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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping up with the Joneses in the Supreme Court of Canada: The Triumphal Return of the Presumption of Innocence

In addition to the criminal, evidence and advocacy courses I teach, I also teach 1Ls Legislation. Statutory interpretation looms large in that course. One of the analytical tools used in interpreting a statute, albeit in the context of the modern approach, is the concept of absurdity. If the plain reading of the statute would result in an absurdity, then the Courts will look for other interpretations consistent or harmonious with the context and scheme of the Act. Absurdity is a powerful interpretative tool and fits nicely in the legal trope: Law is reasoned and reasonable. It is also logical and helpful. Law is not absurd. This concept of absurdity transcends statutory interpretation and is an overarching principle of law generally. The proper response to Dickens’s Mrs. Bumble should therefore be: the law is not “a ass.” With the recent release of R v Jones, the Court clears up a true absurdity or as Justice Côté for the majority puts it, a “catch-22” situation, relating to whether Jones has standing to argue the Charter issue. Better yet, the Supreme Court clears up this concerning conundrum with the powerful and triumphal use of the presumption of innocence. This summarizes in a nutshell why the recent Supreme Court decision in Jones is a welcome addition to s. 8 case law.

The decision does not have the powerful punch found in the companion decision of Marakah, but it has “legs.” What is this “major major” issue? Put simply, according to previous case law (R v Edwards, 1996 SCC), in order to engage a justiciable Charter issue, the accused must establish a reasonable expectation of privacy (REP) in relation to the thing seized. It must be remembered that s. 8 protects people not places or things. The purpose of the right to be secure from unreasonable search and seizure is to maintain an acceptable societal balance between an individual’s right to be free from state intrusion and the state’s need to intrude into an individual’s private life to maintain public safety and law enforcement. This “push-me pull-you” sense of balance is constantly being recalibrated by the courts in an effort to protect core democratic values underlying the Charter. This recalibration cannot be done in a vacuum but within the context of what currently matters to us as a society. In our courts, context is everything: from the meta-analysis of statutes as found in the modern approach to statutory interpretation to the specific flexibly-applied factors in the REP analysis. In order to argue REP, the accused must be literally or metaphorically standing in ground zero or in the circle of impact. If outside this Charter imbued impact zone, the accused cannot be aggrieved and cannot argue for exclusion of the evidence under s. 24(2).

Typically, it is not difficult to draw a circle of impact around the accused, particularly if the search or seizure are items personally connected to the accused. What does raise standing difficulties is where identity or ownership is in issue. Here’s the rub: once you admit you have standing, as in “you are the person sending the text messages about trafficking in firearms,” you cannot ethically suggest at trial “you are not the person sending the text messages about trafficking in firearms.” This Schrödinger’s cat-like conundrum requires counsel to make tactical decisions which may chip away at an accused’s right to make full answer and defence. The accused by taking the “not me” position is in essence giving up the right to argue a Charter violation. The Jones decision thankfully challenges that presumption and fixes it.

First, let’s start our analysis with the Edwards decision. In that decision, the majority, authored by Justice Cory, were less than impressed with the accused’s position on appeal, which was markedly different than at trial on the issue of ownership. The accused at trial testified that the drugs found in a third-party’s apartment were not his drugs. That position was maintained in the appellate court. It was only in the Supreme Court of Canada that the accused changed a “fundamentally important aspect of the evidence” in admitting that the drugs were indeed his property. This could not be countenanced as by changing the position the Appellant was relying on a different aspect of the REP, namely privacy in the drugs as opposed to REP in the apartment where the drugs were located.

In Jones, the situation was different. The accused did not lead any evidence he was the author and sender of the message. Instead, the defence relied on the Crown’s “theory” that the accused was the author and sender. The application judge found the accused could not rely on speculative “evidence” and therefore he had no standing to raise the s. 8 issue. But, as mentioned, how else could the defence advance a pressing Charter argument without compromising the defence? A legitimate goal of a trial is to put the Crown to the test of its case and to require the Crown prove all essential elements of the offence beyond a reasonable doubt. One of those elements is identity of the owner of the illegal item. If identity is in issue, the defence cannot “have its cake and eat it too” by arguing in the alternative. Once an admission is made on an essential element such as identity of the owner, it is an admission of fact that cannot be admitted for limited purposes only. Law, ethics and the Charter prohibit such a paradoxical stance.

