time. Certainly, this section, which we will consider today, s. 23.1 of the Criminal Code, is an example of how the Code can and does change the practice of criminal law. To give perspective, s. 23.1 was added to the Code in the 1985 amendments, while I was in law school. I recall those amendments mostly because I had to “re-learn” the section numbers of the Criminal Code. I particularly recall how the assault section, s. 244, was changed to the section number we use today – s. 265 - and my fear that I would never be able to remember the new section numbers. Considering I needed to look up what the old section number was to write this blog, I wonder how I could have been so worried. What I was not too concerned with at the time was the change caused by s. 23.1, which in hindsight was certainly a much bigger deal than the mere section number changes.

Section 23.1 reads as follows:

For greater certainty, sections 21 to 23 apply in respect of an accused notwithstanding the fact that the person whom the accused aids or abets, counsels or procures or receives, comforts or assists cannot be convicted of the offence.

Therefore, it is possible for an accused to be convicted of counseling a crime even if the person actually committing the crime is not guilty or cannot be tried and/or convicted. For example, an adult who involves children under twelve in the drug trade can still be convicted as a party even though the children, who are actually committing the crime, cannot be convicted, according to s. 13 Code, as they are statutorily debarred on the basis of age. For more on section 13 of the Code, read or listen to my previous podcast. Additionally, even though an accused who commits a counseled crime while under duress would have a valid legal defence, the person who counseled such an offence under s. 22, may still be convicted. It is also possible for an accused to be convicted as an accessory after the fact even if the fugitive offender is ultimately acquitted of the crime from which he or she was escaping. I will return to accessory in a moment as this particular mode of crime has been viewed as different than the other modes and has caused more legal controversy despite s. 23.1.

Based on the above, particularly the “Oliver Twist” example, it does make sense that the Crown be able to prosecute secondary participants on a separate basis than the main offenders. However, prior to 1985 this was not the case. This did not mean that a person involved in a crime, in circumstances where they might be a party or a counselor or an accessory, could not be charged. Indeed, prior to these amendments the charge of conspiracy was usually laid against the secondary accused. However, as we will see when we finally do arrive at the conspiracy section 465, to found a conviction under the conspiracy section is quite complicated. Certainly, more complicated than basing the offender’s participation through the party section.

Although this concept or ability to prosecute was easily accepted after 1985 for participating as a party or as a counselor to a crime, the issue of being tried as an accessory after the fact, where the fugitive offender was not convicted, was not. To understand the special status of being an accessory after the fact, we must consider the Supreme Court of Canada Vinette case from 1975. In the Vinette case, the accused Vinette was charged as an accessory after the fact to a murder committed by Vincent by assisting Vincent to dispose of the victim’s body. Vincent entered a plea of guilty to manslaughter and at Vinette’s trial, Vincent’s plea, as a “confession,” was admitted against Vinette. Vinette was convicted by the jury but the conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal on the basis that Vincent’s plea was not admissible against the co-accused Vinette. Mr. Justice Pigeon, writing on behalf of the majority, allowed the Crown’s appeal and upheld the conviction. In Justice Pigeon’s view, the elements of being an accessory after the fact differs from the main offence and therefore is a separate charge. Thus, the usual evidentiary rules pertaining to admissions made by co-accused do not apply and Vincent’s statements are admissible. According to Justice Pigeon, not only was a charge of accessory separate from the main offence but also by its very nature must be committed after the main offence. This chronological requirement also suggested that the main offender must be tried and convicted before the accessory could be found guilty. However, after a line of cases which tried to decipher Justice Pigeon’s suggestion, it was determined that as the Vinette decision made no mention of the now s. 592, which permitted an accessory to be indicted before the main offender, the chronological argument carried no validity. We will eventually come to s.592 and revisit this conundrum.

In any event, the idea that being an accessory after the fact was a unique charge, which was intimately tied to the main offence resulted in a line of cases questioning s. 23.1 in relation to s. 23. In fact, in the delightful decision of the Honourable Justice Woods, on behalf of the British Columbia Court of Appeal in the 1993 Camponi case, the historical common law significance of being charged as an accessory after the fact was traced in light of s. 592 and s. 23.1. Again, I want to keep back some discussion of this for the much, much later s. 592 podcast but needless to say Justice Woods found no problem with trying an accessory after the fact before the main offender and no problem finding an accessory guilty even if the main offender was acquitted. To that end, and in reference to s.23.1, Justice Woods remarked at paragraph 25 of the decision that:

This section was enacted in 1986, c. 32, s. 46. with what must be regarded as an unusually confident legislative tone, it announces an intention to bring greater certainty to the law relating to ss. 21-23 of the Code. Whether it has achieved that lofty goal will be for history to decide. Suffice it to say that in the context of the present discussion its intent seems to have been to put the quietus to any lingering notion that s. 592 preserved, or was intended to preserve, the essence of the common law rule relating to accessories after the fact.

Finally the matter appeared to be truly put to rest when the 1997 Nova Scotia Court of Appeal FJS (also known as Shalaan) case came to the same conclusion as Camponi and this decision was affirmed with brief reasons by the Supreme Court of Canada. Interestingly, the controversy continued, not in the law courts per se but between the lines in the annotated Criminal Codes. In the commentary under s. 23.1, Martin’s Annual Criminal Code references the Supreme Court of Canada FJS case in support of the position that an accessory after the fact could be convicted even if the main offender was acquitted, while in Allan Gold’s The Practitioner’s Criminal Code, as least as of the 2008 version, the commentary dismissed the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision as decided per incuriam.

But we are not finished with this section and the myriad of case law this section has garnered. Recently, on April 3, 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the leave application in the Huard case, which raised the constitutionality of the well-established principle, as really encapsulated by s. 23.1, that a party may be convicted of a more serious offence than that of the main offender. In that case, Mr. Huard was convicted as a party to a first-degree murder even though the principal offender was only convicted of second-degree murder. Counsel argued that the principles of fundamental justice, as guaranteed under s. 7 of the Charter, requires that those less morally culpable should not be punished more severely than those more morally culpable. Mr. Justice Watt, on behalf of the Ontario Court of Appeal, dismissed the argument as he found the “mere common law rule” relied upon was not a principle of fundamental justice and s. 23.1 “makes it clear” that a party can be convicted even if the main offender is acquitted or not even tried. As an aside, the Appellant in the Camponi case relied upon an article written by Justice Watt, which he wrote prior to his appointment to the Bench, on accessory after the fact and the ambiguities found in s. 592. This shows that the connections in the Canadian criminal law are indeed endless and it appears that they may be unlimited too!

 

 

Episode 28 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code - Section 23.1

Poof! Into Thin Air – Where Have All The Defences Gone?: The Supreme Court of Canada And The Air Of Reality Test

THE FOLLOWING BLOG BECAME THE BASIS OF A PUBLISHED ARTICLE NOW IN  (2014) 61 Criminal Law Quarterly 531

Last week the Supreme Court of Canada, yet again, restricted access to criminal defences. The Court, in the earlier Ryan case, signaled their desire to limit criminal defences to the realm of the reasonable person. This objectifying of defences, which in the Ryan case involves the defence of duress, places a barrier between the specific accused, as a thinking and feeling person, and her culpable actions by assessing the individual through the lens of the general; that of the reasonable person, who has no fixed address but, apparently, a lot of common sense. This external assessment, which looks outside the confines of the Court for direction, fails to appreciate the humanity before it in the shape of an accused faced with a dire choice whereby breaking the law means survival. For more on Ryan read my blog here.

Now in the Cairney and Pappas cases, the Court has added an additional barrier to all justifications and excuses through the “clarification” of the air of reality test. I have considered the lower Courts decisions on these cases in an earlier blog.

To discuss these decisions, we must first understand the antecedents of the air of reality test in Supreme Court of Canada cases. The phrase “air of reality” comes from the 1980 Pappajohn case. Pappajohn was charged with the rape of a real estate agent who was trying to sell his home. The accused and the complainant had diametrically opposed versions of the incident. According to the complainant, she was violently raped and according to the accused, they had consensual intercourse. The defence argued for the defence of mistake of fact to be left to the jury for their consideration. This mens rea defence, if accepted, would entitle the accused to an acquittal on the basis the accused had an honest but mistaken belief the complainant was consenting and therefore did not have the requisite mens rea to commit the offence. The trial judge refused to leave the defence to the jury and Mr. Pappajohn was convicted of rape.

