Section 18 – A Duress Addendum? Episode 20 of the Ideablawg Podcasts On The Criminal Code of Canada

Last week we discussed the codified version of the common law defence of duress or, as it is know in the Code, “Compulsion By Threats.” This week, we have a section, also concerned with compulsion but the specific compulsion, which may arise as a result of marriage. Section 18 faces this possibility and states as follows:

No presumption arises that a married person who commits an offence does so under compulsion by reason only that the offence is committed in the presence of the spouse of that married person.

This section is saying that the criminal law does not presume that a person who commits an offence in the presence of a spouse has been compelled to do the criminal act merely by virtue of their relationship. Immediately, one speculates on why it is the marriage relationship singled out in this fashion. Why does the section not speak to the parent/child relationship, which is also a strong bond between two people or even a sibling relationship? The answer lies in the original version of this section and although the present iteration seems benign enough, the historical version, on today’s standards, is much more contentious.

The section was in the original 1892 Code under the then section 13 and was entitled “Compulsion of Wife.” The section was, as you probably guessed, based on gender stereotypes as it held that “no presumption shall be made that a married woman committing an offence does so under compulsion because she commits it in the presence of her husband.” This one-sided notion was changed to gender-neutral language in the 1980 Code amendments. But this still does not explain why this section was codified in the first place.

As I explained in previous podcasts, there are many common law defences available to an accused and still available through s. 8(3). I have talked about the major types of defences that are regularly used today – such as justifications and excuses and the defence of mistake of fact. However, there are other common law defences, which are not regularly used such as the defence of de minimus non curat lex. This translates to the “the law does not concern itself with trifles” and has been used in many different kinds of scenarios such as in theft cases where the subject matter value and/or the criminal actions are trivial. Leaving that aside, there are, as I said, other common law defences and the defence of marital coercion is just one such common law defence.

The defence, if successful, exonerated a woman of criminal responsibility for criminal acts carried out in the presence of her husband on the reasoning that the wife unquestionably obeys her husband and therefore has no choice but to commit the criminal offence. She is not acting under her own volition and therefore should be excused for her conduct. It is a defence that inures only to the benefit of the married woman as in common law the husband is not so duty bound. Although the defence appears to be very similar to the defence of duress there are differences in application. The accused must be the legal wife of the husband in question and therefore legally married at the time. Even an accused who has an honest but mistaken belief of marriage cannot use the defence. There is some case law in the United Kingdom, which also suggest that the coercion need not be physical but can be moral and psychological as well.

Although this common law defence, in a modified form, is still in use in the United Kingdom (the defence cannot be used for murder or treason, see Section 47 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925), section 18 of the Criminal Code abrogates that defence. As we discussed in earlier episodes, common law defences are only available unless they are “altered by or inconsistent with” the Criminal Code and thus the defence of marital coercion, be it husband or wife, is not available. Even so, this does not preclude the accused person from raising the defence of duress, either under the common law or under s.17 as applicable.

As an aside, there is a move to abolish the defence in the UK as a result of the 2013 Pryce case. Vicki Pryce, a well-known government economist, raised the defence in her trial of perverting the course of justice when, at the behest of her then husband, she lied to the police that she was driving the family car allowing her husband to avoid demerit points. The use of the defence in this case, caused an outrage in British society, particularly in light of Pryce’s elevated position in the government. She and her husband were convicted and sentenced to eight months incarceration. Just recently, the UK government announced plans to abolish the defence.

 

 

Episode 20 of the Ideablawg Podcast on the Criminal Code of Canada: Section 18 - A Duress Addendum?

Section 17 – The Statutory Defence of Duress: Episode 19 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada

In previous podcasts we have discussed the category of legal defences called justifications and excuses. We know that despite codification our criminal law permits an accused person to raise at trial a common law defence, as long as it is not inconsistent with the Code. There are purely common law defences such as the excuse of necessity (which by the way is exemplified in the seminal case taught in every first-year law school criminal law course – Regina v Dudley and Stevenson – where the two accused charged with murder committed cannibalism when their ship floundered in the high seas and they were forced to drift on a lifeboat – think Life of Pi without the animals) but there are also common law defences, which are subject to codification and found in the Criminal Code. The excuse of duress is one such defence from the common law, which appears in the Code under the section we are contemplating today, section 17.

When we first look at this section, and it is a long one, we realize that the word “duress” is never used in section 17. We therefore immediately feel that what we are about to look at and think about is not the same as the common law defence of duress. This is a correct assumption, on the face of this section. When we look behind this section however and look at the case law, which has developed in conjunction with the advent of the Charter on the mechanics of this section, we will see that in reality this section entitled “Compulsion By Threats” is really very similar to the common law version and only differs in terms of what category of accused person can use this section and for which offences.

Section 17 reads as follows:

A person who commits an offence under compulsion by threats of immediate death or bodily harm from a person who is present when the offence is committed is excused for committing the offence if the person believes that the threats will be carried out and if the person is not a party to a conspiracy or association whereby the person is subject to compulsion, but this section does not apply where the offence that is committed is high treason or treason, murder, piracy, attempted murder, sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon, threats to a third party or causing bodily harm, aggravated sexual assault, forcible abduction, hostage taking, robbery, assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm, aggravated assault, unlawfully causing bodily harm, arson or an offence under sections 280 to 283 (abduction and detention of young persons).

Before we dissect this section to have a clearer understanding of it, I want to remind you of the key elements of the class of defences we call excuses.

Both the actus reus and the mens rea of the offence must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecution before a legal excuse or for that matter a legal justification can be used as a defence. This means that the case against the accused is made out and, but for this defence, the accused would be found guilty. In light of that prerequisite, the class of defences known as excuses acknowledge the wrongfulness of the conduct but as a result of the circumstances facing the accused person, the accused should not be held criminally responsible for his or her criminal actions. However, the circumstances facing the accused must be dire, in other words, the defence of excuse can only be used in emergency situations. It is therefore the accused’s reaction to these dire situations, which cause society to excuse or absolve their conduct.

Excuses are a concession to human frailty and therefore reflect our humanity in two ways. First, this defence realizes that as individuals, as part of our humanity, we may act inappropriately in order to preserve our life or others. Secondly, as humans we understand that we are not perfect and that our laws must bend to this truth in order to have a compassionate society.

Despite the above, the situations in which excuses can be used are very restrictive because we fear that permitting too broad an excuse for criminal conduct will result in cases where we as a society may not be so sympathetic. So, the rule of law draws a line between what is excused and what is not. The difficulty then becomes, where to draw this line in order to remain true to our humanity without losing it.

As I already mentioned, the section is a reflection, albeit as we will see an imperfect one, of the common law defence of duress and thus this section was in the 1892 Criminal Code under section 12. This original section, except for certain language changes, is virtually the same as the now section 17. Not much changed over the years to this section and yet, as I have already mentioned, the section has changed dramatically since 2001 when the Supreme Court of Canada gave this section a constitutional make-over in R v Ruzic.

The Court in Ruzic, under the auspices of section 7 of the Charter, found that the statutory duress defence was too restrictive, particularly in relation to its common law partner, which even with s.17, could be used by parties to an offence. In the Court’s view, the statutory defence, available only to principal offenders, should not be more restrictive than the common law. In order to re-balance s. 17, the Court took out those passages in the section, which did not accord with the common law equivalent. Even so, the Court did not remove the offences for which the defence was available, choosing to leave those changes, if desired, to the government.

In light of this, let’s return to section 17 and this time, I will edit the section to accord with the Ruzic decision:

A person who commits an offence under compulsion by threats of immediate death or bodily harm from a person who is present when the offence is committed is excused for committing the offence if the person believes that the threats will be carried out and if the person is not a party to a conspiracy or association whereby the person is subject to compulsion, but this section does not apply where the offence that is committed is high treason or treason, murder, piracy, attempted murder, sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon, threats to a third party or causing bodily harm, aggravated sexual assault, forcible abduction, hostage taking, robbery, assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm, aggravated assault, unlawfully causing bodily harm, arson or an offence under sections 280 to 283 (abduction and detention of young persons).

Even with these changes the defence is a difficult one to employ. According to the newest Supreme Court of Canada case, in Ryan, the defence can only be used on the following bases:

  1. There must be a threat of death or bodily harm;
  2. The threat can be directed at the accused or a third party;
  3. The accused must reasonably believe that the threat will be carried out;
  4. There must be no safe avenue of escape, evaluated on a modified objective standard;
  5. There must be a close temporal connection between the threat and the harm threatened;
  6. There must be proportionality between the harm threatened and the harm inflicted by the accused, evaluated on a modified objective standard;
  7. The accused cannot be a party to a conspiracy or association whereby he or she is subject to compulsion as long as the accused actually knew that threats and coercion to commit an offence were a possible result of this criminal activity, conspiracy or association;
  8. The accused must be the principal offender and;
  9.  

In closing, there are a few items to note. First, the modified objective test is a creation of the Supreme Court of Canada in the series of cases on the meaning of criminal negligence. A discussion on this “test” and whether it is in fact a modifying one can be found in one of my previous blogs entitled The Subjective/Objective Debate Explained.

Second, the common law defence of duress in Canada is not restricted by type of offence, even though, in the UK the common law defence of duress cannot be used in a homicide charge, be the accused principal or a party.

Third, despite section 8(3) of the Code, which holds that common law defences continue unless they are altered or are inconsistent with the Code, section 17 changed to become more aligned to the common law as opposed to the common law defence changing to become more aligned to the Criminal Code iteration. This is because the common law defence of duress is for parties to an offence and the statutory defence is only for principal offenders. It is this distinction allows the common law defence to stand apart from the Code.

Fourth, even though Ruzic changed section 17, the Code does not reflect this change. One has to read the case law in order to know how the section should actually be implemented. This insistence by the federal government not to reflect court imposed Charter changes to sections is something that will come up again in the Code and in these podcasts. Indeed, there are whole sections, such as s.230 of the Code known as the constructive murder section, which have been struck down by the courts as constitutionally invalid and yet still appear in our Criminal Code. Why this is so is a matter of speculation but one wonders if the government believes that a differently composed court will take a different view or that the Charter may somehow change in the future. Either way, it is an oddity that these sections remain as they do as a vestige of the pre-Charter past.

Finally, there is much to be said about the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision in Ryan, which precluded the use of the duress defence in a situation where the accused was an abused woman who contracted an undercover police officer to kill her husband.  I will not, however, discuss those issues here in this podcast. Instead, I invite you to access my previous blog on the matter entitled Not To Make Excuses, But - The (Un)Responsiveness of the Supreme Court of Canada To Duress. I have also written on the application of the “air of reality test,” which is the threshold test used to determine if, in the circumstances of a case, a legal defence will be available to an accused in my blog entitled Poof! Into Thin Air – Where Have All The Defences Gone?: The Supreme Court of Canada And The Air Of Reality Test. I am currently writing a full article on this issue for publication.

