Kienapple to Jordan: Some Thoughts on How Cases Become Icons

It is mid-August and I am busily writing a paper on W(D). Instantly, all criminal lawyers nod their head. Just the evocation of those initials recalls the penultimate paragraph of Justice Cory where he sets out the “ideally, appropriate instructions on the issue of credibility” and imprints, in words and in precedent, the trial judge’s obligation to assess credibility as an aspect of the presumption of innocence and consistent with the burden and standard of proof in a criminal case. Unsurprisingly, this “idealism” became “the law,” so to speak, as judge’s have taken Justice Cory’s words to heart resulting in over 9000 case citations (CanLii has 8590 mentions to date, while Westlaw finds 9, 133) of W(D) since its release in 1991. The case initials, W(D), have essentially become a constant reminder of the duty of a trial judge in a criminal trial. This transformation from case to icon, is not just about words and precedent, but is about something much more profound. Those two initials, like the madeleine savoured by Marcel Proust in Remembrance of Things Past, conjures up images of the “ideal” democratic society imbued with our principles of fundamental justice, of the impartial and independent trial judge as the gatekeeper extraordinaire, and as a symbol of our “community sense of justice.” Now that’s a heavy burden for one case! Yet, I would suggest, that W(D) does not stand alone in this iconography or more accurately, semiotic state (Umberto Eco, A Theory of Semiotics). Why or how a case attains this status is, I think, an interesting exercise for us to enter into as a different way to understand the development of law and precedent.

First, an admission. I came to this idea from some non-legal reading. Martin Kemp, an art historian and Leonardo Da Vinci “specialist,” not the Martin Kemp who was the bassist for Spandau Ballet, is an engaging and fascinating writer. His authorship glides over the orthodox as in The Oxford History of Western Art, but also wanders into the fringes in The Science of Art: Optical Themes in Western Art from Brunelleschi to Seaurat. His book, Christ to Coke: How Image Becomes Icon, runs through various obvious choices in this image/icon transmutation such as the Coke bottle and E = mc2 but also some non-traditional icons arising from photographic imagery such as the Pulitzer Prize winning photo by Nick Ut of the Vietnamese children running from the napalm blast on June 8, 1972. Although a reading and viewing of this book reveals the many and varied pathways to “stardom” or icon status, it also highlights the element these images share: the ubiquitous-ness of the image in the public psyche. As with Proust’s madeleine, the visual becomes a short hand for an avalanche of memories, facts and emotions. This is one time when a popularity contest works.

So how does all of this translate in the dicta of case law? Those cases which, at the same time are more than their name whilst being represented by just their name, become a short hand or an abbreviation for the case itself. I say, “for the case itself” as these cases go beyond the traditional ratio decidendi of the case and can encapsulate the implementation of that rule of law such as an in-court procedure employed to engage the issues raised in the case as in the Corbett application or as in W(D) an instruction or even more evocative, as a warning such as in Vetrovec. Highest status goes to those cases which become “grammarized” as verbs. Thus, a conviction can be “Kienappled” as referenced by imminent criminal defence lawyer, Alan Gold, at page 302 of his commentary "Appeal Courts - Jurisdiction" in the 1990, Volume 32 Criminal Law Quarterly. Sometimes, grammar changes – instead of a case being “Askoved” (see Alison Hatch Cunningham, North of the 49th Parallel: The Criminal Justice System of Canada, 13 Crim. Just. 21, 27 (1998)), we now, a year after its release, speak of a case being “Jordaned” (see Kelly Egan’s article online from April 28, 2017, Justice ministers focus on five areas to cut court delays). This grammatical construction is also akin to the vocative case in Latin where language directly “calls out” a subject of a sentence, usually done with a judicious use of an exclamation mark. Finally, the “iconizing” of a decision can make what is inanimate an animated object such as the “KGB statement.”