It is in the majority judgment, written by Justice McIntyre, where the term “air of reality” is first used in relation to defences. In dismissing the appeal, Justice McIntyre finds the trial judge was correct in refusing to consider the defence of honest but mistaken belief as there was no “air of reality” to it. According to Justice McIntyre, for such a defence to be considered there must be “some evidence beyond the mere assertion of belief in consent” found in evidential sources other than the accused.

This air of reality requirement was used two years later in the SCC Brisson case, where self-defence was at issue. In Brisson, although all justices dismissed the accused’s appeal against conviction for first degree murder, there were three concurring judgments, with one such judgment written by Mr. Justice McIntyre who again finds that a trial judge must only instruct a jury on a defence, which has “some evidence sufficient to give an air of reality.” Interestingly, in the later 1985 Sansregret case, again on the application of the defence of mistake of fact in a rape case, Justice McIntyre does not refer specifically to the “air of reality” test but to the “air of unreality” of the defence.

The term “air of reality” is finally elevated to a “test” by Justice McIntyre in another mistake of fact rape case, Bulmer, from 1987. Here, Justice McIntyre fills in the phrase, “air of reality,” with a framework for trial judges to apply. He explains the test as a preliminary step in which the trial judge “is not concerned with the weight of the evidence or with the credibility of the evidence.” The simple question to be answered at this initial stage is: in all of the circumstances of this case, is there an air of reality in the defence?” The accused’s evidence will therefore become a factor but not the determining factor in deciding if there is, on the whole of the evidence, an air of reality. None of the cases I have referred to above were considered in the Pappas and Cairney cases.

After the Bulmer case, most SCC air of reality cases relate to the defence of mistaken belief until the 2002 Cinous case, which considered the defence of self-defence. Six of the nine-member Court in Cinous agreed to allow the appeal and enter a conviction. The majority reasons written by Chief Justice McLachlin and Justice Bastarache emphatically upheld previous enunciations on the test and viewed the air of reality test in the singular with no need to modify it for differing defences. They reaffirmed that the test “does not make determinations about the credibility of witnesses, weigh the evidence, make findings of fact, or draw determinate factual inferences.”

Even with this clear admonishment, the majority did modify the air of reality test by introducing the concept of the limited weighing of evidence

“where the record does not disclose direct evidence as to every element of the defence, or where the defence includes an element that cannot be established by direct evidence, as for example where a defence has an objective reasonableness component.” (underlining added)

It is the last part of this quote which concerns the use of the defences known as justifications and excuses – necessity, duress, self defence and defence of the person including provocation, the defence raised in Pappas and in Cairney. These defences all have subjective and objective elements. All of these defences are subject to the air of reality test and subsequently all of these defences are open to the limited weighing of the evidence to determine whether or not the defence will be available to the accused.

In Cinous, for example, the Court referred to the proportionality requirement of the defence of necessity as requiring the trial judge to balance the various social values at play with public policy in deciding if the harm inflicted was proportionate to the harm avoided. This objective assessment requires the trial judge to draw inferences from the world outside of the accused and thus, according to the SCC, the trial judge must employ the limited weighing of the factors underlying the defence, which may impact this assessment. 

But from where did this concept of “limited weighing” come, if as Chief Justice McLachlin maintains in the majority judgments of Pappas and of Cairney the air of reality test has never changed?

This limited weighing does not come from the assessment of defences but from directed verdict/preliminary hearing cases. The first SCC mention of “limited weighing” comes from the 1998 Charemski case on a directed verdict where the case was based on circumstantial evidence. Unsurprisingly, it is Chief Justice McLachlin who consistently approves of limited weighing and is the torchbearer of Justice McIntyre’s air of reality test. Charemski is a case heard by only a five-member court with the then Justice McLachlin in dissent. Justice McLachlin disagreed with the majority and pointedly suggested that “while some judges,” (hint as to who those “judges” are – just take a look at the majority decision), “have referred to a distinction between “no evidence” and “some evidence”, this distinction is nonsensical.” According to McLachlin, it is the sufficiency of evidence at issue. To determine sufficiency in the circumstantial world, McLachlin further explained, trial judges must “engage in a limited evaluation of inferences.”

In the SCC 2001 Arcuri case, the extent to which the trial judge or, in this case the preliminary inquiry judge, must enter into this limited weighing was clarified by Chief Justice McLachlin on behalf of the full Court. Arcuri wanted the preliminary inquiry judge to weigh the evidence as the evidence was purely circumstantial and the witnesses evidence arguably exculpatory. In dismissing the appeal, the Chief Justice explained that limited weighing did not mean the judge was actually weighing the evidence in determining guilt or innocence but engaged in limited weighing as follows:

In the sense of assessing whether it is reasonably capable of supporting the inferences that the Crown asks the jury to draw.  This weighing, however, is limited.  The judge does not ask whether she herself would conclude that the accused is guilty.  Nor does the judge draw factual inferences or assess credibility.  The judge asks only whether the evidence, if believed, could reasonably support an inference of guilt. 

This means the trial judge when engaging in limited weighing of the evidence is considering the reasonable possibilities of such evidence and not considering the quality of the evidence. In the Court’s view it is for the trier of fact to decide what inference should be taken in determining guilt or innocence.

The nuances of this test are obvious: the idea the judge must draw a reasonable inference is importing, into yet another stage of a criminal trial, the objective standard. Such limited weighing may go the accused’s benefit such as in the Charmeski case where the then Justice McLachlin would have restored the acquittal. However, to apply the same standard of assessment to defences, may be the way of the Musketeers – all for one test and one test for all – but it fails to recognize the importance and uniqueness of justifications and excuses as the last bastion against the power of the State. Almost akin to a “faint hope” clause, when an accused turns to a justification or excuse as a defence, the case has essentially been made out against the accused as both the mens rea and actus reus, the dual requirements for a crime,  have been established beyond a reasonable doubt. Guilt is nigh and the only reasonable doubt becomes whether or not this accused, faced with dire circumstances, made the only choice available.

These defences are not broadly based and are not a concrete lifeline. They are subject to both subjective and objective elements and if the accused does not fulfill the prerequisites of the reasonable person portion of the defence, the defence fails. To then superimpose the limited weighing concept of the air of reality test, which is also based on an objective assessment, is to further restrict an already narrowly based defence.

Through this limited weighing on an air of reality test, the SCC has effectively increased the standard with which the evidence of the defence is to be assessed. One wonders if this kind of restriction is truly in the spirit of Charter values. It would be worthwhile, in a year from now, to study the impact this case will have on the ability of the accused to make full answer in defence and whether, like a transient puff of air, all of the defences are gone.

 

 

 

Sections 4(4) to (7) – The Three “S” Words: Episode Seven of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada

Welcome to the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada. This is Episode 7 and today we will finish discussing section 4 and the three “S” words: subjects, sexual intercourse, and service. The actual podcast can be found at the bottom of this text.

First, let’s turn to s. 4(4) and the word “subjects.” Remember that this section is truly a housekeeping section, whereby a variety of topics are covered, such as stamps as chattels, which we discussed in episode 5 or the meaning of possession in s. 4(3) from episode 6. Up to now, although the subject matters have differed, the subsections have had a definitional theme, meaning the subsections are clarifying the meaning or interpretation of each particular subject matter – stamps and possession being the examples already given.

Section 4(4) is also an interpretation section but is broad in aspect and does not refer to any particular subject matter but instead speaks to generalities. This section does seem out of place with the others and I do wonder why this subsection is not placed under the interpretation sections 1 to 3.

Let’s read section 4(4), which is entitled “Expressions Taken From Other Acts:”

(4) Where an offence that is dealt with in this Act relates to a subject that is dealt with in another Act, the words and expressions used in this Act with respect to that offence have, subject to this Act, the meaning assigned to them in that other Act.