We will of course come to further sections in the Criminal Code codifying common law defences where we will continue to peek back at the common law to frame the statutory doppelganger in the Code

Episode 19 of the Ideablawg Podcast on the Criminal Code of Canada: Section 17 - The Statutory Defence of Duress

Section 16: The Defence of Mental Disorder - Episode 18 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada

Section 16 describes the defence we now know as mental disorder but which we previously called the insanity defence. It is an incapacity defence, meaning that if successful the accused person is found to be incapable of forming the requisite intent for the crime. Thus, the accused could not even formulate the malicious intent required to commit the crime and is therefore absolved of criminal responsibility. The insanity defence is from English common law; specifically the 1843 British House of Lords Daniel M’Naghten case and thereafter the insanity defence became known as the M’Naghten Rule. This rule was codified into our Criminal Code from the Code’s inception.

In the 1892 Code, the defence was found under s.11. To read the section is a lesson in now inappropriate language as the section absolves those “labouring under natural imbecility” or disease of the mind. Other than this, the section does read very similarly to the present section 16 as a person “labouring” or “suffering,” as we say now, is exempt from criminal responsible if that disease or disorder rendered the person “incapable of appreciating the nature and quality” of his or her actions. However under the 1892 section the accused must also be incapable “of knowing that that the act or omission is wrong.” Let’s quickly look at the present section 16(1) for comparison:

No person is criminally responsible for an act committed or an omission made while suffering from a mental disorder that rendered the person incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act or omission or of knowing that it was wrong.

Our present defence requires that the person suffering from a mental disorder must be “incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act or omission” or “knowing it was wrong” and not and “knowing it was wrong” as in 1892 version.

The balance of the subsections under the 1892 section 11 is as follows:

2. A person labouring under specific delusions, but in other respects sane, shall not be acquitted on the ground of insanity, under the provisions hereinafter contained, unless the delusions caused him to believe in the existence of some state of things, which, if it existed, would justify or excuse his act or omission.

3. Every one shall be presumed to be sane at the time of doing or omitting to do any act until the contrary is proved.

Subsection 2 from the 1892 insanity section qualifies subsection 1 by providing an exception. A person may be “labouring under natural imbecility or a disease of the mind” but if they suffer from specific delusions and are otherwise sane, they cannot use the insanity defence unless those delusions “caused him to believe in the existence of some state of things which, if it existed, would justify or excuse his act or omission.” Subsection 3 indicates that everyone is presumed sane “until the contrary is proven.” Once an accused is found NCR or not criminally responsible, the person would be held in detention until the “pleasure” of the Lieutenant Governor. This “pleasure” had no time limitation. Although, I will not discuss this here, this indeterminacy was changed in later amendments.

The 1892 version of the defence continued until the 1953-54 amendments at which point the section was re-enacted as s. 16 but this version, again, is quite different from what we have today. The revised section reads very much like the original version except that it changes the “and” “knowing that such act or omission is wrong” to “or.”

In 1975, the Law Reform Commission of Canada, as it then was (it was disbanded in 1993 and re-enacted as the Law Commission of Canada in 1996 but then had its budget cut in 2006 and was closed down), published Working Paper #14 on “The Criminal Process and Mental Disorder.” The significant commissioners at the time were two soon to be Supreme Court of Canada Justices – Antonio Lamer (Vice-Chair and later to be Chief Justice of the SCC) and Gerard La Forest (commissioner) and the Chair, E. Patrick Hartt, who became a Justice of the High Court of Ontario in 1996 and retired in 2001. For more information on the fascinating history of Canada’s law reform agencies, I recommend reading Gavin Murphy’s paper that can be accessed here.

In any event, this Working Paper, although not partially acted upon until the 1991 amendments (which were done in response to the constitutional striking down of the old sections by the Supreme Court of Canada), suggested various fundamental changes to the insanity defence and the procedures surrounding it. As a result, it is with some irony that the Paper opens with the words “It [the Paper] examines many of the important but sometimes neglected problems of mental disorder in the criminal process.” It seems the issue was even further neglected legislatively for a further sixteen years.

However, there was some groundwork done in the intervening time. The government, in 1982, through the Department of Justice, started the Mental Disorder Project as part of a comprehensive review of the criminal process by provincial and federal Minister of Justice officials. In 1983, a discussion paper was published and again the procedural difficulties and inherent unfairness in the system were discussed. Additionally, with the advent of the Charter, the system’s constitutional compliance was questioned. A full report was eventually tabled in 1985 and a draft Bill was introduced in 1986 by the then Minister of Justice John Crosby. The Bill was still under scrutiny when in 1991, the Supreme Court of Canada found the insanity rules and some of the Criminal Code sections unconstitutional in the Swain case. It should be noted that the then Chief Justice Lamer together with Justice Cory and Justice Sopinka wrote what would be the majority decision. Justice La Forest concurred with Justice Gonthier, who agreed substantially with Lamer CJ’s conclusion.

Thus we have the 1991 amendments under which we practice today. Although the new amendments have not anticipated all issues, certainly section 16 is a much better and fairer section than the previous iteration.

The present version retains the presumption of sanity but also clarifies the burden of proof required to overcome the presumption. It must be noted that either the Crown prosecutor or the defence may raise the issue of mental disorder. If this occurs the trier of fact must be satisfied on the civil standard of balance of probabilities that the presumption of sanity does not apply. There is no exception, in the present s. 16, for specific delusions. The balance of the present section 16 (2) and (3) is as follows:

Presumption
(2) Every person is presumed not to suffer from a mental disorder so as to be exempt from criminal responsibility by virtue of subsection (1), until the contrary is proved on the balance of probabilities.

 Burden of proof
(3) The burden of proof that an accused was suffering from a mental disorder so as to be exempt from criminal responsibility is on the party that raises the issue.

Although section 16 sets out the defence of mental disorder, the presumption of sanity and the burden of proof, it is Part XX.1 of the Criminal Code, entitled Mental Disorders, which sets out the procedure to be followed in considering the defence. It is a lengthy Part and thus the defence of mental disorder is complex and time consuming requiring often-competing experts and the application of circuitous special procedures. A full discussion on this Part will come when we discuss sections 672.1 to 672.9, much further down this Criminal Code journey.

One last comment on the recent controversial nature of this issue, particularly with the finding that Vince Li, who beheaded a passenger on a bus, was found not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder and was sent to a psychiatric institution for treatment. Just recently Li’s terms of segregation at the hospital were relaxed by the Criminal Code Review Board of Manitoba to permit Li to leave the hospital unescorted. This relaxation has resulted in a call to tighten once again the consequences of a finding of mental disorder.

The Federal Government has been most vocal in wanting changes and introduced last year a Bill C-54 to amend the Code to include strict restrictions on a person found mentally disordered under s.16. Critics of the Bill suggest that the further stigmatizing of the mentally ill will not “make society safer.” The Bill received its First Reading in the Senate in June of 2013. Read the presenting speech made by the original sponsor of the Bill, the then Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, as well as the response speeches here. Read also the article by the Canadian Psychiatric Association on the “fundamental flaws” in the new proposal.

It should also be noted that in a recent legal conference on mental disorder and the criminal justice system, questions were raised on the constitutionality of the proposed new amendments. Although, section 16 has come a long way from M’Naghten and the 1892 Code, the future of criminal responsibility and mental disorder is still unsettled and may only be determined, once again, by court intervention.  

 

Section 16 - The Defence of Mental Disorder: Episode 18 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada

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

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

Section 15 of the Code presently reads as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

Section 14 – Consenting To Death: Episode 16 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada

Although we have not traversed very far into the Criminal Code, we have already discussed some fundamental principles of English common law, including common law defences. Codification, as we have seen, does not usually change these traditional concepts but crystallizes the customary into the written rule. Even with codification, common law has informed the interpretation and implementation of the Code sections through the application of case law. Later, we will see how codification can and has radically changed common law, but the section we are now discussing, section 14 of the Criminal Code, is a reiteration of the common law rule – that a person cannot consent to their own death. The corollary to that presumption is that even if a victim does consent, an accused person cannot use this consent as a defence and is still legally liable for his or her actions. The section reads as follows:

No person is entitled to consent to have death inflicted on him, and such consent does not affect the criminal responsibility of any person by whom death may be inflicted on the person by whom consent is given.

Let’s take a deeper look at what this section is saying and what it is not saying. First, the section is actually speaking to us all – not just to an accused person – and acts as a warning: “no person is entitled to consent to have death inflicted.” But why this wording? Why doesn’t the section simply say, “no person shall consent to death?” By putting in the word “entitled,” I submit that not only can we not consent to our own death but we also have no right to do so. This of course opens up a much larger debate on who has ownership over an individual’s life – is it the person or is it the state as the Code seems to suggest? Or is it a combination of the two?

This debate continues, as the Supreme Court of Canada will reopen the issue of the right of a person to die when they consider the constitutionality of the assisted suicide section 241 of the Code in the British Columbia Carter case. I have written previous blogs on the issue: Whose Life Is This Anyway? The Canadian “Right To Die” Debate Part One – Definitions and A Story and Whose Life Is This Anyway? Sue Rodriguez and the Supreme Court of Canada. We will further discuss this when we come to the relevant section in the Code but the issue of whether or not society has an interest in the continuance of our individual lives is a weighty one. The difficulty is we do want society to take responsibility for ensuring the necessities of life such as food, clothing and education – all of which by the way have been subject to great constitutional debate. But we do not want society directing the manner in which we live our lives such as our sexual orientation and our decisions around childbirth. Of course, all of these issues are predicated on the decision to live, not on the decision to die. The question “whose life is this anyway?” does not generate an easy or static answer.

The other part of section 14 is a warning to the offender - the victim’s consent cannot be used to relieve the accused of the criminal responsibility for causing the victim’s death. Again, this argument may be raised in an assisted suicide situation but it could also arise in other scenarios such as sporting events. Although we no longer live in a world where a fight to the death is an acceptable spectacle (do we?) this does not mean the issue is dead – excuse my pun. Although dueling under section 71 is a Criminal Code offence, there are contests where death may not be the object but serious bodily harm certainly is and death may be probable if you engage in the “sport” enough times – prize fighting comes to mind. Certainly, in Canada, “blood” sports are either prohibited or highly regulated as in section 83 of the Criminal Code. Recently, the Canadian government changed the meaning of a “prize fight” under this section to permit mixed martial arts events such as the Ultimate Fighting Championships, a highly popular form of entertainment.

Still when death does occur during the course of a sporting event there may be criminal code repercussions. An infamous example is the Todd Bertuzzi – Steve Moore case, when well –known defence man Todd Bertuzzi punched Moore from behind during a hockey game in Vancouver. Moore suffered serious injuries and Bertuzzi was not charged with the more serious criminal negligence, but with the lesser offence of assault causing bodily harm, which is an infliction of bodily harm without consent. Bertuzzi entered a plea of guilty and received a conditional discharge, a lesser punishment available under the Code.  

This brings us to the related consideration of whether one can consent to bodily harm. A much more difficult issue considering many contact sports involve serious injury. It also brings to mind the fistfight or the let’s-take-this outside kind of attitude that is not unknown in bars across the country. Interestingly, this is where common law and codified law intersects. Although we know from section 8(3) that common law defences are available, this seemingly straightforward exception becomes complicated when consent, as in an assault, form an essential element of an offence.