From case to icon means that the dicta or words found in the case are compressed or squeezed into the case name and become part of the verbal lawyerly language we employ in court, in discussions within our profession, and even in the advice we give our clients. Why these particular cases have such impact and such iconic status is a difficult question to answer but may be a result of their instrumentality or even more controversially, their weaponization, as cases which lead to determinative action such as in the Corbett application or as in the Askoved case. Their staying power may also rest on their dual status as used in both the bounded space of the courtroom and the boundless space of social media. As mentioned earlier, icon status also suggests a case meaning which transcends the obvious ratio and implies meaning which touches the inner core of societal ethos.

In a broader view, this inclination for iconography is also about the significance of naming in our society or more accurately our penchant for labelling, categorizing and listing. It leads us to ponder on the purpose of this short hand – are we cutting away too deeply by employing this “sound bite” approach or are we making law more accessible by promoting seminal and pivotal cases into everyday nomenclature? This concept of legal iconography also leads to further speculation on the role of the visual in law and one of my interests in visual jurisprudence as studied by the legal visual theorists, Peter Goodrich at Cardoza School of Law and Richard Sherwin, Director of the Visual Persuasion Project at New York Law School. It finally leads us to even broader considerations of access to justice and the kind of “human-centered design” we must be open to in the next generation of law iconography.  

W(D) is a case but it is more than that but what more it is, I am determined to find out!


On The DLW Decision and The Meaning of Modernity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This blog is also posted on Ablawg website:



Episode 43: Section 46 – It’s High Time To Talk About Treason – The Ideablawg Podcast on the Criminal Code of Canada

We are now moving our discussion into Part II of the Criminal Code relating to Offences Against Public Order. This Part stretches from s. 46, the subject of this podcast on Treason, to s. 83 on Prize Fights. It is, as you can imagine, a Part dedicated to rambunctious and seditious behaviour, which may impact the community peace and tranquility. It is conduct that covers the high seas, as in s. 74 piracy, as well as the earthy depths, as in s. 70, unlawful drilling. In short, this Part is a panoply of misbehaviours, originating in our historical English common law past yet may still be relevant today albeit in a more modern guise.

So let’s start this podcast with the first three sections: 46, 47, and 48 as they all relate to the offence of treason. These sections are entitled “Treason and Other Offences Against the Queen’s Authority and Person.” A quick glance at the first section 46 tells us that it refers to two offences: high treason, in subsection 1, and treason, under subsection 2. Those sections read as follows:

S. 46(1) Every one commits high treason who, in Canada,

(a) kills or attempts to kill Her Majesty, or does her any bodily harm tending to death or destruction, maims or wounds her, or imprisons or restrains her;

                        (b) levies war against Canada or does any act preparatory thereto;  or

(c) assists an enemy at war with Canada, or any armed forces against whom Canadian Forces are engaged in hostilities, whether or not a state of war exists between Canada and the country whose forces they are.     

(2) Every one commits treason who, in Canada,

(a) uses force or violence for the purpose of overthrowing the government of Canada or a province;

(b) without lawful authority, communicates or makes available to an agent of a state other than Canada, military or scientific information or any sketch, plan, model, article, note or document of a military or scientific character that he knows or ought to know may be used by that state for a purpose prejudicial to the safety or defence of Canada;

(c) conspires with any person to commit high treason or to do anything mentioned in paragraph (a);

(d) forms an intention to do anything that is high treason or that is mentioned in paragraph (a) and manifests that intention by an overt act; or

(e) conspires with any person to do anything mentioned in paragraph (b) or forms an intention to do anything mentioned in paragraph (b) and manifests that intention by an overt act.

Just what the difference is between high treason and treason should be evident by reviewing the conduct captured by each subsection. The punishment section 46 also tells us that high treason is considered one of the most serious offences in the Code as as it is an indictable offence punishable by life. Treason, on the other hand, is considered on par with high treason in certain circumstances, such as in offences committed under s. 46(a)(c) and (d). If Canada is in “a state of war” against another country, then the offences under s. 46(b) and (e) are also punishable by life imprisonment. Otherwise those offences carry a maximum punishment of fourteen years incarceration. It appears then that in some respects, other than the type of conduct captured, treason and high treason are very similar.

