This Takes Precedence! How the Bedford Case Empowers Legal Precedent

The Bedford case is interesting on many levels. On the public level, it recognizes the modern realities of what historically has been considered a vice in our society. On the private level, it recognizes the harshness of the prostitution laws on those whom the laws were meant to protect. On the Charter level, it recognizes the breadth of the principles of fundamental justice in our society while giving shape and meaning to the phrase “life, liberty and security of the person.” Finally, on the legal jurisprudence level, the case recognizes the importance of a flexible concept of case precedent.

In a previous posting, I discussed a judge’s use of legal and factual analogy to come to a decision in a case. The concept of legal precedent, whereby a decision is made based on previous similar decisions typically from a superior level of court, not only provides a solid basis for a decision, it also gives the decision an aura of authority and power. Power, in the sense of persuasive power.Authority, as in the correctness or soundness of the decision. It is a remarkable tool, which serves a dual purpose: the power and authority arising from precedent maintains the rule of law in the legal sphere and in the public sphere. Precedent, used appropriately, empowers the words of the court and gives them the force of the law. For further discussion on the coercive power of judicial pronouncements, see my postings here on Robert Cover and his seminal essay on “Violence and The Word.”

In Bedford, the majority needed to deal with the issue of legal precedent to lend their decision an air of legitimacy. The prostitution laws at issue had already been the subject of previous constitutional arguments before the highest level of court: the Supreme Court of Canada. To make pronouncements again and by a lower court seemed officious and redundant. In the case of the prostitution laws, the stakes were even higher as the laws were the second-generation iteration of what were originally known as the “soliciting laws.”

In the 1980s, after the advent of the Charter, the government was forced to change the soliciting laws as a result of the Supreme Court of Canada’s interpretation of the word “solicit” as found in the section. The original section prohibited “everyone who solicits any person in a public place for purposes of prostitution."

In the 1978 Hutt case, the Supreme Court of Canada defined “solicit” as pressing and persistent conduct. Hutt, a 23 year-old prostitute working on the infamous Davie Street in Vancouver, British Columbia, had made eye contact with a potential client driving slowly by her. Hutt smiled and the client, an undercover police officer, smiled back and stopped his car. Hutt jumped into the car, agreed on the cost of her services, and was promptly arrested. The SCC, by defining “soliciting,” found that a mere nod of a head was not enough to fulfill the actus reus or prohibited act requirements under the section. Soliciting required something more than just agreeing to sex for money. It required the prostitute to accost and importune, not just smile.

The result of the decision was explosive: the police refused to lay charges under the section. This public pressure caused the government to finally change the section in 1985 to the present day offence of communication for the purpose of prostitution under s. 213 of the Criminal Code. The meaning of “communication” is much broader than “solicits.” One can communicate through word or gesture and would most certainly describe Hutt’s contact with the undercover officer.

But that was not the end to the narrative. The new section, created in the new Charter era, was further scrutinized; not on the basis of nomenclature but on the basis of constitutionality. This was done preemptively through a reference to the Supreme Court of Canada. As discussed in previous posting, a reference permits the court to pre-vet an issue and to make pronouncements on the efficacy of legislation before it is enacted and subject to legal attack. In the Reference on the prostitution sections, the Court found the new communication for the purpose of prostitution laws were inconsistent with freedom of expression under s. 2(b0 of the Charter but were justified in a free and democratic society and thus appropriate.

Fast forward to today and the similarities are apparent. One of the arguments in the Bedford case, attacked the constitutionality of the very same communication section as previously considered by the SCC. In that instance, the Bedford decision sits solidly behind legal precedent by dismissing the argument as already decided by another, more authoritative court. The more interesting issue is the constitutionality of the other prostitution related charges: keeping a common bawdy house under s.210 and living off the avails under s.212(1)(j). It is here the court relied on a more flexible and contextual approach to legal precedent, while still upholding the concept of court hierarchy.

Two scenarios were discussed. One scenario contemplated the ability of a trial court or lower level court, to permit counsel to build a record of evidence, which would then form the foundation of a future argument before a higher and thus more authoritative court. This higher level court would be in the position to revisit the issue to determine if the passage of time has changed the issue to require a new and different look at the issues involved. The other scenario, contemplates situations where the issues to be argued may be related but are framed differently enough that a decision on the matter is not tied by the rules of legal precedent. This flexibility permitted the court in Bedford to come to a decision on the case and to tackle, head-on, the modern paradox found in the overly broad prostitution sections.

Although the passages on precedent are not the crux of the Bedford case, the court’s view of the issue brings or shall we say, drags, traditional legal principles into the 21st century and beyond.



The Result In Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford

The much awaited decision from the Court of Appeal for Ontario in the Bedford case on the constitutionality of various prostitution related sections of the Criminal Code has finally been released.

The majority of the court agreed with Justice Himel's lower court decision that s. 210 common bawdy house and s. 212(1)(j) living off the avails of prostitution are unconstitutional as being contrary to the principles of fundamental justice under s. 7 of the Charter.

In the matter of keeping a common bawdy house, the Court struck down the section but suspended the invalidity of the section for 12 months to give Parliament an opportunity to redraft the section in a Charter friendly manner.

The offence of living off the avails of prostitution under s. 212(1)(j) is unconstitutional in the limited circumstances of where the relationship between the prostitute and those living off the avails is not exploitive. For example, where a prostitute supports his or her family with the earnings of prostitution, the family would not be exploiting the prostitute and should not be charged under this section. This exemption would not preclude "pimps," who put prostitutes on the streets for their own economic benefit would still be subject to this subsection. 

Where the court did not agree with Justice Himel was on the issue of the constitutionality of s.213 communication for the purpose of prostitution. The court upheld this section on the basis of a previous decision from the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) on the same issue. In that previous 1990 case, Reference re ss. 193 and 195.1(1) (c) of the Criminal Code, the Government of Manitoba referred the then new and untested communication sections to the SCC to determine if the sections would withstand a possible Charter challenge. For further discussion of references to the SCC, please read my previous posting here. The SCC found section 195.1(1)(c), the same section at issue in Bedford but numbered as s. 213(1)(c), to be contrary to fundamental freedom of expression under s. 2(b) of the Charter but saved under s. 1 of the Charter as a reasonable limit in a free and democratic society. I have discussed s.1 in relation to freedom of expression in some previous postings and most particularly here and here.

The decision is of interest in terms of the findings of the Court on the s.7 issue. However, the decision also makes some important comments on the principle of precedent and the restrictions on a Court when revisiting a decision, which has already been a subject of consideration by a higher level Court. This fascinating discussion, which I suggest impacted the decision in Bedford and provides guidelines for future cases, will be the subject of my next post. 