It appears then that section is looking for consistency between Acts: if the Code refers to a subject which appears in another Act, then the meaning of that subject from the other Act is also the meaning of the subject under the Code.

Again, this section is a presumption – a presumption of consistency – the same subject referred to in different Acts are presumed to be the same. However, this presumption can be negated for if the Code defines the subject differently, then the differing meaning of that subject, as found in the Code, prevails.

A good example would be the offences in the Criminal Code relating to the subject of air travel, such as hijacking an aircraft under s. 76. The term “aircraft” is not defined anywhere in the Code but is defined in the Aeronautics Act, another piece of federal government legislation. According to section 4(4), the meaning of “aircraft” under the Code is the meaning of “aircraft” under the Aeronautics Act. So too, the meaning of “pilot in command” under the Code would be the meaning of “pilot in command” under the Aeronautics Act. But here is the twist: the term “pilot in command” only appears in the Criminal Code under the interpretation section 2 under the definition of “peace officer.” Section 2 defines “peace officer” under subsection (f) as:

 the pilot in command of an aircraft

(i) registered in Canada under regulations made under the Aeronautics Act, or

(ii) leased without crew and operated by a person who is qualified under regulations made under the Aeronautics Act to be registered as owner of an aircraft registered in Canada under those regulations,

while the aircraft is in flight.

Thus, the Criminal Code has broadened the definition of pilot in command in certain circumstances to include the power and authorities of a peace officer in dealing with an offender, such as giving the pilot in command arrest powers under s. 495, which are given only to peace officers.

Section 4(5) is also a definitional section, which specifies when sexual intercourse, our second “s” word, has occurred. It reads as follows:

(5) For the purposes of this Act, sexual intercourse is complete on penetration to even the slightest degree, notwithstanding that seed is not emitted.

This is important for a fairly limited purpose: for a present offence in the Code and for a previous offence no longer found in the Code.

To explain this, we need some context so let’s first look at the historical context of sexual assault.

Originally, when the Criminal Code was finalized in 1892, the crime of “rape” was committed by a “male person” who had “sexual intercourse with a female, not his wife” as found in section 266 as follows:

Rape is the act of a man having carnal knowledge of a woman who is not his wife without her consent, or with consent, which has been extorted by threats or fear of bodily harm, or obtained by personating the woman’s husband, or by false and fraudulent representations as to the nature and quality of the act. 

S. 266(3) of the 1892 Code defined “carnal knowledge” as “complete upon penetration to any, even the slightest degree, and even without the emission of seed,” which is pretty much the same definition we now have for sexual intercourse under s. 4(5). Just a year later in the 1893 Code, the definition of carnal knowledge was moved from s.266 and placed under s. 4, but as the Code was amended, the definition moved from s. 4 to s. 7 to s. 3(6) in the 1953 Criminal Code when “carnal knowledge” was changed to “sexual intercourse.”

The crime of rape was finally abandoned in 1982-83 amendments to be replaced by the more general offence of “sexual assault,” being an intentional application of force, of a sexual nature, without consent. Thus the concept of rape, committed by a man on a woman who is not his wife and requiring sexual intercourse, is simply one example of a sexual assault.

This historical context does not however explain why the definition of “sexual intercourse” still remains on the books. As I said the definition remains for a past and present reason. It remains for the past as past convictions for rape and other specific sexual offences requiring the commission of sexual intercourse, such as sexual intercourse with a female under 14 years of age, are “primary designated offences” and relevant in a long term or dangerous offender application under Part XXIV of the Code. The term is also used in the procedure for gathering DNA samples under 487.05 of the Code and in the procedure for gathering sex offender information under s. 490.011.

There is also a clear connection to the present as there are still offences in the Code, which require proof of sexual intercourse as part of the prohibited act or actus reus of the crime. The offences are under the procuring section of the Code and require the offender to either procure or solicit a person to have “illicit sexual intercourse” under s. 212(1)(a) or to entice a person to a bawdy house to perform “illicit sexual intercourse” under 212(1)(b) or as in s. 212(1)(i), apply and administer a “drug, intoxicating liquor, matter or thing with intent to stupefy or overpower that person in order thereby to enable any person to have illicit sexual intercourse with that person.”

Sections 4(6), 4(6.01), and 4(7) are all related to the third “s” word, service, and the proof of when documents have been served on an offender. Sections 4(6.1) and (7) were added to the Criminal Code in 2008. Section 4(6.1) reads as follows:

Despite subsection (6), the service of documents may be proved in accordance with the laws of a province relating to offences created by the laws of that province.

This section was added to the Code to provide criminal law consistency with s. 40 of Canada Evidence Act, which provides for a similar rule in civil cases. Section 4(7) permits the court, hearing the matter, to require the attendance of the person who served the documents for examination or cross-examination on the issue of service.

Section 4(6) is not a new section and is important for the prosecution of driving over 80 offences as section 258 permits the admission of a certificate of a qualified breathalyzer technician as proof of the blood alcohol concentration of the accused. However, the document is only admissible if, according to s. 258(7), the accused receives reasonable notice of the intention to produce the document. As the server of this document is a police officer, section 4(6) permits the proof of notice by documentary evidence, which is certified in writing by the police officer. Section 4(6) reads as follows:

For the purposes of this Act, the service of any document and the giving or sending of any notice may be proved

(a) by oral evidence given under oath by, or by the affidavit or solemn declaration of, the person claiming to have served, given or sent it; or

(b) in the case of a peace officer, by a statement in writing certifying that the document was served or the notice was given or sent by the peace officer, and such a statement is deemed to be a statement made under oath.

This section, which essentially relieves the Crown from calling the officer who served the documents, has not gone without some controversy in case law. Some cases suggest the written statement as contemplated by s. 4(6)(b) is not enough to show proof of service of the notice of intention to produce a breathalyzer certificate, particularly where the serving officer is called to testify and he has no independent recollection of serving the notice. For further reading on this issue read R v Graham.

That is the end of my discussion of section 4 of the Criminal Code found under Part I, the General Part. In the next podcast, I will onto section 5 where we will consider military matters.

 

 

Ideablawg Podcast Episode 7 on sections 4(4) to (7) on The Three "S" Words

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Philosophy Of Testimony And Belief And The Criminal Law

As mentioned in my previous post on RPG (reasonable and probable grounds) and The Theory of Knowledge, I am in the midst of a MOOC offered by the University of Edinburgh on Philosophy. Last week, the lecture was on “testimony and belief” and specifically discussed the opposing philosophical theories of David Hume and Thomas Reid on the subject.

Much of the intractable disagreement between the two philosophers is really more about religion than it is about philosophy. Thomas Reid, was a deeply religious man and a curate for the first few years of his professional life. David Hume, a staunch critic of religious belief systems, was a religious skeptic. Reid, a proponent of “common sense” and the human ability to sense his or her surroundings, argued that human beings innately believe in the veracity of another person’s testimony. In other words we are genetically disposed or “hard wired” for this belief. This “principle of credulity” as he termed it was connected to our human nature, which is naturally disposed to community, and our desire to trust our senses or feelings in accepting another person’s testimony. Therefore, this divine intuition was an appropriate and logical reason to accept another’s testimony.

Hume, ever the skeptic, required independent evidence that a person’s testimony was likely to be correct. In Hume’s opinion, humans have an incentive to lie when doing so would benefit their own self-interest. Politicians may come to mind as the example. Further, Hume argued, humans are naturally disposed to telling, and enjoying, unsubstantiated stories for the sheer pleasure these stories give themselves and others. The popularity of gossip magazines and the longevity of The National Enquirer can attest to this point.   

Immanuel Kant, who was awakened from his “dogmatic slumbers” by Hume’s philosophical theories, also weighed in on the issue. Kant went a step further than Hume by praising “intellectual autonomy” or the ability to be guided, not by another’s testimony, but by an individual’s own understanding and beliefs.

In light of this, how does the law approach testimonial evidence? Does the criminal justice system side with Hume and Kant requiring independent evidence before testimonial evidence will be accepted or does it side with Reid and the God-given nature of people to speak truthfully?

