The Trial Judge Deserves Deference!

Oftentimes a Supreme Court of Canada decision can be, at first glance, unimportant, particularly when the decision is brief. This can happen when the Court readily agrees with the lower Court decision, either the majority or even the dissent, and does not feel the need to add to the already cogent written decision. Sometimes, these one-liners by the SCC, fly under the radar and are not recognized as impactful decisions.

Such was seemingly the case in a recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. T.L.M. released on February 14, 2012. The case, heard by a panel of seven justices as opposed to the full court complement of nine, was an appeal from the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador - Court of Appeal. In a pithy yet brief decision, Madame Justice Deschamps stated:

We agree with Hoegg J.A., dissenting at the Court of Appeal, that the trial judge committed no reviewable error. Therefore, the appeal is allowed.

This innocuous manner of overturning a lower Court decision belies the true nature of the case as revealed by a closer reading of the lower Court decision. Indeed, through the lower court decision, T.L.M. takes on a more complex meaning and sheds light on another decision of the SCC, the D.A.I. case, released only four days previously.

The D.A.I. case is of huge national importance pronouncing on the capacity of adults with mental disabilities to testify at trial under s.16 of the Canada Evidence Act. Section 16 outlines the procedure to be adopted when an adult witness’s mental capacity to testify is challenged at trial. If the witness does not understand the nature of an oath or a solemn affirmation and cannot communicate the evidence, the witness cannot then testify. If however, the challenged witness does not understand the nature of an oath but can communicate his evidence, he may testify upon promising to tell the truth in accordance with s. 16(3). In the D.A.I. case the trial judge upon entering into an inquiry as required by s.16 found the 23 year-old witness, who had a mental capacity of a three to six year old, could not testify as she did not understand the duty to speak the truth.

The majority of the SCC, speaking through Chief Justice McLachlin, found the trial judge erred in her application of s.16 by requiring the witness to understand the meaning of telling the truth before being permitted to testify. Section 16(3) merely required the witness to be able to communicate the evidence as a prerequisite to testifying. Once this was fulfilled, the witness could then testify upon promising to tell the truth. There was no need for the trial judge to determine whether or not the witness understood what such a promise entailed. Thus, Chief Justice McLachlin’s decision gave this second part of the s. 16(3) determination, the promise to tell the truth, a broad and generous interpretation consistent with the public policy of the “need to bring to justice those who sexually abuse people of limited mental capacity — a vulnerable group all too easily exploited.”

The connection between these two cases, T.L.M. and D.A.I., is found in the appellate principle of deference, referred to in both decisions, but more specifically, as referred to by Justice Binnie and Chief Justice McLachlin.

The main issue in the T.L.M. appeal, as discussed in the lower Court decision, related to the admission of similar fact evidence in a trial involving sexual offences against a child. The similar fact evidence was of another sexual offence against a child, which occurred at the time of the offences before the court. The main issue was credibility, with the accused, the child’s uncle, denying the offence. The similar fact evidence, which was admitted by the trial judge, was relied upon in disbelieving the accused and convicting him of all charges.

The majority of the Newfoundland appellate court found the trial judge erred in his application of the legal test for admissibility of similar fact evidence. To come to this decision, the majority relied upon the principles for admission as enunciated by Justice Binnie in the SCC decision of R. v. Handy. The dissent of Mr. Justice Hoegg disagreed with the majority and found the trial judge made no legal error in admitting the similar fact evidence. Justice Hoegg also relied on Binnie J.’s decision in Handy and made especial reference to Justice Binnie's comments on the “substantial deference” to be given to the trial judge’s decision on admission of similar fact evidence. It is Hoegg’s dissent, which the SCC accepts in allowing the appeal. neither Justice Binnie nor Chief Justice McLachlin sat on the appeal.

Chief Justice McLachlin, in D.I.A., also commented on the principle of deference: an appellate principle in which the court reviewing the trial judge’s reasons defers or accepts the trial judge’s decision based on the judge’s superior position having heard and observed the evidence as opposed to the appellate court, which only reads the evidence and arguments in written form. In Chief Justice McLachlin’s opinion, the trial judge’s error was fundamental and therefore no deference should be given to her decision.

