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Wednesday
Feb262014

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

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

Section 15 of the Code presently reads as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

Sunday
Feb232014

Ideablawg’s Weekly Connections: The Olympics Edition

Of course, this week is all about the Olympics and when sport and law sometimes intersect.

1.   The Dispute: How does the IOC (International Olympic Committee) decide which sports should be included in the games? Although the Olympics have come a long way since the Ancient Greeks competed in a handful of events, there are a number of sports not included in the games and a few, which have been dropped over the years. Baseball and softball were not on the roster for the London Olympics but considering Tokyo will be hosting in 2020, this may change. Wrestling was off and then on again.  The Olympic rules require all sports to be reviewed after every Olympics with sports to be added or dropped by a two-thirds majority vote. There are, of course, those sports, which have been added to the Olympic lineup, such as golf, rugby (reappearing) and kitesurfing (new) in the 2016 Olympics.   At Sochi there were new events such as team figure skating and the snowboard and ski slopestyle.  Women’s ski jump was a new event this year but not without some controversy. The quest for gender equality in the ski jump event evolved over time, culminating in a legal challenge by high-ranking women ski jumpers before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and Paralympics. The British Columbia Court of Appeal, in dismissing the women’s case, found that the Charter could not apply to the selection of the 2010 events as and that even if the Charter did apply there was no breach of equality rights under s.15(1). Although, the question of whether VANOC or the Vancouver Olympic Committee was a government entity was easily answered in the negative, however the more difficult question was whether in organizing and staging the event VANOC was carrying out governmental activities. Even though there was governmental support for the Olympics, the Court found that this fact was not decisive on the issue of selection of Olympic events. In deed, neither VANOC nor the governmental agencies supporting the host City were involved in the selection of events. Thus, it could not be said that VANOC was the decision-maker and therefore the Charter could not apply.   Even so, the Court considered the reach of the equality s.15. In finding there was no breach the Court stated, “section 15(1) sets out constitutional guarantees of equality that are broad in scope, but it does not constitute a general guarantee of equality.  Rather, the section guarantees equality only in the way that the law affects individuals.  Where the law is not implicated in discrimination or inequality, is not engaged.” As the law or statutory authority was not engaged by the right or lack thereof to compete in the Olympics, s. 15 was not available and was not breached. A leave application to the Supreme Court of Canada was dismissed with costs. In the end, women’s ski jumping was approved for inclusion in Sochi. Unfortunately, none of the women who brought the court case won a medal in the sport, but what they did, in the end, win a victory for the sport.

2.   The Crime: Remember when Olympic scandals read like soap operas? If your memory needs refreshing, take a backward glance at the Tonya Harding – Nancy Kerrigan incident, when Kerrigan was attacked by a hammer to her knees, before the 1994 Olympics at the Women’s Championship and could not compete. That year Harding won and then lost as it was revealed that she was involved in the conspiracy to assault Kerrigan. But don’t worry, Nancy Kerrigan went on to perform in the Ice Capades while Tonya is now a professional boxer. Irony on ice?

3.   The Sabotage: What is it about skates? The Kerrigan/Harding incident did not stop some members of the American short track team from sabotaging Canadian Olympic gold medalist Oliver Jean’s skates in 2011. Despite this admission, the skater who did the deed accuses the coach for pressuring him to do it. The ISU or International Skating Union’s disciplinary commission considered the case last year and laid the blame for the incident squarely on the coach. This year at Sochi the Canadians were careful to check their skates before competing.

4.   The Dissent: Controversy swirled at the Olympics over the lack of gay rights in the host country and the lack of desire to meet with the Vancouver envoy supporting gay rights. But dissent escalated even further when Pussy Riot, the female punk rock activists, who were jailed last year after performing a “blasphemous” song in the Moscow Cathedral, were arrested but released in Sochi and then whipped by Cossacks – yes, there are still Cossacks. Read about their angry music video on the debacle entitled "Putin Will Teach You To Love Your Country" here

Saturday
Feb222014

When Dissent In the Supreme Court of Canada Matters

Have you ever wondered about the significance of a dissenting opinion in the Supreme Court of Canada? To use one of their favoured terms, dissenting decisions may be signifiers of “incremental change.” Overtime, however, these dissenting opinions may become the majority decision. Certainly, some of Chief Justice McLachlin’s dissents are an example of this – most recently in the air of reality line of cases – see my previous blog on the issue here. Of course, sometimes a dissenting opinion does not signify change but simply signifies dissent – a vocalization of a differing viewpoint or to use probably a trite yet apt Robert Frost analogy “the road not taken.”  The recent Supreme Court of Canada Babos case on prosecutorial misconduct is an example of when dissent for dissent's sake matters.