The general rule, it seems, is for Reid – permitting testimony to stand on its own, without requiring corroboration, but in the heightened circumstances of an oath or promise. This binding over of the witness to tell the truth does have a hint of Reid as it invokes the support or, in some ways, corroboration from a higher deity in the case of an oath or a higher power in the case of a promise. However, it is questionable whether Reid himself would deem this precaution necessary.

The criminal justice system relies on testimonial information to support two distinct aspects of a crime. Firstly, testimony is needed as part of the investigation of a crime. Secondly, it is required for at the trial of a crime. Although both aspects view testimony differently, clearly Reid’s principle of credulity applies to both.

During an investigation, the police interview witnesses and possibly the accused to provide the evidence of a crime. Such evidence gathering may precede the officer’s RPG (reasonable and probably grounds) for arrest or it may be gathered after the arrest, when RPG is already present. Although there may be some consideration of the credibility or believability of the testimony given, typically the police will leave the assessment or weighing to the Courts.

Once in the courts, the testimony is received without corroboration or without requiring independent evidence of the testimony. Historically, corroboration was required for a child’s unsworn testimony and for accomplice evidence, but these requirements were abolished or relaxed (Vetrovec warning for accomplice evidence), leaving the trier of fact to determine credibility by assessing the whole of the evidence.

So it appears our laws have applied both Hume and Reid and that the “common sense” approach of Reid has prevailed.

 

 

 

 

Touching On The Biographical Core of Personal Information: The Supreme Court of Canada’s Decision in Cole

As soon as the Supreme Court of Canada issued the Cole case, I went to the website to read it. Initially, I was drawn to the case hoping to find further clarification and the “filling in,” so to speak, of the legal principle of “reasonable expectation of privacy.” As with so many phrases used in law, legal interpretation is required to give the terms a more robust character and to solidify the meaning so that the mere hearing of the term conjures up the correct legal principle or the proper connections to be made between case law and precedents. The term of “reasonable expectation of privacy” is one of those terms which requires this incremental corporeality in order to make the law more certain. This is particularly needed in the Charter universe where heady terms like “Liberty” and “Freedom”, which by the way are not synonymous according to Chief Justice Dickson in the Edwards Books and Arts case, delineate the parameters of our Charter rights.

Certainly, the Supreme Court of Canada did not disappoint in the Cole decision, as they “filled in” the term in relation to the work place. In doing so, the court answered the question of whether or not there is a line drawn between personal and work and if so, where that line can and should be drawn. Of course, the judgment is not so practical as to suggest the exact place in which the line rests, but it does serve as a guideline for the employer-employee relationship. This posting, however, will not be a critical legal analysis of the judgment in relation to the answer provided by the court. Instead, this posting focuses on one paragraph, indeed the second paragraph of the majority judgment written by Justice Fish.

The second paragraph reads as follows:

Computers that are reasonably used for personal purposes — whether found in the workplace or the home — contain information that is meaningful, intimate, and touching on the user’s biographical core. Vis-a-vis the state, everyone in Canada is constitutionally entitled to expect privacy in personal information of this kind.

Two concepts found in this paragraph hold my interest. The first is the striking way in which the court defined the personal information found on a computer as “meaningful, intimate, and touching on the user’s biographical core.” Interestingly, this description, which does not refer to any previous case law, does, on a close reading, come from two earlier Supreme Court of Canada cases, which although are related to reasonable expectation of privacy in a search and seizure context, are not related to information found on a computer.

The first is the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada case, R v Tessling. This case is familiar to most criminal lawyers faced with an unreasonable search and seizure or section 8 challenge. Tessling involved the use by the RCMP of FLIR or forward looking infra-red technology. In this instance, the RCMP employed a FLIR camera on an overflight of property, which revealed infra-red images of the emission of heat radiating from the suspect property. The abnormally large amount of heat radiating from the observed property, together with informant information, resulted in the issuance of a search warrant. Police found on the property a large quantity of marijuana and weapons. Counsel at trial argued the overflight using the FLIR camera was an unreasonable search and seizure. The trial judge disagreed and the accused was convicted. However, the Court of Appeal for Ontario reversed the decision, finding there was a violation of s.8 and the evidence was excluded under s.24(2) of the Charter.

The Supreme Court of Canada, through the unanimous decision written by Justice Binnie (an Ontario appointment), did not agree with the provincial appellate court. They did agree that the ability to be free from state action while at our home (as in "the house of everyone is to him as his castle and fortress": Semayne's Case, [1558-1774] All E.R. Rep. 62 (1604)), unless there was prior judicial authorization to do so, was of paramount importance. Justice Binnie discussed how this concept of territorial privacy of the home has expanded to the protection of the bodily integrity of the person through the protection of the privacy of being at home. Thus, being at home suggests, “being the place where our most intimate and private activities are most likely to take place.” It is these activities, which the Charter must zealously safeguard.

In the end, the FLIR camera, revealing only heat images, did not step into the private refuge of the home. Equally, the camera did not step into the “intimate and private” activities, which are core to personal integrity and self-identity of a person as a human being.

Another issue discussed by Justice Binnie in Tessling, brings us to the second Supreme Court of Canada case to characterize personal information as “meaningful, intimate, and touching on the user’s biographical core.” According to Justice Binnie, the difficult decision was where to draw the line: at what point does the state over step their authority and wander improperly and, more importantly, unreasonably into the private lives of an individual. This too was the issue with which the Court struggled to understand in Cole.

To answer this, Justice Binnie turned to Justice Sopinka’s words in R v Plant (1993), another unreasonable search and seizure case involving a warrantless perimeter search of a dwelling house. Justice Sopinka, in starting from the underlying values of the Charter of “dignity, integrity, and autonomy,” found it an intellectually easy journey that

s. 8 of the Charter should seek to protect a biographical core of personal information which individuals in a free and democratic society would wish to maintain and control from dissemination to the state. This would include information which tends to reveal intimate details of the lifestyle and personal choices of the individual. (Emphasis in bold added)

Thus, it is out of a nuanced discussion on the privacy of the home, which expanded the concept of the “home as our castle” metaphor to another metaphor found in the idiom “home is where the heart is,” suggesting that it is not the structure that reflects who we are but what is inside – the people and the thoughts we leave behind.

As an aside, the 2011 Saskatchewan Court of Appeal in R v Trapp, which is also a child pornography matter considering the “reasonable expectation of privacy”, utilized these cases in determining the legality of the seizure of information from the accused’s internet service provider. In fact, Justice Cameron, speaking for the court, reviewed this seizure

to identify the import or quality of this information, having regard for the principle that section 8 protects a biographical core of personal information, including information tending to reveal intimate details of the lifestyle and personal choices of the individual.(Emphasis added)

Such an analysis lead the court to conclude that the seizure of the information was not contrary to the Charter.

This brings me to the second point arising from this short second paragraph written by Justice Fish. The finding in Cole not only “fills in” the term “reasonable expectation of privacy” but also “fills in” or further defines the Supreme Court of Canada’s interpretation of the Charter; the concept that the Charter reflects the underlying fundamental values of our society. The Cole decision merely continues the line of cases, which embrace the idea that Charter values, not necessarily concrete or corporeal Charter terms, lend meaning to Charter rights. Thus, it is the concept of “meaningful, intimate, and touching on the user’s biographical core,” coming from Charter values, which delineates the line of reasonableness.

Now back to the Cole case and the further expansion of personal information, as protected by Charter values, to personal information contained on a computer hard drive. Now, the private world of an individual’s has shrunk from the home as the container of our most intimate and meaningful thoughts to the nano-world of computers. Like a diary, the computer captures a timeline of who we are and who we want to be: our desires, our dreams, and our inner most thoughts. Recognizing this decision is truly a further “filling in” of Charter values helps us understand this decision more thoroughly and causes us to consider what will be next. Perhaps the intimacy of details on Facebook and other such sites will prove to attract more protection than initially thought. In any event, it is clear that the sanctity of the home has become the sanctity of the hard drive.

