Criminal Law and the Science of Prediction

It was a devastating earthquake on many levels: loss of life as over three hundred people died, loss of property as buildings crumbled, and loss of history as an ancient medieval fortress town came tumbling down. All it took was seconds as the earth shook on April 6,2009 in the tiny hilltop village of L’Aquila, Italy. Yet, behind the disaster were years of earthquake readiness and scientific predictions. Behind the devastation was months of tremors; warning signs that something was not quite right. Yet, disasters happen and this one certainly did.

But was there someone to blame? The government thought so when they charged six scientists and one government official with manslaughter. Finally, after a lengthy trial, on October 22, 2012, Judge Marco Billi found them guilty of manslaughter and sentenced them to six years imprisonment. Those convicted included the head of the Serious Risks Commission, the Director of the National Earthquake Centre, and a physicist. The prosecutor built a case of mismanagement, inaccuracy, and the withholding of crucial information, which could have saved lives. The defence emphasized the unpredictability of earthquake prediction and the “chill effect” such a verdict would bring. Indeed after the verdict, a number of Italian scientists quit government posts as scientists across the globe warned of the harmful effects the verdict would have on future research efforts.

There are clearly two sides to the issue but, when looked at more closely, the two sides are not in opposition. The prosecutor is correct in characterizing erroneous or even untimely information as an act or omission, which can and should ground a criminal charge. In Canada, manslaughter requires an underlying unlawful act, which can be viewed as objectively dangerous in nature, which then causes the death of a human being.  Here, the allegation the scientists knowingly mislead the people of L’Aquila, may be a basis for such a manslaughter charge.

However, a mere failure to accurately predict a major disaster is not, in itself, a basis for a manslaughter charge. If it were, the defence’s concern that such prosecution would curtail scientific innovation would be correct. Such a prosecution would be the antithesis of the scientific method. A scientific hypothesis must be first tested before accepted. If the experiment does not produce the results expected, then the hypothesis is modified: such trial and error is needed to produce a final result. Without the ability to make mistakes with impunity, many medical treatments would not be developed.

There is also the difficulty with predictions, whether under the rubric of science or not as seen by the successes and failures of polls and the pollsters who interpret them. As Nate Silver, predictor extraordinaire, explains in his new book "The Signal and the Noise," although some outcomes are predictable if we crunch enough numbers and gather enough data, some, like earthquake prediction, is not possible at this time. How then can we expect a standard of behaviour in an area that is impossibly non-standard?

There is also, a “half-way” opinion between the two: that certain failures or breaches of rules should stay in the regulatory arena and sanctioning should be through the controlling regulatory scheme as opposed to the criminal law.

All of the above is, of course based, on the facts and the level of liability would be commensurate with those facts. In the Italian case, if the findings of the trial Judge were as submitted by the prosecutor, then not unlike the Walkerton, Ontario tainted water incident, the criminal law is properly engaged. However this case is viewed the decision has caused much debate. To sample the various viewpoints, read this, this, this, and this. To read more about public disasters that attract the intervention of criminal law, please read my posting from January 15, 2012 on Public Disasters and the Criminal Law and my posting from February 25, 2012 entitled Safety First: Laboratory Safety and the Criminal Code.

 

 

“Reid” This: Is It Time To Change Police Interrogation Techniques?

Recently, a news story made its way across the Calgary news landscape: Alberta Provincial Court Judge Dinkel ruled an inclupatory statement made by the accused, Christa Lynn Chapple, inadmissible as evidence at the trial. The ruling found the statement was not given freely and voluntary as a result of the police interrogation. The actual ruling was made earlier this summer, but received media attention as journalists connected the decision to a recent field study on police questioning practices.

This study is one of a series of studies on Canadian police practices researched by the psychology department at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. The primary researcher, Brent Snook, associate professor of psychology at the university, also co-authored another published study from 2012 on the training of Canadian police in the “technique” of interviewing witnesses. The same Memorial team, of Snook, MacDonald, and Eastwood, also published an earlier study in 2010 on how Canadian police administer the right to silence and the right to retain and instruct counsel – both are required cautions to be given to an accused in police detention as a result of the Charter and Charter case law interpretation. Eastwood and Snook both published a paper in 2009 on how understandable to the accused the right to silence caution was when actually given by the arresting police officer.

Clearly, this group of researchers has looked long and hard at Canadian police investigatory practices and techniques and are well equipped to comment on police practices generally. Comment, they did - in the opening statement of the police training study paper, the authors find that “Two recent field studies on how Canadian police officers interview witnesses suggest that most interviewers are not employing best practices.”

This deficiency in practice was further identified in the most recent study on police questioning. Specifically, the researchers were concerned with the practice of the police to ask “close-end” or leading questions, which did not permit a free flow of information from the witness. Often, the interrogators “violated the recommended 80–20 talking rule and interrupted witnesses … in almost 90% of the interviews.” Such line of interrogation, which requires the investigator to control the interview and the information flowing from the questioning, does not, in the researchers opinion, allow for accurate and complete statements. A lack of training, supervision, and feedback was identified as the main reasons why the interview practices were so inadequate.

It is this kind of interview technique which was at the core of the Chapple case. Christa Lynn Chapple was an operator of a day home for children and had in her care a young child who subsequently suffered an unexplained head injury. At the time of the incident, Chapple was interviewed twice with no charges laid. A year later, after the police received forensic information from Dr. Matshes, a forensic pathologist, Chapple was arrested for aggravated assault and brought in for questioning. It must be noted, as Judge Dinkel also noted, that Dr. Matshes was under investigation for coming to “making unreasonable conclusions” in his forensic findings. In any event, Dr. Matshes opinion that the injury was done by non-accidental blunt force trauma caused the investigators to believe that Chapple was involved despite the lack of evidence to tie her to the injury and despite her previous denials.

The interview spanned over eight hours. It was an arduous interview in which Chapple tried to exercise her right to remain silent at least 24 times. Each time she attempted to exercise her right, the police interviewer ignored Chapple and immediately took over the interview by talking over her. In this interview the 80-20 rule, also known as the Pareto Analysis, requiring the suspect to speak 80% of the time, while the interviewer spoke 20% of the time, was practically reversed. The interview was peppered with long monologues from the police questioner, leading questions, and a repeated disbelief in the statements of Chapple, when she was actually given the opportunity to say something.