Justice Binnie in dissent, and no stranger to the issue of deference as pointed out in the Handy case, disagreed and stated the following:

The majority judgment in the present case repudiates the earlier jurisprudence and the balanced approach it achieved.  It entirely eliminates any inquiry into whether the potential witness has any “conception of any moral obligation to say what is ‘right’”. 

In the result, despite all the talk in our cases of the need to “defer” to trial judges on their assessment of mental capacity, a deference which, in my opinion, is manifestly appropriate, the majority judgment shows no deference to the views of the trial judge whatsoever and orders a new trial.  I am unable to agree.  I therefore dissent.

Justice Binnie’s very strongly worded dissent takes issue with the lack of conviction the majority has with the principle of deference: in other words, the Chief Justice and the other Justices concurring in her decision, do not “walk the walk” when it comes to deference. These incongruous comments on deference by the majority become even more incomprehensible in light of the oft-quoted Marquard case, involving testimonial capacity, in which Chief Justice McLachlin stated:

It has repeatedly been held that a large measure of deference is to be accorded to the trial judge's assessment of a child's capacity to testify.  Meticulous second‑guessing on appeal is to be eschewed.  As Dickson J. (as he then was) put it (at p. 135) in the oft‑cited case of R. v. Bannerman (1966), 48 C.R. 110 (Man. C.A.), aff'd [1966] S.C.R. v, a trial judge's discretion in determining that a child is competent to testify "unless manifestly abused, should not be interfered with."

Justice Binnie relied on McLachlin C.J.’s Marquard decision in his dissent in D.A.I.

In the end, the deference issue may come down to this: appellate courts will give deference more readily when the trial judge admits evidence than when the trial judge finds evidence inadmissible. It appears at least in matters of admissibility the SCC prefers to give deference to the principle of admissibility over exclusion. Although this approach may recognize more readily the public’s desire to have a matter tried, it may do so at the cost of a fair trial.

 

Can Criminal Law Keep Up With The Digital World?

A mere ten years ago, we did not “google” or “friend” or “wiki.” Twenty years ago, we did not listen to music on an iPod or talk on a Blackberry. Back then we bought Kodak film and waited to view our photos. The next decade should prove to be even more progressive as we start to use “bio interfaces” to directly connect to the Internet, thereby cutting out the “middle-man” or, to be more accurate, the “middle-machine.” With the direct ability to connect with technology, we will also see more data interfaces with which to interpret data, such as Wolfram Alpha. The advances and changes in technology have indeed been incredible.

With these new technologies, there will be challenges. Not in terms of how well we will adapt to the new advances: history has shown humans to be great adapters to new environments. Our challenge will be how well our institutions will be able to adapt and respond to the rapid changes. It is this challenge of how the criminal law responds to the new digital age, which was the subject of the panel presentation at the recent Alberta Law Conference.

To discuss this pressing issue, the panel consisted of two prosecutors with an expertise in presenting digital evidence in criminal cases: Daniel Scanlan, a B.C. Crown Attorney and author of Digital Evidence In Criminal Law and Marc Cigana, presently prosecuting the Quebec Hell’s Angels case. The discussion was first framed in the privacy context through the realities of society’s paradigm shift away from a full and robust privacy protection network, where personal information is jealously guarded and access to it is restricted, to a society of informed by social media, where intimate details are publically revealed and dynamically transferred world wide in seconds.

It is this new paradigm, which has kept the courts, the lawmakers, and the advocates behind the “eight-ball” and has created a legal disconnect. Decisions are rendered on technology, which by the time of the decision is no longer in use, thereby making the decision useless. Similarly, any legislative response is outdated by the time of the enactment date. The result is a patchwork of case law, too specific to be of much use as a precedent and lacking the informational basis to become legal principle.