Perhaps at this point, in order to better understand why the offences need to be labelled differently and why the section could not just refer to treason only, we should take a walk down memory lane and look at the historical antecedents of this crime. As with so many of the crimes in our Criminal Code, the crime of treason comes to us from the English common law. However, the concept of treason, or the betraying of one’s country, is very old indeed. The word “treason” can be traced from the Latin word tradere, which means “to hand over” or “surrender.” From this word came the Old French word “traison,” which means treason but is also connected to the Old French verb “trair” meaning to betray. Interestingly, the word “tradition” is also derived from the original Latin root. In essence, as explained in the 1947 article on the subject by S. C. Biggs entitled “Treason and the Trial of William Joyce,” treason is an act of betrayal against one’s country or a breach of allegiance. It is not, however, an act of disloyalty, as Biggs points out, as it is not a crime based on an omission to act. Treasonable conduct does not include a failure to sing the national anthem at a hockey game but does include “certain positive acts which strike at the foundation of the state.”

Treason, in its purest or “highest” form, was, at the time of the introduction of the Criminal Code in 1892, a most serious crime attracting the ultimate punishment of death. Indeed, one convicted of the most serious type of treason was “liable to suffer death.” Conversely, a person convicted of murder, which in the 1892 Code was also a capital crime, was merely “sentenced to death.” While someone convicted of piratical acts with intent to commit violence was also “liable to suffer death.” What import, if any, this difference in language suggested is open to interpretation. A quick look at the internet site of reveals that the term “suffer” can mean “to undergo a penalty, as of death” and the sentence example is “the traitor was made to suffer on the gallows.” How or why this is the example offered is perhaps, something for us to think about. At the very least it underlines the severity and ignominity connected to the crime of treason.

Returning to the 1892 version of treason as found under the then sections 65 to 69, there is a distinction between treason and treasonable acts, which are viewed as less serious and punishable therefore by life. The distinction we now have, between high treason and treason, was effected in the 1974 Code amendments. However, “high” treason was a 12th century concept, an act of betrayal against the king, as opposed to “petit” treason, which was an act of betrayal against a person of lesser stature but still deserving of obedience. These “petty” treasons consisted of breaches against the social order, as in the murder of a lord by his servant or even a murder committed by a wife against her husband. Although the most recent iteration of the offence retains the “high” treason concept, thankfully the petty treason is no longer a valid label. However, the question still remains whether or not even today’s concept of high treason or even treason, is a valid response to acts of public betrayal, particularly in an environment where we now have in the Criminal Code offences of “terrorism.” Another overarching question we must ask is why we need so many differing offences for acts, which may be better understood as coming under the umbrella of more general offences such as counselling and conspiracy to commit murder. 

Leaving the public policy and law reform issues aside for another day, I would like to look at the offence as a charge before the courts. A quick search of Westlaw reveals only a few criminal cases involving the offence of treason. One of the most famous cases is, of course, Louis Riel and specifically the 1885 Privy Council decision refusing leave for Riel to appeal the conviction for treason and the sentence of death. But along side this case are others involving lesser personalities. Most involving wartime actions, such as Israel Schaefer, convicted of treason as a result of enabling people to travel to Austria-Hungary, “a public enemy,” during World War I and assist that country in their war effort. In that 1919 case, the Supreme Court of Canada, refused Schaefer the right to appeal as the decision convicting him was “so clearly right that an appeal from it would be hopeless.” In fact, most reported cases of treason tend to be those prosecuted during that time period.

It must be noted that with the advent of terrorism offences in the Code, there is a renewed prosecution for offences, which involve an aspect of treason or betrayal against the person’s home country. For example, in the 2014 Alizadeh case, Justice McKinnon of the Ontario Superior Court commented, in sentencing the offender to 24 years imprisonment for terrorist acts involving the possession of explosive materials, that Alizadeh “betrayed the trust of your government and your fellow citizens” and had “effectively been convicted of treason, an act that invites universal condemnation among sovereign states throughout the world.” In this modern concept of treason, the act of “war” is diffused as it becomes any act or omission, as defined by s. 83.01 of the Criminal Code, which compels a government to do or refrain from doing an act. 