This form of questioning is known as the Reid Technique, a line of questioning formulated by Joseph Buckley in the 1950’s, where the investigator uses control of the witness and lengthy monologues to extract a confession. The technique, as Judge Dinkel described in Chapple, “a guilt presumptive interrogation disguised as truth-seeking interview” where “innocence is not an option.” The interview, according to Judge Dinkel’s findings, “was bent on extracting a confession at any cost.” The cost was, in fact, too high as the statement, taken in utterly oppressive circumstances, was deemed involuntary.

There are fortunately lessons to be learned from the courts when evidence is not admitted. The administration of justice, when faced with such findings of a judge, must rethink the practice or the implementation of a technique to ensure the system does not come into disrepute. Fortunately, Calgary Police Services is doing a review of their practices and training. Hopefully, they will be reviewing the studies of Snook and his team as well.

The Reid Technique is still being used across North America. This is in stark contrast to the studies from Memorial University and in defiance of a global trend to ensure miscarriages of justice, through false confessions, do not occur. The only way we can ensure this will not happen is by preserving and protecting the rights of an accused person, which goes to the very core values of our criminal justice system such as the presumption of innocence.

In previous postings, I have discussed the importance of the presumption of innocence to our criminal justice system. Those postings can be found here and here. In the next posting I will expand on the reason why a statement made by an accused to a person in authority, such as a police officer, must be freely and voluntarily given to be admissible in court. The reasoning, as I will discuss, ties into one of the major “themes” of criminal law: choice.

Whose Life Is This Anyway? The Canadian “Right To Die” Debate Part One – Definitions and A Story

Sue Rodriguez was an active and intelligent woman when she was diagnosed with the debilitating and ultimately fatal, Lou Gehrig’s disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 1991. Indeed, it is her wit and poise many of us remember when we recall the headlines she generated. Her quote, “whose life is it anyway,” spoken in a slow drawl, her ability to speak being slowly taken away by disease, still resonates with Canadians today as once again our courts grapple with the most basic issues of life and death.

As with all controversial issues, the right to die has taken a “life” of its own as it extends over all areas of deeply held beliefs such as philosophy, science, law, religion, politics, and socio-economic concerns. The issue has been considered in all forms of media and in all manners of legal cases. It has been touted in Kevorkian-like advertisement and debated in the highest offices of the land and yet, it is a profoundly personal issue, which transcends nationality and ethnicity.

Throughout this vastness of ideas and beliefs, it is essential to keep in mind that at the very core of the issue, there is always an individual, a person who is suffering, a person who wants a choice where a choice is not legally given. Sue Rodriguez was such an individual those many years ago when she took her right to choose to the Senate and to the Supreme Court of Canada. In the end, it was Sue Rodriguez who choose to die “on her own terms” outside of the law, even though her last wish was to remain one who respected it.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are actually two different concepts. Euthanasia is the deliberate act undertaken by one person with the intention of ending the life of another person in order to relieve that person’s suffering. There are three forms of euthanasia: voluntary, non-voluntary, and involuntary. Voluntary euthanasia occurs when the act is done in accordance with the wishes of a legally competent individual or on the basis of a valid medical directive prepared when the patient is competent to authorize the procedure. A competent individual is capable of understanding the nature and consequences of the decision to be made and capable of communicating this decision. Non-voluntary euthanasia occurs when the act is done without knowledge of the wishes of a competent individual or, with respect to an incompetent individual. This form of euthanasia may attract criminal sanctioning. The third and last form is involuntary euthanasia occurs when the act is done against the wishes of the individual. This act is indistinguishable from murder or manslaughter and should attract the full force of our criminal law.

The Criminal Code of Canada, pursuant to s.14, essentially prohibits euthanasia by stating: “No person is entitled to consent to have death inflicted on him.” It is a core traditional principle of our criminal law that an individual cannot consent to his or her death. Indeed, one cannot even consent to grievous injury, which explains why even in a consensual violent sport like hockey, Todd Bertuzzi was charged with assault causing bodily harm. Whether or not the sentence imposed, a conditional discharge, was appropriate is another matter for a later blog. In any event, even in the medical sense, a doctor who gives the patient a lethal injection would be criminally liable. Also in the Criminal Code are legal duties placed upon medical personnel, which require them to perform their duties with all due care, requirements contrary to taking a patient’s life.

Therefore, euthanasia is clearly contrary to Canadian criminal law, and should be prosecuted as first-degree murder, because there is an intent to cause death, which is the definition of murder, and the act is most often planned and deliberate, which is the definition of first-degree murder. However, the Canadian reaction to euthanasia scenarios have fallen short of first-degree murder charges and have tended toward lesser charges such as charges of second-degree murder, manslaughter, and administrating a noxious substance. The charge decisions have definitely been influenced by the circumstances surrounding the euthanasia as a response to human suffering and the desire to relieve the suffering, such as in the Robert Latimer case.

Another factor is the unpredictable nature of juries, who are required to make decisions according to the rule of law but can be swayed by emotional factors as well. Finally, it can be legally difficult to prove murder in euthanasia cases. The Crown prosecutor must prove a legal and factual casual connection between the accused’s actions and the death. Typically, medical evidence is required to make this required connection. In euthanasia cases, it may be medically difficult to prove the exact cause of death when a person is in any case close to death and taking considerable pain medication. 

Assisted suicide, on the other hand, is the act of intentionally killing oneself with the assistance of another who provides either the knowledge to do it or the means to do it, or both. Assisted suicide is specifically prohibited in our Criminal Code under s.241, in which counseling someone to commit suicide or aiding or abetting someone to commit suicide is contrary to the law. Even if the person in question does not die from the aid, the person so assisting may be guilty under the section.

The difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide is therefore dependent on the type of involvement of the third party: euthanasia is when the action of a third party intentionally causes the death of a patient such as through the administration of a lethal injection and assisted suicide is when a third party provides the means and/or information necessary but the actual act causing death is carried out by the patient herself.

My next posting will continue outlining the legal background to this debate with a survey of the legal decisions made on the issue. However, to start and end this posting with Sue Rodriguez is essential: she was a real person suffering from the effects of a debilitating disease and her choice, to end her life when she saw fit, not when it was beyond her control, was her truest wish.