Is There Evidence In This Courtroom? Admissibility of Evidence At A Criminal Trial

In the last posting I discussed police interviewing or interrogation of an accused and the difficulties presented by oppressive and inappropriate techniques. The issue was the manner in which the police interviewed the accused, using the Reid technique, an interview technique created in the nineteen fifties, which, according to critics, is “a guilt presumptive interrogation disguised as truth-seeking interview” where “innocence is not an option.” Indeed, statements taken from an accused in such an atmosphere have, unsurprisingly, resulted in the exclusion of the statements from trial evidence.

I say “unsurprisingly,” but perhaps an assumption that we understand why such a statement would ever be inadmissible as evidence, is assuming too much. To understand this, we must step back and first understand the purpose of evidence in a criminal trial.

Let’s look at an example: Bea Goode is charged with taking a toothbrush from the local drug store. She is charged with theft under $5000.00. In the Criminal Code, section 322 sets out the definition of the crime of theft and section 334 outlines the punishment and procedure, which differs if the value of the property is over $5000.00. The least serious mode of proceeding, and therefore attracting the lesser punishment, is reserved for the offence of theft under $5000.00. This value amount changes over time as the value of our dollar becomes more inflated: when I started law school in the early eighties the crime was theft over or under $200.00.

In any event, Bea is charged and required to attend in court. There is a whole process involved before the setting of the trial date, but let’s imagine for our purposes that Bea’s trial is scheduled. What then is the purpose of the trial? The purpose is to determine what happened and whether or not what happened is or is not a crime. Obviously, we want to determine what really happened as if we had been there ourselves. We want information, as objective as possible, so that if more than one person saw what happened there would be a general agreement as to the facts. In other words, we want the truth. As a result, there is a truth-finding function of the trial.

If the main purpose of the trial is to find out the “truth” and to allocate responsibility on that basis, then how does the criminal trial accomplish this through the admissibility of evidence? First, let’s define “evidence” and its purpose at trial.

In our adversarial system, we require both the Crown and the defence to vigorously pursue a legitimate result to the best of their ability. At all times these advocates must conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the codes of conduct of the various law societies, the legal rules of process and procedure, and the rules of court. For example, counsel has a duty, as an officer of the court, not to mislead the court by offering false or misleading information. Some of this information may be called “evidence.”

Evidence is the data or facts with which the trier of fact, either a judge or a jury, uses to come to a decision. The trier of fact, upon receiving this data, applies legal rules and principles to these facts in arriving at a final decision on the case. In a judge alone case, the judge is the trier of fact and is also the arbiter of the law: the judge will decide which rule of law applies to any given set of facts.

Where there is a jury, the judge determines the applicable law, instructs the jury on those principles, and then the jury, as the trier of fact, takes the rules as given and applies the rules to the accepted facts. In our adversarial system, the trier fact must decide if the required elements of a crime, both legal and factual, have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt before finding guilt. It is only evidence, which under our legal rules has been deemed admissible, that can be considered by the trier of fact. Then, the trier of fact must decide, on the basis of all of the admissible evidence, whether the case has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt. To come to this conclusion, the trier of fact can accept all, part or none of the admissible evidence. However, only admissible evidence may be considered.

There are many legal rules surrounding the admissibility of evidence. Many of these rules are designed to enhance or ensure the truth-finding function of a trial. These rules are historical and have arisen through the English common law or custom for hundreds of years. These rules were fashioned to protect the accused: if we are going to punish an individual for their actions by stigmatizing them as criminals or by depriving them of their liberty or livelihood, we want to be certain we are doing it in a fair and just manner based on relevant, proven, and truthful evidence.

Indeed, many of the rules of evidence are in place to ensure as much as possible the truthfulness or objectivity of the facts. A good example would be the rule against admitting hearsay evidence. Hearsay is information coming from a third person, not the witness, who is merely repeating the information. The problem with admitting this kind of information is obvious: the witness could have heard the information in error or could be adding their own interpretation. Thus, the truthfulness of the information is suspect. Furthermore, the person who actually said the information is not before the trier of fact and therefore their demeanour, credibility, and observation skills cannot be assessed. In other words it is not the best evidence and therefore is more open to inaccuracy: it is unreliable and possibly untruthful.

There is now a trend towards admitting hearsay evidence if it is reliable evidence and necessary to the case. The difficulty is in deciding what makes such evidence reliable and necessary. The legal view has definitely changed over time with the result that necessity and reliability has been given a generous interpretation; not necessarily an interpretation to the benefit of the person on trial and therefore not consistent with protection of the person whose liberty interests are at stake. Supporters of this trend suggest it is more consistent with a societal interest in protection of the public. Others also suggest that this trend is merely accepting the realities that the search for truth may be an impossible quest and a naïve one. What was once inadmissible becomes admissible depending on the shifts in our fundamental values.

What does this mean for confessions? In a future posting, I will discuss more specifically the confessions rule and the special place evidence involving self-incrimination has in our criminal law.

 

“Reid” This: Is It Time To Change Police Interrogation Techniques?

Recently, a news story made its way across the Calgary news landscape: Alberta Provincial Court Judge Dinkel ruled an inclupatory statement made by the accused, Christa Lynn Chapple, inadmissible as evidence at the trial. The ruling found the statement was not given freely and voluntary as a result of the police interrogation. The actual ruling was made earlier this summer, but received media attention as journalists connected the decision to a recent field study on police questioning practices.

This study is one of a series of studies on Canadian police practices researched by the psychology department at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. The primary researcher, Brent Snook, associate professor of psychology at the university, also co-authored another published study from 2012 on the training of Canadian police in the “technique” of interviewing witnesses. The same Memorial team, of Snook, MacDonald, and Eastwood, also published an earlier study in 2010 on how Canadian police administer the right to silence and the right to retain and instruct counsel – both are required cautions to be given to an accused in police detention as a result of the Charter and Charter case law interpretation. Eastwood and Snook both published a paper in 2009 on how understandable to the accused the right to silence caution was when actually given by the arresting police officer.

Clearly, this group of researchers has looked long and hard at Canadian police investigatory practices and techniques and are well equipped to comment on police practices generally. Comment, they did - in the opening statement of the police training study paper, the authors find that “Two recent field studies on how Canadian police officers interview witnesses suggest that most interviewers are not employing best practices.”

This deficiency in practice was further identified in the most recent study on police questioning. Specifically, the researchers were concerned with the practice of the police to ask “close-end” or leading questions, which did not permit a free flow of information from the witness. Often, the interrogators “violated the recommended 80–20 talking rule and interrupted witnesses … in almost 90% of the interviews.” Such line of interrogation, which requires the investigator to control the interview and the information flowing from the questioning, does not, in the researchers opinion, allow for accurate and complete statements. A lack of training, supervision, and feedback was identified as the main reasons why the interview practices were so inadequate.

It is this kind of interview technique which was at the core of the Chapple case. Christa Lynn Chapple was an operator of a day home for children and had in her care a young child who subsequently suffered an unexplained head injury. At the time of the incident, Chapple was interviewed twice with no charges laid. A year later, after the police received forensic information from Dr. Matshes, a forensic pathologist, Chapple was arrested for aggravated assault and brought in for questioning. It must be noted, as Judge Dinkel also noted, that Dr. Matshes was under investigation for coming to “making unreasonable conclusions” in his forensic findings. In any event, Dr. Matshes opinion that the injury was done by non-accidental blunt force trauma caused the investigators to believe that Chapple was involved despite the lack of evidence to tie her to the injury and despite her previous denials.

The interview spanned over eight hours. It was an arduous interview in which Chapple tried to exercise her right to remain silent at least 24 times. Each time she attempted to exercise her right, the police interviewer ignored Chapple and immediately took over the interview by talking over her. In this interview the 80-20 rule, also known as the Pareto Analysis, requiring the suspect to speak 80% of the time, while the interviewer spoke 20% of the time, was practically reversed. The interview was peppered with long monologues from the police questioner, leading questions, and a repeated disbelief in the statements of Chapple, when she was actually given the opportunity to say something.