In determining whether or not consent exists as per the Code, how far can a court rely on and apply the common law principles? This was the issue in the Supreme Court of Canada Jobidon case, wherein the accused stepped out of a bar with the victim and engaged in a seemingly consensual fistfight, which left the victim dead and the accused facing a manslaughter charge. Jobidon was acquitted at trial on the basis of the consent but the Ontario Court of Appeal reversed the decision. The majority judgment in the Supreme Court of Canada, written by Mr. Justice Gonthier, found that the common law conception of consent was relevant to whether or not the victim’s consent was applicable in the circumstances. To that end, Justice Gonthier stated at page 738:

If s. 8(3) and its interaction with the common law can be used to develop entirely new defences not inconsistent with the Code, it surely authorizes the courts to look to preexisting common law rules and principles to give meaning to, and explain the outlines and boundaries of an existing defence or justification, indicating where they will not be recognized as legally effective -- provided of course that there is no clear language in the Code which indicates that the Code has displaced the common law.  That sort of language cannot be found in the Code.  As such, the common law legitimately serves in this appeal as an archive in which one may locate situations or forms of conduct to which the law will not allow a person to consent.

In accordance with these comments, the SCC took an expansive view of section 8(3) and did not feel encumbered by the argument that consent forms part of the actus reus or prohibited conduct of an offence. In this instance, the common law restricted consent in fistfights, where there was bodily harm, for reasons of public policy – to ensure good order and appropriate behaviors. The Court however was very clear to restrict this decision to circumstances, which “vitiates consent between adults intentionally to apply force causing serious hurt or non-trivial bodily harm to each other in the course of a fist fight or brawl.”  This was an important caveat for the court as:

Stated in this way, the policy of the common law will not affect the validity or effectiveness of freely given consent to participate in rough sporting activities, so long as the intentional applications of force to which one consents are within the customary norms and rules of the game.  Unlike fistfights, sporting activities and games usually have a significant social value; they are worthwhile. 

Indeed, this comment is puzzling. Although sports such as hockey and football are for some worthwhile pursuits, the issue does not lie in the sports themselves but in the injuries occasioned in these sports. Are these injuries equally worthwhile should be the question. The answer lies in the rules of the sport and certainly Bertuzzi’s criminal responsibility depended upon going outside the rules or norms of the sport.  Although only a certain level and type of harm will be tolerated, this tolerance, as it bends and flows, will have an impact on the future of acceptable violence in Canadian society and in Canadian sport.

Episode 16 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada; Section 14 - Consenting To Death

Age As A Defence – Section 13: Episode 15 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada

In previous podcasts I have spoken of defences, a legal construct which an accused person can use in answer to the charge. There are two essential elements of a crime: the actus reus or prohibited act, which is the illegal behaviour and the mens rea or the guilty mind, which is the fault requirement. Some defences, negate the actus reus or prohibited act requirement of a crime, meaning that the accused cannot be convicted of the crime as the prohibited act was not committed by the accused voluntarily. This would occur, for example, in the following scenario: a person was driving his car with the window partially open and a wasp flew into the car, attacking the driver, and causing him to drive erratically. In that instance, a charge of dangerous driving under s.249 of the Code would fail as the prohibited act or bad driving was involuntary. The accused did not choose to drive in such as manner but external circumstances, beyond the accused person’s control, caused him to do so.

Another category of defences, known as justifications and excuses, are available even though the accused could be found guilty of the crime. If such a defence is successful, the accused is acquitted of the crime as he or she may be justified in committing the crime or may be excused from responsibility. In Episode 11, I explain these defences more thoroughly and I discuss the defence of duress, an example of the defence of excuse, in my previous blog here. Although these defences, if accepted, typically result in a full acquittal, the exception is the defence of provocation, a form of justification, which is only a partial defence, reducing murder to manslaughter, per s.232 of the Criminal Code. See my previous blog on the issue.

There are also defences, which negate the mens rea or the criminal intention required for a crime. Mistake of fact is such a defence where the accused believes in a set of facts, which, if true, would exonerate the accused. In those circumstances, the accused would not have the intention required to commit the offence.

Still another category of defences, which also relates to the mens rea of an offence, is where the accused is incapable of forming the intent required. Incapacity is difficult to use as a defence and tends to require expert medical evidence to establish the incapacity such as in the defence of intoxication (a common law defence, which has been severely limited by the Code under section 33.1) and mental disorder under s. 16 (or insanity as it was originally called). Another form of incapacity, which does not require medical evidence, is incapacity based on age. This is where section 13 comes into play – in fact, child’s play – as the section reads:

No person shall be convicted of an offence in respect of an act or omission on his part while that person was under the age of twelve years.

Interestingly, the word “child” is not used in the actual section, although it is used in the descriptive heading for the section, Child Under Twelve. As there is no statute of limitation on criminal offences, meaning that a person is still liable for a crime committed years previously, not using the descriptive word “child” in the actual section does make sense. Also note that although the section states a person under twelve years of age cannot be convicted of an offence, he or she may be charged with an offence. Again, if you have been listening/reading my previous podcasts, the Code seems to be focused on the “end game” of conviction and punishment.

Furthermore, this type of incapacity differs from intoxication and mental disorder as the simple proof of age, which is easily done, bars conviction. Intoxication and mental disorder as a defence, not only may require medical evidence but are complex defences, and in the case of mental disorder, has a complex procedure in the Criminal Code.  Certainly, in the case of mental disorder, an alternate mental health system is available to take over when the criminal law cannot.

So why is there such a limitation and why is it set at under twelve? Perhaps it is time we do a little historical review to find some answers.

In the 1892 Criminal Code, section 9 prohibited conviction of a person under seven years of age. Traditionally, English common law did not attach responsibility to young children for crimes, as children, like the mentally challenged, could not understand the consequences of their actions and therefore could not be held responsible in criminal court. This was the norm until the advent of the 1980 Young Offenders Act, which replaced the Juvenile Delinquents Act, when the present day age of twelve was substituted for the age of seven. This change in age was supported by psychological and medical research, which showed that the neurological development of a young person was not fully advanced until well into the teens. Thus developed the concept that a person under twelve years of age was incapable of forming the criminal intent. The research on this issue is certainly more complex as I have summarized and I invite you to do your own research on this topic. Needless to say, some academics presently question whether the child is truly incapable of forming an evil intent, although most agree that a child, due to developmental factors, should not be treated the same as an adult. Certainly Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act is based on that premise.

Politics has also come into the issue as the Conservative Party in 1999, through a private member’s Bill, attempted to change the age of incapacity to a child under ten years of age. This Bill did not survive but this concept has survived and may be raised yet again by the government particularly as the now Justice Minister, Peter McKay, was the sponsor of that 1999 amendment.

Additional pressure to change the age of incapacity comes from media reports of children under the age of 12 committing crimes, usually murder, both here and in the UK. It should however be noted that in terms of statistical evidence, 61% of the offences committed by young offenders are committed by the oldest offenders between the ages of 16 and 17. I know all of this fails to explain why the age barrier is under twelve as opposed to under eleven or under thirteen. I believe much of this is connected to societal perceptions and expectations, which do change over time.

To be sure, even though the criminal justice system is not engaged when a child under twelve commits a crime, the social service system can and will deem such a child in need of protection and he or she will be taken into the child welfare system. The focus is then on the reason why the child acted inappropriately and focuses on treatment and not punishment. However, the difference between these two concepts tends to become blurred in the eyes of a young person. An example of this in Alberta is the Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Act wherein a child using drugs or alcohol may be taken into a protective “safe house.”

Although the child welfare system may seem to be a kinder and gentler way of dealing with a troubled child, the system is rife with problems such as the power of the state to take children from their biological families and the difficulty of treatment without the fair trial procedures as would be required in the criminal courts. On the other hand, the stigma of a criminal charge and the use of the process-oriented criminal justice system, even if it is supposed to look towards rehabilitation of a young person, tend to provide band-aid solutions, where there are consequences, a bit of treatment, but no long-term solutions.

In the end, the criminal justice system is probably not the answer for a troubled child but the child welfare system may not be either. Perhaps, it is time for us to start thinking of alternative ways, proactive ways, to ensure that all children have the opportunity to engage in play and not crime.

 

 

 

Episode 15 - Section 13 Age As A Defence: The Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada

Section 12 – Anyone Want To Play Double Jeopardy?: Episode 14 of the Ideablawg Podcast on the Criminal Code of Canada

Double jeopardy, like the presumption of innocence, is a legal term, which is a familiar part of our social discourse. The phrase is at once a movie, a book (actually multiple books), and even a segment of a game show. The concept, that an accused may not be tried or punished for the same offence more than once, is ancient and runs deep in our “fundamental freedoms” psyche. The Greek orator, paid speech writer, and all-around democrat, Demosthenes in his speech of 355 BCE Against Leptines, reminded the Athenian jury that “the laws forbid the same man to be tried twice on the same issue.”  Roman law later codified this concept when they published The Digests or Pandects of Justinian and referred to the maxim ne bis in idem or “not twice in the same” in Book 48, Title 2, Section 7(2). The maxim eventually was subsumed into English common law, however it was strictly defined and originally applied to those acquitted or convicted of capital offences. See Blackstone Commentaries in Book 4, Chapter 26 for more on the English law equivalent.

Not surprisingly, this restricted concept was handed down to us when we codified our Canadian criminal laws. In the 1892 Criminal Code, section 933 codified the Canadian principle under Proceedings After Conviction pertaining to “Punishments Generally.” As it is very similar to our present version under section 12, I will not reproduce it here but please note that the prohibition against double punishment is not limited to capital crimes. Also note that I referred to the concept as “double punishment” and not “double jeopardy.” To explain this difference, let’s read section 12:

Where an act or omission is an offence under more than one Act of Parliament, whether punishable by indictment or on summary conviction, a person who does the act or makes the omission is, unless a contrary intention appears, subject to proceedings under any of those Acts, but is not liable to be punished more than once for the same offence.

Immediately, it is clear that this section protects double punishment, not double jeopardy – an accused can therefore be charged and tried for similar offences, but once convicted, the accused cannot be punished more than once. This is much different than the American concept of double jeopardy as found in the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment, in which a person, who is subject to the same offence, is not to be “twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” In the American version, therefore, even the risk or danger of being convicted is being protected. The Canadian codification in the Code, like the English principle, does not go as far.

In fact, even our Charter protection under section 11(h), albeit broader than section 12 of the Code, is still not as robust as the American conception.  Section 11(h) of the Charter reads: 

Any person charged with an offence has the right if finally acquitted of the offence, not to be tried for it again and, if finally found guilty and punished for the offence, not to be tried or punished for it again.

The Charter prohibits double punishment, like section 12 of the Code, but also prohibits retrying an already acquitted accused. It is unsurprising that section 12 of the Code does not refer to acquittals considering its antecedents as a section under the punishment part of the original Code. Also, both of these concepts – not to be convicted or tried twice – come from the common law and, as we learned in a previous podcast, common law defences under section 8(3) are still available. Therefore, does section 12 really need to be under the Criminal Code? Those common law defences are known as autrefois acquit and autrefois convict. Autrefois acquit, meaning previously acquitted, and autrefois convict, meaning previously convicted, are actually referred to in the Criminal Code as “special pleas” under s. 607. Yes, we will eventually discuss this section but much much further down this podcast road.