Justice Abella’s dissent on the issue makes for powerful reading, invoking the sanctity of the justice system and the high standard we expect from our quasi-judicial prosecutors, who stand on behalf of the state as upholders of society’s fundamental values. Even in the adversarial system, the duties of the Crown prosecutor transcend the arena of dispute, as they must defend the law in the pursuit of justice. Justice does not have a stake in the ultimate outcome of guilt or innocence but does impact how the ultimate outcome is achieved.

This role is, as suggested by Madame Justice Abella, timeless and does not crystallize at particular points of a prosecution but must permeate every action or inaction of the Crown.  As she so eloquently said, “Time is not a legal remedy for a fundamental breach of the Crown’s role, and cannot retroactively cure intolerable state conduct.”  Difficult balancing must be done to fulfill this duty but it is of utmost importance in the viability and credibility of the criminal justice system.

So I encourage you to read the dissent and envision an alternate view where “an exceptional assault on the public’s sense of justice” is deemed worthy of dissent.

Monday
Feb172014

Ideablawg’s Weekly Connections: Peace And Violence

This past week there were some defining moments in history all in a background of love, war, violence, and peace.

1. All You Need Is Love: This week we celebrated the anniversary of The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. In this moment of reflection, let us consider the various ways the boys engaged law and authority. Consider Paul’s marijuana as found by the Japanese authorities in 1980 or John’s deportation battle in the USA. If you want something more uplifting – recall John and Yoko’s bed-in at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel. Here is a great legal connection – Allan Rock, lawyer and politician (now President of the University of Ottawa) – managed to convince the couple to go from Montreal to Ottawa in 1969 when he was President of the University of Ottawa Students’ Union. Here is a personal connection – Allan Rock taught me Civil Procedure II while I was at Osgoode Hall Law School. Only two degrees of separation between John Lennon and me!

2. War: Sixty-nine years after the end of World War II and we are still learning something new about the events of the War years. The Monuments Men, a movie that opened this past week, enlightens us on how art and architecture was saved or not saved during the war. I also recommend reading the book but if you do, read it with an iPad nearby to reference not only the art pieces but also the places in which the art was found. This further connects to the ongoing struggle for the return of art stolen during the war. I have written a previous blog on the issue. This past week, Germany considered extending the law allowing Jewish families to recover this art as more caches of such art are being found.

3. Peace: One of my personal heroes is Richard Feynman – the Nobel Prize winner in Physics who passed away 26 years ago on February 14, 1988. Not only was Feynman an engaging man and a tremendous mentor and teacher but he was also a clear thinker with a heart of gold. He’s the one who dropped the O-rings into the ice-cold water to demonstrate how the Challenger disaster accident really occurred. He also ended his minority report on the disaster by stating “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.” A dramatization of these events aired on the Science Channel last year with William Hurt playing Feynman. Having read all books Feynman, I recommend the autobiographical What Do You Care What People Think? and his lectures on Physics. Although he was one of the young physicist working on the Manhattan project and was at Los Alamos during the War, he had a very strong reaction to the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima. I strongly recommend watching his interviews on the subject here.

4. Violence: Is the independence of the judiciary something to fight about? In Turkey, a fistfight broke out over the government’s plan to restrain the judiciary. Certainly, this undemocratic move has political overtones in a country rife with such difficulties. This latest move is unsurprising considering the government’s past treatment of free thinkers such as Orhan Pamuk, the Nobel Prize recipient in Literature, who was charged with a criminal offence after speaking out on the Armenian genocide. Ultimately, the government dropped the charges but certainly this was a precursor to the events of Taksim Square and to the latest round of violence. Orhan Pamuk is another one of my role models – read Snow and My Name Is Red to experience Pamuk’s lyric and unforgettable prose.

Sunday
Feb162014

Episode 16 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada

Here is the new and improved version of the Podcast for Episode 16!

Episode 16 of the Ideablawg Podcast: Section 14 - Consenting To Death

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