This form of questioning is known as the Reid Technique, a line of questioning formulated by Joseph Buckley in the 1950’s, where the investigator uses control of the witness and lengthy monologues to extract a confession. The technique, as Judge Dinkel described in Chapple, “a guilt presumptive interrogation disguised as truth-seeking interview” where “innocence is not an option.” The interview, according to Judge Dinkel’s findings, “was bent on extracting a confession at any cost.” The cost was, in fact, too high as the statement, taken in utterly oppressive circumstances, was deemed involuntary.

There are fortunately lessons to be learned from the courts when evidence is not admitted. The administration of justice, when faced with such findings of a judge, must rethink the practice or the implementation of a technique to ensure the system does not come into disrepute. Fortunately, Calgary Police Services is doing a review of their practices and training. Hopefully, they will be reviewing the studies of Snook and his team as well.

The Reid Technique is still being used across North America. This is in stark contrast to the studies from Memorial University and in defiance of a global trend to ensure miscarriages of justice, through false confessions, do not occur. The only way we can ensure this will not happen is by preserving and protecting the rights of an accused person, which goes to the very core values of our criminal justice system such as the presumption of innocence.

In previous postings, I have discussed the importance of the presumption of innocence to our criminal justice system. Those postings can be found here and here. In the next posting I will expand on the reason why a statement made by an accused to a person in authority, such as a police officer, must be freely and voluntarily given to be admissible in court. The reasoning, as I will discuss, ties into one of the major “themes” of criminal law: choice.

The Canadian Spy, Bail Reviews, and Preliminary Inquiries

Jeffrey Delisle, the naval intelligence officer charges both under the Security of Information Act and the Criminal Code, will have a preliminary hearing on those charges starting on October 10, 2012. For a full review of his charges, a discussion of other infamous Canadian spies, as well as a primer on the Official Secrets Act and the legislation now enacted to replace that Act, the Security of Information Act, read my previous posting on the issue Spy vs. Spy. For a discussion of Mr. Delisle’s bail hearing see my posting Blog Update: The Spy and the Pamphleteer.

This date seems rather late considering Delisle was denied bail and has been in custody since his arrest in mid-January, 2012. By the time Delisle has his preliminary hearing, he would have been in pre-trial custody, which is much harder time than serving a sentence, for nine months. Considering this, it would not be surprising if Mr. Delisle’s counsel will launch a bail review under s. 520 of the Criminal Code.

Such a review is heard by a Superior Court Judge. In this instance as the matter is in Nova Scotia, a bail review would be before a Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice. In such a bail review, the Judge considers any relevant evidence, both written and oral, the transcript of the previous bail hearing, any exhibits filled at the previous bail hearing, and such additional evidence as either the Crown or the defence may offer.

On a bail review, counsel may argue that the previous order denying bail was based on a legal/factual error. Such argument would be based on transcript evidence and legal argument. Or the defence might argue a material change in circumstance has occurred since the previous hearing. This argument would include affidavit evidence or even vive voce evidence, which would involve calling witnesses at the review hearings. When this occurs, the bail review becomes essentially a new bail hearing. The onus of proof on a bail review is on the party who brings the application; in this case it would be the defence. It is therefore the defence who must satisfy the reviewing Judge that judicial interim release is appropriate.

There is also a provision in the Criminal Code, under s.525 for an automatic bail review if an accused has been in custody, in Delisle’s case, for more than ninety days. Considering the length of time he has already been in custody, six months, one can assume such automatic reviews have occurred. Although, these reviews are automatic, in order to ensure an accused does not languish in jail unnecessarily and in order to preserve the presumption of innocence, defence counsel can waive or pass on the right to an automatic review. This would be done if the prospect of bail seems slim. However, in such an automatic review, the reviewing judge does consider the delay in the matter coming to trial and the reasons for the delay. The longer the accused sits in pre-trial custody, the more likely the accused will eventually be released. However, in those complicated cases, which require much effort to get ready for trial, the courts will tolerate longer delays.

In Delisle’s case, because of the severity of the allegations, a trial date was not set but a preliminary hearing date. Additionally, Delisle elected to be tried by judge and jury once the matter goes to trial. Such an election is typical as the defence can change that election to a Judge alone trial after the preliminary hearing. It is far simpler to elect down to a judge alone trial than it is to elect up to a judge and jury, hence the election is usually for judge and jury.

It is important to understand that a preliminary hearing is not a trial where guilt and innocence is at issue. Traditionally, the sole purpose of the preliminary hearing is to ensure there is enough evidence to put the accused to trial. It is another safeguard to ensure the accused is fairly tried. If there is insufficient evidence, the defence will ask for a discharge of the accused at the preliminary hearing. If this is granted, the charges are dismissed and the accused is released from custody and no longer is charged with a criminal offence. If there is sufficient evidence, the judge will order the accused to stand trial in the superior court.

A preliminary hearing is heard in the lower level or provincial court. In order for the judge to make a determination of sufficiency of evidence, the Crown, who has the burden to show why the charges should proceed, calls witnesses to give evidence. The defence then has a right to cross examine the witnesses, which brings us to the ulterior reason for a preliminary hearing: to act as a discovery of information on the case, which will assist in preparation for evidence and to “pin down” witnesses on their evidence. This “pinning down” or defining clearly under oath and the record a witness’s evidence is important for trial. If a witness later changes his evidence, the fact at on an earlier occasion, when the matters were more fresh in the witness’s mind, the witness gave different evidence, will go to the credibility or believability of the witness at trial. Also, should the witness abscond or disappear, the earlier evidence given under oath at the preliminary hearing may be read into evidence at trial.

Despite the importance of the preliminary hearing to the full answer and defence of an accused, there have been calls to abolish the practice both in Canada and in other Commonwealth jurisdictions such as Australia. Some Caribbean Commonwealth countries, such as Trinidad and Tobago, have abolished the hearings. Indeed, in the UK, where the concept originated, as of April 2012, preliminary hearings or, as the English call them, committal hearings have been abolished. The changes are being phased in, with some jurisdictions still following the old system. Instead, the Crown is obliged to ensure full disclosure of the case is given to the accused in a timely fashion. Obviously, this safeguard cannot possibly take the place of a cross examination at a preliminary inquiry. In the United States, which does not follow the English common law tradition, under certain circumstances, there are preliminary hearings.

What will this mean for Mr. Delisle? In October, Mr. Delisle should be able to test the government’s case and determine the sufficiency of the evidence against him. The public however will not be privy to that information. Typically, the court on a preliminary hearing will order a ban on publication of the evidence heard, in order to ensure that no potential jurors are pre-disposed by the committal evidence. Additionally, the Crown may shut down the preliminary hearing at anytime during the course of it or even not hold the hearing at all, choosing to directly indict the accused to superior court. This tactic is helpful if the case is complicated to present or if the investigation is ongoing. There is, therefore, a possibility that Mr. Delisle will not get his “day in court” until trial. Until October, the story of the Canadian Spy will continue. 

Are You Listening to This? The Constitutionality of Interceptions of Private Communications In Exceptional Circumstances

Justice Moldaver and Justice Karakatsanis, writing for an unanimous court in the Tse case and their first decision as Justices of the Supreme Court of Canada, found s.184.4 of the Criminal Code, which governs investigatory interceptions of private communications in “exceptional” circumstances, lacking in the constitutionally required safeguards required for such interceptions. According to the Code, “exceptional” circumstances refers to the situation where a peace officer is facing an “urgent” situation whereby he or she is reasonably unable to follow the normal procedures outlined in the Code for such interceptions.

What would these normal procedures require? First, we must step back from the section and pause to consider the context. Section 184.4 is in Part VI (6) of the Criminal Code relating to “invasion of privacy,” or when a peace officer wants to investigate a criminal matter by using an investigative technique involving the surreptitious interception of private communications. In other, more colloquial terms, the police want to “spy” or “eavesdrop” on a targeted individual, whom the police believe on reasonable grounds to be committing or planning to commit a crime. As we know from television and movies, spying is a very high tech activity requiring the most cutting edge devices such as wiretaps accessed by loads of smart looking mechanical equipment found in plain white cube vans with cool looking techies wearing enormous noise-cancelling headphones. Also present is the ubiquitous computer laptop, as today’s savvy cop needs to use the best in order to combat the even technologically savvier criminal.