The solution was a call by the panel for a more principled approach to technology. Instead of approaching digital evidence on a case-by-case basis, the participants in the criminal justice system must look beyond the facts and provide the evidentiary basis needed for a meta-decision on the use of digital technology. Such a decision or principle would produce a more measured response by our criminal justice system to new technological advances, thus promoting just results congruent with our digital age.

As it stands, the Courts struggle to conceptualize the new technology’s place in the legal literature. A neat example is the determination of the validity of a warrantless search of a cell phone based on the presence or absence of a reasonable expectation of privacy. Instead of viewing cell phones, as cell phones, and thus as a new entity requiring a unique reasonable expectation of privacy determination, the Courts struggle to pigeonhole cell phones into known categories. Thus the Court asks: Is a cell phone like a notebook? Or is a cell phone like a purse? Or is a cell phone like a computer? Unsurprisingly, the answer differs from case-case and from province to Province, leaving the case law in flux.

What is the Supreme Court of Canada’s position in this conundrum? So far, they have not made any cohesive determination on the issue but there is hope they will enter the fray with the Telus case, which recently received leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada pursuant to s.40 as an issue of national importance, without being heard at the Court of Appeal level. In Telus, the police used a general warrant under s.487 of the Criminal Code to seize Telus records of text messages from the accused’s cell phone. The difficulty was the warrant gave authority not only for the seizure of historical messages, already sent, but also for the seizure of messages as they were being generated. Telus took the position such a seizure was akin to an interception of electronic communication under Part VI of the Criminal Code, which required a wiretap authorization.

Unfortunately, the framing of the case appears to be inviting the pigeonhole approach: Are the text messages merely letters in transit or are they more like a private conversation over the telephone? Instead of focusing on the characterization, the Court should be focusing on crafting a judgment, which will set down the general legal principles to be followed when faced with digital technology in the criminal law.

How they will in fact approach the issue will determine whether the digital future can easily live within our traditional precepts or whether our criminal justice system is just too outdated to face the challenges of tomorrow.    

The Goudge Report And Expert Evidence

I had the pleasure of attending a top-notch legal seminar at the Alberta Law Conference organized by the Canadian Bar Association on Evidence and Advocacy. Madam Justice SheilahMartin moderated the main panel discussion, presented as a joint session for all practitioners in family, criminal, and civil law including members of the judiciary, with Mr. Justice Goudge of the Ontario Court of Appeal and Toronto criminal lawyer, Mark Sandler as keynote speakers. The presentation was excellent and was about excellence as the title of the panel suggested: Recommitting to Excellent Expert Evidence.

The basis of the discussion was the 2008 Goudge Report on the Inquiry Into Pediatric Forensic Pathology in Ontario and the recommendations contained therein for the just and appropriate use of expert evidence in the criminal justice system. The Inquiry was struck after systemic frailties surfaced in pediatric forensic pathology in Ontario, which was marked by the flawed and inadequate methodology used by the primary pathologist in the field: Dr. Charles Smith. These flaws were exacerbated by a system, which unquestionably supported and approved of Dr. Smith’s role as an expert. The result was devastating as loving parents and devoted caregivers were wrongly convicted of killing the children they loved.

In one such case, called Amber’s Case after the child who died, the young neighbourhood babysitter was accused of shaking Amber to death. The teen insisted the child fell down a set of stairs but Dr. Smith, in his “expert” opinion, adamantly maintained the teen’s scenario was impossible. The teenager was ultimately acquitted after the Trial Judge found serious flaws in the expert evidence. Flaws, which remained uncorrected in future cases. Amazingly, the exonerated teen went on to become a Crown Attorney. This is a perfect example of the human ability to triumphantly overcome even the greatest adversity.

There were a number of factors contributing to these “unassailable” convictions. For one, Dr. Smith considered himself a Crown witness who was committed to the ultimate goal of conviction. Oftentimes, he was permitted to give evidence in areas outside of his knowledge and expertise. Much of his opinion was not based on scientific evidence but was merely anecdotal. Furthermore, his reputation was so fixed that even defence lawyers were reticent to challenge his position.

