The Dual Nature of Advocacy

This Monday is the start of the University of Calgary Faculty of Law 3L Advocacy Course. It is an intensive three-week program in which students, who are soon to be articling students, find themselves in the heady atmosphere of practice. It is a simulation, to be sure, but one which builds confidence, knowledge, skill and the love for the practice of law. This is my fourth year as course director and I still look forward to the electrified atmosphere the course engenders. The atmosphere is also collegial as so many lawyers, judges, and justice system participants gather together for one reason: to help create skilful advocates. This course is a prime example of another facet of lawyering, which is volunteerism. Each one of this 100+ participants are graciously giving their time and talent to our students and faculty. To give back to the community as the Calgary bench and bar does for this program is truly inspiring.

This program, as a concept, as experiential learning, and as community-builder, makes me realize that “advocacy” is a shape-shifter. It is not just about standing up in court and doing a killer examination or a staggering legal argument, it’s about the communal coming-together as a profession for the purpose of the betterment of that profession. This program, whether we are a 3L who has never seen the inside of a courtroom or a seasoned practitioner who has seen too much the underside of the law, brings us together so we can all strive for excellence in our own way but together.

I want to emphasize that advocacy is also about finding your authentic voice. To be sure, there are best practices but not one best practice. What I love best about the Advocacy course is how we are all encouraged to find how we each can contribute to the practice of law by being ourselves. The program is a safe environment in which students can start to do this. It is only a start as it can take years to find the individual approach that best works. But that’s okay – that’s advocacy.

I cannot leave this blog without connecting my thoughts to some personal reading I have done over the break. Philippe Sands, QC is a British barrister well known in international law circles. He has written textbooks in the area and practiced in the International Criminal Court for years. He also writes and podcasts in a more personal way. He has applied his prodigious legal skills to tracing his Jewish family history in Nazi-occupied Lemberg, which had a battered history of name changes as it buffeted from one occupying country to another. 

Sands brilliantly weaves that personal story of discovery with the equally compelling story of two men, both Jews who lived in Lemberg, who escaped the German occupation, and who individually contributed to modern international human rights: Hersch Lauterpacht and Raphael Lemkin. Lauterpacht was a gifted law professor who championed the concept of individual rights as protected by the global community. His involvement in the Nuremberg trials resulted in the convictions of those individuals who were responsible for the murder of millions including the families of Lauterpacht, Lemkin and Sands. Hersch Lauterpacht was the originator of the then nascent offence of “crimes against humanity.” Raphael Lemkin came at Nuremberg differently. His emphasis was not on the individual but on the groups and cultures which the Nazi war machine sought to obliterate. He invented the word “genocide” to reflect his belief that the destruction of an identifiable group of people cannot be countenanced. Sands book includes a map of Zhovkva, a tiny village close to Lviv, where his great-grandmother and Lauterpacht were born. The map shows the street where both families resided and which hauntedly connects to the burial place of the Jews of the village who were all massacred during the Nazi occupation. Hence the name of the book as East West Street.

Now the connection to my thoughts on advocacy. It struck me how the story in East West Street was simultaneously a story of the pursuit of individual and collective justice, just as the stories of Lauterpacht and Lemkin, super-imposed on one another, was one story arising from mirror images of what injustice looks like. Sands is, as his training and family history made him, an advocate of the highest degree who is concerned with the individual and the whole. So too, being a skilful advocate requires those two halves, the private and public, to reveal itself into one vision. We are obliged to pursue justice through individual means but for the greater good. Even when we represent an individual, it is not just the client’s plight it is our plight too. Being an advocate requires expertise in managing these two dualities.

Circling back to the start of these musings on advocacy, I can see the bigger picture this course suggests. What we each do in the legal profession does impact individual lives but what we do together significantly outsizes that impact. We protect individual rights but we also engage in community-building. Advocacy, as an integral part of who we are as a profession, reflects both of these objectives and celebrates them. To me that is the truly wonderful outcome of the course and what I look forward to experiencing on Monday.

 

Section 15 – De Facto Laws, Criminal Responsibility and War Crimes:Episode 17 of the Ideablawg Podcast

During the Nuremberg trials, many Nazis tried to exculpate themselves by suggesting they were only following superior orders. This was not a valid defence according to the Charter of the International Tribunal under article 8. However, it was a mitigating factor in determining punishment. If the defendant, however, was the superior, according to article 7, the de facto defence was also not available but neither was it to be considered in mitigation. In Canada, prior to the war, obedience to the laws made at the time was a bar to conviction pursuant to English common law and as codified under section 15 of the Criminal Code. However, after the war, in order to conform to international conventions and to ensure the prosecution of war criminals, the Criminal Code was amended to include an exception for war crimes. When the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act was enacted in Canada in the year 2000 the Code was again amended and the exception was moved from the Code to the new Act under sections 13 and 14.

Section 15 of the Code presently reads as follows:

No person shall be convicted of an offence in respect of an act or omission in obedience to the laws for the time being made and enforced by persons in de facto possession of the sovereign power in and over the place where the act or omission occurs.

 An equivalent to this section has been in the Code since its inception but with different wording. Until the section was re-enacted as s.15 in the 1953-1954 Code amendments, the section “protected” a person from “criminal responsibility” as opposed to barring conviction.

In one of the oldest cases on the issue, the 1911 case of Kokoliadis v. Kennedy from the Quebec Superior Court, Justice Davidson considered to what extent a person was protected from criminal responsibility under the old section. In the case, Justice Davidson turned to the English common law for explanation and determined that laws as an expression of the “will of the legislature” “protects all who obey it and justifies all who do what it authorizes.” Furthermore, the law in question need only be made by persons with de facto or in fact authority, not necessarily legal authority. Thus, even if the authority is ultimately found to be ultra vires under the Constitution Act, the person obeying this law is still within his or her rights. Similarly, when a person is faced with two conflicting laws from two levels of government, he or she cannot be convicted of choosing to follow one over the other.