Justice Côté recognizes the unfairness inherent in the standing paradox and soundly rejects the absurdity of the outcome. At paragraph 19 she approves of the defence’s reliance on the Crown’s theory as a foundation for the Charter argument and leans on a purposive, normative approach to the paradox. This approach involves two strands invoking the low hurdle required to overcome the subjective component of the REP analysis and invoking the Charter itself.

First, some background on the REP factors, which are situated in and viewed through the factual circumstances of the case. The factors are a tailored-made, come-as-you-are assessment. Yet, it is an assessment that must be nestled in the social fabric. In a previous blog posting (also a podcast!) on s. 6 of the Criminal Code – the codification of the presumption of innocence – I alluded to the golden thread metaphor of that presumption. That concept of the golden thread, arising from Lord Sankey’s decision in the Woolmington case, maintains the presumption of innocence and the Crown’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt by conceptually weaving the presumption of innocence into our social fabric. Similarly, Justice Côté’s solution to the standing paradox connects back in web-like fashion to the presumption of innocence. It does so through an acknowledgment of the generous interpretation of the REP factors as normative ones and through the protective nature of the Charter right against self-incrimination under s. 13.

The nexus point for these justifications to permit an accused to have section 8 standing even where they deny connection to the offence is that golden thread of innocence. It is nice to see its triumphal return as a recognition of the normative values we hold. It is also an essential reminder that at the heart of the REP analysis is the preservation of those societal values. In many ways, section 8 principles and the section 8 analysis of those principles serve as a perfect view into the justice system with the golden thread as the ultimate symbol of why the right of the state to intrude into our lives must be tempered by the right of an individual to be free from such intrusion.

 

A Really Fun Episode 51 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada: Official Documents & Identity, Identity, Who Am I?

With this episode, we enter a new phase of offences, still under Part II – Offences Against the Public Order, relating to official documents. “Official Documents” is the heading for three offences, found under sections 56.1 to 58, relating to misuse of and falsification of government issued identification. The term “official documents” is not a phrase used in any of these sections and is therefore not defined under the Code. It is however a phrase used and defined in some provincial statutes, such as in the Plant Health Act, RSNB 2011, c 204. Those definitions refer to a document signed by a Minister or other government official. Some federal statutes refer to the term but do not define the full phrase. Although, “document” is often defined in statutes such as in the 2012 federal Safe Food for Canadians Act. These definitions tend to be very broad and define “document” as “anything on which information that is capable of being understood by a person, or read by a computer or other device, is recorded or marked.” Other statutes, most notably as under section 5 of the federal Security of Information Act, refer to “official documents” in sections on falsification and forgery of documents, which are similar to the Criminal Code offences we are about to discuss over the next three episodes.

Before we start discussing section 56.1, offences relating to identity documents, I have a comment to make on the numbering of this section. This section was placed in the Code in 2009 as a result of An Act to amend the Criminal Code (identity theft and related misconduct), where a number of new offences and revisions to pre-existing Code provisions were amended. Fair enough. My issue is why this section needed to be numbered as 56.1 and not say, section 57.1, which would connect this new section to the falsification or improper use of documents. Section 56, as I discussed in a previous episode, concerns offences relating to the RCMP as in deserting from your duty. It has nothing to do with official documents or identity. When the Code is amended, numbering should consider placement with like sections. This is another reason, I submit we need a total re-do of the Code, section numbering and all. I say this even though I have such a familiarity with Code sections that a new numbering system would be disarming. Enough said on this subject.

Section 56.1 offers us an offence under subsection (1), exceptions to the offence or what could be considered lawful excuses under subsection (2), and a somewhat lengthy definition under (3), and a punishment under subsection (4).