In any event, autrefois convict has been further refined as it only applies after there has been a complete adjudication on a matter including sentence. Before punishment, pursuant to s. 12 of the Code, an accused who has been tried and convicted of offences arising out of the same transaction, can rely on the case law principle prohibiting multiple convictions from the 1975 SCC R v Kienapple. Thus, an accused charged and convicted of driving with over 80 mgs of alcohol (section 253(1)(b)) and driving while impaired (section 253(1)(a)) arising from the same transaction, will not be punished for both offences but will have one of the charges stayed or “kienappled” as defence lawyers like to call it. As an aside there are a few cases, which have become verbs in the legal nomenclature, such as a case being “askoved” or stayed due to a trial not being heard within a reasonable time pursuant to s. 11(b) of the Charter.

The lesson learned from this podcast and the previous podcast on s. 6 the ersatz “presumption of innocence” found in the Code, is that our societal perspective of law is not really reflected in our Criminal Code. Instead our perspective is coloured by the media, by the American experience, and by our own assumptions of what the law is and what the law is not.

Join me for the next podcast when we discuss section 13 of the Criminal Code.

 

 

Episode 14 of the Ideablawg Podcast on Section 12 of the Criminal Code of Canada

Section 10 of the Criminal Code – Revisiting The Common Law Contempt of Court: Episode 12 of the Ideablawg Podcast on the Criminal Code of Canada

In the last episode, we discussed how codification of Canadian criminal law replaced the common law by prohibiting common law offences but with the exception for the common law offence of contempt of court. Section 10 continues this conversation by providing a mechanism for appealing this lone common law offence to the applicable provincial appellate court. This is therefore a procedural section to ensure that the common law offence, which sits outside of the Criminal Code, is nevertheless subject to the rules of fundamental justice as found in the Code. As straightforward as this section may be, there are two items of interest to point out. Section 10 (1) and (2) read as follows:

   (1) Where a court, judge, justice or provincial court judge summarily convicts a person for a contempt of court committed in the face of the court and imposes punishment in respect thereof, that person may appeal

(a) from the conviction; or

(b) against the punishment imposed.

(2) Where a court or judge summarily convicts a person for a contempt of court not committed in the face of the court and punishment is imposed in respect thereof, that person may appeal

(a) from the conviction; or

(b) against the punishment imposed.

There are two contrasts in this section: first, subsection 1 speaks of “contempt committed in the face of the court,” while subsection 2 refers to contempt “not committed in the face of the court” and second, subsection 1 applies to a “court, judge, justice or provincial court judge,” while subsection 2 applies to a “court or judge.” So, what do these differences mean?

Let’s work through the second contrast first. In order to understand the different wording, we must look to the definitions of these words. Obviously, subsection (1) is broader than subsection (2) as subsection (1) not only refers to “court” and “judge” as does subsection (2), but it also applies to a “justice or provincial court judge.” As we already know from the beginning of these podcasts, section 2 of the Criminal Code is the general definitional section. According to that section, “justice” is:

justice of the peace or a provincial court judge, and includes two or more justices where two or more justices are, by law, required to act or, by law, act or have jurisdiction;

and

 “provincial court judge” is:

a person appointed or authorized to act by or pursuant to an Act of the legislature of a province, by whatever title that person may be designated, who has the power and authority of two or more justices of the peace and includes the lawful deputy of that person.

“Judge” and “court” are not defined under s. 2 but they are general terms used throughout the Criminal Code. When the Code speaks of a specific level of court, then the specific term such as “provincial court judge” or “judge of a superior court of criminal jurisdiction,” which in Alberta would be the Court of Queen’s Bench, is used, or a specific section is referred to such as “a judge as defined in section 552.” However, once that primary designation is given, the Code may then further refer to the entity as simply a “judge.” So “judge” may be interchangeable with any level of judges, except a justice of the peace, who is referred to as “justice” and never “judge.” I would therefore suggest that the meaning of “judge” depends on the context of the section.

The context for our purposes is supplied by the other difference between these subsections, the concept of contempt committed in the face of the court and contempt not committed in the face of the court. We have, in fact, visited this issue already. You may recall in the previous episode, I discussed the differing jurisdiction between the provincial courts and the superior courts. The provincial court derives its jurisdiction from statute, which is the source of its power. Conversely, the superior courts such as the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta have inherent jurisdiction or intrinsic powers outside of statute, conferred through the common law. There is no exact description or even limitation of these inherent powers. Legal scholars have been singularly unable to give an all-encompassing definition of the inherent jurisdiction enjoyed by the superior courts but the procedural jurist Sir Jack Jacobs, Q.C (Senior Master of the Supreme Court – England, who was a visiting professor at Osgoode Hall Law School) comes closest in his 1970 article entitled "The Inherent Jurisdiction of the Court" wherein he mused that:

For the essential character of a superior court of law necessarily involves that it should be invested with a power to maintain its authority and to prevent its process being obstructed and abused. Such a power is intrinsic in a superior court; it is its very life-blood, its very essence, its immanent attribute. Without such a power, the court would have form but would lack substance. The jurisdiction, which is inherent in a superior court of law is that which enables it to fulfill itself as a court of law. The juridical basis of this jurisdiction is therefore the authority of the judiciary to uphold, to protect and to fulfill the judicial function of administering justice according to law in a regular, orderly and effective manner.

Thus this inherent jurisdiction, which cannot be abrogated by the government, is, I submit, the reason the Criminal Code protects the common law contempt of court process. But it is also the uniqueness of the common law offence of contempt of court, which results in the Code exception. Common law contemptdoes have a Criminal Code equivalent in s. 708 contempt of court. But this equivalency is in name only. Section 708 is specifically limited to a witness who fails to attend or remain in court in order to give evidence. Conversely, the common law offence of contempt of court, although not specifically delineated, can be any act, which interferes “with the due administration or course of justice” as found in the 1983 Alberta Court of Appeal Vermette case,  which was upheld by the SCC. There are, however, different classifications of the common law offence and that is where the concept of contempt in the face of the court and contempt not in the face of the court arise. This is also where the differences between inherent jurisdiction and inferior jurisdiction intersect with the differing kinds of common law contempt.

The SCC Vermette case helps to explain these differences. According to the decision, although the provincial court has some jurisdiction to control its own process through a common law contempt charge, this jurisdiction is limited to contemptuous acts within the four walls of the courtroom. Thus, inappropriate acts committed in the presence of the provincial court judge or “in the face” of the court could form the basis of a common law contempt charge. On the other hand, the superior courts by virtue of their ancient and essential inherent jurisdiction had the additional power to cite an individual for contempt ex facie or not in the face of the court, meaning outside of the presence of the judge. It is important to note however that even for those acts committed outside of the court’s presence, the acts must connect to the court’s process. There is no common law contempt without the court as the aggrieved party.

Looking back to section 10, we can now understand why the section refers to both categories of common law contempt to ensure a mode of appeal for both.

I would like to make one more comment on the section as it relates to a judge “summarily” convicting the accused of the common law offence. This refers to the immediacy of the procedure as the court deals with the matter as soon as the judge cites the person for the contempt. There is no formal arrest and the accused does not follow the usual paths of the criminal justice system. There is no right to a jury trial. For more information on this summary process, see the 2003 SCC Arradi case.

 

Episode 12 of the Ideablawg Podcast on the Criminal Code of Canada: Section 10 - Revisiting Common Law Contempt of Court

A Long Holiday Read On Section 8 And Section 9 Of The Criminal Code - Codification vs. Common Law, Is The Criminal Code Big Enough?: Episode Eleven Of The Ideablawg Podcast (And The Text Version!) On The Criminal Code of Canada

Codification can be a good thing: instead of searching multiple statutes to find the criminal offence for which your client is charged, as an English barrister must do, the Canadian lawyer just flips through the weighty but convenient Criminal Code. To be fair to England, they did try to codify their criminal law. In fact, our codified criminal law comes from that English attempt by Sir James Fitzjames Stephen. I say the English "attempt" as even though we Canadians embraced the codification concept, the English Parliament did not. For more information on the history of the Criminal Code and possible reform, I invite you to read my previous blog on the subject entitled The Criminal Code of Canada: Codification and Reform from February 12, 2012.

Codification can therefore provide much needed certainty of the law. There is no guess work with codification – we know it is a crime because the Code says so. Thus, the concept of ignorance of the law is no excuse from the Latin maxim of ignorantia juris non excusat, is crystallized in a compendium of sections of the Criminal Code and even is codified in it as we will see when we discuss s.19 of the Code.

Alas, however, this same reasoning can lead to the conclusion that codification can also be a bad thing. Firstly, codification leaves little room for interpretation. The Criminal Code, as a really, really, long statute, abides by the rules of statutory interpretation, which guides us on the application and meaning of this statute. According to another Latin maxim of statutory interpretation expressio unius est exclusio alterius or “expression of one is the exclusion of the other,” means that what is not written in the Criminal Code is not part of the Criminal Code. This principle is supported by other statutory interpretation rules such as the  plain meaning rule of statutory interpretation, which advises us that the words used in the Criminal Code mean what they ordinarily mean.

These rules have not gone unchallenged and there are interesting articles discussing those issues. For instance, the rule raises the question as to whether or not there truly is an “ordinary” meaning of a word when considering the differing cultures and perceptions of our multicultural nation.

Besides critics of these statutory interpretation concepts, there are other rules of interpretation, which seem contrary to these “closed book” rules, such as the ability of a court to “read-in” words or phrases to a statute to ensure its constitutional integrity. To be sure courts through the ages have read-in phrases and meanings in certain sections of the Code but they have not actually read-in a whole section. 

Thus, through the effect of codification, the Criminal Code captures and defines our criminal law, leaving very little room, if any, for change, unless Parliament so chooses. In this way the dynamic nature of society is not reflected through our laws. Certainly, however our Charter has added a fluid dimension to the Criminal Code by superimposing societal change, albeit incrementally, onto the written word. Instead of a closed book, the Code seems to be more akin to an e-reader, in which the internet can be accessed, on occasion, to elucidate the reader.

The second problem with codification is the isolation of the criminal law from the English common law tradition, which brings with it a rich and varied criminal law. Using another metaphor, codification is like a tree without its roots as common law is an important source of our criminal law. However, the whole purpose of codification would be defeated by the uncertainty caused by permitting the common law to exist outside of codification. How would an accused then know the charge for which he or she was facing without reference to a specific charge found in the Code if unwritten common law could still form the basis of a charge?

This last objection, to permitting the common law to stand as a system parallel to the Criminal Code, is also reflected in our Charter as a principle of fundamental justice under section 11(a) wherein a person charged with a criminal offence has a right to be informed of the specific offence without delay.

Thankfully, the framers of the Code did think of these issues and so we finally come to the sections which we will discuss in this podcast: sections 8 and 9 of the Criminal Code. But first we will look at section 9, which restricts the common law and ensures Canadian criminal law is consistent with the Charter. Section 9, under the heading Criminal Offences To Be Under Law Of Canada reads as follows:

Notwithstanding anything in this Act or any other Act, no person shall be convicted or discharged under section 730

(a) of an offence at common law,

(b) of an offence under an Act of Parliament of England, or of Great Britain, or of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, or

(c) of an offence under an  Act or ordinance in force in any province, territory, or place before that province, territory or place became a province of Canada,

but nothing in this section affects the power, jurisdiction, or authority that a court, judge, justice or provincial court judge had, immediately before April 1, 1955, to impose punishment for contempt of court.

