Episode 52 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada: The “Go Everywhere” Offence Under Section 57 (text version)

In the classic Jules Verne novel of 1873, Around the World in Eighty Days, the adventurer, Phileas Fogg, and his trusty side-kick, Jean Passepartout, race across the globe. There are many ways to “read” this text, such as a construct of British colonialization or as a “love letter” to the technological and scientific advances of the day.  For our criminal law purposes, however, we will think of this globe-trotting journey as setting the stage for the next section of the criminal code creating the offence of forging a passport. Specifically, I want us to imagine such a journey in modern terms and the strict requirement for entry into foreign countries. The importance of having a passport cannot be underestimated, not just for entry purposes, but as a symbol of belonging. This is a stark reminder of the refugees’ displacement and the vital need for an effective, efficient, and compassionate immigration regime. But I digress. I also want us to be mindful of the translation of the valet’s surname, Passepartout, which means “go everywhere.” A passport, like a pass key, opens doors and is a commodity in our global market.

Section 57 of the Criminal Code is a multi-purpose section. It protects personal identity, protects nationhood, has an international reach, and punishes falsehoods. It is a section that crosses the criminal equivalent of the “international date line” as it is both private and public in aspect. It involves individual privacy rights, public security and engages international obligations. It involves diplomacy and enforcement of the law. The section creates five different but related falsifying of passport offences. Subsection (1) is a forgery and uttering offence. Subsection (2) is a procuring offence relating to obtaining a falsified passport. Subsection (3) is a possession offence.

Section 57 reads as follows:

57 (1) Every one who, while in or out of Canada,

(a) forges a passport, or

(b) knowing that a passport is forged

(i) uses, deals with or acts on it, or

(ii) causes or attempts to cause any person to use, deal with or act on it, as if the passport were genuine,

is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.

(2) Every one who, while in or out of Canada, for the purpose of procuring a passport for himself or any other person or for the purpose of procuring any material alteration or addition to any such passport, makes a written or an oral statement that he knows is false or misleading

(a) is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years; or

(b) is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

(3) Every one who without lawful excuse, the proof of which lies on him, has in his possession a forged passport or a passport in respect of which an offence under subsection (2) has been committed is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.

(4) For the purposes of proceedings under this section,

(a) the place where a passport was forged is not material; and

(b) the definition false document in section 321, and section 366, apply with such modifications as the circumstances require.

(5) In this section, passport has the same meaning as in section 2 of the Canadian Passport Order.

(6) Where a person is alleged to have committed, while out of Canada, an offence under this section, proceedings in respect of that offence may, whether or not that person is in Canada, be commenced in any territorial division in Canada and the accused may be tried and punished in respect of that offence in the same manner as if the offence had been committed in that territorial division.

(7) For greater certainty, the provisions of this Act relating to

(a) requirements that an accused appear at and be present during proceedings, and

(b) the exceptions to those requirements,

apply to proceedings commenced in any territorial division pursuant to subsection (6).

Before we discuss the section, a little bit of historical context is worthwhile. The first version of this offence went into the Criminal Code in 1935 Code amendments and was a procurement offence involving a passport and a visa. Note the timing as a measure implemented basically on the eve of war. Only four years later, in 1939, the steamer St Louis would be turned away by the Canadian government to return to Nazi Germany and almost certain death. It is no doubt a response to the desperate attempts to get out of pre-World War II Europe. In 1947, some two years after the end of World War II, the section was again revised to include a definition of passport. In the 1953-54 amendments, the section was again revised, this time adding to the section the forgery and uttering offence and the possession offence. The revised section clarified that the offence could be committed while the accused was in or out of Canada. In 1985, some procedural aspects were added to the section. The section was last revised in 2013 to define passport pursuant to the section 2 definition of the Canadian Passport Order. That definition of passport or in French, passeport, “means an official Canadian document that shows the identity and nationality of a person for the purpose of facilitating travel by that person outside Canada.”

We will first discuss the five offences created in section 57. The first offence under subsection (1)(a), creates a forgery offence in relation to a passport, forged in or out of Canada. The offence, therefore, should be approached as a traditional forgery offence with reference to the general offence of forgery pursuant to s. 366 of the Code. The Crown would need to prove as part of the actus reus components of the offence that the document is in fact a passport pursuant to the definition offered under subsection (5). In terms of proof of the forgery itself, another actus reus requirement, requires a review of the forgery section 366. That section essentially defines forgery as the making of a false document, knowing it to be false and intending the document be “used or acted on as genuine” to the prejudice of another. Section 321, the definition section for Part IX offences, including forgery under s. 366, offers a definition of “false document” which is then extended under section 366(2). Section 57(4) uses this definition of “false document” in proof of the forgery of the passport, with necessary modifications. What those “modifications” may be must be informed by the specific forgery at hand, namely a passport, and as informed by the definition of passport pursuant to subsection (5). Section 57(5) also clarifies that where the forgery was actually performed need not be specifically proven by the Crown. In terms of mens rea, it is clear by a reading of section 57 and by the application of s. 366 to the proof of forgery that the section requires proof of a high level of subjective intention.