 

In Defence of Civil Disobedience: Part Two

In my previous posting, I outlined the historical significance of civil disobedience, tracing the creation of the phrase from Thoreau, who turned an innocuous poll tax into a deeply personal articulation of one’s beliefs, to the present iteration of collective disobedience against government policy. Today’s posting will take these concepts a step further into the legal realm.

The definition of “civil disobedience’ as found in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, suggests the act is a “non-violent” form of group protest. This definition conjures up a vision of peaceful sign-bearing protesters, shouting slogans, and holding hands in solidarity before dispersing for a musical interlude and barbecue. This peaceful concept of civil disobedience no longer seems to fit the bill as today’s more complicated issues require a much higher shock quotient to get the attention of the media and then ultimately the government. Hand in hand with this more virulent form of disobedience is the more intransigent reaction by the government: as crowds shout “hell no, we wont go,” the government lawyers are busily drafting court applications for injunctive relief.

Injunctions, as I thoroughly discussed in my previous posting on the Occupy Movement, are a favoured response by the government as, if successful, results in a court imposed order for the disobedience to stop and then turns the protest into legally recognized unlawful conduct. This can have enormous repercussions as an injunction can not only effectively shut down any future protests, but can also provide legal precedent on the ultimate issue at stake: the fundamental freedoms protected under s. 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms involving s.2 (b) freedom of expression rights, s. 2(c) freedom of peaceful assembly, and s. 2(d) freedom of association. As discussed in previous postings, the Charter is not absolute and the Courts try to balance societal rights with the individual freedoms found under section 2. As a result, although the Courts may find a violation of s. 2 rights by the government seeking an injunction, where societal harm or violence is caused, the Courts tend to find such injunctions a reasonable limit in a free and democratic society under s.1.

The government may also respond to civil disobedience through the criminal justice system. Typically, such response is reserved for the clearest examples of law breaking such as the destructive effects of a rioting crowd. In those cases, the law is most severe, imposing harsh sentences on those who destroy property and harm others under the flimsy disguise of a "cause".

Criminal contempt charges may also be laid when injunctions are not obeyed. This scenario is subtler as it does not involve harmful action but involves inaction: a failure to obey a law, which has been declared valid by the courts. The justice system deals with this form of disobedience slightly differently. Here again Charter violations may not provide a valid defence, but may be taken into account as a mitigating factor on sentence.

To raise a valid defence on a criminal charge arising out of civil disobedience is a challenge as any moral or ethical arguments for committing the prohibited acts do not change the essence of the crime committed. The best way to explain this is through the Robin Hood scenario. Robin Hood and his Merry Men stole from the rich to give to the poor. When we hear this story we usually give Robin the “thumbs up” for fighting against tyranny and greed. We also cheer as he takes the gold from evil King John, knowing that the good King Richard will absolve Robin of any guilt. But, in terms of criminal law, a bandit is a bandit no matter how you slice it. Although Robin Hood may have a valid moral argument for his actions and therefore an excellent motive for breaking the law, the law is clear: the guilt act and the guilty mind are present and therefore Robin Hood is guilty of highway robbery. He may receive a suspended sentence from a sympathetic court but he is still a convicted felon.

There is, however, a possible defence available. In Perka v. the Queen, the Supreme Court of Canada, when considering the common law defence of necessity, suggested such a defence may be a valid defence to acts of civil disobedience. In the necessity defence both the prohibited act or actus reus and the fault requirement or mens rea is complete. Therefore, all essential elements of the crime have been fulfilled and the defence merely excuses the blameworthy conduct.

Essentially, the accused acknowledges the wrongfulness of the action but in the circumstances the accused should not be punished for the crime. Excuses are typically limited to emergency situations wherein the accused had no choice but to break the law. As our criminal law punishes only those who choose to act criminally, an excuse can exonerate an accused of a crime. In the necessity scenario, the accused must choose between two evils.

However, such exoneration comes with a price: the defence of necessity is only accepted in certain, very limited circumstances. There are three elements to the necessity defence. Firstly, the accused must be facing imminent peril or danger. Secondly, there must be no reasonable legal alternative but for the accused to break the law. Thirdly, the harm inflicted by committing the crime must be proportional to the harm, which would have been caused if the accused followed the law and not committed the crime. As a result, necessity is rarely advanced and even rarely accepted as a valid defence. When it is accepted, the Court views the behaviour as a form of moral involuntariness.

How does the necessity defence work in practice where there are acts of civil disobedience? The best case examples are not from usually staid Canada, but in the protest fuelled United States. In the 1969 case of United States v. Moylan, the appellants were charged with the destruction of government records, records they seized from a government office and burned with napalm in protest of the Vietnam War. Counsel for the defence, the “radical lawyer” and activist William Kunstler, argued that the jury should have been instructed that they “had the power to acquit even if appellants were clearly guilty of the charged offenses.” This “right’ was based in moral arguments as the appellants were protesting a war “outrageous to their individual standards of humanity.” Furthermore, the war itself was illegal and therefore citizens had an obligation, in the name of justice, to break the law in order to enforce the law.

The United States Court of Appeals Fourth Circuit Judge Sobeloff, took a page from the Robin Hood myth and found no matter how sincere the appellants were in their actions, and no matter how strong their moral arguments were, they still committed crimes for which they must be accountable. In upholding the law Justice Sobeloff remarked:

To encourage individuals to make their own determinations as to which laws they will obey and which they will permit themselves as a matter of conscience to disobey is to invite chaos. No legal system could long survive if it gave every individual the option of disregarding with impunity any law, which by his personal standard was judged morally untenable. Toleration of such conduct would not be democratic, as appellants claim, but inevitably anarchic.

The best known case of a jury being invited by defence to eschew the law and decide a case on their own moral conscious, was in R. v. Morgentaler, when Morris Manning, Q.C. invited the jury to acquit Dr. Morgentaler of violating the "bad" abortion law. The Supreme Court of Canada chastised Manning for his emotional appeal, finding that such an invitation would “undermine and place at risk” the jury system. In support of this position, Chief Justice Dickson referred to the British 1784 criminal libel case of R. v. Shipley and quoted Lord Mansfield as follows:

So the jury who usurp the judicature of law, though they happen to be right, are themselves wrong, because they are right by chance only, and have not taken the constitutional way of deciding the question. It is the duty of the Judge, in all cases of general justice, to tell the jury how to do right, though they have it in their power to do wrong, which is a matter entirely between God and their own consciences.