The purpose of the de facto doctrine, according to case law, “is to preserve law and order and the authority of the government” and “to protect the rule of law.” According to Albert Constantineau, a French-Canadian jurist writing in 1910 on this subject, without this doctrine “insubordination and disorder of the worst kind would be encouraged, which might at any time culminate in anarchy.”

For obvious reasons, this de facto doctrine was not applied at the Nuremberg trials and was specifically not accepted at “The Justice Trial,” wherein members of the Reich Ministry of Justice, including the law courts, were tried for their part in upholding Nazi laws.

The applicability and constitutionality of the combined effect of section 15 and the exception to it was at issue in the Supreme Court of Canada Finta case. Both the majority decision written by Mr. Justice Cory and the dissent (in part) written by Mr. Justice La Forest delve extensively into the defence of obedience to superior orders. Both decisions found that the exception to s.15 was not unconstitutional.  In his dissenting reasons, Justice La Forest pointed out that s. 15 was more generous than international law, as we already noted in discussing the International Tribunal Charter. However, the defence under s.15 was available under the military law of other nations and therefore section 15 not only upheld the rule of law as submitted by Constantineau, but also acknowledged the realities of being a member of the military or police force. In La Forest’s view the defence of obedience to superior orders could provide a valid defence “unless the act is so outrageous as to be manifestly unlawful” as in the case of the Nazi atrocities.

When would an order be “manifestly unlawful?” When, according to Justice Cory writing for the majority, “it offends the conscience of every reasonable, right-thinking person” and is “obviously and flagrantly wrong.” According to Justice Cory, if the exception to s. 15 did not exist and obedience to de facto law was permitted in all scenarios “not even the most despotic tyrant, the author and enforcer of the most insidious laws against humanity, could be convicted of crimes committed under his regime.”

Harkening back to Constantineau’s concern that without section 15 chaos would ensue, we can see the tension between upholding the rule of law and the consequences of so doing it. Chaos may reign in not following de facto laws but surely in some situations death will reign in following them. However, in the situation envisioned by Justice Cory and unfortunately realized in our recent past, this conflict resolves itself in favour of using the criminal law as a reflection of society’s fundamental values and the societal abhorrence we feel toward crimes against humanity.

Although we like to believe the age we live in is the most peaceful and civilized, every day as we flip through the news, either digital or in print, we see the fallacy of this belief. Criminal law in Canada is built upon traditions and our Code is no exception but in this case, thankfully, there are exceptions to the rule.

 

 

 

Episode 17 of the Ideablawg Podcast on the Criminal Code of Canada: Section 15 - de facto Laws, Criminal responsibility and War Crimes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One spake amid the nations, "Let us cease

From darkening with strife the fair World's light,

We who are great in war be great in peace.

No longer let us plead the cause by might."

 

But from a million British graves took birth

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

"If ye have righted all the wrongs of earth

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

 

 

Episode 8: Section 5 and Military Law Ideablawg Podcast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The SCC’s Whatcott Decision Explores The Meaning Of “Hatred’ While Continuing The Subjective/Objective Debate

As discussed in previous blog postings, the Supreme Court of Canada appears to be moving towards the objective standard in criminal law – a standard in antithesis to the subjective standard which requires the trier of fact to determine the accused’s perception of the facts in deciding upon guilt or innocence. The objective standard found in objective mens rea offences and used as a standard of assessment in many defences, relies upon the seemingly objective perception of the reasonable person – a legal construct endowed with the standard of a standard citizen from a standard community.

Now, with the release of Whatcott, this objective/subjective debate has moved into the human rights arena. In this case, the Court struggles with the meaning of the emotion – hatred – and whether or not the concept or emotion of hatred can properly form the basis of a rule of law. Interestingly, the Court has had less difficulty with other emotive and therefore subjective words used in the Charter context, such as “life” and “liberty” in section 7. Even the term “freedom,” which is found throughout the Charter and is the defining word, perhaps even the objective (of course with the due limitations) of the legislation, is applied with ease by the Court.

No doubt, these terms are reflective of our society’s fundamental values. By describing them as value-based terms, we are already suggesting the subjective and emotional nature of these terms. It is these words, with such a depth of personal meaning, which are difficult to articulate and describe. An individual’s understanding of the term becomes personal and the use of the word is imbued with this personal meaning when utilized in any concrete context.

For example, I know what liberty means – it means the ability to be free from restraint and constraints imposed by others. However, “liberty” also has a visual meaning to me taken from my knowledge and world experience, which creates a more robust version of the words I have just written down. Therefore, “liberty” is the Statue of, “liberty” is also the poem by Tupac entitled “Liberty Needs Glasses,” as well as the Delacroix painting “Liberty Leading The People” hanging in the Louvre. “Liberty” is the panoply of past, present, and future human struggles, which we have studied and to which we are still bearing witness. Finally, “liberty” has the legal meaning as circumscribed by case law as not “mere freedom from physical restraint” but

In a free and democratic society, the individual must be left room for personal autonomy to live his or her own life and to make decisions that are of fundamental personal importance.

So too in Whatcott the Court imbues the word “hatred” with the legislative objective of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code. Thus, an emotion becomes a standard to be applied by the tribunal. “Hatred,” therefore, is to mean something beyond dislike and must reflect a standard of behaviour beyond the norm or, as Justice Rothstein explains, be an “expression of an unusual and extreme nature.” The standard of assessment, in order to minimize the emotive perception of “hatred” must be based on an objective standard evoking the perception of the reasonable person. The question to be asked by the tribunal becomes a seemingly simple and standardized approach: “when considered objectively by a reasonable person aware of the relevant context and circumstances, the speech in question would be understood as exposing or tending to expose members of the target group to hatred”.