Before I end this podcast I do want to mention other aspects of the crime of treason, which is peculiar to that particular offence. Section 46(3) makes treason by a Canadian citizen or “a person who owes his allegiance to Her Majesty in Right of Canada” a crime even if it is committed outside of Canada. Similar wording is used in the Security of Information Act to deem certain persons having committed an offence in Canada even if the acts or omission occurred outside of it.

Section 46(4) declares that an act of conspiracy to commit treason is an “overt act” of treason. That subsection is in answer to 46(2), which requires an overt act in furtherance of the treason. This requirement is not always needed for conspiracy in Canada but can be an evidentiary requirement in American conspiracy jurisprudence – see United States v. Skillman, 442 F. 2d 542 (1971). The section clarifies that treasonable conspiracy is an overt act for the purposes of the section. This nomenclature is consistent with treason from the English common law and with the offence of treason in the 1892 Code.

Section 47(3) suggests one cannot be convicted of treason based on the evidence of one witness alone unless the witness is corroborated “in a material particular” by other evidence in the proceeding. Corroboration is also a common law requirement carried into our Criminal Code and is a concept, which recently has fallen away, such in the case of a child witness (see s. 659) or in a sexual assault (see s. 274). However, corroboration is still required for a perjury offence (see s. 133) and for procuring a feigned marriage (see s. 292).

Another unusual requirement is the limitation periods under section 48. Proceedings for treason under 46(2)(a), which is the using of force or violence to overthrow the government, must be commenced within three years from the time when the offence is alleged to be committed. Originally, this limitation applied to all treasonable conduct other than treason where there was an attempt to kill or injure her Majesty or the person did kill or injure the sovereign. The final limitation is from the original Code version requiring that “No proceedings shall be commenced under section 47 in respect of an overt act of treason expressed or declared by open and considered speech” unless an information setting out the overt act and words is laid within 6 days after the alleged words were spoken and a warrant for the accused’s arrest is issued within 10 days after the laying of the information.

These “oddities” are in place to highlight the uniqueness and rarity of the offence. The fact treason is not viewed as a “modern” crime, raises the question of law reform and a removal of the offence from the Criminal Code as those acts underlying the crime could be dealt with through other more general charges in the Code. This argument will have more weight considering the advent of the terrorism offences and the sweeping applicability of those offences when viewed in contrast to the treason sections. Whether this fact will be used in any future Charter argument will remain to be seen but as it stands, treason is a part of our history and a part of our present as found in our Criminal Code

The Suppression of Riots, Manifestly Unlawful Orders, And The Prevention Of Serious Mischief Under Sections 32 & 33: Episode 37 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada

Although sections 32 and 33 pertain specifically to the suppression of riots, these sections continue the various Code protections afforded to a person enforcing the law but with a twist. Section 32 provides for a justification for the use or the ordering of force by a peace officer providing the force is applied in good faith, is necessary on reasonable grounds to suppress a riot and such force is not excessive in the circumstances.  So far, these sections seem familiar and comparable to previously discussed use of force sections. However, the difference is in the added language as sections 32(2) and (3) provide protection for those who obey orders to suppress a riot in both a martial law scenario (subsection 2) and a more general situation (subsection 3).  Subsection 4 protects citizens in the use of force in suppressing a riot in exigent circumstances involving “serious mischief.” Finally, subsection 5, deems the question of whether the order to use force is “manifestly unlawful or not” as a question of law.  

Section 32 reads as follows:

 (1) Every peace officer is justified in using or in ordering the use of as much force as the peace officer believes, in good faith and on reasonable grounds

       (a) is necessary to suppress a riot; and

(b) is not excessive, having regard to the danger to be apprehended from the continuance of the riot.

(2) Every one who is bound by military law to obey the command of his superior officer is justified in obeying any command given by his superior officer for the suppression of a riot unless the order is manifestly unlawful.