To be free is to live under a government by law . . . . Miserable is the condition of individuals, dangerous is the condition of the State, if there is no certain law, or, which is the same thing, no certain administration of law, to protect individuals, or to guard the State.  ...

In opposition to this, what is contended for? -- That the law shall be, in every particular cause, what any twelve men, who shall happen to be the jury, shall be inclined to think; liable to no review, and subject to no control, under all the prejudices of the popular cry of the day, and under all the bias of interest in this town, where thousands, more or less, are concerned in the publication of newspapers, paragraphs, and pamphlets. Under such an administration of law, no man could tell, no counsel could advise, whether a paper was or was not punishable.

Certainly, it is valid to be fearful of a capricious jury who are guided by their own prejudices and sensibilities but there is an attraction to the ability of a jury to “do the right thing” and acquit in circumstances where the law is unjust, not just unfavourable, but unjust. When I was a student at Osgoode Law School in 1983, Morris Manning came to the school and reenacted his Morgnetaler jury address, an address which did result in an acquittal for the doctor. It was a moving piece of advocacy, which did stir the moral conscious. In the end, I was questioning the moral and legal basis for a law, which could send Dr. Morgentaler to jail. Ultimately the court system did work for Dr. Morgentaler, due to our Charter, the best defence against tyranny and injustice.

What does all of this mean for the ongoing student protests in Quebec? It is unclear where the Quebec government will go. Certainly the new laws they have introduced to stop further protest has only fueled more acts of civil disobedience. As with the occupy movement, these acts have gone viral and the issue has become one of students’ rights and the moral obligation to speak out against seemingly “bad” laws. However, to speak out against laws is much different than acting out criminally. It will ultimately be up to the Courts to draw the line between the two.

 

 

The Incivility of Civil Disobedience: Part One

Civil disobedience is a familiar phrase these days what with the Occupy movement occupying public space and now University students protesting higher tuition rates. The term “Civil Disobedience” was coined by American author, writer, poet, naturalist and all around polymath Henry David Thoreau as the title of an essay originally published in 1849 as "Resistance to Civil Government." At the time, Thoreau was the voice of a country struggling with itself, both politically and morally. His was a voice of reason but also one of deep moral principle. In 1846, Thoreau was arrested and imprisoned for a failure to pay his poll taxes. Poll taxes were levied on all eligible voters as a prerequisite of voting and were the main means of raising funds for local governments. The poll tax, which anti-slavery abolitionists like Thoreau refused to pay, was levied to fund the Mexican War in a bid to extend American slave territories. The amount of the tax, even at that time a paltry $1.50, was viewed by Thoreau as too high a moral price to pay. Although his Aunt, against his wishes, paid the fee and Thoreau was released after only one night in jail, his essay on the experience remains today the first in a line of many personal actions of civil disobedience. I say “personal” as there was already an American example of group disobedience in the form of the famous Boston Tea Party, an act of disobedience heard across the ocean by King George III and the British Parliament.

Martin Luther King Jr., in another example of personal disobedience to the law, would also pen a famous piece of prose in the Letter from the Birmingham Jail. In this acerbic response to his critics, King tackles head on the moral and ethical issue of obeying “just” and “unjust” laws. To support his actions, King refers to St. Augustine’s position that an “unjust law is no law at all.” He also uses as a stark analogy the ultimate “unjust” laws of Nazi Germany. The letter became a touchstone for the civil rights movement and the idea that morally “unjust” laws should not and could not be followed became a permanent fixture in the American psyche.

Unsurprisingly, in Canada, acts of civil disobedience have been most pronounced in Aboriginal rights issues such as in the Burnt Church conflict involving the traditional fishing rights of the Mikmaq nation of Atlantic Canada. Another high profile case of civil disobedience was the Ipperwash Crisis and the police shooting death of Native activist, Dudley George.  Of course, more recently, the Occupy Movement is another example of collective disobedience. Canadians even have a “how-to” book for such practices with the Protestors’ Guide to the Law of Civil Disobedience in British Columbia. This document is easily accessible on-line and is written by Leo McGrady Q.C., a well-known BC lawyer specializing, on the union/employee side, in labour relations. No surprise, as BC has seen more than its share of civil unrest relating to teacher labour issues. Read my previous blog on the Legal Politics of Seussville for more on the issue.

With this little history lesson, my next posting will deal with the legal aspects of civil disobedience. How have the Courts reacted to this issue? Is the Charter engaged when acts of civil disobedience are stopped? And finally, what kind of legal defences are available when such acts become subject to the criminal courts?

 

Let’s Talk About: Property Rights & The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Alberta election is heating up and is soon to be decided as Albertans go to the polls on Monday, April 23, 2012. One of the many controversial issues raised by the Wildrose leader, Danielle Smith, is on property rights and the absence of such rights guaranteed in the Charter. Smith, on her Wildrose website, suggests the “fundamental role” of government is the “protection and preservation of property rights.” As part of her platform on this “fundamental” issue is the promise her government would “entrench property rights.” She would do this by implementing an Alberta Property Rights Preservation Act, entrenching “basic property rights in the Alberta Bill of Rights” and spearheading “a national initiative to add property rights to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” 

Really? Are we really to believe that this “pressing” issue of property rights should be shoulder to shoulder in our Charter along with our fundamental freedoms such as freedom of expression, freedom of conscious, and equality rights. Should our preoccupation with individual, political, and democratic rights take a back seat to issues of ownership and possession? What will this mean for our criminal law and the ability of the government to reasonably search and seize property for a criminal investigation? Does the corporeal trump the spirit? Is property, which not everyone has the ability to own, require the special attention and protection of our most Supreme laws? Why should property rights, which were specifically and deliberately left out of the Charter, now be placed back in?

Not that we would ever see the unanimous agreement to do so that is required before the Charter could be amended. Do we need the kind of property rights litigation, which occurs in the United States, where property rights were specifically enshrined in their Constitution and viewed as sacred as life itself? And if we feel we do want this protection, are we prepared for the result. For a good discussion on the history of American Constitution property rights, read the SCC decision in Reference re ss. 193 and 195.1(1)(C) of the criminal code (Man.).