Even so, Justice Rothstein seems to be crafting a definition of “hatred” that is very personal: “hatred” is not “calumny” but includes “contempt” and may dehumanize an individual or a group of individuals. This concept of “dehumanization” is consistent with universal human rights principles, which evolved out of the atrocities of World War II and is related to the Nazi Germany objective, as evidenced by their laws and actions, to strip Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals, and other minority groups of their humanity. The converse of this is the well-entrenched Charter value of “human dignity.” This definition of hatred, according to Justice Rothstein, taken from case law principles, provides an objective, clear, and identifiable standard to be imposed, which “excludes merely offensive or hurtful expression” but includes “extreme and egregious examples of delegitimizing expression as hate speech.”

In the end, the SCC by carving out a definition of hate speech consistent with the approved authorities and by excising meanings which were not consistent with the standard of hatred, created an “emotionless” template for tribunals and courts. As discussed in my previous blog on the SCC’s recent decision on duress, which approved of the objectification of the test for duress despite cogent arguments by legal theorist George Fletcher to embrace individualization, this “shoe-horning” of value-laden terms into the objective category may not be a true reflection of society’s values and may, in the end, diminish the deeply personal meaning of such values in favour of the rule of law.

 

A Balancing Act: The Supreme Court of Canada and Testifying Behind The Veil

In two concurring reasons and one dissenting reason, the Supreme Court of Canada, in the N.S. decision, has continued the Charter discourse surrounding conflicting rights. Unsurprisingly, the majority message, written by Chief Justice McLachlin, is one of balance and accommodation on a case-by-case determination. The Trial judge must weigh the conflicting rights in the context of the case with due deference to Charter values. The values, however, are flexible, adaptable, and tolerant of each other. In the Charter arena, there is no room for immoveable values, which are fixed and unbending.

This approach does, on the face, appear to be consistent with the Charter itself, which guarantees rights and freedoms but not absolutely: they are subject to the reasonable limits of a free and democratic society. This, however, is a liberal concept, a concept born in the revolutionary times of the 18th century when religion was given a tempered view in favour of scientific and provable reasoning. As a result, the question remains whether the balancing act proposed by the SCC will provide enough protection to freedom of religion/belief in an age where having a belief system is not required in a free and democratic society.

On the other hand, the traditional concept of criminal law based on the presumption of innocence and fair trial, as values to be balanced, may very well be eroded by this balancing act as well. Critics of the SCC approach might properly ask: how can the very essential core concepts of criminal law ever be subject to accommodation? Some values, those critics would argue, should never give way or they will fail to stand on their own. Interestingly, these concerns form the basis of the concurring judgment of Justices Lebel and Rothstein.

Justice Abella’s dissent is not based on religious rights as a concept to be jealously guarded, but is based on Charter values flowing from earlier Charter cases on protecting the vulnerable members of our society such as children and women. Her dissent focuses on the very real issues of access to justice and the marginalization of those less powerful sectors of our society. This viewpoint becomes even more important in light of the recent release of Wally Oppal’s Report on missing women and the trend toward dismissing the rights, or even the existence of, prostitutes, the homeless, and Aboriginal women.

In the N.S. decision, we see a microcosm of Canadian society: differing viewpoints arising out of the same context, which reflect strongly held values, but which also reflect the true legacy of the Charter as a document that encompasses, and tolerates, all. 

What Are Human Rights Anyway?

Today is International Human Rights Day, the day to commemorate the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948 (see my previous blog on the issue). This event has changed the world in many ways as we struggle to understand what it means to have human rights and as our governments struggle to implement that societal vision.

To understand the concepts involved and the values at stake, we need to start from the essentials: what does it mean to be human? As simple as this question might sound, it is so very complicated and so difficult to answer. It is like describing the colour green without reference to something that is green. Also, such a description depends on the author’s perspective: a scientist may describe being human physiologically or even evolutionary, a psychologist may describe a human emotionally, an anthropologist may describe a human collectively, and so on. Therefore, to come up with an encompassing universal concept of being human is challenging. So, instead of defining humanity, we have concentrated on defining what humanity universally enjoys and expects or has a right to enjoy and expect. Hence, the idea of human rights is born.

But what does having “human rights” mean? Let’s start with the conception of a “right.” One meaning of “right” is an act, which is morally or socially correct or just, such as right vs. wrong. But in the realm of human rights this definition is weak: is it “right” to open a door for someone who has his or her hands full? Yes it is, but the person has no special right or claim on you to open the door. In order to ensure our “rights” will be respected consistently and in order to give “human rights” the special weight it deserves, a right in the human rights context must involve a justified claim or a special entitlement for something, which can be enforced against a person or institution.

Rights however differ from a privilege or a gift: often for a privilege, like a driver’s license, one must apply and show themselves worthy of receiving the privilege. Therefore, having a privilege is discretionary and not given out to all. In contrast, human rights are universal and should not be dependent on any given scenario.

Furthermore, when one possesses a human “right,” one is specially entitled to do or to have or to be free from something, but also entitled to enforce claims against others to act or refrain from acting in certain ways. Thus, the claiming of a right involves, by necessity, someone from whom to claim the right. In other words, we need a society in order to give human rights meaning. Robinson Crusoe, for instance, while alone on the Island has “human rights” but they are irrelevant until Friday shows up.

This “two-way street” therefore requires a “right holder,” the person claiming the right and a “duty-bearer,” who has an obligation to respect those claimed rights. An example can be found under our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is a human rights document outlining an individual’s rights, which then can be claimed or enforced against the State. According to s.10(b) of the Charter, I have a right to counsel upon arrest or detention. This is a special claim I possess or have but I need another actor to fulfill my right. Therefore, it is the State who must act to fulfill my claim; called a positive right. Oftentimes, in the realm of human rights, the State must refrain from acting as in the freedoms found in the Charter such as a person’s freedom of expression under s.2(b); known as a negative right.