As great as these techniques look on the big screen, they do not translate well in the constitutional setting; a context, which takes individual rights seriously, and violations of such rights even more seriously. In our Charter, through sections 7 and 8, the state is required to respect the dignity, autonomy, and integrity of the individual as a defining element of individual freedom. However, with this state obligation, as Pierre Trudeau so eloquently stated “there's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation,” comes the competing need to protect society from harm through state-sponsored police investigation and protection. It is the judiciary’s role to determine the appropriate balance between these competing rights through a generous and flexible interpretation of the Charter.

As a result, the starting point in the Criminal Code for invasion of privacy is to create an offence where private communication is intercepted by any means. Private communications are any oral, telephone, or radio-based communication made in the context of a reasonable expectation of privacy. Thus, the originator of the communication intended the communication to be made to another person, with an expectation no one else other than the intended receiver would hear it. Any non-consensual interceptions to such private communication are therefore unlawful and contrary to section 184 of the Criminal Code.

There are two exceptions to the rule, wherein the interception is unlawful. One scenario involves the consent to intercept by either the originator or the receiver of the communication. The other scenario, which is of interest in the Tse case, contemplates a lawful interception where the investigators obtained prior judicial authorization to intercept the communications in accordance with the procedure as set out in the Criminal Code. The application to a Judge for such an authorization is described in section 185 of the Criminal Code.

The application procedure is rigorous: it must be made in writing, it must be made before a superior court judge or a designated judge, it must be signed by the provincial Attorney General or the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness or a duly authorized agent specially designated in writing, and must be accompanied by a sworn document (affidavit) of the investigating officer. 

In turn, this affidavit, based on the information and belief of the investigator, must include the following information: the facts justifying the authorization should be given; the particulars of the alleged crime; the type of communication to be intercepted; the names, addresses, and occupations, if known, of all the persons intended to be intercepted together with the reasonable grounds to believe such interception may assist the investigation; a description of the place, if known, where the communication is to be intercepted; general description of how the communication will be intercepted; the number of times, if any, such an application for interception has previously been made under the section and the specific details of that prior application; the length of time for which the interception is required; and why other investigative techniques would not likely succeed or why it would be impractical to use other techniques due to the urgency of the situation or if other techniques were tried and failed, what those other investigative techniques were and why they failed to work.

Even if the above procedure is followed to the letter and even if the peace officer has fulfilled all of these pre-requisites, the application Judge, under section 186, must not issue an authorization unless her or she is satisfied that it is in the best interests of the administration of justice to issue the authorization to intercept and that other investigative techniques have been tried and failed, or are unlikely to succeed, or urgency requires this technique.

The steps needed and the information required before an authorization is issued emphasizes the status quo of non-interception and provides a constitutionally permissible exception to the general rule.

Now that we have stepped back from the section at issue in the Tse decision to look at the broader context, we can appreciate the constitutional deficiencies found in s.184.4. First, as earlier discussed, s. 184.4 is an exception to the exception found in s. 185. Section 184.4 permits a peace officer to intercept a private communication in prescribed exigent circumstances where: the peace officer believes on reasonable grounds that an authorization cannot reasonably be obtained and the peace officer believes on reasonable grounds the interception is “immediately necessary” to prevent an “unlawful act” that would cause “serious harm” to person or property and where either the originator of the communication or the receiver of the communication will cause the harm or is the intended victim of the harm. That’s it. There is no requirement for prior judicial authorization. It is the investigator, not an unbiased judicial officer, who makes the determination of the urgency of the situation.

All the safeguards found in sections 185 and 186 seem to disappear as “urgency” trumps “privacy” in s. 184.4.  Not so according to Justices Moldaver and Karakatsanis. In their view, certain aspects of the section pass “constitutional muster” as it provides an appropriately flexible authorization approach in dire or emergency circumstances. However, this appropriate response can only be found by stepping back once again from the section and looking to s.188.  This section contemplates a “stop-gap” authorization, which is issued in urgent situations where an interception is required before there is an opportunity to apply for an authorization under s.185. This “follow-up” authorization must be sought for the s.184.4 situation as soon as is practicable to minimize the time in which a non-authorized interception is at play, thereby maintaining the rigours of the interception exception.

But wait, did the SCC not find s.184.4 invalid and contrary to the Charter? Yes, but in a very limited way, which protects the integrity of the section and signals to the legal community that crime fighting is back on the Agenda with the Charter’s full approval. The constitutional concern with the section is not the lack of judicial approval for an interception, as that judicial-less state would last only for a short time, but it is the lack of notice, which comes after the interception is used, to the intended targets that causes constitutional concern. No notice to those involved means a lack of oversight of the use of police powers. No notice means a lack of disclosure, which in turn means no ability to take the matter before a Judge to determine the appropriateness of the extreme police actions. It is this failure, which the Harper Government has twelve months to rectify. This is an easy fix with the SCC giving explicit instructions on how to comply.

This telling decision, written by new appointments, gives us some insight into the future. The Charter has recently celebrated its 30th anniversary without much fanfare. This similarly low-key decision reiterates the now familiar Charter values of privacy and oversight but at the same time reinforces the State’s interest to combat crime. The Tse decision appears to provide an interpretation that presumes constitutionality instead of requiring proof of it. It seems to prefer self-referential statutory interpretation as opposed to the trail-blazing early Charter years when Chief Justice Dickson and Madame Justice Wilson wrote sometimes blistering commentaries on the role of the State in protecting Charter rights. Whether or not this is a trend will be seen in the next SCC Charter decision.

 

 

 

 

How A Charge Is Laid Under The Canada Elections Act

With all the recent news of election fraud and automated phone calls or robocalls directing voters to the wrong polling station in the last federal election, it is worthwhile to take a walk through the Canada Elections Act and particularly look at the Act’s mechanism for enforcement. In this blog posting, I will explain how a charge is laid under the Canada Elections Act.

According to the Elections Canada website, the Commissioner of Canada Elections, as appointed under the Act by the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, is an independent, non-partisan, officer whose duty is to ensure that the Canada Elections Act is complied with and enforced.

Who is the Commissioner? Well, presently, Canada Elections is seeking a new Commissioner and the deadline is tomorrow, March 2, 2012. The current Commissioner is William Corbett, who was appointed in 2006.

How is a possible violation investigated? Under s. 510, the Chief Electoral Officer, presently Marc Mayrand, may refer to the Commissioner for an inquiry a violation committed by an election officer or any person who may have committed an offence under sections:

  1. 486(3)(a) - signing nomination papers where ineligible;
  2. 486(3)(d) - publication of false statement of withdrawal of candidate;
  3. 488 - unauthorized printing of ballots;
  4. 489(3)(g) - being a deputy returning officer and placing identifying mark on ballot;
  5. 493 - failure to appear before a returning officer and;
  6. 499(1) - removal of posted election documents.

Additionally, according to s. 511 of the Act, the Commissioner, if he believes on reasonable grounds that an offence under the Act has been committed, may refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions, now Brian Saunders, who will then decide if a prosecution is warranted. If a prosecution is warranted the Director then requests the Commissioner to lay an Information before a Justice of the Peace or a Provincial Court Judge.

An Information is the charging document initiating the prosecution. In order to lay an Information, the Informant, in this case the Commissioner, must swear under oath and in writing, his reasonable and probable grounds for believing an offence has been committed. The Commissioner must also indicate the place and time of the alleged offence.

Once the Justice receives the sworn statement from the Commissioner, the Justice must determine if the sworn statement actually discloses reasonable grounds for the commission of an offence. Although this is the first judicial determination made on an allegation, the Justice is not deciding upon guilt or innocence. The Justice is simply satisfying himself that there is a prima facie case based on the sworn statement. The Justice does not weigh the evidence at this point but takes the evidence contained in the sworn statement at face value, meaning the Justice assumes the truth and integrity of the information. If the information, as presented, fails to satisfy the Justice that there are reasonable grounds for the charge, then no process is issued (as in a summons to court or an arrest warrant) and the charge is not initiated. 