War Crimes: Canadian and International Milestones

With the announcement on March 14, 2012 of the first verdict by the UN sponsored International Criminal Court (ICC), it seems fitting to look back at the first prosecution in 1989, R.v. Imre Finta, in Canada under the then new federal Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act. Imre Finta, originally from Hungary and, as a Hungarian police captain, deported thousands of Jews to the death camp Auschwitz in World War II, was the first individual charged under the Act in 1988. Finta, at the time of his arrest, was a retired restaurant owner living in Toronto. 

The Act was conceived as a result of the Deschenes Commission, which was struck in 1985 to inquire into the presence of war criminals in Canada and to provide recommendations on how Canadian laws should respond. At the time of the Commission, Canada’s immigration laws and policies were not stringent enough to keep war criminals from immigrating to Canada. Indeed in 1962, Josef Mengele, or as infamously known as the “Angel of Death,” had applied to immigrate to Canada even though his identity was well known to government officials. Although, Mengele did not in fact enter Canada, it was clear such entrance would have been possible considering the laxity of Canadian laws. It was equally clear at the time of the Commission, there were in Canada at the time of the Commission alleged war criminals from the World War II era.

The final Commission report was tabled before parliament by then Justice Minister, Ray Hnatyshyn, after examining over 800 cases of alleged war criminals in Canada. Although the Commissioner, Justice Jules Deschenes of the Quebec Court of Appeal and formally the Chief Justice of the Quebec Superior Court, recommended some individuals be deported from Canada, he also recommended ways in which the alleged war criminals could be prosecuted in Canada for their crimes. His proposed recommendations, including changes to the Criminal Code to permit such prosecution, culminated in the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act in 1987.

Interestingly, Justice Deschenes was appointed in 1993 as one of the first Judges elected by the United Nations General Assembly to serve at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the precursor to the present day International Criminal Court, mentioned at the beginning of this posting.

With the arrest of Imre Finta on various Criminal Code charges such as robbery, manslaughter, and kidnapping the Commission’s recommendations appeared to be finally showing results. The trial commenced before Mr. Justice Campbell and a jury with evidence of Holocaust victims from all over the world. Ultimately, Finta was acquitted after six months of trial. The Crown appealed to the Court of Appeal for Ontario, with five Justices hearing the case, including Chief Justice Charles Dubin.

Typically only three Justices sit on an appeal case but five justices are assigned when it is a matter of great national importance such as when the constitutionality of a piece of federal legislation is at issue. For example, five Justices of the Court of Appeal for Ontario heard the Bedford appeal on the constitutionality of some of Canada’s prostitution laws. The judgment is to be released on March 26, 2012. A five member panel may also be required when new legislation needs judicial interpretation or in the case of a legislative reference (see my prior posting on References) or when the appeal involves issues decided by a previous Court with a request to review that prior decision. An example from outside of the criminal law is the recent five panel Ontario appeal decision on summary judgment motions.

In the case of Finta, the Court struggled with two issues of national importance involving both Charter rights and substantive issues. The Charter arguments were dismissed. In terms of substantive issues, the Court needed to determine the appropriate implementation and use of the new war crime legislation, particularly how a trial judge must instruct himself or a jury on the correct legal requirements of such a charge in the context of criminal law principles. Finta was charged with easily identifiable Criminal Code charges, but was so charged in the context of war crimes committed years earlier in another country. It was this further layer of complexity, which required a panel of five Justices to consider the issues involved.

The Court of Appeal for Ontario came to a split decision on the application of the Act. The majority decision written by Justices Doherty, Osborne, and Arbour dismissed the Crown appeal against acquittal, finding no substantial wrong or miscarriage of justice at trial. The dissent, written by Chief Justice Dubin and concurred in by Justice Tarnopolsky. The dissent was chiefly concerned with the requisite elements of war crimes and their opinion that the trial judge erred in instructing the jury on the legal aspects of those essentials. Thus, the acquittal was upheld, as there was no palpable error of law and without resort to the constitutionality of the legislation.

As an aside, here too we have some interesting connections to international criminal law and human rights. Justice Walter Tarnopolsky had a strong background in human rights and civil liberties as an academic and law professor. Just prior to his appointment to the Court of Appeal, he was a member of the United Nations Human Rights committee. Justice Doherty as a previous Crown Attorney in the appeals division was very well versed in criminal prosecutions. I have spoken of Justice Doherty in a previous posting. Of course, Madame Justice Arbour went on to become Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the very same organization to which Justice Deschenes was connected. She sat on the Supreme Court of Canada as well but after the SCC Finta decision. Most notably, she later served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. I have written about Justice Arbour in a previous posting.

The case was further appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, with similar results. Only seven justices heard the matter, rather than the full quorum of nine. The majority decision written by Justice Cory, upheld the acquittals and dismissed the appeal and the constitutional questions. The majority (a slim majority as 4 justices dismissed the appeal, while three justices would have allowed it) confirmed the substantive charges under the Criminal Code must be proven in conjunction with the additional proof of the essential elements of a crime against humanity as defined by the Act. Thus, as both the substantive offence and the war crime must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, Finta was properly acquitted as the Crown failed to prove the requisite elements of both offences.

This decision raised the bar in terms of the ability to prove such offences, making such prosecutions extremely difficult for the Crown. The result was fewer prosecutions (many of which were unsuccessful), more extraditions, and even more deportations under the much easier to use immigration legislation. Therefore, the first verdict under the auspices of the ICC is a welcome and much needed addition to the global fight against international crimes. It is hoped Canada will support the efforts of the ICC, while still remaining vigilant in its own efforts to prosecute war criminals.


The Omnibus Crime Bill Passed By the House of Commons

After a few minor adjustments, the Omnibus Crime Bill C-10, also know formally as An Act to enact the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act and to amend the State Immunity Act, the Criminal Code, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and other Acts, or informally by the short title Safe Streets and Communities Act, was passed by the House of Commons today in a final vote of 154 for the legislation and 129 against the Bill. Although the Act merely awaits Royal Assent to become law, it is still worthwhile to critically revisit the myriad of problems arising from the enactment of the new law. With that in mind, I have recommend reading the following:

1. The Canadian Bar Association - 10 reasons for opposing Bill C-10

2. The Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers on the negative impact of the new legislation on those offenders suffering from mental illness

3. First Nations concerns that Bill C-10 fails to address the issue of "over-incarceration" of Aboriginals. See also the submissions to parliament on behalf of the Assembly of First Nations and see the petition to the Senate to oppose the Bill on the Nishnawbe-Aski Legal Services website.

4. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association 

5. My previous blog on the issue from October 15, 2011: When Does One Marijuana Plant Plus One Shared Joint Equal Nine Months  Incarceration?