It should be noted that our rights under the Charter are not absolute. Rights compete with one another and, at times, contradict with other just as viable rights. Thus, it is this balancing of rights, not the existence of rights, which forms the biggest part of our human rights discourse.

Now, we understand what “rights” mean but from where do human rights come? Human rights arise out of our humanity or human nature: I am human therefore I have human rights. Human rights may consist of the basics to keep us alive but they are much more than that: human rights are not needed for life but for living a life of dignity. What a life worth living looks like comes from a particular vision of what that life should look like. This moral vision then becomes integrated into the political and legal institutions of a society in order to give those human rights the special claim or force needed to make them meaningful. 

Human rights therefore are described as inalienable rights, which everyone equally enjoys. Rights are called inalienable, not because one cannot be denied access or enjoyment of human rights, but because losing these rights is morally impossible. Human rights cannot be given or taken away even though historically institutions have tried such as in Nazi Germany and in slave-holding countries.

There are however difficulties in the application of human rights. It is almost impossible to come up with a list of human rights with which all humanity would agree. Most people can agree on the essentials such as food and shelter but it is when the concepts become less concrete that disagreements arise. Even if we can agree on the right to life, liberty and security of the person (s. 7 of the Charter), we would all have a different conception of what those grand words mean. Does that include universal healthcare? Does that include the life of a fetus? And so on, and, quite frankly, on to the courts to figure these nuances out.

Now we understand human rights better (or maybe for worse?), we can enjoy International Human Rights Day. In the end, it is a celebration of who we are, of who we want to be, recognizing that we are “all in this together” merely because we are human. 

In Remembrance: The Legacy of Mr. Justice Henry Nolan

Today, we remember the wars fought, the men and women lost, and the personal sacrifices, which formed Canada. Today we send our appreciation to those presently in service for our country and we are thankful to live in a country that values democracy and liberty. Last Remembrance Day, my posting was entitled “Lest We Forget,” which offered some profound words from poet/soldiers of WWI and WWII, including a moving passage from F.R. Scott, a Canadian lawyer who was an important civil liberties advocate and past Dean of McGill Law School.

This Remembrance Day, I recall Justice Henry Grattan Nolan, a Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada from March 1956 to July 1957, was born in Calgary, Alberta in 1895. His father, Patrick or Paddy Nolan, was one of the greatest criminal trial lawyers of his time. Paddy Nolan was a flamboyant character. A man of the new west, he was involved in all aspects of Calgary society, even appearing in the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera “Trial By Jury.”

His son, Henry Nolan, was more serious by nature. A Rhodes Scholar, Henry served in the 49th Canadian Battalion (from Edmonton, Alberta) in France. There he was wounded fighting in the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917. He received the Military Cross in 1918. After completing his studies at Oxford, England, Henry joined R.B. Bennett’s law firm. Bennett had often been opposing counsel to his father, Paddy. It has been said when Bennett was opposing Nolan in the Supreme Court of Canada in 1908, Bennett entered into the courtroom with his junior, issuing orders: “Boy, give me Phipson on Evidence,” “Boy, give me Kenny on Crimes.” To this, Paddy replied “Boy, get me Bennett on Bologney.”  

Henry Nolan re-enlisted at the outbreak of World War II and served with the Canadian Army. Rising through the ranks, Nolan became a Brigadier as the Vice-Judge Advocate General. From the end of the war to 1948, Nolan served in Tokyo as a Prosecutor for Canada before the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE). Since then, Canada has taken a strong role in the prosecution of war criminals, most notably with Louise Arbour, who acted as Chief Prosecutor before the Rwanda and Yugoslavia War Crime Tribunals.

Although, Justice Nolan died prematurely, at the age of 64 and only spent one year on the Supreme Court of Canada, he authored a number of the cases. Most notably however was his commitment to his country as a soldier in World War I and II and as a protector of civil liberties and human rights as a military lawyer and war crimes prosecutor. We remember Justice Nolan as we remember all who contributed to our country in this way.

 

Assisted Suicide Appeal By Canadian Government Announced

No surprise that the Federal government will be appealing the assisted suicide decision recently rendered by the British Columbia Supreme Court in Carter v. Canada (Attorney General). As discussed in my previous postings on the issue, the Federal government, through the Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson, had thirty days from the handing down of the BC decision to appeal to the British Columbia Court of Appeal. The time deadline was today and true to form, the government squeezed within the time period by filing the Notice to Appeal today. The government will also seek a stay of the ruling of Madam Justice Lynn Smith, which permits Gloria Taylor, suffering from ALS, to seek an assisted suicide when she so chose to do so through a rarely used constitutional exemption.

In Rob Nicholson's statement announcing the appeal, he maintained that the laws surrounding assisted suicide "exist to protect all Canadians." This idea of safeguarding an individual's life, even if the individual wants to end that life, is very consistent with the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the Rodriguez case from 1993. Whether or not this idea of "government-knows-best" is still consistent with present Canadian values will no doubtedly be at issue when the Taylor et al case is ultimately heard before the Supreme Court of Canada. Again, considering the make-up of the present day SCC, particularly with the presence of Chief Justice McLachlin, who disagreed with the Rodriguez majority ruling, this rather outmoded idea of government as ultimate protector may be an idea of the past. Stay tuned to this blog for more on this issue.

Whose Life Is This Anyway? Sue Rodriguez and the Supreme Court of Canada

Last posting, I gave some elementary definitions underpinning the controversy surrounding the right to die issue. I started and ended the posting with a reminder: that these issues might be political, philosophical, religious, and socio-economic, but they are also very personal issues as well. Sue Rodriguez is a reminder of this important factor in our discussions. She is also the moniker for the seminal right to die case heard in 1993 by the Supreme Court of Canada: Rodriguez v. British Columbia (Attorney General).