Therefore, in some circumstances, a charge under the Canada Elections Act cannot be laid until a myriad of steps have been fulfilled such as:

  1. The Chief Electoral Officer reviews the alleged violation and if the Chief has reasonable grounds to believe there may be a violation, refers the matter to the Commissioner for inquiry;
  2. The Commissioner then conducts the inquiry and if the Commissioner believes on reasonable grounds a violation may have been committed, he may refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions;
  3. The Director of Public Prosecutions reviews the violation and if prosecution is warranted, the matter is sent back to the Commissioner;
  4. The Commissioner must attend before a Justice of the Peace to lay an Information, the JP, must receive the complaint from the Commissioner, but must only issue process or initiate charges, upon being satisfied there are indeed reasonable grounds for the offence before a charge can be laid under the Canada Elections Act.

In the end, it is much more difficult to lay a charge under the Canada Elections Act, than it is for a charge to be laid under the Criminal Code. Anyone can appear before a Justice and swear an Information that they believe on reasonable grounds that a crime has been committed under the Code. If a Justice is satisfied there are reasonable grounds, then process is issued and a charge is laid.

Considering the right to vote is constitutionally protected under s. 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the layers of inquiry required involving three different officials, who all must have reasonable grounds to proceed, seems incongruous. This is particularly puzzling in light of the Supreme Court of Canada’s robust and expansive interpretation of the democratic right to vote as being more than merely the right to cast a ballot. Indeed, the right to vote includes a citizen’s right to play a meaningful role in the electoral process.

There is, therefore, a positive obligation on the government to provide appropriate arrangements for the effective exercise of the right to vote. The government, to fulfill this obligation, must create an electoral apparatus to permit the exercise of this right, including implementing the rules and procedures for ensuring fair elections by providing the protection against violations of that right. The importance of this right cannot be underestimated or taken for granted and should be protected as all rights guaranteed under our Charter are so protected. It remains to be seen if this present "scandal" will effect any changes in order to re-align the actual electoral process more appropriately with our cherished Charter values.

The Trial Judge Deserves Deference!

Oftentimes a Supreme Court of Canada decision can be, at first glance, unimportant, particularly when the decision is brief. This can happen when the Court readily agrees with the lower Court decision, either the majority or even the dissent, and does not feel the need to add to the already cogent written decision. Sometimes, these one-liners by the SCC, fly under the radar and are not recognized as impactful decisions.

Such was seemingly the case in a recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. T.L.M. released on February 14, 2012. The case, heard by a panel of seven justices as opposed to the full court complement of nine, was an appeal from the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador - Court of Appeal. In a pithy yet brief decision, Madame Justice Deschamps stated:

We agree with Hoegg J.A., dissenting at the Court of Appeal, that the trial judge committed no reviewable error. Therefore, the appeal is allowed.

This innocuous manner of overturning a lower Court decision belies the true nature of the case as revealed by a closer reading of the lower Court decision. Indeed, through the lower court decision, T.L.M. takes on a more complex meaning and sheds light on another decision of the SCC, the D.A.I. case, released only four days previously.

The D.A.I. case is of huge national importance pronouncing on the capacity of adults with mental disabilities to testify at trial under s.16 of the Canada Evidence Act. Section 16 outlines the procedure to be adopted when an adult witness’s mental capacity to testify is challenged at trial. If the witness does not understand the nature of an oath or a solemn affirmation and cannot communicate the evidence, the witness cannot then testify. If however, the challenged witness does not understand the nature of an oath but can communicate his evidence, he may testify upon promising to tell the truth in accordance with s. 16(3). In the D.A.I. case the trial judge upon entering into an inquiry as required by s.16 found the 23 year-old witness, who had a mental capacity of a three to six year old, could not testify as she did not understand the duty to speak the truth.

The majority of the SCC, speaking through Chief Justice McLachlin, found the trial judge erred in her application of s.16 by requiring the witness to understand the meaning of telling the truth before being permitted to testify. Section 16(3) merely required the witness to be able to communicate the evidence as a prerequisite to testifying. Once this was fulfilled, the witness could then testify upon promising to tell the truth. There was no need for the trial judge to determine whether or not the witness understood what such a promise entailed. Thus, Chief Justice McLachlin’s decision gave this second part of the s. 16(3) determination, the promise to tell the truth, a broad and generous interpretation consistent with the public policy of the “need to bring to justice those who sexually abuse people of limited mental capacity — a vulnerable group all too easily exploited.”

The connection between these two cases, T.L.M. and D.A.I., is found in the appellate principle of deference, referred to in both decisions, but more specifically, as referred to by Justice Binnie and Chief Justice McLachlin.

The main issue in the T.L.M. appeal, as discussed in the lower Court decision, related to the admission of similar fact evidence in a trial involving sexual offences against a child. The similar fact evidence was of another sexual offence against a child, which occurred at the time of the offences before the court. The main issue was credibility, with the accused, the child’s uncle, denying the offence. The similar fact evidence, which was admitted by the trial judge, was relied upon in disbelieving the accused and convicting him of all charges.

The majority of the Newfoundland appellate court found the trial judge erred in his application of the legal test for admissibility of similar fact evidence. To come to this decision, the majority relied upon the principles for admission as enunciated by Justice Binnie in the SCC decision of R. v. Handy. The dissent of Mr. Justice Hoegg disagreed with the majority and found the trial judge made no legal error in admitting the similar fact evidence. Justice Hoegg also relied on Binnie J.’s decision in Handy and made especial reference to Justice Binnie's comments on the “substantial deference” to be given to the trial judge’s decision on admission of similar fact evidence. It is Hoegg’s dissent, which the SCC accepts in allowing the appeal. neither Justice Binnie nor Chief Justice McLachlin sat on the appeal.

Chief Justice McLachlin, in D.I.A., also commented on the principle of deference: an appellate principle in which the court reviewing the trial judge’s reasons defers or accepts the trial judge’s decision based on the judge’s superior position having heard and observed the evidence as opposed to the appellate court, which only reads the evidence and arguments in written form. In Chief Justice McLachlin’s opinion, the trial judge’s error was fundamental and therefore no deference should be given to her decision.

Justice Binnie in dissent, and no stranger to the issue of deference as pointed out in the Handy case, disagreed and stated the following:

The majority judgment in the present case repudiates the earlier jurisprudence and the balanced approach it achieved.  It entirely eliminates any inquiry into whether the potential witness has any “conception of any moral obligation to say what is ‘right’”. 

In the result, despite all the talk in our cases of the need to “defer” to trial judges on their assessment of mental capacity, a deference which, in my opinion, is manifestly appropriate, the majority judgment shows no deference to the views of the trial judge whatsoever and orders a new trial.  I am unable to agree.  I therefore dissent.

Justice Binnie’s very strongly worded dissent takes issue with the lack of conviction the majority has with the principle of deference: in other words, the Chief Justice and the other Justices concurring in her decision, do not “walk the walk” when it comes to deference. These incongruous comments on deference by the majority become even more incomprehensible in light of the oft-quoted Marquard case, involving testimonial capacity, in which Chief Justice McLachlin stated:

It has repeatedly been held that a large measure of deference is to be accorded to the trial judge's assessment of a child's capacity to testify.  Meticulous second‑guessing on appeal is to be eschewed.  As Dickson J. (as he then was) put it (at p. 135) in the oft‑cited case of R. v. Bannerman (1966), 48 C.R. 110 (Man. C.A.), aff'd [1966] S.C.R. v, a trial judge's discretion in determining that a child is competent to testify "unless manifestly abused, should not be interfered with."

Justice Binnie relied on McLachlin C.J.’s Marquard decision in his dissent in D.A.I.

In the end, the deference issue may come down to this: appellate courts will give deference more readily when the trial judge admits evidence than when the trial judge finds evidence inadmissible. It appears at least in matters of admissibility the SCC prefers to give deference to the principle of admissibility over exclusion. Although this approach may recognize more readily the public’s desire to have a matter tried, it may do so at the cost of a fair trial.