Jury Vetting: The International Perspective

In my previous posting, I discussed jury vetting, which is at issue in the Duong, Cardoso, and Yumnu cases scheduled to be argued on Wednesday and Thursday this week before the Supreme Court of Canada. Jury vetting involves the investigation of potential jurors outside of the legislated jury selection process. It is frowned upon in Canada and in the last posting I explained the legal issues involved and how jury vetting impacts our criminal justice system. Today I want to discuss the International perspective with a view to revealing how other jurisdictions approach jury vetting.

As Canada is a Commonwealth country and our laws are based on the English common law tradition, it is best to start our review with the United Kingdom. In England, the legislated jury process is similar to Canada’s procedure. As in Canada, challenges are permitted in the in-court selection of jurors but limited by legislative requirements. As in the recently amended Ontario Juries Act, a criminal records check is automatically done on potential jurors.

There is also a mechanism for a more detailed check called an “authorized jury check,” which may delve deeper into government records on an individual and may include, for example, a Security Services check. This can only be done upon the authorization of the Attorney General acting in accordance with the Attorney General’s Guidelines on Jury Checks. Typically, this kind of exceptional check is done in cases of “public importance” where it is in the “interests of justice” to further safeguard the jury process and any potential bias. Such cases may be those, which engage national security or a “terrorist” case. Indeed, in the mid-1970s before these guidelines were in place, such exceptional checks were conducted for the 1974 trials of IRA activists.

Australia, another Commonwealth Nation, also retains similar jury selection practices as in Canada and the UK. In the early 1990s, a jury vetting scandal rocked the justice system, which resulted in an inquiry into the matter. The improper jury vetting practices arose out of two very high profile cases, involving politicians, whereby potential jurors were asked for their political views and private investigators were hired to do in-depth investigations of the backgrounds of potential jurors. The resultant Inquiry revealed the vetting practice was more widespread. The prosecution also vetted jurors on the basis of criminal records and under the authority of the Australian Criminal Justice Rules. Although the Rules survived an unsuccessful legal challenge, the difficulty in Australia has been the inconsistent jury vetting practices exercised in differing districts.

Many jurisdictions in the United States check potential jurors for criminal records as authorized by their legislation. However, many jurisdictions do go further and use background information gathered by investigators, usually private ones, in the actual in-court jury selection process. This information results in carefully crafted questions put to the potential jurors based on their potential bias as gleaned by their personal background information.

It appears that many jurisdictions perform criminal records checks on potential jurors but as connected to the legislative requirements for jury selection. Although Australia does not have a consistent practice, which has raised fairness issues, the UK does have a set procedure.

The problem with the Ontario case is two-fold: first, criminal record checks were performed and second, background reputation evidence was gathered. Of course the first issue was subsequently fixed by amending the Ontario legislation. However, in some provinces such as Alberta, the Jury Act does not permit the police to engage in such checks. In fact, a juror is excluded from service if convicted of a criminal offence (either indictable or summary conviction) or if simply charged with a criminal offence. The Alberta Act is therefore more restrictive in its eligibility requirements than the Ontario version.

The second problem arising from the Duong, Cardoso, and Yumnu case is the use of reputation information. This is clearly not permitted in any legislation and provides additional information, which is not normally available or provided in the jury selection process. This kind of information is not gathered in the UK and Australia, as a result of inquiries into jury vetting practices, however this type of information is properly gathered in some jurisdictions in the United States. The real question for Canadians will be where should we draw the line on jury vetting practices. Unfortunately, the Court of Appeal for Ontario did not address this issue. The hope is the Supreme Court of Canada will.

When the news of the jury vetting in the case hit the media, “jurygate” in Ontario was born, and the issues became a public one. What resulted, even before the appeal was heard, was an investigation by the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General into jury vetting practices as well as an investigation by the Ontario Privacy Commissioner. The Commissioner’s Report called for an end to the jury vetting practices used in the case.

Not matter on what basis the SCC decides the issues, the situation is also a problem of consistency. Both the Federal and provincial governments will have to create a legislative process whereby potential jurors are checked for only ineligibility issues. Provincial Jury legislation must reflect this consistency. If we want to safeguard our jury system and provide a fair trial for all, we must ensure jury-vetting practices are in line with our fundamental values and are fulfilled equally in all jurisdictions.

How A Charge Is Laid Under The Canada Elections Act

With all the recent news of election fraud and automated phone calls or robocalls directing voters to the wrong polling station in the last federal election, it is worthwhile to take a walk through the Canada Elections Act and particularly look at the Act’s mechanism for enforcement. In this blog posting, I will explain how a charge is laid under the Canada Elections Act.

According to the Elections Canada website, the Commissioner of Canada Elections, as appointed under the Act by the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, is an independent, non-partisan, officer whose duty is to ensure that the Canada Elections Act is complied with and enforced.

Who is the Commissioner? Well, presently, Canada Elections is seeking a new Commissioner and the deadline is tomorrow, March 2, 2012. The current Commissioner is William Corbett, who was appointed in 2006.

How is a possible violation investigated? Under s. 510, the Chief Electoral Officer, presently Marc Mayrand, may refer to the Commissioner for an inquiry a violation committed by an election officer or any person who may have committed an offence under sections:

  1. 486(3)(a) - signing nomination papers where ineligible;
  2. 486(3)(d) - publication of false statement of withdrawal of candidate;
  3. 488 - unauthorized printing of ballots;
  4. 489(3)(g) - being a deputy returning officer and placing identifying mark on ballot;
  5. 493 - failure to appear before a returning officer and;
  6. 499(1) - removal of posted election documents.

Additionally, according to s. 511 of the Act, the Commissioner, if he believes on reasonable grounds that an offence under the Act has been committed, may refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions, now Brian Saunders, who will then decide if a prosecution is warranted. If a prosecution is warranted the Director then requests the Commissioner to lay an Information before a Justice of the Peace or a Provincial Court Judge.

An Information is the charging document initiating the prosecution. In order to lay an Information, the Informant, in this case the Commissioner, must swear under oath and in writing, his reasonable and probable grounds for believing an offence has been committed. The Commissioner must also indicate the place and time of the alleged offence.

Once the Justice receives the sworn statement from the Commissioner, the Justice must determine if the sworn statement actually discloses reasonable grounds for the commission of an offence. Although this is the first judicial determination made on an allegation, the Justice is not deciding upon guilt or innocence. The Justice is simply satisfying himself that there is a prima facie case based on the sworn statement. The Justice does not weigh the evidence at this point but takes the evidence contained in the sworn statement at face value, meaning the Justice assumes the truth and integrity of the information. If the information, as presented, fails to satisfy the Justice that there are reasonable grounds for the charge, then no process is issued (as in a summons to court or an arrest warrant) and the charge is not initiated. 