This section is actually an enabling section as it ensures that the Criminal Code has full force and effect in Canada and that no one can be convicted or discharged with an offence other than an offence under the Code. This was needed as prior to codification, the sources of law were varied and included laws of the United Kingdom, laws particular to pre-Confederation governments, and laws arising from common law.

It is interesting to note that the section bars punishment for these offences as opposed to prohibiting a person from being charged for these offences. I would suggest that the word “charged,” as under s. 11 of the Charter, refers to the laying of an Information against an accused person, an action which comes at the beginning of the criminal process as opposed to “conviction,” which comes at the end. Thus, the protection of this section is triggered at the end of the trial process when an accused is found guilty by the trial judge and a conviction is entered. The triggering words are similar to the ersatz (see my previous podcast/blog where I explain why I use this qualifying adjective) presumption of innocence found under section 6 of the Code. In effect then, someone may be arrested, charged, and tried for an offence under either 9(a) or (b) or (c), and even found guilty, but it is the judicial action after the finding of guilt and immediately before a conviction or a discharge is entered, which section 9 prohibits. As in section 6, the focus is on punishment and is unlike the Charter sections on legal rights, which so assiduously protect the accused throughout the criminal process; from detention to arrest to charges to pre-trial custody to trial and then to acquittal or punishment.

Of note, is section 11(g) of the Charter that gives a person charged with a criminal offence the right

not to be found guilty on account of any act or omission unless, at the time of the act or omission, it constituted an offence under Canadian or international law or was criminal according to the general principles of law recognized by the community of nations.

This section seems to parallel section 9 but it may be interpreted as giving a broader protection by using the phrase “not found guilty,” and therefore protects an individual before a finding of guilt is made. After the trial judge makes a finding of guilt, the accused is not convicted as he or she may be discharged under section 730 of the Code. Although a discharge is not a conviction, and therefore the accused does not have a criminal record, it is a “sentence” or punishment under the Code. This does seem to be a question of semantics, yet an interesting one to ponder.

There is, however, an exclusion to this decree as the section permits a court to “impose punishment for contempt of court.” Thus, section 9 preserves the court’s “inherent and essential jurisdiction” to cite and punish someone appearing before it for the common law offence of contempt of court. The purpose of preserving this power, according to Justice McIntyre speaking for the Supreme Court of Canada in the Vermette case, was “necessary, and remains so, to enable the orderly conduct of the court's business and to prevent interference with the court's proceedings.”

However, the jurisdiction of the inferior court or provincial court differed from the inherent powers of the superior courts. While the provincial court could only cite someone for common law contempt where the actus reus or contemptuous conduct occurred in the face of or in the presence of the court, the superior court could also use their contempt power in circumstances where the conduct was outside of court or ex facie. This was due to the inherent jurisdiction of the superior courts to maintain discipline within their courts independent of statute as opposed to the provincial or inferior courts whose jurisdiction was purely statutory.

This common law power is still used in courts today, albeit sparingly, and is available even though there are perfectly appropriate charging sections in the Criminal Code, such as s. 139 obstruct justice and s. 131 perjury. I have represented an individual for common law contempt and the unique aspect of the offence is the ability of the accused to proffer an explanation or an apology for the contemptuous behaviour that may be accepted as “purging” the contempt charge. I say “may” as the apology may negate the mens rea required for conviction but a judge is certainly not required to accept an apology as vacating the contempt finding.

Let’s now return to the second section to be discussed today, section 8. We saw how Parliament ensured that the Criminal Code would safeguard an accused’s rights by limiting common law offences and now, section 8, extends this protection by permitting some common law principles, which inure to the benefit of the accused, such as common law defences. In particular, I will read section 8(3):

Every rule and principle of the common law that renders any circumstance a justification or excuse for an act or a defence to a charge continues in force and applies in respect of proceedings for an offence under this Act or any other Act of Parliament except in so far as they are altered by or are inconsistent with this Act or any other Act of Parliament.

Therefore, all common law defences, unless they are “altered by or are inconsistent with” the Code are available to an accused. The defences specified by the section are “justifications and excuses,” which are complete defences to a criminal charge but apply even though both the actus reus and mens rea of an offence are proven. Although both of these defences are restricted to a reasonable response by the accused to external pressures, they do differ.

An excuse acknowledges the wrongfulness of the action but holds that the accused should not be punished for his or her actions as Justice Dickson stated in the Perka case,

a liberal and humane criminal law cannot hold people to the strict obedience of the laws in an emergency situation.

Examples of an excuse would be the defence of duress, as in the Paquette case, and the defence of necessity as in the Perka case.

Conversely, a justification is where the accused challenges the wrongfulness of the act  as in the circumstances where “the values of society, indeed of the criminal law itself, are promoted by disobeying the law rather than observing it.”

For a fuller discussion on the present law on excuses see my previous blog on duress and the SCC Ryan case entitled Not To Make Excuses, But The Unresponsiveness of the Supreme Court of Canada To The Defence of Duress.

Returning to the exception in the section, which suggests that if the common law defences alter or are inconsistent with codified defences, then the codified versions prevail, we must consider the defence of duress as codified under s.17. As we will discuss when we arrive at s.17, both the common law defence of duress and the section 17 duress are available to certain accused in certain circumstances. We will see that far from the caution that the common law defence where altered or inconsistent cannot stand in the face of the codified defence, the common law defence of duress has actually altered the codified version as a result of the application of the Charter. But we will come to this in due course.

Of course, there is a world of common law defences outside of the Code and outside of the rubric of justifications and excuses such as the common law defence of mistake of fact and the common law defence of mistake of law. Certainly, the common law defence of mistake of fact has been altered for sexual assault offences pursuant to s. 273.2. There are other common law defences, which sadly are sorely underused such as the de minimus defence, or the defence that the law does not consider trifling breaches of the law. These common law defences receive short shrift unfortunately due to the advent of the Charter and the subsequent Charter-weaned lawyers who believe Charter rights are the only kind of defence worth pursuing.

Finally, a note on the legislative histories of these two sections. Section 8 actually was our present section 9 and our present section 9 was the then section 7 until section 6 was re-enacted as the present section 7. Section 7, as you may recall in the previous podcast, involves offences on aircraft and offences occurring outside of Canada. Our present section 9 was enacted as section 8 in the 1953-54 Code amendments. The reversal occurred in the revisions under the 1985 Code when section 8 became section 9. To make matters even more confusing section 8 was present in our original Criminal Code of 1892 under the then sections 7 and 983. In 1906, the sections were combined and re-enacted as sections 9 to 12. The following revisions made a dizzying number of changes until the 1985 revisions re-enacted the then section 7 to the present section 8.

Confusing? As I have complained before in these podcasts, often the government has placed content over form by changing and adding sections to the Code without consideration for placement or sense.

On that historically obfuscating note, I wish one and all a very happy holidays and a happy new year. This podcast will return in January 2014 as we discuss the next section of the Criminal Code of Canada – section 10 when we revisit the common law offence of contempt of court and the availability of appellate remedies.

Episode 11Of The Ideablawg Podcast On The Criminal Code of Canada: On Section 8 And Section 9 Of The Criminal Code - Codification vs. Common Law, Is The Criminal Code Big Enough?

The Golden Thread Metaphor: Section Six And The Other Presumption Of Innocence Episode Nine of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada – Text Version!

The presumption of innocence – the concept that an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty - is easily the most well known legal principle. 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.

Indeed, as an example of the ubiquitous nature of the presumption of innocence, we can find the concept used as a title of a book, such as in Scott Turow’s novel, Presumed Innocent and the movie version with Harrison Ford. Or used as almost a character flaw as in one of my favourite legal literary heroes, Rumpole of the Bailey, written by John Mortimer Q.C. In those stories, Horace Rumple, the rumpled everyman barrister, finds personal solace in his belief in “the health-giving qualities of claret, of course, the presumption of innocence, and not having to clock into chambers in the morning.” In the classic play/movie 12 Angry Men, when Juror #8, played by Henry Fonda, reminds Juror #2, played by John Fiedler, that “the burden of proof is on the prosecution. The defendant doesn’t even have to open his mouth. That’s in the Constitution,” we nod our heads in agreement and relief. Although many of us could not say which section of the Charter (s. 11(d): “to be presumed innocent until proven guilty”) encapsulates this concept, we all take comfort in knowing it is there.

But there is another place where the presumption of innocence is recorded in Canadian law and that is section 6 of the Criminal Code, which is entitled “presumption of innocence,” the first part of which reads as follows:

Where an enactment creates an offence and authorizes a punishment to be imposed in respect of that offence,

(a) a person shall be deemed not to be guilty of the offence until he is convicted or discharged under section 730 of the offence; and

(b) a person who is convicted or discharged under section 730 of the offence is not liable to any punishment in respect thereof other than the punishment prescribed by this Act or by the enactment that creates the offence.

Now, that’s not really the “presumption of innocence” we have come to expect, is it? When you read this section it just does not seem to have that visceral punch I talked about earlier when reacting to the lines spoken in 12 Angry Men. It also does not seem to be conveying the deep, and almost personal societal, values underlying this fundamental premise.

First, let’s look at the wording. Unlike the Charter equivalent, there is nothing in section 6 about a “presumption” only a “deeming.” So the very word, we hang on when discussing innocence, the “presumption,” which gives the concept such solemnity, is gone. Second, there is nothing in the section about “innocence” although the title suggests it. However, as we know from my previous podcasts, in the Criminal Code the headings are there for convenience only and do not form part of the section itself. Instead, I would suggest, the section seems to be contrary to the presumption of innocence as it focuses instead on the concept of guilt and punishment. The section describes the circumstances in which the court can finally impose punishment. Now to be sure the court needs to hold off until conviction, but as soon as that pre-condition is fulfilled the sanctioning regime kicks in and punishment is not only available but also inevitable. Section 6(1)(b) continues this punishment theme by ensuring that the punishment can only be that as prescribed or authorized by law but it adds nothing to our concept of the presumption of innocence. So this section is not really about the fundamental premise of our criminal justice system, the golden thread of criminal law, but about when punishment can, and will, be meted out.

To understand why this section reads as it does, a little legislative history is in order. The section first arose in 1886 legislation on punishment entitled An Act Respecting Punishment, Pardons, and the Commutation of Sentence, and was not only subsumed into the first Criminal Code but was placed in the latter part of the Code where the punishment sections resided. The purpose of the section was not therefore to trumpet the fundamental principle of the presumption of innocence but to reinforce the applicability of punishment at the time of a finding of guilt. This concept of punishment only upon conviction was not only consistent with English criminal law but was consistent with chapter 39 of the Magna Carta which stated that:

No freemen shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor send upon him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.