Danielle Smith may have taken a page from her namesake, Adam Smith’s, Wealth of Nations, with a call to protect life, liberty and property but fails to recognize the positive obligation protecting property would place on the government. Thus, we would need a robust and interventionist government, willing to step into the property rights fray. Entrenching property rights would mean not less government but more government, as the Courts would be busy reviewing the government’s ability to regulate and protect the national interest in the name of the economy. Take for instance the issue of natural resources and the role ownership of such resources would play under a property Charter rights scenario.

Canada does in fact have some experience with protection of property rights as section 1(a) of the Canadian Bill of Rights, 1960, the statutory, quasi-constitutional precursor to the Charter, protects “the right of the individual to life, liberty, security of the person and enjoyment of property, and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law.” While this still enacted statute can still be used to “protect” property rights, the legal interpretation of this right has not provided the protection the Wildrose maintains they can provide if elected. 

But would such entrenchment of property rights really “protect and preserve” an individual’s right to their property as touted by the Wildrose? It is instructive perhaps to look at the case law on property rights in the Bill of Rights. This passage of the Bill of Rights was considered by the Supreme Court of Canada rather recently in the 2003 Authorson case, in which disabled veterans attempted to require the federal government to pay past interest on pension funds despite legislation minimizing Crown liability. The end result of the decision, dismissing the veterans’ claim, was to uphold Parliament’s right to expropriate property without compensation.

Legally, an “entrenchment” of property rights does not in and of itself suggest an individual’s right to property would be absolutely guaranteed. Indeed, considering all of our rights under the Charter are not absolutely protected, any “new” Charter rights would be treated similarly. According to s. 1, all of the Charter rights are subject to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.  In addition, both Parliament and each provincial legislature, including Alberta, have the authority to enact legislation contrary to the rights guaranteed in the Charter through the Charter notwithstanding provision contained in s. 33.

Therefore, the Wildrose is promising, in a very heated election, something they cannot themselves guarantee. Undoubtedly these are the best promises to make: no one can take them to task for merely promising to try. Interestingly, the Authorson case was written by the then Alberta appointment to the SCC, Justice Major, who is now trying to sort out the MLA compensation debacle. Of course, the proponents of property rights would suggest it is the poor wording of the Bill of Rights, offering property protection in accordance with due process, which is the problem and which can be easily fixed.

But even if the Charter was amended and property rights were absolutely protected as desired by the Wildrose, the question still remains whether or not protecting property rights is in the best interests of Canadians. If we say “yes” to property rights, then we must be prepared for all kinds of litigation overrunning our justice system such as: litigation on the right of the government to tax individuals; litigation on the government’s right to make decisions on natural resources; litigation on intellectual property rights including copyright and access to information; and litigation regarding criminal law and search warrants as discussed in the SCC case of Quebec (Attorney General) v. Laroche. We could even see spill-over litigation in the area of economic rights, which traditionally has been unprotected by the Charter as discussed in the SCC Gosselin case, which could put Canada’s economic health at risk by promoting the financial sovereignty of the individual at the expense of a strong economy and healthy society.

Thus, in the end, we must decide if property rights are worth protecting in our country knowing the possible legal pitfalls, which may ensue. Let’s ensure the next thirty years of Charter litigation promotes our fundamental freedoms as individuals of choice and free will, entitled to respect and dignity, instead of a document weighed down by possessory rights and self-interest.

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.

Don't Pre-Judge! Jury Vetting and the Supreme Court of Canada

Next Wednesday and Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada will be hearing the appeals of Tung Chi Duong, Vinicio Cardoso, and Ibrahim Yumnu, which raise the issue of jury vetting: a process where the prosecution does a pre-court check of potential jurors. The three Ontario co-accused were convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder involving a contract killing. The Crown’s office, upon receipt of the jury panel lists containing the names of potential jurors, requested police enforcement authorities to do criminal record checks of the listed individuals and to make any comments “concerning any disreputable persons we would not want as a juror.” The Crown did not disclose the information received through this pre-vetting process to the defence, although there was some evidence trial counsel was aware of this practice. The information was used by the trial Crown in selecting the jury for the trial.

In terms of the legislative authority to perform such a check, neither the Criminal Code rules relating to the jury selection process in court nor the pre-trial rules found in the provincial Juries Act, as enacted at the time of the trial, permitted the procedure. It should be noted that the Ontario Juries Act has since been amended, under s.18.2, to provide a procedure for police to pre-check a potential juror for the presence or absence of a criminal record. Such a check is required under s. 4(b) to determine if a potential juror is ineligible to serve as a juror due to a prior conviction for “an offence that may be prosecuted on indictment.” The phrase “may be prosecuted on indictment” refers to the mode of trying the accused’s case in the criminal courts.  An indictable offence is considered to be a more serious crime and carries a higher penalty than a less serious summary conviction offence. Certain indictable offences give the accused the right to have the trial in the Superior Court as opposed to Provincial Court. Some indictable offences, such as murder, also give the accused the right to a jury trial.

Generally, pre-vetting of jurors is not an acceptable practice in Canada. Such a pre-trial process is contrary to the fundamental principles of justice, which require the offender to be tried before an independent and impartial jury. Since the advent of the Charter, this fundamental principle has been constitutionally protected under s. 11 (d) and is inexorably bound up with another core criminal law principle: the presumption of innocence. I have written at length on the historical significance of the presumption in earlier postings. More generally, this procedural right to a fair trial is also protected under section 7 of the Charter as the principle lies at the very heart of the administration of justice.

The issue is one of impartiality under the Charter. Section 11(d) protects an offender’s right to a fair trial before an independent and impartial jury. Permitting pre-vetting of jurors has the potential effect of selecting biased juries, which are neither independent nor impartial, but based on selected criterion. The resultant effect is a pre-packaged or pre-determined jury, which would therefore favour the party using the pre-selection process. In other words such a jury would “pre-judge” the issues.

Even the potential for bias is contrary to our concept of trial fairness. As discussed by Justice Cory in the Bain case, apprehension of jury bias is to be avoided as the mere appearance of impartiality would be contrary to Charter principles. Although the concept holds the administration of justice to a high standard of impartiality, the apprehension of bias must be reasonably held. Thus, the question to be determined on the issue of bias is as follows: would reasonable and right-minded persons find there a reasonable apprehension of bias in the circumstances.