Therefore, in some circumstances, a charge under the Canada Elections Act cannot be laid until a myriad of steps have been fulfilled such as:

  1. The Chief Electoral Officer reviews the alleged violation and if the Chief has reasonable grounds to believe there may be a violation, refers the matter to the Commissioner for inquiry;
  2. The Commissioner then conducts the inquiry and if the Commissioner believes on reasonable grounds a violation may have been committed, he may refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions;
  3. The Director of Public Prosecutions reviews the violation and if prosecution is warranted, the matter is sent back to the Commissioner;
  4. The Commissioner must attend before a Justice of the Peace to lay an Information, the JP, must receive the complaint from the Commissioner, but must only issue process or initiate charges, upon being satisfied there are indeed reasonable grounds for the offence before a charge can be laid under the Canada Elections Act.

In the end, it is much more difficult to lay a charge under the Canada Elections Act, than it is for a charge to be laid under the Criminal Code. Anyone can appear before a Justice and swear an Information that they believe on reasonable grounds that a crime has been committed under the Code. If a Justice is satisfied there are reasonable grounds, then process is issued and a charge is laid.

Considering the right to vote is constitutionally protected under s. 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the layers of inquiry required involving three different officials, who all must have reasonable grounds to proceed, seems incongruous. This is particularly puzzling in light of the Supreme Court of Canada’s robust and expansive interpretation of the democratic right to vote as being more than merely the right to cast a ballot. Indeed, the right to vote includes a citizen’s right to play a meaningful role in the electoral process.

There is, therefore, a positive obligation on the government to provide appropriate arrangements for the effective exercise of the right to vote. The government, to fulfill this obligation, must create an electoral apparatus to permit the exercise of this right, including implementing the rules and procedures for ensuring fair elections by providing the protection against violations of that right. The importance of this right cannot be underestimated or taken for granted and should be protected as all rights guaranteed under our Charter are so protected. It remains to be seen if this present "scandal" will effect any changes in order to re-align the actual electoral process more appropriately with our cherished Charter values.

Safety First: Laboratory Safety and the Criminal Code

A Scientific American article on the safety of academic laboratories recently caught my eye. The article entitled Are University Labs Criminally Dangerous? revealed a systemic weakness in the safety standards on campus labs resulting in some serious and at times fatal lab incidents.

One such incident in 2008 killed She­harbano “Sheri” Sangji, a 23 year-old lab research assistant at UCLA. Sheri died eighteen days after chemicals she was working with burst into flames and spread to her clothing. She was not wearing a protective lab coat as required by safety code regulations.

Now felony charges have been laid against the U.C.L.A. chemistry professor in charge of the lab, Patrick Harran, and the Regents of the University of California for criminally breaching lab safety codes under the occupational health and safety code. Harran, if convicted, faces up to 4.5 years imprisonment.

UCLA vigorously denied any criminal responsibility calling the charges “outrageous.” In the statement released by UCLA after the charges were laid, the University questioned the “truly baffling” charges, which were inconsistent with the University’s co-operation in an “exhaustive” safety investigation, the subsequent finding there was no “willful violations” by UCLA, and the fining of the University under regulatory offences. The University was fined $31,000 by the California Division of Occupational Health and Safety in 2009 as Sangji was not properly trained, had not been provided with protective clothing, and had not addressed “deficiencies noted in an internal safety inspection two months before the fatal fire in Harran’s organic chemistry lab, including a finding that workers were not wearing lab coats.”

The arraignments on the charges have been delayed until March 7, 2012.

Universities in Canada implement their own lab regulations, which tend to require even higher safety standards than the already strict lab safety guidelines. Safety training is even an integral part of school science curriculum. Individual school boards also set safety guidelines.

However, industrial lab accidents are not unknown in Canada, even with a strict regulatory regime. In 2008, approximately two months before the UCLA incident, Roland Daigle, working for the drug manufacturer Sepracor Canada as a lab technician, was exposed to vapours from trimethylsilyl diazomethane while doing a test and subsequently died after his lungs filled up with fluid over an eighteen hour period. Similar to the UCLA offences, the company was charged under the Nova Scotia Occupational Health and Safety Act with “failing to ensure adequate personal protection equipment was in place in Daigle’s work area, failing to ensure that an adequate venting system was in place, failing to ensure he was instructed in the safe use of the chemical, and failing to ensure that no person would disturb the scene of an accident after it occurred.” In a May 2011 plea negotiation, Sepracor pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to provide ventilation and was fined $45,000. The Daigle Family publically denounced the plea negotiation as a “slap on the wrist.”

Of course, the Sepracor incident was dealt with under the provincial regulatory framework and such offences, being public welfare offences and not criminal, do not typically attract serious sanctions. The maximum punishment under the Nova Scotia OHSA is a fine of not more than $250,000 and/or imprisonment not exceeding two years.

However, 2004 amendments to the Criminal Code created under s. 217.1 a legal duty to for “Every one who undertakes, or has the authority, to direct how another person does work or performs a task is under a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm to that person, or any other person, arising from that work or task."

Such a legal duty can underpin a criminal code charge, which requires as an element of the offence a failure of an accused to act where there is a legal duty to do so. Thus, a corporation or manager may be charged under s. 219(1)(b) of the Criminal Code with criminal negligence by “omitting to do anything that it is his (legal) duty to do” and “shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons.” To date, only two employers have been convicted under this new workplace duty.

The question whether regulatory behaviour should be criminalized has been much debated. On one hand are the facts of each particular case such as the deaths of Roland Daigle and Sheri Sangji. On the other hand are deeply held fundamental principles of our criminal law, which cannot and should not be lightly set aside. I will leave this fascinating, yet complex discussion for another posting, but what is clear, as seen by the Canadian and American cases, is that our workplaces can be “criminally dangerous.”


Reading The Riot Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(a) will disturb the peace tumultuously; or

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In The Name Of Her Majesty’s Criminal Law

Monday is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s 60th anniversary of her coronation. The Diamond Jubilee will be celebrated with yearlong events throughout the Commonwealth, including Canada. Canada still has close ties to the Monarchy as the titular Head of State. Our criminal law, in particular, reflects these ties through the stylistic form, or style of cause, used when charging an offender in the name of the Her Majesty the Queen or “Regina.”

There is an understanding in legal circles the Queen’s position in criminal law is purely symbolic: in reality it is the State or Federal Government, through the authority of s.91(27) of the Constitution Act, 1867, has the power to create and enforce criminal law. Despite this, there are a number of areas in the Criminal Code, which use “Her Majesty” as an anchor, both procedurally and substantively.

Going beyond the style of cause, which of course changes to “Rex” when a male Monarch ascends the throne, is the numerous references in the Forms of the Criminal Code. For example, most Orders under the Code, such as an Order to take bodily substances for a DNA analysis, commands, in “Her Majesty’s name,” the attendance of the person named in the Order for the purposes of taking the sample. So too, when an accused is summoned to appear in court, she is commanded to do so in “Her Majesty’s name.”