In the original Latin phrase of this article “nisi per legale judicium parium suorum vel per legem terrae,” the Magna Carta protects the accused from punishment without judgment of his equals and in accordance with “the law of the land.” So this idea that an accused is guilty only when he is found guilty, remained under the general punishment section of the Code until 1955, when it was moved to the front part of the Code, namely to section 5(1), but was still viewed as a punishment section as it was then entitled Punishment Only After Conviction. However the wording of the 1955 section does resemble the wording we have today under section 6. It is not until the 1985 revision of the Code, when the section was repealed and reinvigorated as section 6 that it becomes the more venerable presumption of innocence. Of course this reconstitution (forgive my pun) came after the 1982 enactment of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Understanding this legislative history does give us a better sense of how it came into the Code but why it was renamed the presumption of innocence is an unanswered question requiring deeper investigation than an Internet search. Certainly, looking at case law, this section is rarely invoked as authority for the principle of the presumption of innocence. A quick survey of cases reveals there are only a few such cases (these cases can be found here, here, here, and here) where section 6 was relied upon as propounding the concept but always invoked with the constitutionalized version found under s. 11(d) of the Charter.

Although I cannot explain why this presumption section is so named, I would like to take a few moments to consider where the concept of the presumption of innocence arose in the first place. In my earlier posting on the issue, I suggested, through the academic writings of George Fletcher that the concept actually migrated to criminal law from the English civil law. I do not want to return to that discussion, instead I want to take us to the moment when the presumption of innocence becomes imbued with the gravitas it now enjoys – the particular moment when the presumption of innocence transformed into the fundamental principle it is today. I have already alluded to that moment earlier in this podcast when I described the presumption as the “golden thread of criminal law.” In first year law school there a few seminal or landmark English cases we discuss and end up knowing virtually by heart. One of them is the case where this “golden thread” metaphor is first used, the 1935 English House of Lords case of Woolmington v. DPP.  The facts of the Woolmington case do not concern us here but the decision, what is written by the then Lord Chancellor of Great Britain, Viscount Sankey, does.

In order to set the stage for this momentous decision, I need to give a quick legal backgrounder on Lord Sankey and the great impact he had on Canadian law. After the Supreme Court of Canada in 1925 found women were not “persons” under the British North America Act and therefore ineligible to sit in the Senate, the case, known as the Persons case, was appealed to what was then the highest level of appeal, the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Civil appeals to the Privy Council were abolished in 1949, while criminal appeals ended in 1933. Lord Sankey, as a member of the Privy Council, wrote the appeal decision in the Persons Case or Edwards v. Canada (Attorney-General). In the case, reversing the Supreme Court of Canada decision and finding women were indeed “persons,” Lord Sankey commented on the argument that historically women were disbarred from public office. Despite this historical fact, Lord Sankey concluded that “the exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours” and that “customs are apt to develop into traditions which are stronger than law and remain unchallenged long after the reason for them has disappeared.” In the Persons Case there was no reason why women could not discharge the parliamentary duty of office. In terms of the efficacy of the actual British North America Act, which today we call the Constitution Act, 1867, Lord Sankey, famously remarked that the Act “planted in Canada a living tree capable of growth and expansion within its natural limits.” This metaphor of the Constitution as a living tree has taken root since the 1930 Persons Case and has become a guiding doctrine in our constitutional jurisprudence.

Needless, to say Lord Sankey has a way with words and the Woolmington case was no exception. On the issue of presumption of innocence, Lord Sankey surveyed the textbooks on the issue and was perplexed to find a suggestion that the presumption was one of guilt and the burden was on the accused to prove otherwise. After running through more cases, Lord Sankey described the fundamental importance of the presumption as:

Through-out the web of the English Criminal Law one golden thread is always to be seen that it is the duty of the prosecution to prove the prisoner's guilt subject to what I have already said as to the
defence of insanity and subject also to any statutory exception.

Lord Sankey then connects the presumption of innocence with the burden of proof, which requires the Crown to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This connection is explored in my previous blog on the issue. So, it was Lord Sankey who gave use this strong visualization of the presumption of innocence and turned the principle into something much more.

How Lord Sankey came to this golden thread metaphor is puzzling. I suggest that this metaphor must have come from the Greek myth of Ariadne and Theseus. Ariadne gave Theseus a golden thread to help him escape the Minoan Labyrinth after he killed the Minotaur. Thus, the presumption of innocence, as the golden thread of Ariadne, leads the accused out of the maze-like machinations of the criminal law.

This thread theme is reinforced by a further metaphor, which I also referred to earlier in my podcast; that the presumption of innocence is part of the “fabric” of our society. Indeed, I found a 1965 case, R v Dixon, from the then District Court of Ontario, written by Mr. Justice Robinson wherein he describes the presumption as the “golden thread” that “runs through the warp and woof and is thus firmly imbedded in the whole fabric of the administration of English and Canadian criminal justice.” When I first read this passage, not unlike a Wiki page, I thought someone added the phrase “warp and woof” for a joke. But, like a good researcher, I looked up “warp and woof” and found the following definition:

The essential foundation or base of any structure or organization; from weaving, in which the warp — the threads that run lengthwise — and the woof — the threads that run across — make up the fabric: “The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are the warp and woof of the American nation.” This expression, used figuratively since the second half of the 1500s, alludes to the threads that run lengthwise ( warp ) and crosswise ( woof ) in a woven fabric.

So this thread metaphor is taken in a different direction but is also a good candidate for explaining Lord Sankey’s “golden thread” turn of phrase. By the way, I did take my research a little further to find other cases that have used this archaic phrase. I found only a few cases, some which were actually about fabric making but there was a use of this metaphor in two Supreme Court of Canada constitutional Division of Powers cases; Reference as to the Validity of Section 6 of the Farm Security Act, 1944 of Saskatchewan and the 2009 Consolidated Fastfrate Inc. v. Western Canada Council of Teamsters. Notably, in the 2009 case, Mr. Justice Binnie used the phrase in a delicious quote invoking the world of the 1860s:

The current Canadian economy would be unrecognizable to the statesmen of 1867 and, to borrow an analogy from Thomas Jefferson, one would not expect a grown man to wear a coat that fitted him as a child.  The coat is of the same design, but the sleeves are longer and the chest is broader and the warp and woof of the fabric is more elaborate and complex.  Adopting a purposive approach to constitutional interpretation, as we must, what is important is not how transportation was viewed in 1867 but rather to match in our own era the level of regulation (federal, provincial or territorial) appropriate to the nature and scope of the undertaking.  Now, as in 1867, when a transportation undertaking connects or extends “beyond the Limits of the Province” its regulation is assigned by the Constitution Act, 1867 to the federal level of authority.

In 1859, Charles Dickens also used a golden thread metaphor in A Tale Of Two Cities, to suggest a strong bond of familial love created by the indomitable Lucie. Although, there is a strong affiliation between the criminal law and the presumption, I still prefer the Greek myth connection. I should recommend here my previous blog on Charles Dickens and the law called Charles Dickens Is On The Side Of Justice wherein I discuss some of the more legally minded passages of Dickens’s novels. 

One final aside on this golden thread metaphor brings us to American literature and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, where Hester is required to sew a letter “A” onto her clothing as her punishment as an adulterer. As time wears on, Hester proudly marks her shame with an “A” made of golden thread. For Hester, the golden quality of the thread reflects the shame of the community who branded her with their cruelty.

In some way the golden thread of the presumption of innocence protects us from a similar fate – a society devoid of compassion - or as Chief Justice Dickson, as he then was, reminded us in the 1986 Supreme Court of Canada Oakes case, the presumption of innocence "confirms our faith in humankind; it reflects our belief that individuals are decent and law‑abiding members of the community until proven otherwise." To me, his words are indeed golden.

 

 

Section 4 Of Cabbages and Kings and Stamps!: Episode Five of the Ideablawg Podcast on the Criminal Code of Canada

The following is the text of episode 5 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code  of Canada. The podcast is found at the end of the text. Enjoy!

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
 "To talk of many things:
 Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

- Lewis Carroll from The Walrus and The Carpenter

Welcome to Episode Five of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada. Today’s episode is a kickoff as we begin to tackle the potpourri we call section 4 – a housekeeping section, which tidies up the various loose ends of criminal law. It brings to mind Lewis Carroll’s poem The Walrus and the Carpenter and particularly the excerpt I quoted at the start of the podcast. But instead of cabbages and kings, we will chat about postcards, stamps, valuable securities, chattels, possession and joint possession, expressions, sexual intercourse, service and notification, and attendance.

But no oysters – theft of oyster beds will come much later down the road – probably next year - when we discuss section 323.

The task today will involve a discussion of section 4 in subsection (1) and (2), and remember we are in Part I of the Code called the General Part. These subsections, as I said, tidy up some of the definitions we encountered in s. 2. Section 4 (1) reads as follows:

For the purposes of this Act, a postal card or stamp referred to in paragraph (c) of the definition “property” in section 2 shall be deemed to be a chattel and to be equal in value to the amount of the postage, rate or duty expressed on its face.

We see a few words in this paragraph that call out for definition. We are told the section is referring to the definition of “property” under that section 2 definition, but the paragraph really begs the question because now of course we also want to know the definition of “postal card” and “stamp” and “chattel.”

First let’s take a look at s. 2(c) “property.” It says:

any postal card, postage stamp or other stamp issued or prepared for issue under the authority of Parliament or the legislature of a province for the payment to the Crown or a corporate body of any fee, rate or duty, whether or not it is in the possession of the Crown or of any person;

That is of course important to know because the term “property” is used throughout the Code. Indeed a simple word search reveals that the word “property” appears in 161 sections of the Code. Take note that the word “property” is not found under s.322, which is the offence of theft, as the crime involves the taking of “anything, whether animate or inanimate.” Property, as defined under s. 2 is much more restrictive, as the definition in (a) and (b) actually refers to itself - “property.” It is only (c) which gives a concrete example of what property may be – postal cards, postage stamp or other stamp issued by the federal or provincial governments.

However, a word of caution: case law has considered the seemingly broad actus reus or prohibited act in the theft section and has overlaid a concept of property. Thus, in the 1988 Supreme Court of Canada Stewart case, confidential information was not considered “anything” in accordance with the theft section. Even so, as explained in the SCC 1992 Milne case, the criminal law concept of property does differ from the civil law, just as the purpose of criminal law differs from the purpose of civil law. More on this when we get to that section.

So s. 4(1) is adding onto that (c) definition – clarifying it for us – by advising us that “postal cards, postage stamp or other stamp” is a chattel with a value equal to the amount expressed on its face. So if you have a stamp for 5 cents its value is 5 cents. Now, that may be a problem as I now purchase stamps with no number value but with a “p” embossed on a nice red maple leaf placed in the stamp’s corner, which, so the post office assures me, means the stamp is “permanent” and can be used anytime as it is worth the going rate no matter when it is used or when it was bought. The other problem is that a 5 cent stamp may actually be a rare stamp and worth much more than the face value. The offender may be charged with theft but which punishment section applies under s. 334? Is it theft of property valued over $5000, which is an indictable offence and punishable by a maximum of ten years? Or is the stamp valued under $5000, which is a summary conviction offence with a maximum of eighteen months imprisonment?