This question brings us back to the Duong, Cardoso, and Yumnu case. On appeal to the Court of Appeal for Ontario, appellate counsel did not refer to the arguments as outlined above but focused instead upon the Crown’s lack of disclosure of the vetting process. In the appellant’s view, this lack or delay of disclosure compromised the defence’s ability to make full answer and defence under s. 7 of the Charter. This position was easily dismissed by Justice Watt, speaking on behalf of the Court, as there was no evidence of any actual or perceived unfairness of the selection of the jury based on this non-disclosure. Unfortunately it appears the defence will be making the same arguments before the Supreme Court of Canada as revealed by a perusal of the appellant Yumnu’s factum.

However, a large number of Intervenors have filed material and will be making submissions on the issue such as the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, the Ontario Crown Attorneys’ Association, David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights, Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. It remains to be seen what arguments will be finally presented on this issue and it will be of great interest to see how the Supreme Court of Canada ultimately deals with the issue of pre-vetting a jury.

In the next posting, I will continue the discussion through the international perspective on the efficacy and issues surrounding jury vetting.

The Criminal Code of Canada: Codification and Reform

Whenever we read of a sensational arrest in the paper or we follow the latest celebrity trial, we are invoking the criminal law. Most of us, lawyers and lay people included, know the criminal law is found generally in the Criminal Code (drug offences are also federally created but are found in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and not in the Criminal Code). Lawyers are taught in first year Constitutional Law why the criminal law is created by Parliament: due to the Division of Powers between Provincial Legislatures and Parliament as found in the Constitution Act, 1867, which gives the Federal government exclusive authority to create criminal law.  But many of us do not know why this power resulted in a codified criminal law as opposed to the hodge-podge of criminal statutes as found in the United Kingdom.

Although the first Criminal Code was not adopted until 1892, it was conceived much earlier by our first Prime Minister, John A. MacDonald, who envisioned a codified criminal law as an important element of Confederation. Codification seemed to be on the mother country’s mind as well in 1878 as a codification of British criminal law, Bill 178, written by Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, received Second Reading in the House of Commons but died on the order paper. So too, other Commonwealth nations, such as India, Jamaica, Australia, and New Zealand, flirted with, or in some cases enacted, codified criminal laws.

Even a subsequent Royal Commission could not resuscitate the UK version of the Code. Canada, not being near as critical of the draft English Code, imported many aspects of the draft into the first Criminal Code in 1892. The rest, as they say is history as the Code has maintained its status since, albeit with amendments and renumbering along the way.

Let’s trace the crime of theft as an example. Prior to the enactment of the Criminal Code in 1892, theft was defined through British statute and common law. Indeed, the first consolidation of crimes, which occurred in 1869, included the crime of larceny: the old common law offence of theft. Presently, theft is particularized in our Criminal Code under s.322 as follows:

Every one commits theft who fraudulently and without colour of right takes, or fraudulently and without colour of right converts to his use or to the use of another person, anything, whether animate or inanimate, with intent 

(a) to deprive, temporarily or absolutely, the owner of it, or a person who has a special property or interest in it, of the thing or of his property or interest in it;

(b) to pledge it or deposit it as security;

(c) to part with it under a condition with respect to its return that the person who parts with it may be unable to perform; or 

(d) to deal with it in such a manner that it cannot be restored in the condition in which it was at the time it was taken or converted.

Historically, there were numerous statutes in England, which pertained to specific forms of theft such as embezzlement, animal theft, shoplifting, pickpocketing, housebreaking, and the like. Presently in England, although a general definition of theft can be found in the Theft Act, 1968, one would have to also look at other statutes for the specific form of theft involved. For example, the basic definition of theft in the Theft Act, 1968 states:

A person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it; and “thief” and “steal” shall be construed accordingly.

However, one would have to look at the Theft (Amendment) Act, 1996 for the crime of “dishonestly retaining wrongful credit.” The Canadian equivalent, of course, is theft and can be easily found under s.322.

Over the years there have been calls to reform the Code to simplify many of the complex and convoluted sections but to no avail: today’s Criminal Code reads much the same as it has for the past fifty years. Much of the difficulty stems from the amendments to the Code, which adds onto existing sections an ever-increasing number of subsections instead of making new sections by re-numbering and re-structuring the Code. For more on this, read my previous blog on lists where I outline the 33 sections found between the search warrant section under s. 487 and the execution of the search warrant found at s.488.  

Clearly, there is still work to do. In 2012, when the Code celebrates its 120th anniversary, the Federal government should take up the call to reform in order to provide Canadians with a cogent and relevant Criminal Code, which will promote the principles of justice and be a model for developing democracies.   

 

Charles Dickens Is On The Side Of Justice

I would be remiss, if I did not recognize the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens and his characterization or, more accurately, “caricature-ization” of law and justice.

In Great Expectations, Pip, the narrator of the book, defines himself through the backdrop of English law. As a child, Pip imagines a spine-chilling scene of officers of the law surreptitiously lying in wait to take him before the Assizes to avenge the bloody nose and black eye he gave a “pale young gentleman” after a fair fight.

The possibility of being brought to “justice” caused Pip to act as a stereotypical guilty man: obliterating all traces of the physical evidence against him and concocting a false explanation for the injury to his hand. Of course his furtive actions were unnecessary as only Pip’s conscious showed any taste for vengeance: in reality, the incident was a normal every day school-yard fisticuff. The presence of guilt, in this instance, was unnoticed and unimportant.

But the issue of guilt or innocence becomes important later, when a murder trial, detailed in a local newspaper, is tried by an adolescent Pip and various townspeople while drinking at the local bar. “Guilty as charged” is the general consensus except for the stranger, clearly a foreigner, who reminds the blood-thirsty ersatz jury of the presumption of innocence.

The newspaper has merely sketched the prosecutor’s evidence without the benefit of cross-examination, the man points out, a central principle in the adversarial system and a cornerstone of a fair trial. Furthermore, the accused had not as yet testified and was therefore unheard in his defence. Any jury, enthused the gentleman, holding true to their oath, would not, could not, pronounce the unfortunate prisoner guilty at such an early juncture of the case. The townspeople, being duly chastised, having seen the error of their enthusiasm, humbly retract their feelings of guilt. In the same moment, the stranger, the Londoner, is revealed as a lawyer and the bearer of Great Expectations.