The police are also commanded in “Her Majesty’s name,” when executing an arrest warrant, to “forthwith” arrest an accused and bring her before the court “to be dealt with according to law.” If bail is denied, “Her Majesty” guarantees safe passage: the police are commanded in “Her Majesty’s name” to safely convey the prisoner into custody.

The troubling part is when the accused is granted bail or is released by an officer in charge. In those instances, the accused must:

acknowledge that [her or she] owe[s] $ (not exceeding $500) to Her Majesty the Queen and deposit herewith (money or other valuable security not exceeding in amount or value $500) to be forfeited if I fail to attend court as hereinafter required.

This leads one to wonder: how much money is owed to Her Majesty? Even though the forfeited money is actually deposited in the Provincial Treasury, and not actually deposited into Her Majesty’s bank account, the hope is the government is using the funds to maintain the criminal justice system. Of course, when the accused fails to pay a fine, there is no longer a Debtor’s Prison, per se, but a sentencing court may impose imprisonment in default of payment of a fine.

Outside of criminal procedure, Her Majesty is a “person” under the criminal law. Specifically, she can be “alarmed,” sold “defective stores” be defrauded, and misrepresented. A person can commit High Treason, one of the most serious offences in the Criminal Code and historically punishable by death, for hurting or causing the death of Her Majesty. Furthermore, a mutinous or traitorous member of the Armed Forces can criminally disappoint Her Majesty.

Despite these possibly criminal acts against Her Majesty, she may, in her munificence,under s. 748 of the Criminal Code:

extend the royal mercy to a person who is sentenced to imprisonment under the authority of an Act of Parliament, even if the person is imprisoned for failure to pay money to another person.

It seems we do need Her Majesty after all.

Let’s Talk About: Diplomatic Immunity

In a previous posting, I discussed spying in Canada with reference to the newest case involving Jeffery Delisle; a Canadian Naval officer charged with both Criminal Code and Security of Information Act offences for allegedly disclosing state secrets to a foreign entity. Mr. Delisle is in custody awaiting a bail hearing, which is now scheduled for February 28, 2012. In the wake of the scandal, is the increasingly number of Russian diplomats leaving the country, as two more have left, bringing the total to six embassy workers whose “contracts” have not been “renewed.”

These hasty departures bring to mind the issue of diplomatic immunity, a generic term used to describe the governmental policy of extending legal immunity to foreign diplomats residing in the host country. Such protection ensures that diplomats do not face criminal prosecution or civil liability under the host state’s legal system. Instead, the host country can “expel” the rule-breaking diplomat from the country.

This special form of immunity comes from the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961), which Canada ratified in 1966 and implements through the Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act. The purpose behind diplomatic immunity, which initially arose hundreds of years ago through custom and practice, is to ensure diplomats can freely and independently execute their duties to their country without undue influence from the host nation. The key to such a policy is reciprocity and certainly Canadian diplomats in foreign countries enjoy the privileges and benefits of diplomatic immunity.

The result is less than salutary for the host country, as diplomats are people and, as such, break rules, as people are wont to do. The difficulty is when the rule breaking amounts to a criminal offence. If the crime is deemed serious enough, the diplomat’s home country may waive immunity and the culprit can be brought to justice in the visiting state. Typically, this happens when the incident is outside of the diplomatic duties. Thus, in the Delisle case, if any diplomats in Canada were involved in the breaches of security, they would be protected by diplomatic immunity. The only recourse would be expulsion or, perhaps, a non-renewal of their “contracts.”

There is another point to keep in mind: a waiver of diplomatic immunity can only be done by the country and not by the individual involved. The diplomat has no authority or decision-making power on the issue of waiver. If the home country, for whatever reason, determines the diplomat must face the music, so to speak, in the foreign country, then the diplomat will face prosecution there. Alternately, the home country can recall the diplomat and prosecute the diplomat at home.

This was the case with Andrey Knyazev, the first secretary of the Russian Embassy in Canada, who in 2001 drove onto a sidewalk in Ottawa, killing prominent lawyer Catherine MacLean. According to the police reports, Knyazev was so drunk at the time; he could barely walk or speak. The then Russian ambassador to Canada, Vitaly Churkin, refused to waive diplomatic immunity in the case, opting instead to try the offender in Russia. Churkin is presently the Russian envoy to the United Nations.

In 2002, Knyazev was tried in Russia for involuntary manslaughter while impaired. The maximum sentence for the offence was five years imprisonment as opposed to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment in Canada. The outcome of the case was uncertain as Knyazev, citing his diplomatic immunity, refused to provide a Breathalyzer sample. Although an Ottawa police officer, who first arrived on the scene, testified, witnesses to the actual incident were lacking.

According to Knyazev’s evidence at trial, he was not drunk, he feared entrapment by the police, the driving conditions were poor, and MacLean was walking on the street. However, the Russian prosecutor presented Canadian police records that showed Knyazev had been involved in a total of four traffic accidents over a two-year period and was intoxicated in two of the incidents. Due to diplomatic immunity, Knyazev had not been charged for those previous events.

Knyazev was ultimately convicted and was sentenced to four years imprisonment. Knyazev appealed sentence and pleaded for a suspended sentence. The appeals court rejected the argument and Knyazev was sent to a Siberian Penal Colony to serve his sentence.

In the aftermath of the case, Canada implemented in 2001 a zero tolerance toward diplomatic impaired driving. According to the Foreign Affairs website, the revised policy is as follows:

The policy provides that diplomats will lose their driving privileges for a first instance of impaired driving. The loss of privilege will occur on the basis of a police report substantiating that a diplomat was driving while impaired. The Department encourages police forces to lay charges for impaired driving, but will take action regardless of whether charges are laid. In most cases, the driving privileges will be suspended for one year. 

In the case of a second instance of impaired driving, or a first offence involving death or injury, the policy provides for the diplomat to be recalled or expelled. … Since Canada cannot directly sanction diplomats under these international rules, the loss of driving privileges will be effected following a waiver of immunity by the diplomat's state or, alternatively, through a written undertaking by the Head of Mission pledging that the diplomat will not drive. Should a state refuse to exercise either of these options, the Department will request that the diplomat be recalled or will expel him or her.

Consistent with this policy, in 2005, three diplomats in Ottawa were investigated for impaired driving and received driving suspensions. The diplomats’ names were not released.

Despite the nomenclature attached to this revised policy, one of zero tolerance, diplomats do not face the full force of Canadian law and are subject only to driving suspensions. Certainly, this “punishment” is minimal compared to the stigma and deterrence of a criminal trial, conviction, and sentence.