As most of us well know, the Supreme Court of Canada denied Sue the right to doctor-assisted suicide. Returning to the definitions given in my last posting, Sue’s case was not one of euthanasia, whereby a third party takes another’s life in order to ostensibly relieve the ill person’s suffering, but rather the right to legally take her own life, suicide, with the help of a physician. Recall that under section 241 of the Criminal Code of Canada, anyone who assists another person to commit suicide is guilty of an offence. Thus, Sue was seeking protection for the person, the doctor, who would be assisting her in ending her life at the time she appointed. She explained very poignantly why she so desperately wanted her case to be successful: She wanted her son, who was then nine years of age, to “respect the law and did not want her last act on earth to be illegal.” In her book, Uncommon Will, she explained further, "But if I can't obey the law in the end, I'll know at least I did all I could to change it. So will he [her son]." To Sue Rodriguez, her physicality was an integral part of her identity: "If I cannot move my own body I have no life."

As soon as Sue launched her legal battle, lines were drawn. Many right to life groups opposed her claim, likening her position to state approved euthanasia as practiced by the Nazi Germany regime. She also had her supporters, some who were with her until the very end and others who she could no longer trust. John Hofsess, an initial supporter, who was the organizer of the Right To Die Society, quickly became an insider and was heavily involved in Rodriguez’s bid until she learned he had, without her permission, penned a letter to the editor of the Vancouver Sun, under her signature, criticizing the ALS Society. In the end, it was Sue’s lawyer, Vancouver based human rights lawyer Chris Considine, and then NDP MP, Sven Robinson, who stayed the course. Indeed, Sven and an unnamed doctor were with Sue Rodriguez on February 12, 1994 when she passed away after she self-administered a fatal concoction through a straw.

Legally, the Rodriguez decision not permitting assisted suicides and finding section 241 constitutional, split the nine-member court with five justices upholding the section and four justices finding the section constitutionally flawed. The argument was primarily based on section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, what is known as the right to life section, although the cruel and unusual punishment section pursuant to s. 12 of the Charter and equality section 15 were also invoked. In the end, the majority judgment, preferred the sanctity of life over the right to die and collective societal rights over an individual’s right to control his or her own life.

The four dissenting justices who sided with Rodriguez, which included then Chief Justice Antonio Lamer and present Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, wrote in the minority judgment that "the right to die with dignity should be well protected as is any other aspect of the right to life." In their view the Criminal Code prevents people like Rodriguez from exercising autonomy over their bodies available to other people.

What does this case bode for the future? Presently, as I will discuss more thoroughly in a future posting, the British Columbia Supreme Court has recently once again considered the right to die issue through three very different plaintiffs: Lee Carter, Hollis Johnson, and Gloria Taylor. Lee Carter, together with her husband Hollis Johnson, raised the issue on behalf of Lee’s mother, who was forced to end her life overseas instead in her home in Vancouver due to the ban on assisted suicide. Gloria Taylor, like Sue Rodriguez, suffers from ALS and wishes, like Sue, to end her life legally. On June 15, 2012, Madam Justice Lynn Smith found for the plaintiffs and struck down section 241, giving the Federal government a year to amend the Criminal Code accordingly. In the meantime, Justice Smith allowed Gloria Taylor, through a constitutional exemption, the conditional right to commit suicide with a physician’s assistance. A constitutional exemption is a rare power under s. 24(1) of the Charter, used by the court to exempt individuals from the effects of legislation on the basis that the legislation, for this particular individual, is constitutionally oppressive.

Considering the justices who compose the majority are no longer sitting on the Court and Chief Justice McLachlan, a member of the minority in favour of striking down the legislation, is still sitting with a much different court composition, I might add, the arguments raised and accepted in the Carter case may survive Supreme Court of Canada scrutiny. There have also been many more cases of assisted suicide since the Rodriguez case; cases in which the courts have been extremely reluctant to find guilt under s. 241.

In the next posting on this issue, I will discuss some of those cases and the impact they might have on a future Supreme Court of Canada decision. Whether or not there will be such a future SCC decision is dependent on the federal government, particularly Rob Nicholson, the Minister of Justice, who must decide whether or not to appeal the Carter case to the BC Court of Appeal. Such decision must be made within thirty days of the decision, making the deadline the end of next week. In anticipation of this decision, there are a number of websites with petitions asking the Minister to appeal such as the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. Yet, some opinion polls suggest Canadians are in favour of some form of doctor-assisted suicide. The issue therefore remains unresolved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

In Defence of Civil Disobedience: Part Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Incivility of Civil Disobedience: Part One

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

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

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

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

 

The Pridgen Case: An University Is Not A Charter-free Zone

As predicted, the Alberta Court of Appeal unanimously upheld the lower Court’s decision in the Pridgen case, agreeing the University’s Academic Council was unreasonable when they disciplined the Pridgen brothers for the less than polite remarks made about their University professor on their Facebook page. For details of the Alberta Queens Bench decision see my earlier posting of the issue here.

Although the result is not surprising, what is a disappointment is the lack of unanimity on the issue of the application of the Charter. Only Madame Justice Paperny tackled the issue of the Charter, the other two concurring Justices preferred to decide the issue on administrative law alone. Even so, Justice Paperny’s excellent analysis, should give the University some pause for thought as she emphasized the absurdity of the University’s position, which would make the University, a bastion of learning and free thought, a “Charter-free zone.” Clearly, the University’s reluctance to allow the Charter into the hallowed halls of learning irked Madame Paperny and so it should us all: a place that teaches the precepts of the Charter should be ruled by it.