I have already named Dickens’s Bleak House, in a previous posting, a must read for lawyers or anyone interested in the law for the dark and dreary atmosphere of the novel arising from the impenetrable fog of the court of Chancery. Yet, so many of Dickens’s books read like a first year law case summary as exemplified by these two, of many, legal passages found in Great Expectations.

In fact, let us return to Great Expectations in mid-scene as Pip watches Mr. Jaggers, the London lawyer from the previous passage and now his Guardian, “going at it” in the Police or Magistrate Courts in London. As I could not possibly summarize this delicious passage with any dexterity, I quote it as follows:


We dived into the City, and came up in a crowded police-court, where a blood-relation (in the murderous sense) of the deceased, with the fanciful taste in brooches, was standing at the bar, uncomfortably chewing something; while my guardian had a woman under examination or cross-examination,—I don't know which,—and was striking her, and the bench, and everybody present, with awe. If anybody, of whatsoever degree, said a word that he didn't approve of, he instantly required to have it "taken down." If anybody wouldn't make an admission, he said, "I'll have it out of you!" and if anybody made an admission, he said, "Now I have got you!" The magistrates shivered under a single bite of his finger. Thieves and thief-takers hung in dread rapture on his words, and shrank when a hair of his eyebrows turned in their direction. Which side he was on I couldn't make out, for he seemed to me to be grinding the whole place in a mill; I only know that when I stole out on tiptoe, he was not on the side of the bench; for, he was making the legs of the old gentleman who presided, quite convulsive under the table, by his denunciations of his conduct as the representative of British law and justice in that chair that day.


It is difficult, after reading this passage, to also "make out" on which side Charles Dickens was on: for English justice or against. Certainly, Dickens own personal experience with law was less than salutary as his family bore the burden and shame of debtors’ prison, a thoroughly Dickensian institution for the working poor of England who were unable to meet their financial obligations.

 

His keen insight into lawyers’ “going at it” may have also come from his experience of working as a clerk in a law office and as a court reporter at the Doctors’ Commons. The Doctors’ Commons was “a college, "or common house" of doctors of law, for the study and practice of the civil law.” Certainly, his fictional accounts of the inequities found in law and in society influenced the reformation of England’s harsh child labour laws, unveiled the intolerable conditions in the poor houses, and revealed the general imbalances between the working poor and the comfortable working class: all by-products of the Industrial Revolution.

This passion for fairness and justice was handed down to Dickens' son, Henry Fielding Dickens, who went on to become a brilliant barrister and Judge. Indeed, Henry’s son was also a successful barrister. All came full circle with Dickens’s great grand-daughter, Monica Dickens, who was a best selling novelist in the 40’s and 50’s, and founded the first Massachusetts branch of the Samaritans, a charitable organization providing support and assistance for those contemplating suicide.

All of this, however, will not stop me from ending this blog with another Dickens law quote from Oliver Twist, when Mr. Bumble, faced with the perfidy of his wife and the conclusion he too was in on the deception, states:


If the law supposes that,' said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, 'the law is a ass—a idiot. If that's the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience—by experience.' Laying great stress on the repetition of these two words, Mr. Bumble fixed his hat on very tight, and putting his hands in his pockets, followed his helpmate downstairs.

 

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.    

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.

 

The Presumption of Innocence: The Making of a Principle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's Talk About: The Word "Crime"

What's in a name? A name is a label or a representation of an object, which through usage and custom, is accepted by society and then becomes identified with the object. The name gives us a familiar reference point which we can then use in discussing the object with others. A name becomes the short form of the object. Instead of describing and re-describing in detail the properties of an object when refering to it in conversation, we simply provide the given name and we have instant recognition and understanding.

Etymology is the study of the history of names: from where the word came and at what period in our history the use of the word began. This history of a word is intriguing. Much like a puzzle, the history of a word can reveal a secret past, which may provide an unexpected connection. Thus, the original intent of the name, which may have transformed through time and usage, is retrieved to provide knowledge to those who desire it.

The word "crime" is defined as "an act punishable by law, usually considered an evil act." In a later posting, we will look at differing definitions, when we discuss what is a crime in the context of law generally and criminal law specifically. But for our purposes today, the definition given is the one we will accept. The first known usage of the word "crime" was in the High Middle Ages around 1250. Within this time, the Medieval period, or "Age of Faith," was drawing to an end as Marco Polo explored and returned laden with spices and stories. The Renaissance was not too far behind.

The etymology of "crime" is from the Old French crimne, which came from the Latin crimen meaning accusation and the Latin root cerno meaning "I decide. I give judgment." However, Rabbi Ernest Klein, a Romanian-born Canadian linguist, in his Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, suggests that crimen is actually derived from the phrase, "cry of distress." The Latin was derived from the Ancient Greek word krima, which means a judicial sentence or condemnation.

The history of the word does reveal shades of today`s meaning but embues the word with much more colour than the dictionary meaning we used at the beginning of this posting. Crime also now speaks to the concept of accusation, which in turn speaks to the presumption of innocence as the accused has yet to be found guilty. Or the idea of justice or judgment as in the Latin and Greek root of the word. Finally, crime speaks of a cry of distress, an individual who has lost his or her way in life and looks to society to not condemn or judge but to lend guidance.

In this historical word play, crime has taken on different shades of meaning and caused us to think of the word in different way.

Longreads For the Holidays

The holidays is a perfect time to indulge in a book or a longread. In Twitter nomenclature, a longread is an online article which will typically take longer than the usual five minutes or less one might spend reading a web page. There is a good reason searching the internet is called "surfing": one doesn't want to spend too much time on that big wave. It will either peter out and disappoint or it will come crashing down and inundate us.

In any event, the following is a list of 5 longreads I found:

1.Karyn McCluskey: the woman who took on Glasgow's gangsThis is an article of one person's fight to find peace in a turbulent City. Karyn McCluskey, a former nurse, forensic psychologist, and head of intelligence analysis for Glasgow, turned the City's gang mentality around by understanding how violence worked "like an infectious disease" and beget "recreational violence," which in turn created the City's gang mentality. Through the use of a Boston-based initiative called "focused deterrence strategy," the scheme couples zero tolerance with, what I can only describe as, an intense collective "scared straight" program. 