(3) Every one is justified in obeying an order of a peace officer to use force to suppress a riot if

(a) he acts in good faith; and

(b) the order is not manifestly unlawful.

(4) Every one who, in good faith and on reasonable grounds, believes that serious mischief will result from a riot before it is possible to secure the attendance of a peace officer is justified in using as much force as he believes in good faith and on reasonable grounds,

         (a) is necessary to suppress the riot; and

         (b) is not excessive, having regard to the danger to be apprehended from the continuance of the riot.

(5) For the purposes of this section, the question whether an order is manifestly unlawful or not is a question of law.

Subsection 1 only provides protection to a peace officer that uses or orders necessary force. Although the term “uses” is self evident, the word “orders” requires further discussion as it relates to subsection 2 and 3 and the protection of those who “obey” such orders to use force. Clearly, the section provides protection not only to those directly involved in suppressing riots but also those who are indirectly involved by giving the order or commands to suppress a riot. Why should this be the concern of a Criminal Code protection? The answer lies in the historical consideration of these sections and are, of course, very much related to the historical view of riots and those preventing them.

For this historical viewpoint, the first place to turn is to James Fitzjames Stephen, British jurist and the “father” of our codified criminal law. As I have discussed in previous blog, Stephen was a staunch supporter for codification of criminal law in England just at the time the Dominion of Canada was developing national laws. Although England did not follow Stephen’s recommendation, other commonwealth countries besides Canada did. In his treatise “A History of the Criminal Law of England, Volume 1,” Stephen devoted a chapter on suppression of riots. Anyone who has a smattering of awareness of the history of England, knows that riotous behaviour appears to be a regular feature of that history. This familiarity with the mob appears to be the catalyst for much of English common law and Canada, at least in this instance, appears to be the beneficiary of this propensity. According to Stephen, every citizen had a right and duty to protect public peace as “violence in all forms was so common, and the suppression of force by force so simple a matter, that special legislation did not seem necessary in very early times.” Despite this belief, as early as the 14th Century, legislation was in place relating to riots and was quite similar in tone and composition to the riot sections found in the Code today. Historically, twelve members of the community comprised the magic number for a riot, which is telling considering twelve is also the number required to constitute a valid jury. However, in the Code, an unlawful assembly under s. 62, which is not necessarily a riot, requires only an assembly of three or more persons. An unlawful assembly becomes a riot, pursuant to s. 63, where that assembly begins “to disturb the peace tumultuously.” But the ability to disperse a crowd through governmental proclamation required the mob equal twelve or more individuals. I will have more to say on this aspect when we arrive at those riotous sections.

In any event, it is clear that suppressing a riot has a long and tumultuous history and therefore the protections required, from preventing a riot to ordering the prevention of riots, are firmly within the Code protection/justification sections. This brief look back also explains why 32(2) applies to those suppressing a riot in accordance with military law as historically, riots, seen as a form of treason against the Crown, were typically suppressed by military force. Protection is required as a riot can turn into a revolution, which can in turn change the government and those supporting the old government by suppressing the riot of the newly formed government might find themselves on the wrong end of the law. Thus, s. 32(2) in certain circumstances can protect those who are merely following and obeying orders. This protection also extends to citizens who assist peace officers in suppressing riots under subsection 3.

The urgency suggested by this obligation to suppress a riot unless the order to do so is “manifestly unlawful” in accordance with the section reflects the historical seriousness with which these potential dangerous gatherings were treated.  However, as indicated in subsection 2 for the militia and subsection 3 for citizens, the justification of following orders is not available if the order is “manifestly unlawful.”  This phrase appears only in this section of the Criminal Code although the word “unlawful” is no stranger to the Criminal Code, typically meaning an act contrary to statute, be it criminal or regulatory. The word “unlawful” has a further meaning when connected to a predicate offence as it then also requires that the underlying unlawful act must be objectively dangerous as per the 1992 SCC DeSousa case. The descriptor “manifestly” is defined in the dictionary as easily understand or recognized by the mind.