In any event, the question of the Charter applying involves an argument over the breadth of the authority of the Charter. Under section 32 of the Charter, the statute governs the relationship between the government and the individual only and does not cover private relationships. Thus, the University, tried to distance itself from Charter requirements by characterizing the student/University relationship as a contractual one between two private parties. Of course, as pointed out by Justice Paperny, the University’s relationship with students is not a mere contractual one. Additionally, the University is far from a private institution as it receives government funds and fulfills government policy. Indeed, there would be no need for the Minister of Advanced Education if the government were not truly a partner in post-secondary education.

Once a determination is made that the Charter does apply, it then becomes difficult to suggest the Pridgen twins did not have a right to express themselves under s. 2(b) on the issue of professor performance or, shall we say, the lack of performance. Granted their comments were not “nice” but they fell well short of defamation and were in the realm of fair comment and fair complaint.

One wonders how the Pridgen scenario differs from the kind of student evaluations done under the auspices of the University. Feedback forms include an area for comments on the teacher. The only difference is the ability for the comments to be viewed by others who have access to the Facebook page. However, can that factor alone attract such harsh consequences? Thankfully, the Court of Appeal said “no” but unfortunately, the full court did not go the extra step and embrace the Charter, and the values for which the Charter stands, by finding the University is not a Charter-free zone.

The Legal Politics of Seussville

This past week, after a seemingly tight but really not so tight Alberta election, the idea of sitting down to a Dr. Seuss book seems, well, almost refreshing. Admittedly, my days of “The Cat In the Hat” are over and perhaps “You’re Only Old Once” is more my speed, but as this week has shown, there is more to Seuss than meets the eye. Certainly, school administrators’ in Prince Rupert, British Columbia deem Dr. Seuss too political to be used in the classroom. In an attempt to create public awareness over an ongoing labour dispute cut short by the B.C. government in Bill 22, the teachers in Prince Rupert have placed the following quote from Seuss’s Yertle the Turtle on T-shirts, signs, and bumper stickers: “I know, up on the top you are seeing great sights, but down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights.” School officials have warned the teachers not to display this quote on school property or in the classroom as such “political messaging” is deemed inappropriate for the classroom. School administrators base their position on previous arbitration decision, which found a teacher’s right to expression was limited by a student’s right to be insulated from political messages.

The April 5, 2012 decision of the British Columbia Labour Relations Board in British Columbia Teachers' Federation v British Columbia Public School Employers' Association tackled the ban on teachers in the Vancouver and Nanaimo school districts from wearing T-shirts and buttons with the following slogans: "Standing up for BC Students," "Proud to be a Teacher," "I (heart) Public Education" and "Kids matter. Teachers Care." The Board declined to rule on the issue, finding the matter, which was essentially one of freedom of expression, was properly an issue for the collective bargaining arbitrator. Of course, this ruling does not bode well for the teachers’ union based on previous rulings of the arbitrator such as in the February 2011 ruling in British Columbia School Employers Association, School district No. 73 v. British Columbia Teachers Federation. In that decision, the arbitrator found the teachers’ freedom of expression under s. 2(b) of the Charter was not violated when the teachers were required to remove black armbands worn by them in the classroom to protest the ongoing labour dispute. Although the employer admitted the removal violated freedom of expression rights under the Charter, the order to remove was justified under s.1 of the Charter as a reasonable limit. Invoking the Oakes test, the arbitrator found the limit was demonstrably justified based on the location of the protest in the classroom before elementary aged children. In support, the arbitrator relied on a comment made by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 2009 decision of Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority v. Canadian Federation of Students — British Columbia Component that “the likelihood of children being present matters” and that the teachers had ample opportunities, outside of the classroom, to engage in protest. It was, in the arbitrator’s view, reasonable to “insulate” school-aged children from the dispute, which touched directly on their education, during classroom hours.

Interestingly, the arbitrator’s decision was not based upon a previous British Columbia Court of Appeal decision in British Columbia Public School Employers' Association v. British Columbia Teachers' Federation, which recognized the School Boards mandate of “ensuring an open and supportive education environment.” In order to fulfill this mandate, the majority of the Court found, the Board was justified in requiring teachers to refrain from using political messaging in the schools, although the directive in question was overly broad and failed on the Oakes minimal impairment test.


Significantly, Madame Justice Huddart, writing for the majority decision, agreed teachers were not "silent members of society” and went further in stating:The School Boards cannot prevent teachers from expressing opinions just because they step onto school grounds. School grounds are public property where political expression must be valued and given its place… Therefore, in my opinion, the absolute ban of discussion on school property during school hours did not minimally impair teachers' rights. Few places would be more appropriate for a discussion of the need for resources for public schools than a parent-teacher interview dedicated to one child's education. The Supreme Court noted in Pepsi, "[f]ree expression in the labour context benefits not only individual workers and unions, but also society as a whole" (at para. 35). The same holds true for teachers. Their political expression benefits society as a whole even where the concerns arise out of a labour relations dispute.

This decision resonates with my earlier blog posting, Freedom of Expression In The Classroom, in which I discussed freedom of speech in the classroom, albeit not in relation to labour dispute messaging. In posting, I referred to the case of the school teacher Richard Morin, who was disciplined and his contract not renewed after he showed an emotionally charged documentary highly critical of the religious right connection to American politics. Morin took his right to express himself in the classroom to the Prince Edward Court of Appeal, the majority of which upheld not only the teacher’s right to stimulate educative discussion in the classroom by presenting differing viewpoints but also the students’ right:

in a democratic society to have access to free expression by their teachers - encouraging diversity, critical thinking, and vigorous debate ... students have a right to hear this expression and benefit from it...this right of students is fundamental to their being citizens in a truly democratic state and students of that states' educational system.

So whether or not Dr. Seuss has a place in teacher political expression in classroom may be a matter for the Supreme Court of Canada to decide. Until then, I am pulling out my copy of The Lorax, another example of the “Politics of Dr. Seuss” as a reminder that kids have opinions too.