All of these factors came together in a system, which favoured the admissibility of forensic evidence from accepted experts without inquiring into the actual foundation of the opinion. There was no question of how Smith came to his opinion. There was no inquiry into the absence of quality control or peer review of his conclusions. Reliability and accuracy were presumed once the Crown established his expertise. Such expertise was easily established based upon Smith’s position as Director of the Ontario Pediatric Forensic Pathology Unit at the prestigious Hospital For Sick Kids in Toronto. The admissibility of his evidence was guaranteed based upon the innumerable times he was accepted as an expert at trial. As a result, conviction was also virtually guaranteed.

There are many lessons to be learned both systemically, in terms of the role of the criminal justice system, and individually, in terms of the specific functions of the participants in that system. Justice Goudge counseled increased vigilance from all participants: be it the “gatekeepers” function of the Trial Judge or the vital role of defence counsel in understanding and applying the evidentiary rules. Cases such as the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Mohan and the Ontario Court of Appeal (leave to SCC refused) in Abbey, which set out the test to be applied in accepting expert evidence, must be required reading when dealing with any kind of expert evidence. There must be no fear in dealing with experts and no broad based acceptance of their expertise when a life is in jeopardy. Where an expert’s evidence is concerned, only evidence-based opinion should be admitted if an accused is truly to be tried in accordance with our fundamental values of fairness, impartiality, and justice.

Sadly, even with the knowledge of the past, the system is still open to failure. Yesterday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals set aside a murder conviction, which was based on faulty forensic opinion evidence. The frailties of the evidence had been uncovered by investigative reporting. The accused had been serving a 60-year prison sentence.

Hopefully, the implementation of the safeguards as outlined in this posting, and in the other recommendations found in the Goudge Report, will prevent any recurrence of these injustices and will provide, instead, a mechanism for a fair trial.

The Presumption of Innocence: The International Perspective

The presumption of innocence is firmly entrenched in the Anglo-American justice system. As discussed my last two postings, found here and here, the presumption of innocence has grown into its own: from simple beginnings as a rule of evidence, it is now the cornerstone of our criminal law.

As a result of the development and acceptance of the presumption of innocence in the Western legal tradition, the presumption has also taken root internationally. Most International human rights documents speak to the presumption of innocence as a required element of a fair trial.

The presumption of innocence protection appears under Article 11(I), in the post-World War II Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which I have discussed in a prior posting. Additionally, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 in Article 14 contains the right to the presumption of innocence. As a signature nation to the UN, Canada has adopted these documents as evidenced by our own Charter equivalent found in s.11(d).

However, it is easy to see why Canada, the United States, and other Commonwealth countries would readily implement this right into their legal process considering the English common law legal origin of the presumption of innocence. For other signatory countries following the differing tradition of an inquisitorial based legal system or Continental Law, the issue of implementing the presumption of innocence is not as simple despite their acceptance of the Latin maxim of in dubio pro reo, meaning “when in doubt, for the accused.”

In France, for instance, the presumption of innocence or presomption d'innocence comes not from case law, but from the political and philosophical heart of the Nation as found in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen under article 9, which reads in part “Tout homme etant presume innocent jusqu'l ce qu'il ait eti dc'clare coupable” or “As all persons are held innocent until declared guilty.” As argued by Francois Quintard-Morenas in an excellent journal article in The American Journal of Comparative Law on The Presumption of Innocence in the French and Anglo-American Legal Traditions, although the French have arrived at the presumption in a more cultural manner and have implemented it consistent with their legal tradition, it is still a defining principle of French continental law.

The German concept of the presumption of innocence or unschuldsvermutung derived from the Latin maxim of in dubio pro reo was integrated into their legal system as a result of the adoption of International human rights documents such as the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights in article 6(2). Again, World War II had a large impact on the acceptance of this principle.

Interestingly, Spain and Russia have, within the last decade, turned to a jury trial system requiring the implementation of the presumption of innocence as an integral part of the jury trial process. Although continental law accepts the concept, it is quite another matter to integrate the concept into the continental inquisitorial system. It becomes even more complicated when the jury system, a purely English common law construct, is imposed. For an interesting discussion of this issue, see Stephen Thaman’s article Europe's New Jury Systems: The Cases of Spain and Russia in Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 62, No. 2, The Common Law Jury (Spring,1999), pp. 233-259.