A brief review of case law on the use of the term reveals that the phrase, “manifestly unlawful,” is a term often used in military law in relation to the requirement to follow superior orders, particularly where superior orders are conflicting. Under Article 19.02 of the Queen’s Regulations and Orders for the Canadian Forces (QR&Os) deals with "Conflicting Lawful Commands and Orders" and according to the notes accompanying the QR&Os, it is usually clear if an order from a superior officer, which includes a non commissioned member, is lawful or not. If however it is unclear or the subordinate does not know the law, then the subordinate must obey the command unless it is manifestly unlawful.

Of course the issue then becomes evident to whom? Does the law require the unlawfulness of the order be manifestly evident to the person following the orders – as in a subjective test – or manifestly evident to the reasonable person – as in an objective test? Although, an argument could be made that this determination requires a subjective assessment of the subordinate’s state of mind, according to military interpretation, “manifestly unlawful command or order is one that would appear to a person of ordinary sense and understanding to be clearly illegal,” requiring an objective test albeit in the context of the circumstances of the case. This phrase is important for military law as if a soldier follows a manifestly unlawful command, he or she is liable for his or her actions under civil or criminal law.

In the 2009 Matusheskie case, the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada considered the term “manifestly unlawful” and found that the threshold for finding an order “manifestly unlawful” was very high. In support of this finding, the Court looked to the SCC discussion of the defence of following superior orders in the Finta case relating to Finta’s war crimes committed in WWII. As Justice Cory explained in Finta, “manifestly unlawful” is an order that “offends the conscience of every reasonable, right thinking person; it must be an order which is obviously and flagrantly wrong.  The order cannot be in a grey area or be merely questionable; rather it must patently and obviously be wrong.” The determination of “manifestly unlawful” is as stated in subsection (5) a question of law.

Finally, the gravity of riots permits citizens, who are unable to secure the attendance of a peace officer, to take into their own hands the suppression of a riot under subsection 4 if the actor believes “serious mischief” will otherwise result. The phrase “serious mischief” is again unique to this section, although of note the term did appear under the pre-2010 Alberta Rules of Court in relation to ex parte motions. Under the old Rule 387 an ex parte motion may only proceed if the applicant establishes that the delay caused by regular proceedings might “entail serious mischief.” The new rule 6.4 considers whether or not “undue prejudice” would be caused to the applicant. In other jurisdictions, the phrase is also used in a similar civil context and refers to “irreparable or serious mischief” caused by not proceeding by way of ex parte motion such as in s. 441(3) - now Rule 6-3(3) - of the Saskatchewan Queen’s Bench Rules. This suggests that the “mischief” or harmful behavior must be dangerous indeed.

Section 33, requires a peace officer and those assisting a peace officer to “disperse” or arrest those persons who do not comply with a proclamation under s. 67 or has committed an offence under s. 68. These sections, which we will discuss more specifically in later episodes, refer to the proclamation or order to disperse, which must be read by a government official, under section 67, where twelve or more persons (recall the 14th Century English laws on riots) are “unlawfully and riotously assembled.” Section 68 refers to offences committed when those ordered to disperse under s. 67 fail to do so.

Sections 32 and 33 are part of English common law history and remind us of a more unstable time when mobs could oust the rule of law. The societal harm when that possibility occurs is neatly reflected in Shakespeare’s historical play, Henry VI Part 2 in Act 4 Scene 2 wherein the line “the first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers” is spoken as a call to anarchy and disorder and a reminder to those law abiding members of the audience to take heed.









Ideablawg's Weekly Connections: From Pronouncing to Pronouncements

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

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

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

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

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




What Is Life?: The Unanswered Question In The Supreme Court of Canada’s Levkovic Case

This blog posting is not about Erwin Schrodinger, the famous quantum physicist and winner of the Nobel Prize. Nor is it about his most famous thought-experiment, Schrodinger’s Cat, which illustrates how the quantum world works or doesn’t work, depending on whether the cat is dead or alive. Ah, “alive.” This posting is about what it means to be “alive” or, as our Criminal Code requires, “in a living state” and it just so happens Schrodinger did have something to say about life in his book entitled What Is Life?