To answer that question, we need to look at the definition of “stamp.” “Stamp” is only defined under the counterfeit stamp section 376 as “an impressed or adhesive stamp used for the purpose of revenue by the government of Canada or a province or by the government of a state other than Canada.” Not a very helpful definition for the police who want to charge the thief with the theft of the priceless 5 cent stamp, which is worth over $5000 dollars.

The next question is: what is a chattel and why does this section 4(1) insist on deeming the post card and/or stamp as one?  A chattel is an item of personal property, either animate or inanimate, which is moveable as opposed to real property, which includes land and improvements, which is not moveable. For example, when you purchase a house, which is real property, the items inside the house tend to be chattels, like the furniture, unless it is affixed to the house like the glass fireplace doors. Those items affixed to the real property stay and those, which are moveable, the chattels, usually go with the seller unless the item is specifically referred to in the purchase agreement. What does this mean for our postal card and stamp? It means these items are personal property even though they are government issued. Also they are moveable and thus chattels.

Onto s. 4(2) for which the marginal note explains is on “value of valuable security.” This subsection helps us determine the value of a valuable security, where value is material, in the context of the Criminal Code by expanding on the definition as found under section 2. So the purpose of this subsection is similar to subsection (1). Before I read this subsection, let’s go to the section 2 definition that reads as follows:

“valuable security” includes

            (a) an order, exchequer acquittance or other security that entitles or evidences the title of any perso

(i) to a share or interest in a public stock or fund or in any fund of a body corporate, company or society, or

(ii) to a deposit in a financial institution,

(b) any debenture, deed, bond, bill, note, warrant, order or other security for money or for payment of money,

(c) a document of title to lands or goods wherever situated,

(d) a stamp or writing that secures or evidences title to or an interest in a chattel personal, or that evidences delivery of a chattel personal, and

(e) a release, receipt, discharge or other instrument evidencing payment of money;

 Section 4 (2) further defines “valuable security” as:

  (a) where the valuable security is one mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) of the definition “valuable security” in section 2, the value is the value of the share, interest, deposit or unpaid money, as the case may be, that is secured by the valuable security; 

(b) where the valuable security is one mentioned in paragraph (c) or (d) of the definition “valuable security” in section 2, the value is the value of the lands, goods, chattel personal or interest in the chattel personal, as the case may be; and 

(c) where the valuable security is one mentioned in paragraph (e) of the definition “valuable security” in section 2, the value is the amount of money that has been paid.

How ironic that the purpose of this subsection is to clarify the intrinsic value of the security as opposed to subsection 1, which speaks only of face value. Of course this kind of clarity is required as the valuable security may be a deed to property, which is a document showing land ownership, and is therefore merely a representation of the actual property. Thus, the deed itself is a piece of paper with very little value but it represents much greater value in accordance with the value of the actual land.

For those of you wondering what “exchequer acquittance” means, the term comes to us from English law, in fact I found a similar definition of “valuable security” in the Irish Larceny Act 1861. The “Exchequer” is the Royal Treasury. Originally, the Exchequer was also a Court of Law concerned with revenue, like our Tax Court, but later merged with the then King’s Bench. As a government department, the Exchequer was in charge of the national revenue of the United Kingdom. An “acquittance” is a document, which acquits or discharges an obligation and acts as a “receipt in full.” So an “exchequer acquittance” is a receipt for payment of revenue to the government. Clearly, the relevancy of this term today is questionable. Just another example of how our Criminal Code needs to be streamlined and updated.

On that note, I will end this podcast with Shakespeare’s Henry the IV, Part I Act 3 Scene 3 and an exchange between Sir John Falstaff and the future Henry V or as he was known then, Prince Hal, wherein they discuss Falstaff’s bumbled robbery and the positive resolution of it at court. By the way, as an aside, that is a Shakespeare aside, the PBS Hollow Crown series presenting the history plays of Richard II, Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2, and Henry V is outstanding and very worthwhile to watch. In any event, Hal then boasts “I am good friends with my father and may do any thing.” Without skipping a beat, Falstaff urges the Prince to “Rob me the exchequer the first thing thou doest, and do it with unwashed hands too.”

Thank you and come back next time when we continue our discussion of section 4 of the Criminal Code and whether or not possession is really nine-tenths of the law.

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 5 Section 4 Of cabbages and Kings and Stamps!

Section 3.1 and the Effect of Judicial Acts: Episode Four Ideablawg Podcast on the Criminal Code of Canada

The following is the text version of Episode Four of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada. At the bottom of the text is the actual podcast. However, I do encourage you to read the text as well and follow the hyperlinks to the cases and other websites to which I refer. Enjoy!

Welcome to Episode Four of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada. My name is Lisa Silver and today we are discussing section 3.1 of the Code, which is entitled “Effect of Judicial Acts.” When I started researching this seemingly innocuous procedure section I uncovered some extremely interesting connections that I am really excited to share with you. So let’s dig deep into section 3.1!

First, I want to set the stage, so to speak, on this section and there are many ways to do this. As I already said, this section is a procedure section. What does that mean? A procedure section involves the process in criminal law as opposed to a substantive law section, which sets out the essential elements of criminal offences or the substance of criminal law.  Criminal procedure is just a set of rules on how that substantive law is enforced and implemented through the criminal justice system. I will reserve a fuller explanation for my blog “basics of Canadian criminal law” series – coming soon.  So, section 3.1 involves the rules of criminal process.

The placement of s. 3.1 is also of importance. Last podcast, when I introduced s. 3.1 as my next podcast, I did so by identifying the section with its place in the Code. I said that s. 3.1 was the first section to come under Part I of the Code, known as the “General” Part. Oddly enough, when I looked at my annotated Criminal Code, being Martin’s Annual Criminal Code, section 3.1 is not placed under Part 1 General Part but is found under the previous interpretation segment discussed in the last three previous podcasts! To make sure I was not mistaken in my podcast placement, I checked the actual statute as found on both the Department of Justice website and canlii (Canadian Legal Information Institute) website and found that s. 3.1 is found under the General Part as I indicated.

So is s. 3.1 an interpretation section or is it a General Part section? With all due respect to my favourite annotated Code, I submit section 3.1 properly comes under the General Part as a matter of process as opposed to a matter of interpretation. Also, Martin’s rival, Tremeer’s Criminal Code, which my husband favours, places section 3.1 as the statute does, under the General Part I. Now that would make a good future blog discussion on the various Criminal Codes, both annotated and not, and their history. Now back to this podcast.

You may wonder how there can be such a discrepancy. I can only speculate but as this section is a fairly recent amendment to the Code, from 2002, the publishers of Martin’s, Canada Law Book, simply placed it after section 3 as opposed to separating the two sections by placing them under different segments. Logically s. 3.1 should come after section 3 but really when the government amends the Code there is often no rhyme or reason to the numbering, as we will see. I mean, where else could they have put this section? I’ll have to think about that.

So we have physically placed the section and now I will read it to you:

Unless otherwise provided or ordered, anything done by a court, justice or judge is effective from the moment it is done, whether or not it is reduced to writing.

What exactly is this section doing? It is in essence creating a presumption. A presumption, which I will later argue is contrary to the common law. This section is telling us that when a court or a specific judicial officer does something – any action such as an order – that act is effective immediately, no matter how it is communicated. So, the presumption is for immediacy. The presumption is however rebuttable, meaning that the court or judge when he does the act can say the act does not take effect immediately. However, if the court or judge says nothing about the time of effectiveness, the presumption is for immediacy.

Okay. That makes sense. When someone does something they mean it to be done asap unless they indicate otherwise – brings to mind Yul Brynner as Ramses II in the Ten Commandments when he says “so let it be written, so let it be done.” Of course, this is as opposed to Yul as the King of Siam in the King and I where he adds onto all of his orders “etc., etc., etc.”

It makes sense to be sure but why did the government add this and why did they only add this in 2002?  In order to find out why they added this section, we turn to the Parliamentary records. This section was part of an omnibus Bill C-15 also known as the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 2001, brought in by the then Liberal Government and sponsored by the then Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, the Honourable Anne McLellan. It is amusing and ironic to read the debate on this bill as the opposition, namely the then Canadian Alliance through Vic Toews as the Justice critic, bash the bill because of its omnibus nature. Agreed the bill is an odd mix of Criminal Code amendments, everything from procedural changes such as 3.1 to “animal cruelty, child pornography, and firearms,” but this practice of kitchen-sink amending appears to be pro forma today.

In McLellan’s speech to kick-start the debate on the second reading of the Bill, she stated:

Let me turn briefly to the area of criminal procedure reform. The Department of Justice has been working closely with the provinces and territories on criminal procedure reform for some years. This work is now in its third phase. The objectives of phase three are to simplify trial procedure, modernize the criminal justice system and enhance its efficiency through the increased use of technology, better protect victims and witnesses in criminal trials, and provide speedy trials in accordance with charter requirements. We are trying to bring criminal procedure into the 21st century. This phase reflects our efforts to modernize our procedure without in any way reducing the measure of justice provided by the system. As I said at the outset, the provinces and territories support these reforms. As they are responsible for the administration of justice, I believe that we should do our best to give them the tools they need to ensure the efficient and effective operation of the criminal justice system.

It appears then the amendment was for efficiency and modernization, particularly as a result of the increased use of technology. This is consistent with the legislative history of the amendments, which gives the “key thrust” of the bill is to provide for the use of electronic documents. In terms of section 3.1, the document states:

As a general matter, clause 2 of the bill ensures the legality and immediate effectiveness of judicial acts from the moment they are done, whether or not they are reduced to writing.  This provision ensures the validity of judicial acts made in a number of circumstances where hard-copy documentary proof of the act is not immediately generated.   Such situations could include judicial decisions in the form of orders or warrants which may be issued electronically or orally by telephone or some other form of audio or audio-visual communications link.

There may be another reason for this change as well. Such a rule, albeit worded differently, is found in some provincial rules of court. Each court level has rules to assist them in the nuts and bolts of the organization and maintenance of the courts as well as procedure. Criminal procedure, as a result of s. 91(27) the Constitution Act, 1867, is within the power of Parliament, while s. 92(14) gives the provinces the power to administer justice in the province through rules on civil procedure and the “constitution, maintenance, and organization” of the civil and criminal courts. In terms of civil procedure each provinces rules of court apply. There are also criminal rules, which tend to the organizational side, leaving the procedure, as required by the Constitution Act, with the feds.

Just looking at the Alberta Rules of Court, which were completely overhauled in 2010, rule 9.6 states that the effective date of “every judgment and every order” is on the “date of pronouncement” unless the court orders otherwise. It is similar to section 3.1 yet different. The civil rule is restricted to judgments and orders and to “pronouncements.” According to various dictionaries, “pronouncement” means a formal declaration, usually a judgment. Of course, the Criminal Code section applies to any act of the court and is therefore much broader.

Now we understand why the government decided to put this section into the Code but what is the effect of this effect of judicial acts? For that we are going to look at some case law and the concept of functus. The word functus is from the Latin word fungor, which means to execute or administer or to discharge. When used in its legal sense, it refers to the phrase functus officio, when a judge has exhausted his or her authority over the matter and can no longer alter his or her decision. It typically applies to final decisions of the court. A judge would be functus officio when he or she acquits an accused of a criminal offence. That finding is final, in the sense, that judge no longer has any power over the accused and the case. In other words, the judge cannot re-open the case or amend a final decision unless there has been an administrative “slip” in the decision or “error in expressing the manifest intention of the court.” Instead, there are appellate remedies but the trial judge is now functus and out of the game.