In the People’s Republic of China, the presumption of innocence does not exist, but neither does the presumption of guilt. Instead, the Chinese legal system “presumes” nothing, preferring to seek “truth from facts” by “taking facts as the basis and the law as the yardstick.” Yet, this seemingly neutral manner of deciding guilt or innocence contradicts case reality: certainly the “Gang of Four” trial would suggest otherwise. For an interesting discussion of these issues, see The People's Republic of China and the Presumption of Innocence by Timothy Gelatt found in The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1973-), Vol. 73, No. 1 (Spring, 1982),pp. 259-316.

All of this leads us to appreciate that Anglo-American legal principles do not “rule” the world. There are many other jurisdictions where our fundamental core principles are either not followed or are merely general guidelines. Legally, this may be acceptable. When, however, a fundamental value like the presumption of innocence is involved, it becomes more difficult to accept the differences.

 

Tracing The Presumption of Innocence Through A Survey of Supreme Court of Canada Cases

In yesterday’s blog, the presumption of innocence, as a legal principle, was traced from its seemingly innocuous origins as a rule of evidence in civil cases to the status of a fundamental, constitutionally entrenched, principle of the criminal law. Today, I will detail how the presumption of innocence took on such elevated standing through a brief survey of early Charter and pre-Charter Supreme Court of Canada cases.

On a quick review of the Supreme Court of Canada cases discussing the presumption of innocence, it is the 1985 SCC reference case of Re B.C. Motor Vehicle Act, which explicitly crystallizes our present concept of the presumption of innocence as a fundamental principle of the criminal law and as a fundamental societal value. Justice Lamer described the presumption as not just a procedural tool but also as a substantive concept which “has both a societal and an individual aspect and is clearly fundamental; to our justice system.” The Charter’s influence in protecting such an expansive view of the presumption, thereby making the principle a right, is evident in other early post-Charter cases on the issue, such as the earlier case of Dubois in 1985, Oakes in 1986, and Whyte in 1988.

As an aside, it is no surprise that it is Justice Lamer who gives the presumption of innocence such an expansive and meaningful definition. Prior to his judicial appointments, Antonio Lamer was the Vice-Chairman of the Law Reform Commission of Canada (LRCC) in 1971 and Chairman thereof in April 1976 at a time when the LRCC was actively involved in shaping the jurisprudential landscape of the law.

In terms of pre-Charter, although Justice Estey, dissenting in the entrapment case of Amato in 1982, called the presumption of innocence a “fundamental doctrine,” there is little of this nomenclature in earlier cases. For example, in the 1969 Lampard case, the presumption of innocence is merely called “rebuttal,” hardly a powerful descriptor of the “cornerstone” of criminal law. Other pre-Amato cases characterize the presumption in the same manner: as a presumption, which ceases if the Crown can prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Even in some earlier cases, the presumption is referred to as the “general presumption of innocence,” again a thoroughly unsatisfactory way of describing a constitutionally entrenched right. Interestingly, in all of these cases, the presumption is an adjunct to the burden of proof.

Finally, consistent with Fletcher’s theory of the origins of the presumption in English civil law, is the 1883 SCC case of McRae v. White. The case was one of unjust and fraudulent preference in an insolvency action. Although a civil suit, the case does have shades of fraudulent and therefore criminal intention, but the result is based upon a failure of the plaintiff to satisfy the onus as required by the Insolvency Act of 1875.

In other words, the plaintiff could not rebut the negative: that a man is presumed to fulfill his legal obligations. In this case, the defendant, in good faith, took on debt with the honest belief he would fulfill his obligations. The plaintiff was unable to establish otherwise. Admittedly, there is no mention of the actual phrase “presumption of innocence,” but the headline of the case reads “Insolvent Act of 1875—Unjust preference—Fraudulent preference—Presumption of innocence.”