 Section 56.1(1) sets out the offence as follows:

Every person commits an offence who, without lawful excuse, procures to be made, possesses, transfers, sells or offers for sale an identity document that relates or purports to relate, in whole or in part, to another person.

The phrase “transfers, sells or offers for sale” is found in the older offence under s.368 “use, trafficking or possession of a forged document” which replaced previous versions of that section in the same amendment as the creation of the s. 56.1 offence. Possession is defined in the Code under s. 4(3) and is a subject of an earlier podcast that can be found here as text and here as the podcast audio file. The term “transfers” is used throughout the Criminal Code as an actus reus component of various offences such as those relating to firearms (i.e. s. 117.08) or relating to the transferring of nuclear material with intent such as under s. 82.3. The word “transfer” is the subject of statutory interpretation and the application of Dreidger’s “modern approach” in the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada decision of R v Daoust. Here the court was considering s. 462.31 known as the offence of “laundering” the proceeds of crime. The word “transfer” was examined both in English and in French (transfert) in effort to understand how “transfer” differed from the other prohibited acts listed in the section such as sends or delivers, transports or transmits. In the case, the accused was the purchaser of stolen goods and the issue was whether this act constituted a transfer.  Of interest to statutory interpretation aficionados is the use here of the associated words rule or noscuitur a sociis (say that quickly three times). After applying this rule, the court found that a buyer of stolen goods was not committing any of the prohibited acts under the section. The acts listed, including the “transfers of possession of,” depended on the person committing the acts having control over the stolen property or proceeds of crime. This person would then pass onto another the property and would be the person targeted in the offence, not the so-called receiver. However, the receiver could certainly be charged with other offences found in the Code such as possession of stolen property under section 354 of the Criminal Code.

Besides having to prove the actus reus element or the prohibited act as listed in the section, the Crown would also have to prove that the item is in fact an identity document per the definition under subsection (3) which reads as follows:

For the purposes of this section, identity document means a Social Insurance Number card, a driver’s license, a health insurance card, a birth certificate, a death certificate, a passport as defined in subsection 57(5), a document that simplifies the process of entry into Canada, a certificate of citizenship, a document indicating immigration status in Canada, a certificate of Indian status or an employee identity card that bears the employee’s photograph and signature, or any similar document, issued or purported to be issued by a department or agency of the federal government or of a provincial or foreign government.

That lengthy list of documents could probably be summed up as simply any government issued ID. Further to our previous statutory interpretation segue, note that there is a descriptive list of identity documents and then a broad description encompassing “or any similar document.” Again, the associated word rule could be used to interpret this phrase giving the general phrase “colour” from the more specific terms. Another related rule can also be applied– get ready for another Latin phrase – involving ejusdem generis or the limited class rule. This applies when there are specific terms followed by a more general phrase. The rule limits the general phrase to the same class as the specifically enumerated ones. In this case, one can argue, as I did at the outset that “any similar document” would include any government issued identification.

Another element of the offence requires that the accused commit the offence “without lawful excuse.” There is no definition of this term, which is used liberally throughout the Criminal Code. In a search, the phrase pops up about 53 times. What constitutes a “lawful excuse” is many and varied. Typically, in cases considering the issue, the court says just that. For instance, in R v Osmond, 2006 NSPC 52 (CanLII), in considering s. 145(2)(b) of the Criminal Code, the offence of failing to appear in court, “without lawful excuse,” stated, rather unhelpfully at paragraph 45, that,

I do not need to list all the types of things that could constitute a lawful excuse.  The Crown referred to some possibilities in its submissions.  What can constitute a lawful excuse is usually established by judicial decisions and must be put in the context of the offence in question.

Judge Embree continued to say that what “lawful excuse” is “definitely” not is “forgetting” to attend court. In the context of this section, if the person “lawfully” has the government issued ID of another person or has it for a “lawful” purpose, there is no offence. To perhaps clarify this phrase, we can look to subsection 2 for some “lawful excuses” as contemplated by subsection 1. Subsection 2 reads as follows:

(2) For greater certainty, subsection (1) does not prohibit an act that is carried out

(a) in good faith, in the ordinary course of the person’s business or employment or in the exercise of the duties of their office;

(b) for genealogical purposes;

(c) with the consent of the person to whom the identity document relates or of a person authorized to consent on behalf of the person to whom the document relates, or of the entity that issued the identity document; or

(d) for a legitimate purpose related to the administration of justice.