It appears the government’s “let’s get tough with diplomats” stance is superficial at best. Even with the revised policy, diplomats commit offences in Canada and simply leave the country, never to return or face justice. Although the policy reasons behind such immunity are reasonable, one wonders if there is a better way to ensure diplomatic independence without sacrificing public safety. Considering our core values, which require acceptance of responsibility and consequences to those who choose to breach criminal laws, diplomatic immunity should be re-visited and revised to bring this ancient custom into the 21st century.  

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.

Whatcott In The Courts Again

Last Fall, I discussed the cases of William Whatcott in previous blog postings. I say cases, as William Whatcott is before the Courts in two different, yet related matters.

On October 12, 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada reserved decision on the Whatcott case, which raised the issue of the constitutionality of the hate speech section of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code. Whatcott, a prolific pamphleteer, was found in violation of the Saskatchewan provisions for delivering his pamphlets at various homes in Regina and Saskatchewan. People complained about the pamphlets some of which were entitled “Keep Homosexuality out of Saskatoon’s Public Schools!” and "Sodomites In Our Public Schools." As a result, Whatcott was fined for violating s. 14(1)(b) of the Code on the basis the pamphlets “promotes hatred against individuals because of their sexual orientation.”

The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal overturned the Tribunal finding, but not on the basis of Whatcott's Charter claim. Justice Hunter, after analyzing the pamphlets and the freedom of expression protections found within the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, namely s. 5 and s. 14(2), found the pamphlets were not hate speech under the Code. Although Justice Smith agreed with the analysis, she but did so mainly on the basis of the relationship between the hate speech provisions and the constitutional values of freedom of expression as entrenched in the Charter. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The other case, presently in the news, relates to Whatcott's pamphleteering efforts in Alberta on the University of Calgary campus in 2008. At the time, Whatcott was banned from the property and was served with a trespass notice for being in violation. Alberta Provincial Court Judge Bascom stayed the proceedings on the rationale the notice violated s.2(b) of the CharterThe Crown has now appealed this decision, which will be heard on March 30, 2012 at the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench. 

Read my previous postings on the issue here:

The Road Taken By The Supreme Court of Canada

A Message of Tolerance

Blog Update: The Limits Of Expression

Law, Literature, And Inherit The Wind



Why Is This Still A Crime? Crime Comics and the Criminal Code

Today, in my criminal law class, we discussed what is a “crime.” We defined “crime” as any form of human behaviour designated by lawmakers as criminal and subject to penal sanctions.” This definition of crime is both narrow and broad: broad as any form of behaviour can be considered a crime, yet narrow as it is only those behaviours so designated by the law makers, which are considered crimes.

Let’s look at that premise more closely. Any behaviour, so designated, can be a crime. For example, opium was legal until the turn of the century when the 1908 Opium Act was enacted. On the other hand, coffee is legally consumed in Canada but was historically subject to bans and restrictions in many countries such as Turkey and pre-Revolutionary France.

Furthermore, no matter how morally repugnant certain behaviour may be, the conduct is only criminal if so designated. In other words, it is not a crime unless our government says so. Clearly then, criminal law is fluid: it changes over time in accordance with  society’s fundamental values.

And yet, there are crimes still found in our Criminal Code, which do not resonate with today’s values and leave us to wonder why the behaviour is still designated as criminal. Section 163(1)(b), which makes it illegal for anyone to make, print, publish, distribute, or sell a “crime comic,” is a case in point.

A crime comic, as defined under s.163(7), is a “magazine, periodical, or book that exclusively or substantially comprises matter depicting pictorially” the commission of crimes, either real or fictitious, or any events leading to the commission of a real or fictitious crime. Thus a crime comic, deemed illegal under the Criminal Code, can easily be that super hero comic book purchased at the corner store or that cool graphic novel on Louis Riel.

Where did this crime come from? In this instance, we can blame the United States. In the 1940s a genre of comic books known as “crime comics” appeared. In truth, some of the comics were in “bad taste” depicting gory scenes of violence, however, the bulk of the comics were inevitably the triumph of good over evil. Either way, the books did not, as suggested by the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, promote or contribute to the commission of crimes by juveniles.

In fact, despite the very public contention of American psychologist Dr. Fredric Wertham that the crime comic books were connected to the increase in juvenile crimes, there was no scientific basis for this position. Unfortunately, by the time the true facts were exposed, the issue had become so political the government was moved to regulate the comic book industry. In Canada, the result was even more significant as the Criminal Code was amended in 1949 to add crime comics as an offence “tending to corrupt morals.”

In the 1950s, the offence was tested by a group of comic book vendors in Manitoba. Mr. Roher, the chosen offender, was convicted of selling a crime comic, specifically “No. 62, April, Dick Tracy.” The cover of the comic book is particularly gruesome as it depicts Dick Tracy floating in the water, near death, while a once masked villain shoots at him. Definitely a crime is being committed but we all know, Dick Tracy, the crime fighter will prevail. He even says so in the corner of the cover as he studies his radio watch, which cries out: "calling all crime stoppers." This fact, however, was meaningless in the eyes of the law as Mr. Roher was convicted of selling this crime comic.

In upholding the conviction in 1953, Chief Justice McPherson describes, in detail, the “bloodthirsty” events illustrated in the comic. According to McPherson C. J., “the legislature wished to enact laws to protect the children of this country from the evil effects of being subjected to publications dealing with crime.”

The Chief Justice also considered the defence available under the section, which is still preserved in the present day offence, known as the defence of the “public good” whereby:

No person shall be convicted of an offence under this section if the public good was served by the acts that are alleged to constitute the offence and if the acts alleged did not extend beyond what served the public good.

In dismissing comics as serving the public good, the Chief Justice commented on the defence as follows:

The only defence under this section I have ever heard suggested is that by reading these publications the child acquires a desire to read. To me it is a strange basis upon which to start child education and, logically considered, could be quite easily adapted to other phases of training; for instance, by starting children on "home-brew" they might become connoisseurs of fine liquors and whisky and eventually experiment with a drink of milk!

Clearly, the Chief Justice was not a fan of the funnies! Or was he really just a man of his times, immersed in the hysteria of the moment and in tune with the public fear caused by the increase in juvenile crimes? This may explain why the conviction was upheld and why the crime found its way into the Criminal Code, but it does not explain why this crime is still part of our criminal law.

Perhaps we could imagine an inappropriate comic, aimed at children, which we would not want published and sold but do we need the criminal law to regulate that scenario? Furthermore, as the section now reads, appropriate material could be subject to the offence, despite the defence of public good, such as the graphic novel by Chester Brown on Louis Riel or the Fantastic Four.

So, why this is still a crime is a valid question to ask and a valid question to keep asking as society changes and our laws do not. By questioning and asking “why,” we are ensuring that our laws reflect who we are as a society and if they do not, then it is incumbent upon our law makers to provide an acceptable answer.