Clearly, the presumption of innocence has matured into a much more powerful concept than originally imagined. This is so, at least in the legal arena. In my final posting on the issue, tomorrow I will discuss the international development of the presumption with an additional look at the historical non-legal usage of the concept.

 

 

 

 

 

The Presumption of Innocence: The Making of a Principle

The presumption of innocence is at the heart of our criminal justice system. As a cornerstone of criminal law principles, the presumption of innocence guarantees a fair trial for all. By ensuring only those individuals who are found guilty will be punished, it protects the vulnerable individual from the awesome powers of the State. It is indeed a fundamental principle, constitutionally entrenched in our Charter, and an integral part of our rule of law.

As important as this principle is to our concept of justice, the presumption of innocence has become much more than a legal tool; it has become part of the fabric of our society. Today, every citizen is aware of the presumption of innocence in a criminal case. This principle has transcended the legal arena to become one of our society’s fundamental values. It is not only a value understood by all but it is part of our culture. It can be found in journalism, literature, movies, and television.

Yet, historically, according to academic scholars, the presumption of innocence was not a fundamental principle but a general rule of evidence used in civil cases. In a series of articles, George Fletcher, a well-known scholar now Cardoza Professor of Jurisprudence at Columbia Law School, maintained the presumption of innocence did not become part of the common law nomenclature until the mid-1800s.

In fact, the concept of the presumption arose from a series of civil cases in the early 1800s wherein the court applied the common sense evidentiary rule that a man (yes, this is the early 19th century) is presumed to fulfill his legal obligations. Thus, if a plaintiff is alleging the negative situation, that the defendant did not fulfill his legal obligation, then the plaintiff must prove otherwise. Only later, did this evidentiary rule apply to criminal case and then became, what we call, the presumption of innocence.

According to Fletcher, even the core concept of the burden of proof in a criminal case, which requires the Crown to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt developed separately from the presumption of innocence and only later, in the 1850s, did these two principles become connected. In the Commonwealth, the ultimate articulation of this connection is found in every first year law student's curriculum: the House of Lords case of Woolmington v. D.P.P from 1935. In this seminal case, Lord Sankey famously describes the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof in a criminal case, which is to prove the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, as the "golden thread...woven deep into the fabric of our law."

In the Oakes case, Chief Justice Dickson waxed eloquent on this dual concept and found the presumption of innocence essential to society as it "confirms our faith in humankind; it reflects our belief that individuals are decent and law‑abiding members of the community until proven otherwise." It was indeed the Charter which elevated and crystallized the presumption of innocence as the fundamental concept of our criminal justice system.

Testifying Behind The Veil: The Facts In The N.S. Case

On September 10, 2008, M---D.S. and M.---L. S. appeared before His Honour Judge Weisman for their preliminary hearing on charges arising out of historical sexual assault allegations. The victim, N. S., was a child at the time, when, according to her allegation, her uncle and her cousin sexually assaulted her. Although she complained of the assaults at the time, her father did not want the matter to be further investigated.

It was only as a mature adult, married and with children of her own, did N. S. reinstate the allegation and charges were subsequently laid. The allegations were such that the primary evidence against the two accused was from the alleged victim, making credibility the main determining factor in the case.

Unfortunately, this kind of situation, involving historical sexual assault allegations involving family members, is not unusual. What did make this case unusual was the manner in which the witness N. S. was dressed when she attended court to give evidence. As a practicing Moslem, N. S. was wearing a full body covering, known as an hijab, with a face covering veil, called a niqab, which showed only her eyes.