There are a couple of items to note. First, the subsection starts with the qualifier “for greater certainty.” This phrase appears 48 times in the Criminal Code. Sometimes the phrase is followed by exceptions to the offence, such as in this section we are considering. Other times, it clarifies what act is included in the offence, such as in the definition of terrorist activity under s. 83.01. Therefore, in accordance with (2), we have a few scenarios to contemplate as not attracting criminal liability. Such as under (2)(b), where the possession of another person’s identity document is permissible if for “genealogical purposes.” What immediately comes to mind are the various websites which provide services to those people interested in finding information on their ancestors, such as ancestry.ca. For example, I have my grandfather’s identity documents issued when he entered the country as an immigrant from Russia in 1912. I found them, by the way, digitized online through Library and Archives Canada, a federal government service. However, this “exemption” and indeed this section does not protect the possession and use of another person’s DNA. Considering the now booming business in collecting and testing DNA for those “inquiring minds” who need to know what percentage of their DNA is Neanderthal, this seems to be a gap in our legislative identity protections. In light of this, section 56.1 seems to be already dated, although a good example of how quickly our technology is expanding and the difficulty with our laws to anticipate or even respond to these increasingly complex issues.

Returning to the original phrase “without lawful excuse,” there is a question as to whether the Crown has the burden to disprove this as an essential element of the offence or not. This would be akin to the Crown’s burden to disprove “without the consent” pursuant to the assault section 265. There is some authority to the contrary (R v Gladue, 2014 ABPC 45 (CanLII) and R v Neufeld, 2014 ABPC 66 (CanLII)), that “without lawful excuse” is not an “essential” element but “incidental” to the offence. This argument, however, relies upon a passage in a Supreme Court of Canada case, R v B(G), [1990] 2 SCR 30, 1990 CanLII 7308 (SCC), wherein the Court found the time of the offence was not an essential element of the offence. This, I suggest, differs greatly from a phrase that appears in the offence creating section. The better approach can be found in R v Plowman, 2015 ABQB 274 (CanLII). There, Justice Nielsen, in considering the phrase in section 56.1, found “without lawful excuse” places an evidential burden on the accused, as a “defence” to the charge. Thus, the accused need only point to evidence on the issue to establish an “air of reality”, thus requiring the trier of fact to consider the evidence in determining whether the Crown has proven the case beyond a reasonable doubt. The legal burden remains on the Crown to disprove the lawful excuse beyond a reasonable doubt.

The next issue is what the phrase in the offence “another person” means and whether it must refer to a “real” person, living or dead. In R v Vladescu, 2015 ONCJ 87 (CanLII), whether the identity documents in question related to a “real” person, was the sole issue. The Crown’s evidence did not touch on this aspect and the defence, arguing that proof of this aspect was an essential element of the offence, urged Justice Watson to acquit. Employing, what I would suggest is a questionable approach to statutory interpretation by focusing on the “plain meaning” of “purport” and comments made in one Senate debate on the new section which referenced “fictitious” identity documents, the Court decided that the Crown did not have to prove that the identity document belonged to a “real” person. Justice Watson convicted the accused despite the cogent argument by the defence that the subsection (2) exceptions, particularly the reference to genealogical purposes, suggests a real person. However, the offence of identity fraud under s. 403 uses the phrase “another person, living or dead” which suggests that Parliament, by omitting the phrase “living or dead” did contemplate fictitious identity documents under s. 56.1. Either way, this is an issue open to argument at trial.

In terms of the fault element or the mens rea required for this section. As indicated earlier, one of the ways of committing this offence is by “possession”, which as indicated is defined under section 4(3) of the Criminal Code. Possession requires proof of a high level of subjective mens rea. However, if the Crown relies on the other modes of committing the offence such as transfer or sells, an argument can be made that the intention, although still requiring subjective liability, does not require the high level of mens rea needed for possession. Therefore, recklessness would be sufficient form of mens rea for those situations.