Blog Update: The Spy and the Pamphleteer

In previous postings, I have discussed two very different cases now before Canadian courts. The first case concerns William Whatcott, a persistent anti-gay pamphleteer, who is before two different courts connected to his pamphleteering activities. The second case is of Jeffery Delisle, the first person charged with spying under the newly enacted Security of Information Act. Although the two cases are completely unrelated, court decisions in both of these cases were handed down on March 30, 2012.

The first Whatcott case, which is still on reserve before the Supreme Court of Canada, involves the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal’s finding that Whatcott’s anti-gay pamphlets amounted to hate speech. The other Whatcott case, decided on March 30, 2012, is an appeal of the quashing of Whatcott’s trespass charge when he was on University of Calgary lands to hand out his anti-gay literature. The original decision to quash the charge by Provincial Court Judge Bascom can be accessed here.

Just as a refresher, the Supreme Court of Canada Whatcott case is a vitally important decision for the ability of human rights tribunals to uphold the tenants of human rights legislation. It also raises the difficult issue of conflicting Charter rights: in this case the freedom of expression under s.2(b) and freedom of religion under s.2(a) in the context of competing Charter values as found under s.15, which promote respect and tolerance of others in our community.

Although the SCC Whatcott case concerns the constitutionality of the hate speech provision in the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, the ultimate issue in the case will decide whether or not provincial laws on hate speech must conform with the more stringent hate speech section in the Criminal Code. If so, provincial human rights codes could be essentially redundant, leaving the more difficult to prove Criminal Code sections to safeguard society from the harmful effects of hate speech. Some of the factums filed in support of the SCC argument can be found here.

This SCC decision is of particular interest in Alberta, where provincial election campaigning has touched on the controversy surrounding the Alberta Human Rights Commission and its enforcement of provincial hate speech legislation. The Boisson v. Lund case, also discussed in a previous posting, shares similar issues with the SCC Whatcott. The Alberta Court of Appeal has not as yet released a decision on this case. The controversy in Alberta over this case and the high profile Alberta Human Rights case against journalist Ezra Levant for re-publishing the infamous Dutch “Muslim Cartoon,” has brought repeated calls for abolishing the Alberta Human Rights Commission. The Wildrose Party is campaigning on a platform, which includes abolishing the Commission, instead creating a new Human Rights Division in the Provincial Court of Alberta.

In the other Whatcott case of trespassing on University lands, the case has been so far decided in favour of protecting freedom of expression. In a previous posting, I discussed Alberta Provincial Court Judge Bascom’s stay of trespassing charges against Whatcott on the basis of s.2(b) expression rights under the Charter. On March 30, 2012, the appeal of the decision was heard before Alberta Queen’s Bench Justice Paul Jeffery, who summarily dismissed the Crown appeal and upheld Judge Bascom’s decision. The written reasons for the decision have not, as yet, been released.

Unlike Mr. Whatcott, Jeffery Delisle did not receive a favourable decision on March 30, 2012. Mr. Delisle was refused bail by Nova Scotia Provincial Court Judge Beach and ordered to stay in custody pending his trial. A ban on publication was imposed at the bail hearing and therefore the reasons for dismissing the bail application is unknown. Although Mr. Delisle’s lawyer stated he was “disappointed” albeit not surprised with the decision, there is no word whether or not he will be reviewing the decision in superior court. In the meantime, Mr. Delisle will return to court on May 8, presumably to set a date for trial. Delisle’s lawyer has commented on the case, indicating Delisle is not accused of endangering military troops as a result of his alleged espionage. There is some suggestion Delisle, at the time of the commission of the offence, was heavily into online gaming and had a “computer addiction,” which may have lead to monetary difficulties. For further discussion, read my Spy vs. Spy blog and my blog entitled Let’s Talk About: Diplomatic Immunity. For further reading on the Whatcott cases, read my blogs Law, Literature, and Inherit The Wind, The Road Taken By The Supreme Court of Canada, A Message of Tolerance, Limits of Expression, and Whatcott in The Courts Again.

 

 

The Result In Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford

The much awaited decision from the Court of Appeal for Ontario in the Bedford case on the constitutionality of various prostitution related sections of the Criminal Code has finally been released.

The majority of the court agreed with Justice Himel's lower court decision that s. 210 common bawdy house and s. 212(1)(j) living off the avails of prostitution are unconstitutional as being contrary to the principles of fundamental justice under s. 7 of the Charter.

In the matter of keeping a common bawdy house, the Court struck down the section but suspended the invalidity of the section for 12 months to give Parliament an opportunity to redraft the section in a Charter friendly manner.

The offence of living off the avails of prostitution under s. 212(1)(j) is unconstitutional in the limited circumstances of where the relationship between the prostitute and those living off the avails is not exploitive. For example, where a prostitute supports his or her family with the earnings of prostitution, the family would not be exploiting the prostitute and should not be charged under this section. This exemption would not preclude "pimps," who put prostitutes on the streets for their own economic benefit would still be subject to this subsection. 

Where the court did not agree with Justice Himel was on the issue of the constitutionality of s.213 communication for the purpose of prostitution. The court upheld this section on the basis of a previous decision from the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) on the same issue. In that previous 1990 case, Reference re ss. 193 and 195.1(1) (c) of the Criminal Code, the Government of Manitoba referred the then new and untested communication sections to the SCC to determine if the sections would withstand a possible Charter challenge. For further discussion of references to the SCC, please read my previous posting here. The SCC found section 195.1(1)(c), the same section at issue in Bedford but numbered as s. 213(1)(c), to be contrary to fundamental freedom of expression under s. 2(b) of the Charter but saved under s. 1 of the Charter as a reasonable limit in a free and democratic society. I have discussed s.1 in relation to freedom of expression in some previous postings and most particularly here and here.