Spy Vs. Spy

Spying, once a remnant of the Cold War as dramatized in John le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and now a major motion picture complete with authentic seventies gear, is now back in the news and our psyche. Tales of spoiled Arctic sovereignty and clandestine meetings is presently all over the media as a result of the charges laid against naval officer, Jeffery Delisle, for allegedly disclosing state secrets to a foreign entity under s. 16(1) of the newly enacted Security of Information Act. These are the first charges under this Act. He is also charged under s. 122 of the Criminal Code for breach of trust in connection with his duties. Mr. Delisle is still in custody awaiting a bail hearing, now scheduled for January 25.

The charging document for the offences, the Information, which contains the specific charges against Delisle allege the offences under s.122 of the Criminal Code and s.16(1) of the Security of Information Act occurred between July 6th, 2007 and January 13, 2012 in Ottawa, Kingston, Halifax, and Bedford. Another charge under s.16(1) suggests a separate incident of communicating safeguarded information occurred between January 10, 2012 and January 13, 2012 in Halifax and Bedford, Nova Scotia. Delisle was arrested by RCMP on January 14. One can speculate that RCMP surveillance observed the January 10 to 13 transaction, which then lead to the charges. Delisle lives in Bedford.

Although the Government is not revealing any information on the charges, experts in intelligence suggest Russia is involved. This seemed to be confirmed by four Russian diplomats leaving Canada, but recent reports suggest some of these men left for other reasons and were not expelled from the country. This whodunit will most certainly be played out in the media for weeks to come. Indeed, CBC already has created a time-line of significant espionage events in Canada. Most the incidents involve China and Russia but do not involve the laying of criminal charges.

In fact, there is a paucity of charges relating to spying in Canada. There are cases of individuals who are not admitted on the basis of espionage. Under the Immigration Refugee Protection Act, individuals who are found to be “engaging in an act of espionage or an act of subversion against a democratic government, institution or process as they are understood in Canada” in accordance with s. 34(1)(a) are inadmissible into Canada. There are also cases of leaking secret information within Canada. The O’Neill case involved the investigation of Juliet O’Neill, an Ottawa journalist, who wrote a news article concerning Maher Arar, who was deported illegally by the USA to Syria where he was tortured. Subsequent information revealed that Canadian authorities had provided information, which lead to his improper rendition.

O’Neill’s home was searched by the RCMP under the very same piece of legislation with which Delisle is charged: the Security of Information Act. The allegation involved the leaking of secret official information under s.4 of the Act. Justice Ratushny found “the allegation of criminality against O’Neill in the Warrants that is the abusive conduct in this case and that amounts to an intimidation of the press and an infringement of the constitutional right of freedom of the press” and therefore the obtaining and execution of the Warrants offended “the public’s sense of decency and fairness and does undermine the integrity of the judicial process.” Juliet is now the media contact for Oxfam Canada.

The first Official Secrets Act was enacted on the heels of the British counterpart in 1890, which was eventually subsumed into the Criminal Code. On the eve of World War II, the official Official Secrets Act was enacted and remained in force until it was finally replaced by the Security of Information Act in 2001 after years of criticism. It was the 1969 Mackenzie Commission or the Royal Commission on Security, which described the Official Secrets Act as "an unwieldy statute, couched in very broad and ambiguous language.” Despite this call for reform, the Act was not dismantled for thirty years. According to The Canadian Encyclopedia, there were only 22 Canadian prosecutions under the Official Secrets Act. The most notable case, involving virtually half of the 22 prosecutions, was as a result of the revelations of Igor Gouzenko in 1945. Gouzenko, who was working in the Russian Embassy in Canada as a cipher clerk, fled the Embassy and defected with over a hundred documents proving there was a Russian spy network in Canada. He lived in hiding in Ontario until his death in 1982 and is considered “the man who started the Cold War.”

Now, some 67 years later, we are back to the beginning. It is a new and improved Act but there is, or may be, Russians involved. No Cold War but perhaps the cold shoulder as a result of the incident. Which brings me to the title of this posting: Spy Vs. Spy. This past October was the 50th Anniversary of this dynamic or, shall we say, dysfunctional duo. Spying, it appears has been around a long time, and by all evidence, appears to be here to stay, whatever the climate.

The Internet Is Here To Stay!

Earlier, something extraordinary happened: there was a paperless revolution. Across the Internet many major websites did the unheard of and went “dark,” meaning the websites were unavailable to users. Although unavailable, these “dark” sites had a message to their madness: Stop SOPA/PIPA. SOPA is an acronym for the Stop Online Piracy Act and PIPA stands for Protect IP. Both USA Bills are purportedly for the protection of intellectual property rights, but in reality the Bills are much more.

SOPA, in particular, gives broad authority to shut down websites, even foreign websites, without notice for “committing or facilitating” copyright infringement. The overreach of the legislation has the potential to adversely impact many websites we read and use on a daily, maybe even hourly, basis such as YouTube, Twitter, Open Culture, and Brain Pickings. For further explanation of the issues read the articles here and here. For an excellent understanding of why Canadians should be worried, read this blog by Michael Geist.

Of course, in Canada the Copyright Act protects copyright material from being distributed and published on the Internet without the copyright holder’s permission. However, there is presently no formal policing of the Act and it is the copyright holder’s responsibility to claim the right and seek enforcement. Interestingly, besides the Copyright Act, which has its main objective to protect intellectual property, there are other Canadian statutes in which the Internet is referred to as a tool to enhance, not detract, from the valid objective of the legislation.

For example, in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, which provides a mechanism for determining the efficacy of projects affecting the environment, a number of sections require the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to “establish and maintain an Internet site to be generally accessible” in order to provide public access to records and reports related to assessments. Thus, this remarkable piece of legislation provides transparent governance through the best possible platform: the Internet, which permits the greatest number of people the fullest access to possibly life-changing information. There are other Acts, which also require some form of Internet access as in the Civil Air Navigation Services Commercialization Act. Instead of restricting access, the Government is embracing it with this, dare I say, “anti-1984” legislation. Yes, we are out of the eighties and there the Internet shall stay!

Of course, the idea of restricting the use of information on a platform dedicated to global dissemination of ideas is not only counter-intuitive but also highly ironic. If the Information Highway cannot carry information, then what do we call it? Somehow the Information Cul de Sac just doesn’t cut it. Certainly, protection of intellectual property is valid but let’s hope we can accomplish protection and increase our worldly knowledge at the same time.