 Finally, it should be mentioned that subsection (4) sets out the possible penalties for committing the offence. Procedurally, the offence can be either an indictable or summary conviction offence and is therefore a dual or hybrid offence. This means the Crown has the option to elect the mode of proceeding. Although proceeding under indictment carries a longer maximum sentence of five years as opposed to the maximum of 6 months imprisonment (and/or maximum fine of $5000.00 if the accused is an individual). Of course, should the Crown elect to proceed by indictment then the accused would have an election to have a trial in either provincial court or in superior court, with or without a preliminary hearing and with or without a jury pursuant to s. 536(2).

 

Episode 46 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada: Section 51 – Intimidating Parliament or Legislature

In this episode, we will continue to acquaint ourselves with Part II – Offences Against Public Order – by considering s. 51 Intimidating Parliament or Legislature. It is a section within the theme of the previous sections, starting from section 46, which prohibit treasonable activities. It reads as follows:

Every one who does an act of violence in order to intimidate Parliament or the legislature of a province is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.

The section also intersects with other statutes. In the federal Citizenship Act, a conviction under s. 51 disentitles a person from Canadian citizenship as does a conviction for a terrorism offence under the Code as well as a conviction under s. 47 (“high treason” as discussed in episode 43 of this podcast series) and s. 52, sabotage, the next section in this podcast series.  Oddly enough, a conviction under s. 52, among numerous other Code sections, may act as a barrier to applying for various kinds of bingo licences in Quebec as per sections 36(3), 43(2), 45, 47(2), 49(2), and 53(1) of the Bingo Rules, CQLR c L-6, r 5.

The section does not define the phrase “act of violence” nor the term “intimidate.” “Violence” is not defined anywhere in the Criminal Code and has been subject to judicial interpretation. The term is difficult to define as it is an oft-used word with an unspoken and assumed societal meaning. This meaning is imbued with societal mores and values and is therefore not strictly legal. In other words, in the everyday context, the term does not need interpretation or elucidation. Due to this ephemeral nature of the term, there is no ordinary and grammatical meaning for purposes of statutory interpretation. Re-enforcing this problem is differing dictionary meanings. As a result, the definition of violence could be viewed as harm-based, whereby the focus is on the acts that a person uses in an attempt to cause or actually cause or threaten harm. Or it could be force-based, which focuses on the physical nature of the acts and not the effects.

This discussion was at the core of the 2005 Supreme Court of Canada case, R v CD; R v CDK. There, the court considered the meaning of “violence” as used in the s. 39(1)(a) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which permits a custodial disposition where the youth is convicted of a “violent” offence. The majority preferred a harm-based approach that would produce a more restrictive definition of violence consistent with the objectives of the young offender legislation to only incarcerate as the last resort. Later in the 2014 Steele decision, an unanimous panel of the Supreme Court of Canada approved of the harm-based approach in interpreting violence, in the context of the “serious personal injury requirement” for a long-term offender determination. In the Court’s view, this approach was consistent with the context of the term as used in the Criminal Code, particularly offences such as threaten death under s. 264.1, where the act of threatening death or bodily harm was in and of itself violent. (See R. v. McRae). This discussion can therefore lead us to define “act of violence” under s. 51 as harm-based as well and therefore would include threats of violence.

Interestingly, there may Charter implications to this section as the “acts of violence” could be considered an expression under s. 2(b) of the Charter, particularly where the act is a threat of violence by words or writing. However, as discussed in the Supreme Court of Canada Reference re ss. 193 and 195.1(1)(C) of the criminal code (Man.) decision, s. 2(b) would likely not protect expressions of harm or violence. Of course, the justiciability of this argument may be based on the factual underpinnings of the charge.