2. Sleep Disorders Common Among Cops: Study Fascinating longread of a study which indicates 40% of police officers in North America suffer from sleep disorders, which may impair their judgment and reaction time. The actual journal article from JAMA is for purchase only but the Abstract is here. There is also a companion author video here.

3. A Guide to the Occupy Wall Street API There is so much out there on the Occupy movement but this longread puts an apt API spin on it. 

4. Armenian Genocide Articles: I have connected some short read articles on the Armenian genocide issue, which has been re-ignited by the recent French Bill criminalizing denial of the World War I massacre. The incredible reach of this issue makes these connections even more fascinating but the real issue of the massacre is what makes world politics disturbing. Read the articles here, here, here, here, and finally for an article on how art connects to life: here.

5. Who Owns The Words? This is from 2010 but a very relevant longread, Texts Without Context. This is a book review of Reality Hunger, a "book" by David Sheilds. The book is a compilation of excerpts of other writer's works, which are at times manipulated or micro-managed to suit Sheilds's intent. Many of the quotes are taken out of context and as such, become, through a fresh reading of the words, imbued with a new meaning. In this way, Sheilds makes these words his own. Two connections come to mind for me: Stanley Fish's Is There A Text In This Class? and the use of music sampling and remixing in hip-hop and dubstep.

So kick back and relax this weekend with some #longreads or better yet, find some for yourself! As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote as Sherlock Holmes: "What one man can invent, another can discover."

 

Were The Wright Brothers Right? A Lesson In Patent Law

On December 17, 1903, 108 years ago, Orville and Wilbur Wright made aviation history when their powered airplane rose twenty feet above the North Carolina coastline.

Little did they know then that this event would also launch a lengthy and bitter patent suit against another aviation marvel, Glenn Curtiss.

According to the Wright brothers, Curtiss used their patented lateral control and aileron design in his fliers. The subsequent legal battle drained both parties' finances and health. When the final decision was rendered in 1913, granting success to the Wrights, only Orville was alive to accept the verdict.

This, however, was not the end as Henry Ford, also a victim of patent litigation in which he lost an action before the same judge, persuaded Curtiss to test the Wright patents even further. The resulting patent battle resulted in another protracted action which resulted in a temporary stay of the original patent suit. 

World War I intervened and all suits were suspended as the government permitted sharing of all airplane patents in support of the war effort. The end of the war saw an end to the dispute as Orville Wright sold his interest in his company and chose not to reinstate the patent proceedings.

Of course the irony is as they say, history, when the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company merged with the Wright Aeronautical Corporation in 1929 to form the Curtiss-Wright Corporation, which still survives today.

This merger, however, did not end the Corporation's protection of their patents in Canada and the United States. Two such cases, suggest that Curtiss-Wright's successes in that area have been less than satisfactory.

Indeed, patent litigation today is a risky, yet financially necessary, step to protect intellectual property. The financial stakes are high and litigation on these highly technical issues are traditionally drawn out and complicated. The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision ordering Microsoft to pay $290 million for patent infringements of a small Canadian IT company serves as a costly example.

Although we have made huge (flight) strides from 1903 Kitty Hawk, our patent laws and subsequent litigation seem to be move at a snail's pace. Perhaps, the legacy of flight should also be a lesson in the vagaries of litigation. Either way, today was truly a world-changing day in history.

Testifying Behind The Veil: The Human Factor

Yesterday I discussed the background to the N. S. case, which has recently been argued, on appeal, before the Supreme Court of Canada. The case is significant for two reasons: it raises the issue of conflicting Charter rights and how this conflict should be approached by the courts and it raises the issue of whether or not a witness in a criminal case is permitted to wear a face covering veil during testimony.

The second issue has broader implications in the public arena as it highlights the clash between traditional religious practices and the modern world, where identity and privacy seem to shrink in the public spotlight. In the age of mass communication, with over 500 million users of Facebook, the idea of masking one's identity, for whatever reason, appears to be not only redundant but also unacceptable.

Legally, such a stance seems to be against precedent as seen in the 2009 Supreme Court of Canada Alberta v. Hutterian Brethran of Wilson Colony case, wherein the Court upheld provincial legislation which required photographic driver licence identification even though such requirement conflicted with the religious precepts of the Brethren. Such picture identification was rationally connected to the real and pressing concerns of safety and security.

Politically too, keeping one's identity private is not acceptable as in the recent decision by the Federal Government to require the removal of face covering veils when fulfilling citizenship requirements, particularly when taking the citizenship oath. This decision does not appear to be decided on the basis of security and safety but, according to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, on the basis that the "public declaration that you are joining the Canadian family ...must be taken freely and openly." 

In that backdrop, we return to the N. S. case and the decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal written by the Honourable Mr. Justice Doherty for the panel. In the decision, Justice Doherty perfectly sets out the issues at stake "in human terms": 

N.S. is facing a most difficult and intimidating task.  She must describe intimate, humiliating and painful details of her childhood.  She must do so, at least twice, in a public forum in which her credibility and reliability will be vigorously challenged and in which the person she says abused her is cloaked in the presumption of innocence.  The pressures and pain that complainants in a sexual assault case must feel when testifying will no doubt be compounded in these circumstances where N.S. is testifying against family members.  It should not surprise anyone that N.S., when faced with this daunting task, seeks the strength and solace of her religious beliefs and practices. 

M---d.S. is facing serious criminal charges.  If convicted, he may well go to jail for a considerable period of time.  He will also wear the stigma of the child molester for the rest of his life.  In all likelihood, the mere fact that charges have been laid has led many within his family and community who are aware of those charges to look at M---d.S. in a very different way. 

M---d.S. is presumed innocent.  His fate will depend on whether N.S. is believed.  In a very real sense, the rest of M---d.S.’s life depends on whether his counsel can show that N.S. is not a credible or reliable witness.  No one can begrudge M---d.S.’s insistence that his lawyer have available all of the means that could reasonably assist in getting at the truth of the allegations made against him.    

What is really being impacted by this case, which has now taken on national proportions, legally, politically, and socially, is the lives of two people. Certainly, the public's interest in the outcome of the case is valid. This is even more so considering the number and type of intervener's in the SCC case: the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the Criminal Lawyer's Association, the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, and the Muslim Canadian Congress, to name but a few. However, we must not forget the "human terms" or human factor, which requires us to contemplate the life-changing possibilities of this ruling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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