First, let’s step back and set up the conundrum, as I see it, caused by the wording of the Criminal Code and the lack of clarification from the Supreme Court of Canada in the Levkovic case on the issue of life. Homicide under s. 222 of the Code is where a person, directly or indirectly, by any means, causes the death of a “human being.” However, it is only culpable homicide, as in murder, manslaughter or infanticide, which can form the basis of a homicide charge. Section 223 specifies when a child becomes a “human being” and therefore when a child can be the “victim” of a culpable homicide. Under that definition, a

child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother, whether or not (a) it has breathed; (b) it has an independent circulation; or (c) the navel string is severed.

Thus a child can be a victim of a culpable homicide at the very instance of the completion of the birthing process, when the child has fully exited the mother’s womb but with the caveat that the child must be “in a living state.” This phrase denotes life and suggests the child must be alive to be thus defined as a “human being.” However, the section continues and seems to broaden the definition by making the “living state” independent of breath, circulation, and the umbilicus connection to the mother. This too makes sense in the context of the first moments of birth, when a baby duly born transitions from embryonic fluid to air. It may take a newly born baby up to ten seconds to breathe and for the blood to circulate. In those crucial moments, according to the law, the child is a human being.

But how does this interpretation impact s. 243, an offence requiring the child to be dead? The section creates an offence where the child’s death is concealed even if the child died before or during birth. Clearly if the child dies before or during birth, the child would not be a “human being” in accordance with the definition of s.223, which finds a child is a human being where the child is completely out of the womb and in a living state. Even so, in the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Levkovic, Justice Fish, speaking on behalf of the Court, refers to this section to inform the meaning of s. 243 of the Criminal Code, the section creating an offence for concealing the dead body of a child. In order to determine if a newborn child was unlawfully killed, Justice Fish opined, homicide investigators would need to determine if the child would have likely to have been born alive as opposed to a stillbirth. Indeed, Justice Fish suggested

In order to facilitate the investigation of homicides, s. 243 must therefore apply to children that were either born alive or were likely to be born alive and thus capable of satisfying the Criminal Code definition of a human being in s. 223(1). (Emphasis added)

By applying the concepts of s.243 to the definitional section 223, the Supreme Court of Canada has turned life or being “in a living state” into the likelihood of life. To base a required element of an offence on “likelihood,” and to “read down” an interpretation section, which does not require such a reading to be applicable, seems to import the “vagueness,” which the SCC abhors. Instead of taking an opportunity to clarify the meaning of life in the context of death, the SCC choose to apply the catch-all likelihood test as found in the Mabior case and the Whatcott decision (see my previous blog for further discussion). What the Court fails to understand is that being alive is much different than being likely alive.

How does this connect to Schrodinger? Erwin Schrodinger’s 1944 What Is Life? book, based on a series of lectures, is part scientific, part philosophical treatise in which he applies quantum principles to biology in a search for an explanation of life. Many believe his book to be a precursor to the discovery of DNA. Life, in the Schrodinger world, is quantifiable and real as exemplified by genetic “code-script.” Although Schrodinger the quantum physicist would approve, Schrodinger the bio-theorist certainly would not.


Blogs As Graffiti? Using Analogy and Metaphor in Case Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading The Riot Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(a) will disturb the peace tumultuously; or

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's Talk About: The Word "Crime"

What's in a name? A name is a label or a representation of an object, which through usage and custom, is accepted by society and then becomes identified with the object. The name gives us a familiar reference point which we can then use in discussing the object with others. A name becomes the short form of the object. Instead of describing and re-describing in detail the properties of an object when refering to it in conversation, we simply provide the given name and we have instant recognition and understanding.

Etymology is the study of the history of names: from where the word came and at what period in our history the use of the word began. This history of a word is intriguing. Much like a puzzle, the history of a word can reveal a secret past, which may provide an unexpected connection. Thus, the original intent of the name, which may have transformed through time and usage, is retrieved to provide knowledge to those who desire it.