Required Reading For the Criminal Lawyer

The following five classic books should be required reading for any criminal lawyer or anyone simply interested in understanding the reason behind fundamental criminal law principles:

  1. Rethinking Criminal Law by George P. Fletcher. Although written in 1978, this book by George P. Fletcher, a prolific and thoughtful legal scholar and now Chair of Jurisprudence at Columbia Law School, is still a relevant and fascinating journey through the landscape of criminal theory. From his first chapter entitled The Topology of Theft to his last on The Theory of Justification and Excuse, Fletcher covers the wide and varied spectrum of criminal offences and defences through elegant, yet colourful, language. Throughout, he questions the reasons behind traditional common law precepts and lends a decidedly American dimension to criminal law principles.

  2. Punishment and Responsibility by H.L.A. Hart. What Fletcher is to American criminal jurisprudence, Hart, who was a professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford University, is to English criminal law, and then some. Hart, a legal positivist, expounded his legal philosophy in a series of books written in the sixties, his most famous being The Concept of Law in 1961. It is, however, his volume of essays in legal philosophy compiled in Punishment and Responsibility from 1968, which I have read and re-read since my first days in law school. Hart is definitely not for the “faint-hearted” as he extends and refines the theories of John Austin and Jeremy Bentham. Both John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin, also “giants” of legal philosophy, were past students of Hart’s and greatly influenced by him. Indeed, the “Hart-Dworkin” debate on the efficacy of legal positivism is legend in the annals of legal philosophy.

  3. The Limits of the Criminal Sanction by Herbert Packer. Another American legal scholar, Packer coined the present-day models of criminal process: the “crime-control” model, which emphasizes the efficient apprehension and punishment of criminals in order to protect the law-abiding citizen and the “due process” model, which protects the rights of the accused through a fair and just criminal process. In this 1968 book, Packer extends his models and discusses the role of punishment or sanction in our criminal law. He speaks of both traditional modes of sanctioning and the ability for these methods to deter crime. As well, he offers alternative methods. Interesting to note that some 40 years later, we are still struggling with the same issues.

  4. Narrative, Violence, and the Law: The Essays of Robert Cover. Although not a complete book written by Robert Cover, but a compilation of his works, the essays found within the covers are some of most mind-bending legal works I have read. Robert Cover, whom I discussed in a previous posting, was, in his short lifetime, a profoundly creative legal thinker, whose writings force the reader to think of traditional issues in a startling new way. I highly recommend Cover’s essay entitled Violence and the Word.

  5. Criminal Law: The Meaning of Guilt: Strict Liability, Working Paper No. 2 1974, Limits of Criminal Law: Obscenity: A Test Case, Working Paper No. 10, 1975, Criminal Responsibility for Group Action, Working Paper No. 16, 1976 – all by the LRCC. In the early to mid-1970s, Antonio Lamer, who later became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, was the Vice-Chairman and then Chairman of the Law Reform Commission of Canada (LRCC). During his sojourn as head of the organization, the LRCC produced a number of excellent Working Papers on criminal law generally but more specifically, on the issue of criminal liability. Three, in particular stand out, and are a must read for anyone interested in the fault element of crime or criminal intention. They are written in a very clear manner as they were intended for public consumption. The actual 1976 Parlimentary Report is entitled Our Criminal Law.

Public Disasters and the Criminal Law

The tragic and unfortunate Costa cruise ship disaster is a good example of how popular social activities, which are inherently legal and legitimate, can turn, on a dime, into a textbook criminal case. It is no surprise the Captain of the ill-fated ship is being investigated for a number of offences, including manslaughter. Indeed, after reading the victims’ accounts of the disaster, it should be expected. But caution is required when demanding “justice” for public disasters through the aegis of the criminal law.

Usually, government uses regulation to control legitimate and desirable activities, which if carried out improperly or without due care, would result in harm to individuals or the public at large. Any breach of regulation may result in a charge under the statute, which is then known as a public welfare offence. Thus, our local dry cleaner, which provides us with clean shirts and starched collars, must conform to government rules regarding the safe and proper use and disposal of chemicals.

When the failure to fulfill regulatory requirements is significantly outside of the public welfare scheme, the conduct becomes criminal and must be framed by the Criminal Code. When the Exxon Valdez struck a reef in 1989 and spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into the Alaskan waters, the criminal law was invoked. In 2000, the Walkerton tainted water scandal, which left seven people dead and scores ill from e-coli­ bacterial ingestion, resulted in criminal charges of public endangerment, fraud, and breach of public trust against the two town managers. So too, when the British Columbian Ferry, Queen of the North, ran aground in 2006 causing both an environmental and social disaster (2 people died), the navigation officer, who had control of the ship at the time, was charged with criminal negligence causing death.

However, when these public welfare matters are criminalized, they are treated like any other criminal case. The conduct, which initially arose from legal activities, becomes part of the criminal law nomenclature as it is labeled as manslaughter, criminal negligence, or even murder. By labeling and identifying this conduct as criminal, the matter leaves the public opinion arena and enters a legal one where the case must adhere strictly to all relevant legal principles. Consequently, what appears to be an open and shut case of manslaughter may, in a courtroom, deteriorate into a plea to a lesser charge or even an acquittal.

Not only are legal requirements at issue in such a case, but other factors may impact the prosecution’s ability to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt such as the credibility of witnesses, the conduct of the police, and the availability of institutional resources.  Admittedly, these factors are present when dealing with any criminal case, but when dealing with a public welfare crime, it is very difficult to prove the essential fault element or required criminal intention, which typically deals with a failure of a person to act in accordance with a required standard of care.

In a public welfare case the alleged offender is under a duty or standard of care, which would require him to fulfill his duties and responsibilities with all due care and attention. For a Crown to establish a failure of care, to the criminal standard needed for conviction would require evidence relating to the standard of care and a detailed examination of what those duties and responsibilities are in the circumstances.  Prosecutors would need to delve into corporate culture and industry standards. As a result, such trials can be lengthy and complicated with unsatisfying results.

That explains why the Exxon Valdez’s Captain, charged originally with criminal mischief, operating the Exxon Valdez while intoxicated, and reckless endangerment, and a misdemeanor charge of negligently discharging oil, was only convicted of the misdemeanor and was sentenced to $50,000 restitution order and 1000 hours of community service. It also explains why the town managers in the Walkerton case pleaded guilty to the lesser offence of common nuisance with one accused receiving a conditional sentence of nine moths and the other, a one-year jail term. Finally, it explains why the BC ferry navigator, Karl Lilgert, has yet to be tried on his charges, although the incident occurred in 2006. Lilgert’s preliminary hearing was heard in May 2011 and he is now in the Supreme Court system as he awaits a jury trial.

So, for those awaiting a speedy outcome from the Costa tragedy, or indeed, any other public disaster, they will be disappointed. For the few who actually stick with the case to the bitter end, the result may be even more socially disconcerting. All of this may lead us to wonder if our criminal law can appropriately respond to crimes of such epic proportions and make us re-consider if it even really should in the first place. The problem is: what’s the alternative?


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.