The second offence is related to the forgery and is found under subsection (1)(b)(i). It is what we would historically call an uttering offence, requiring the accused, knowing the passport is forged, “uses, deals with or acts on it.” The offence parallels the general uttering a forged document section 368(1)(a). I label this as an “uttering” offence as when looking in the index of the Code for offences relating to forgery, “uttering a forged document” is listed under s. 368. Uttering is defined under section 448 in the Code but for purposes of Part XII relating to offences to currency. That definition of "utter" extends the traditional meaning of “uses, deals with or acts on it” by including as including “sell, pay, tender and put off.”  An argument could be made that those prohibited acts of “sell, pay, tender and put off” are not included in the offence as contemplated under s. 57(1)(b). Again, the offence requires a high level of subjective mens rea as read into the requirement the accused must have knowledge the passport is forged. The third offence under s. 57 (1)(b)(ii) is an offence, that again, appears in its general format under s. 268 and requires the accused, knowing the passport is a forgery, “causes or attempts to cause any person to use, deal with or act on it, as if the passport were genuine.” The only other offence for which the delict is so worded, is the offence under s. 246 involving the administration of a stupefying drug to overcome resistance to the commission of an offence. Of note, is the “attempts” to cause, thus the full offence can be committed based on an attempt.

For the offences of forgery, uttering and causing or attempting to cause another person to utter the forged document, the maximum sentence is imprisonment for 14 years. Both forgery and uttering under sections 366 and 368 respectively are dual offences with the maximum punishment for both, should the Crown elect to proceed by Indictment, of ten years. Clearly, the forgery of a passport, for national security and state integrity reasons, is considered a more serious offence.

The fourth offence created under s. 57 relates to someone making a false or misleading oral or written statement, while in or out of Canada, for purposes of procuring a passport for themselves or another person or for the purpose of altering a material aspect of the passport. This is a less serious dual offence where the maximum punishment under indictment does not exceed two years imprisonment, thus keeping even the worst offender in the reformatory, rather than the federal penitentiary, system. Again, it could be argued that by the use of the word “for the purpose,” the Crown must prove per R v Hibbert a high level of intention by the accused. The Crown must also prove, if the allegation involves altering or adding to the passport that it must be a change to a material aspect of the passport. This parallels the definition of false document under s. 366(2) where a false document includes “making a material alteration in a genuine document by erasure, obliteration, removal or in any other way.” What is “material” would be a question of fact. The phrase “material alteration” is a term often used in civil cases on such as sale of goods or in an action for default of a mortgage where a materially altered document by one party without the other party’s consent is considered void. In the 1909 Saskatchewan Queen’s Bench decision of Gogain v Drackett, 1909 CanLII 97, the court applied the definition of “material alteration” from the 1903 Cyclopedia of Law and Procedure published in the USA and edited by Julian William Mack, an American law professor, lawyer and jurist, and Howard Nash. In that tome, “material alteration” is defined as “Any change in an instrument which causes it to speak a different language in legal effect from what it originally spoke—which changes the legal identity or character of the instrument either in its terms or in the relation of the parties to it, is a material change, or technical alteration, and such a change will invalidate the instrument as against all the parties not consenting to the change.” But “It is not every change which will invalidate an instrument, but only a change which is material according to the principles above stated. In other words, any change in words or form, merely even if made by an interested party which leaves the legal effect and identity of the instrument unimpaired and unaltered, which in no manner affects the rights, duties or obligations of the parties and leaves the sense and meaning of the instrument as it originally stood is not material and will not destroy the instrument or discharge the parties from liability thereon.” Therefore, a material change occurs when the change would affect the rights and obligations of the parties.

The fifth offence under subsection (3) is a possession offence relating to possessing a forged or materially altered or falsified passport. Possession, pursuant to s.4(3), requires proof the accused has knowledge, consent and control of the object and requires proof of a high level of mens rea. This is a straight indictable offence with a maximum of five years imprisonment. A similar offence for possessing a forged document under s. 368 is a dual offence, whereby the prosecutor can proceed by summary conviction if by Indictment then the maximum is ten years.

The final comment is on subsections (6) and (7), which relate to the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the offence. If the person committed the offence out of Canada, the person may be charged, tried and punished for the offence in any territorial jurisdiction of Canada even if they are still out of Canada at the time of the proceedings. The section is therefore aptly named, the “go everywhere” offence and is reflective of the global reach of our criminal law.