The decision is of interest in terms of the findings of the Court on the s.7 issue. However, the decision also makes some important comments on the principle of precedent and the restrictions on a Court when revisiting a decision, which has already been a subject of consideration by a higher level Court. This fascinating discussion, which I suggest impacted the decision in Bedford and provides guidelines for future cases, will be the subject of my next post. 

 

War Crimes: Canadian and International Milestones

With the announcement on March 14, 2012 of the first verdict by the UN sponsored International Criminal Court (ICC), it seems fitting to look back at the first prosecution in 1989, R.v. Imre Finta, in Canada under the then new federal Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act. Imre Finta, originally from Hungary and, as a Hungarian police captain, deported thousands of Jews to the death camp Auschwitz in World War II, was the first individual charged under the Act in 1988. Finta, at the time of his arrest, was a retired restaurant owner living in Toronto. 

The Act was conceived as a result of the Deschenes Commission, which was struck in 1985 to inquire into the presence of war criminals in Canada and to provide recommendations on how Canadian laws should respond. At the time of the Commission, Canada’s immigration laws and policies were not stringent enough to keep war criminals from immigrating to Canada. Indeed in 1962, Josef Mengele, or as infamously known as the “Angel of Death,” had applied to immigrate to Canada even though his identity was well known to government officials. Although, Mengele did not in fact enter Canada, it was clear such entrance would have been possible considering the laxity of Canadian laws. It was equally clear at the time of the Commission, there were in Canada at the time of the Commission alleged war criminals from the World War II era.

The final Commission report was tabled before parliament by then Justice Minister, Ray Hnatyshyn, after examining over 800 cases of alleged war criminals in Canada. Although the Commissioner, Justice Jules Deschenes of the Quebec Court of Appeal and formally the Chief Justice of the Quebec Superior Court, recommended some individuals be deported from Canada, he also recommended ways in which the alleged war criminals could be prosecuted in Canada for their crimes. His proposed recommendations, including changes to the Criminal Code to permit such prosecution, culminated in the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act in 1987.

Interestingly, Justice Deschenes was appointed in 1993 as one of the first Judges elected by the United Nations General Assembly to serve at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the precursor to the present day International Criminal Court, mentioned at the beginning of this posting.

With the arrest of Imre Finta on various Criminal Code charges such as robbery, manslaughter, and kidnapping the Commission’s recommendations appeared to be finally showing results. The trial commenced before Mr. Justice Campbell and a jury with evidence of Holocaust victims from all over the world. Ultimately, Finta was acquitted after six months of trial. The Crown appealed to the Court of Appeal for Ontario, with five Justices hearing the case, including Chief Justice Charles Dubin.

Typically only three Justices sit on an appeal case but five justices are assigned when it is a matter of great national importance such as when the constitutionality of a piece of federal legislation is at issue. For example, five Justices of the Court of Appeal for Ontario heard the Bedford appeal on the constitutionality of some of Canada’s prostitution laws. The judgment is to be released on March 26, 2012. A five member panel may also be required when new legislation needs judicial interpretation or in the case of a legislative reference (see my prior posting on References) or when the appeal involves issues decided by a previous Court with a request to review that prior decision. An example from outside of the criminal law is the recent five panel Ontario appeal decision on summary judgment motions.

In the case of Finta, the Court struggled with two issues of national importance involving both Charter rights and substantive issues. The Charter arguments were dismissed. In terms of substantive issues, the Court needed to determine the appropriate implementation and use of the new war crime legislation, particularly how a trial judge must instruct himself or a jury on the correct legal requirements of such a charge in the context of criminal law principles. Finta was charged with easily identifiable Criminal Code charges, but was so charged in the context of war crimes committed years earlier in another country. It was this further layer of complexity, which required a panel of five Justices to consider the issues involved.

The Court of Appeal for Ontario came to a split decision on the application of the Act. The majority decision written by Justices Doherty, Osborne, and Arbour dismissed the Crown appeal against acquittal, finding no substantial wrong or miscarriage of justice at trial. The dissent, written by Chief Justice Dubin and concurred in by Justice Tarnopolsky. The dissent was chiefly concerned with the requisite elements of war crimes and their opinion that the trial judge erred in instructing the jury on the legal aspects of those essentials. Thus, the acquittal was upheld, as there was no palpable error of law and without resort to the constitutionality of the legislation.

As an aside, here too we have some interesting connections to international criminal law and human rights. Justice Walter Tarnopolsky had a strong background in human rights and civil liberties as an academic and law professor. Just prior to his appointment to the Court of Appeal, he was a member of the United Nations Human Rights committee. Justice Doherty as a previous Crown Attorney in the appeals division was very well versed in criminal prosecutions. I have spoken of Justice Doherty in a previous posting. Of course, Madame Justice Arbour went on to become Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the very same organization to which Justice Deschenes was connected. She sat on the Supreme Court of Canada as well but after the SCC Finta decision. Most notably, she later served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. I have written about Justice Arbour in a previous posting.

The case was further appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, with similar results. Only seven justices heard the matter, rather than the full quorum of nine. The majority decision written by Justice Cory, upheld the acquittals and dismissed the appeal and the constitutional questions. The majority (a slim majority as 4 justices dismissed the appeal, while three justices would have allowed it) confirmed the substantive charges under the Criminal Code must be proven in conjunction with the additional proof of the essential elements of a crime against humanity as defined by the Act. Thus, as both the substantive offence and the war crime must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, Finta was properly acquitted as the Crown failed to prove the requisite elements of both offences.

This decision raised the bar in terms of the ability to prove such offences, making such prosecutions extremely difficult for the Crown. The result was fewer prosecutions (many of which were unsuccessful), more extraditions, and even more deportations under the much easier to use immigration legislation. Therefore, the first verdict under the auspices of the ICC is a welcome and much needed addition to the global fight against international crimes. It is hoped Canada will support the efforts of the ICC, while still remaining vigilant in its own efforts to prosecute war criminals.

 

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.