The word "crime" is defined as "an act punishable by law, usually considered an evil act." In a later posting, we will look at differing definitions, when we discuss what is a crime in the context of law generally and criminal law specifically. But for our purposes today, the definition given is the one we will accept. The first known usage of the word "crime" was in the High Middle Ages around 1250. Within this time, the Medieval period, or "Age of Faith," was drawing to an end as Marco Polo explored and returned laden with spices and stories. The Renaissance was not too far behind.

The etymology of "crime" is from the Old French crimne, which came from the Latin crimen meaning accusation and the Latin root cerno meaning "I decide. I give judgment." However, Rabbi Ernest Klein, a Romanian-born Canadian linguist, in his Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, suggests that crimen is actually derived from the phrase, "cry of distress." The Latin was derived from the Ancient Greek word krima, which means a judicial sentence or condemnation.

The history of the word does reveal shades of today`s meaning but embues the word with much more colour than the dictionary meaning we used at the beginning of this posting. Crime also now speaks to the concept of accusation, which in turn speaks to the presumption of innocence as the accused has yet to be found guilty. Or the idea of justice or judgment as in the Latin and Greek root of the word. Finally, crime speaks of a cry of distress, an individual who has lost his or her way in life and looks to society to not condemn or judge but to lend guidance.

In this historical word play, crime has taken on different shades of meaning and caused us to think of the word in different way.

Proofiness: A Companion To Yesterday's Blog

Proofiness - yes, Stephen Colbert suggested the word when he coined the term "truthiness" meaning the intuition we have when we "just know" something is true as opposed to an objectively proven fact. See my earlier blog on Legal Intuition for more on intuition and fact-finding. But it is Charles Seife, a mathematician and journalist, who invented it. Yesterday, I issued a caution on the use of statistics as a basis for legislation, specifically, the new Alberta and, not so new, British Columbia impaired driving laws. I even invoked Mark Twain to provide the lesson: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." But today, the term "proofiness" will do.

In Seife's book Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception, Seife makes a case for the "power in numbers" and the resultant misuse of such power by politicians, scientists, pollsters, advertisers, and the like. Numbers can be manipulated to support or dismiss claims. Numbers, themselves objective quantifiers, can be presented as "proof" to support subjective facts and transform the position into irrefutable truths. Anyone who works in an area where numbers matter must read this informative and disturbing book.

Another similar book is Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine On Trial by scientist Simon Singh and phyisician Dr. Edzard Ernst on the fallacy of many alternative remedies. The book resulted in a libel lawsuit against Simon Singh, who recently won on appeal. Singh is also an excellent science writer. I have read and highly recommend; The Big Bang,The Code Book, and Fermat's Last Theorem. But it is his Trick book which contributes to our statistical story. Singh discusses the "trickiness" of some alternative medical practitioners in their use of statistical evidence to show their treatments work. Like Seife, Singh cautions on the inferences to be drawn from statistics without full knowledge of the connections between the statistic and the inference. He gives a priceless example in his book on statistics of climate change and the number of pirates. Statistics can show that global warming diminishes with the number of pirates. Ergo, we need more pirates! Of course, the reasoning is wrong but yet the numbers don't lie. 

Finally, I leave you with a recent article I read from Scientific American on the population "clock" wherein the census takers warn the world of the next population milestone. Indeed, Kofi Annan in 1999 pinpointed the boy who was the "sixth billionth" person on Earth. This was proofiness at its best or should we say worst as there is no way to pinpoint with accuracy actual population. It is all estimate and guess. But it does provide a great marketing moment as the press and media disseminate the "truth." 

We have come, of course, full circle. Numbers don't lie but people do. So the next time you are faced with statistics and polls, just pull a Colbert and demand to see the proof.

As an aside, the Language Log has a great blog on a linguistic analysis of the word "proofiness" and the use of "iness" as a "Colbert suffix." Enjoy!