The term “intimidate,” although not defined in the Code, is also subject to much judicial consideration. Unlike the term “violence,” “intimidation” does have a fairly consistent dictionary definition. Additionally, the term is used in other offences in the Code, most notably “intimidation,” where to intimidate is itself an offence under s. 423. The online Oxford Dictionaries define “intimidate” as “frighten or overawe (someone), especially in order to make them do what one wants.” Comparably, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “to make someone afraid... especially to compel or deter by or as if by threats.” The British Columbia Supreme Court in the 2002 Little case used the Oxford Dictionary definition in assessing the voluntariness of an accused person’s confession. The 2013 Saskatchewan Provincial Court decision of Weinmeyer has an excellent overview of the authoritative definitions of the term. The court in that case was considering a charge of uttering threats under s. 264.1 of the Code. Although “intimidate” is not a word used in the section, courts have looked at intimidation as an element of the conveyed threats. After reviewing the case law on the meaning of intimidation, Agnew PCJ found at paragraph 18 that:

“the essence of intimidation is the use of action or language to overawe or frighten another, with the intention of causing that person to change their course of action against their will.  This change may be to undertake an action which they would not otherwise have done, or to refrain from doing something which they would have done in the absence of such action or language, but in either case the intimidator intends that the recipient not act in accordance with their own wishes, but rather in accordance with the intimidator’s wishes; and the intimidator employs menacing, violent or frightening acts or language to cause such change.”

This definition is also consistent with the elements of the s. 423 offence of intimidation. It should be noted that the offence of extortion, contrary to s. 346 of the Code has similar elements to intimidation and may overlap with a s. 51 charge as well.

In terms of the fault element, s. 51 requires the prohibited conduct (an act of violence) be done for a specific purpose ulterior to the violence, namely for the purpose of intimidation. This would require the Crown prosecutor to prove a high level of subjective intention.

Looking at s. 51 as a whole, it is apparent that the offence is an intersection between extortion/intimidation sections and treason/terrorism sections. Historically, the section came into our first 1892 Criminal Code under s. 70 as a conspiracy crime to intimidate a legislature. That offence read as “every one is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to fourteen years' imprisonment who confederates, combines or conspires with any person to do any act of violence in order to intimidate, or to put any force or constraint upon, any Legislative Council, Legislative Assembly or House of Assembly.” It was based upon a similarly worded offence found in article 66 of Burbidge’s Digest of Criminal Law of Canada published in 1890. As an aside, Burbidge’s Digest was the Canadian version of Sir James Fitzjames Stephen’s Digest of the Criminal Law of England. Stephen was, as mentioned previously in these podcasts, the founding father so to speak of our Code as he supported criminal law codification in the UK. George Wheelock Burbidge was a Judge of the Canadian Exchequer court, the precursor to the Federal Court of Canada. Early in his legal career Burbidge was involved in the drafting of the consolidated statutes of New Brunswick. He later became the federal deputy minister of justice and as such was instrumental in devising the consolidated statutes of Canada. Returning to s. 51, in the 1953-54 amendments to the Code, the offence was revised to the wording we have today.

Despite the longevity of this section as an offence under our laws, I could find no reported case directly involving a charge under this section. Consistent with the terrorism/treason aspect of this charge, there are recent cases, involving terrorism offences, which do consider this section. A unique use of this section occurred in the 2005 Ghany case, a bail application in the Ontario Court of Justice before Justice Durno. There the defence argued that as the terrorism charges facing their clients involved an aspect of s.51, which is an offence subject to s. 469, the bail should be heard before a Superior Court Judge. Section 469 gives Superior Court Judges exclusive jurisdiction over a list of offences for purposes of bail and trial procedure. These listed offences are deemed the most serious in our Code and pertain to murder and treason but does not refer to terrorism offences. The argument did not turn on the list of offences under s. 469 jurisdiction but rather on the conduct or substance of those named offences. This position is particularly attractive considering the creation of s. 469 authority was created well before the advent of terrorism crimes. In the end, Justice Durno declined jurisdiction and dismissed the application.

Considering current lack of use, the future of this section is questionable. This is particularly so in light of the various other offences for which a person can be charged instead of this crime, such as intimidation or terrorist activity. This is certainly a section worthy of reform and one to watch in the future.

On The DLW Decision and The Meaning of Modernity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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