Defence counsel objected to her garb and requested the judge order the removal of the veil in order to conduct face-to-face cross examination. Judge Weisman, in open court, without conducting a formal hearing in which N.S. would have testified under oath and be subject to cross examination, questioned N. S. on her reason for wearing the veil. N. S. confirmed wearing the veil for religious reasons of modesty and only disrobing for family members. Another reason she did not wish to unveil herself was that:

--- the accuseds in this case are from the same community, they all go to the same place of worship as my husband as well and I have had this veil on for about five years now and it is --my face does not make any special, you know, like I know that--you know, there's body language, there's eye contact. I mean, I can look directly at the defence counsel, that is not a problem...it is a part of me and showing my face to--and it is also about--the religious reason is not to show your face to men that you are able to marry. It is to conceal the beauty of a woman, and you know, we are in a courtroom full of men and one of the accused is not a direct family member. The other accused is a direct family member and I, you know, I would feel a lot more comfortable if I didn't have to, you know, reveal my face. You know, just considering the nature of the case and the nature of the allegations and I think, you know, my face is not going to show any signs of--it is not going to help, it really won't.

N. S. was, however, unveiled for a driver's licence photograph, but a female photographer took the image while N. S. was behind a screen.

Judge Weisman ordered N. S. to remove her veil for her testimony. The decision was quashed upon judicial review by Justice Morrocco, but an application to permit N. S. to wear her veil during testimony was refused. This decision was appealed to the Ontario Court of Appeal, where, in a well written and reasoned decision, Justice Doherty, speaking for the panel, upheld Justice Morrocco's decision and remitted the matter to the preliminary hearing Judge to make the final determination on whether or not N. S. could testify behind the veil.

In another posting, I will discuss the reasoning for these decisions, but today I would like to point out the significance of the information given by N. S. at the time she was questioned by the Court, albeit in a less than procedurally satisfactory situation.

It appears, there are, in actuality, two issues to determine: the wearing of the veil for religious reasons and the wearing of the veil in order to provide comfort and privacy.

One issue, the wearing of the veil in accordance with Moslem modesty laws and tradition, is an issue of religious freedom under s.2(a) of the Charter. In this instance, this right comes into direct conflict with the accused's right to face his or her accuser for full answer and defence of the charges and is a protected principle of fundamental justice under s.7 of the Charter

The other issue, of comfort and privacy, engages N.S.'s right to protect her personal integrity and self-identity during the criminal process. Thus, society's interest in protecting trial fairness and in encouraging reporting by victim's of abuse is engaged as well. 

This delineation of the two issues is important as the final determination must take both concerns into account. Indeed, there are already provisions in our laws, specifically in the Criminal Code, to provide a more comfortable experience for a witness. One way this can be done is by permitting the witness to testify behind a privacy screen according to s.486.2(2), if "necessary to obtain a full and candid account from the witness." If so ordered, only the Judge and the lawyer conducting the examination can view the witness. Such an order strikes the right balance: as witness privacy rights are preserved and the trier of fact is able to assess demeanour and credibility. The constitutionality of this procedure was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Levogiannis case.

The other issue at stake, involving the freedom of religion and the competing interest of an accused's fair trial rights, must be assessed on a different basis. It is this clash of ideals which is at the heart of the N. S. appeal recently heard before the Supreme Court of Canada, and which will be further discussed in another posting. But here too, I suggest, there is an opportunity to strike a balance and come to an accommodation which preserves the rights of all.

 

 

 

Follow Up To Yesterday's Post

For further clarification, the proposed Alberta regime requires the administrative tribunal sitting on an appeal of an automatic roadside suspension, resulting from a "warn," to consider the certificate of annual maintenance of the approved screening device and the records of the last calibration of the device. On the basis of those documents, the police report, and any other relevant evidence, either sworn or unsworn, the tribunal must be satisfied that the driver consumed alcohol with a blood alcohol concentration equal to or over .05 at any time within 3 hours after having driven a motor vehicle, before confirming the licence suspension.

In the case of a "fail," where the BAC would be at or over .08, and would therefore trigger the Criminal Code process as well, the administrative appeal board would also consider any certificate of analysis pursuant to s.258 of the Criminal Code and any other relevant evidence. In other words, the appeal hearing would not be unlike trying the matter before the criminal courts except that the process is civil and the standard of proof is not beyond a reasonable doubt but a lower standard of balance of probabilities.

The B.C. regime differs significantly as discussed in the main blog and there is no ability to argue that the approved roadside screening device is faulty. In B.C., there has been significant issues with the roadside devices used.

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!