The concept or doctrine of functus officio originally comes from English common law on the premise that we need some finality in court in order for parties to an action to have finality as well. However, this common law rule applied to the final formal judgment and did not apply to any and all acts done by the judge. In fact the common law rule made allowances for informal reasons that may be changed. That is still the law in England, where there is “within the powers of a judge to reconsider his or her decision at any time before it is entered and perfected.” Section 3.1 has now changed the common law. This was recognized in 2004 in the Alberta Queen’s Bench decision in R. v. Harris.

Next podcast, we will be dealing with section 4, which can be viewed as an omnibus section of unrelated statements regarding interpretation of the application of criminal law. It does sound as if this section should be in that interpretation segment but we will see that this section goes further than interpretation to position all users of the Criminal Code on common ground. In this way, this section truly deals with generalities and thus properly in the General Part of the Code.

 

Episode Four Ideablawg Podcast on Section 3.1 and the effect of Judicial Acts

Canada’s New Defence of the Person Section: Is It Too Reasonable?

Quietly, Canada’s criminal law changed dramatically, without a word of criticism, on March 13, 2013 with the coming into force of the Citizen's Arrest and Self Defence Act. Perhaps, everyone was too focused on the broadened citizen arrest powers to notice the dramatic change in law or perhaps the legal community is at a loss for words. Without fanfare or discussion, Canada’s self-defence laws, from sections 34 to 42, were swept away on March 13, 2013 to be replaced by two broad sections: the new section 34, which outlines the defence of the person and the new section 35, which is defence of property. For purposes of this post, I will be making reference to the defence of the person found in section 34 and not defence of property under section 35. Although the new section 34 appears to be broader – no more does the law distinguish between provoked and unprovoked attacks – there is a noticeable emphasis on the reasonableness of the response as the standard for assessment.

Admittedly the old sections were cumbersome and confusing: section 34(1) offered a different defence from 34(2) and they both differed from sections 35 and 37. Then there were the myriad of defence of property sections from sections 38 to 42. Self-defence, as codified before the amendments, distinguished between a provoked and unprovoked attack. Section 34(1) could only be used as a defence by an accused who was subject to an unprovoked attack by the victim and who did not intend to cause death or grievous bodily harm in responding to that attack. In those very limited circumstances, the accused could use this self-defence section if the force used was no more than necessary to repel the attack.

Subsection 2 of that same section 34 offered a different and much broader defence. The section was silent as to who started the initial assault and therefore could be used by an accused who provoked an assault as well as an accused who did not provoke the assault. Additionally, the section applied where the accused intended to cause death or grievous bodily harm or did not intend it – as long as the victim died as a consequence of the action. The accused must have a reasonable apprehension of risk of death or grievous bodily harm from the victim to use the defence. The accused must believe on reasonable grounds that he or she could not otherwise be preserved from death or grievous bodily harm other than to use the force, which resulted in the victim’s death. The assessment was not totally objective, however, as the accused must have a subjective belief that force was necessary but must have a reasonable basis for the belief. Therefore, the defence a blending of objective and subjective elements.

Self-defence in section 35 was not used as often as section 34. The section restricts self-defence in circumstances where accused, without justification, assaults another or provokes an assault. The accused must not intend to cause death or grievous bodily harm before the need to defend self arose. However, to use the section, the accused must have a reasonable apprehension of death or grievous bodily harm and had a reasonable belief that force was necessary to preserve himself from death or grievous bodily harm. Finally, the accused must have attempted to retreat from the situation.

The final defence of the person section, under s. 37, is again a broader section of self-defence, which also extends the defence to the defence of another person under the accused’s protection. This section permits force only where the accused is preventing an assault or a further assault. Although the response of the accused must be reasonable there is no requirement that there be a reasonable apprehension of death or harm or a reasonable belief force was necessary to prevent death or harm.  The only requirement is the need for proportionality and therefore the force used must be no more than is necessary to repel the assault.

There are many difficulties with these sections, including the sheer difficulty in actually reading these sections and making sense of them.

Of course, these old sections come to us through the English common law, hence the requirement to retreat in where the accused is the aggressor. The sections thus deals with the seemingly “innocent” accused differently than the “aggressor” accused. The self-defence section 35, for the aggressor accused, is much more restrictive than s.34(1), for the innocent accused unjustly provoked. Contrasting the two sections, section 35 requires the accused, although the aggressor, not to intend death or grievous bodily harm but to have a reasonable belief that he would be subject to death or grievous bodily harm unless he acted. The force used must be no more than necessary and there must be an attempt to retreat. Indeed, a very difficult section to use considering the prerequisites. However, section 34(2), as broadly interpreted by the courts, filled that gap to include virtually any situation. The interpretation was so expansive, it seemed a wonder why section 35 was required at all. However, even with s. 34(2) expanding who could use self-defence, the objective/subjective assessment ensured that only those accused who fulfilled the objective/subjective requirements could use the defence successfully.

Two major difficulties are identified with this approach: firstly, to assess an accused’s actions at a time of split-second decision-making seemed mechanical and unrealistic. For an accused faced with an aggressive victim or for an accused in a highly emotional circumstance, the requirement that the accused use no more force than necessary was difficult to determine. Thus, the law stepped back from the emotions and required an objective assessment as well. This perhaps made it easier for the trier of fact, who was not faced with these circumstances and who could not possibly appreciate the life and death decision-making arising at that instance. But, it also made it much more difficult for an accused, who made a decision at the time in a heightened situation, to be then thinking of what application force, in response to that situation, is no more than necessary.

Secondly, the self-defence laws were so limiting that it failed to allow for exceptional circumstances, such as what arose in the Lavallee case, where a battered woman killed her husband. This case, in light of the recent SCC Ryan case (upon which I wrote a previous post here) also raises issue with other defences such as duress and defences – known as excuses – as opposed to self-defence, which are considered justifications. I will not delve into the these cases, other than to say a deeper analysis of them is required in light of this new legislation.

For further explanation, justifications such as self-defence, recognize that the elements of the crime have been made out – that both actus reus and mens rea are present – but the accused actions are justified as the accused faced external pressures (in the case of self-defence from another person) which caused the accused to act contrary to the law. As the major theme of our criminal law is choice and the ability of an actor to make the right choice, such pressures effectively take away choice, leaving the accused no other choice but to act as he or she did. In a justification defence, the accused challenges the wrongfulness of an action which would technically be a crime. In the circumstances the fundamental values of society and of the criminal law are promoted by disobeying the law rather than following it. Therefore, in self-defence there is a crime but the actions of the accused are not “wrong” and therefore the accused should not be held responsible for the crime and should therefore not be punished by the criminal justice system. Of course the real question is: how far does society want to go in justifying these criminal acts? Are our self-defence laws truly a reflection of our society’s fundamental values if they do not offer a defence for a battered spouse or a psychologically bullied child?

Do these changes then rectify the two problems as identified above? On the issue of creating an artificial scenario upon which the accused is to be assessed, the new section does little to alleviate this by imposing very clearly an objective assessment of the circumstances and leaving little room for individualization. Although the new amendments do equalize the section in the sense that now “any person” can use the defence, the list of factors to be considered in assessing the reasonableness of the criminal act ensures that all of the limiting circumstances, which were clearly set out in the old sections, are now found, not as clearly, in a list of factors which must be considered by the trier of fact.

Additionally, the assessment, which was viewed under the old sections as a blending of subjective/objective considerations, now appears to be more decidedly objective. There is no longer a consideration of the accused’s subjective belief in the force used being necessary. Now, stepping back, this change should be welcome as it does move away from the idea that an accused must weigh to the niceties the level of force used at the time. However, it also takes away any assessment of the accused’s subjective belief that the force used at the time was necessary. Instead the subjective belief only goes to whether or not the accused believed, reasonably of course, that the “force is being used against them or another person or that a threat of force is being made against them or another person.” After that “concession” to human frailty, the assessment is all done through the eyes of the reasonable man in an almost regulatory offence manner reminiscent of the due diligence or all due care defence in which the defendant will be acquitted if he or she or it (corporation) acted reasonably in all of the circumstances and took all reasonable steps required to avoid the harm. The only factor missing is the burden of proof, which in a regulatory scheme is “balance of probabilities” as opposed to the higher standard of proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Even in the criminal law’s cherished burden of proof the concept of “reasonableness” is present!

As to whether the new section will support extraordinary circumstances of a battered spouse or abused child will remain to be seen. Again, the lack of individualization in the assessment is concerning and although one of the factors to consider in determining the reasonableness of the act involves a review of the nature of the relationship between the accused and victim, the fact this must be assessed through the reasonableness lens does not permit a full consideration of the complexities of an abusive relationship.

Only the use of this section in court with a real set of facts will enlighten us on the viability and justiciability of this new defence of the person section. However, at first blush, it appears this is yet another example of how our criminal law is becoming more objective in outlook and less like the traditional principles of individualization, which was the hallmark of the criminal law as a humane law.

 

 

 

The Fearon Case: A Question Of Common Law Police Powers

Everyone has at least one of these: a cell phone, a smart phone, a tablet, or a mini-computer. What they have in common is their portability. We carry these devices around as we carry our wallets and purses. They are our most prized and most used possessions. Add WiFi or 4G to these and we have instant access to information: no longer are we armchair travelers on the Internet but we are travelers on the Internet. Indeed, with WiFi service being offered on long-haul flights in the USA, we are travelers traveling on the Internet. However, although these technological wonders have opened unexplored vistas for us, it has also opened an unbidden Pandora’s Box of legal issues, particularly in the area of criminal law.

In a prior posting, Can Criminal Law Keep Up With The Digital World?, I discussed the mounting technological impasse between investigation of crime and privacy rights. As the government rushes toward the new technological era, it seems those using this technology as an aid to their criminal activities, seem to be further ahead. The Courts, too, have been slow to offer guidance on these issues, resulting in uncertain and obfuscated laws. With the new judgment from the Court of Appeal for Ontario, R v Fearon, the law appears to be as clear as mud.

Let’s start with the media’s representation of this case, which by the way, involves a police search of an arrested person’s cell phone revealing information and photographs pertinent to the alleged crime. This is best described through the headlines used such as: OK for police to search cell phone if no password, says court or Ontario judge rules police can search non pass code-protected cell phones or better yet, Cell phones: No password, no protection: Why the Ontario court is right, and bad guys should get passwords. This emphasis on password protection seems overly simplistic. Even the articles suggesting the case is all about privacy rights seem to miss the mark. However, the articles on warrantless searches do come closer but not quite close enough in my view.

What Fearon raises does involve password protection, privacy rights, and warrantless searches but the issue is the extension of the common law right of the police to search incident to arrest. The Fearon case is all about the common law, how the common law can apply to present law conditions, and how the present law can be extended by the past. Incidentally, much of our present law is, in fact, merely a modification of previous law through the use of precedent and analogy. For a further discussion of the use of precedent and metaphors in law, read my previous posting Blog As Graffiti? Using Analogy and Metaphor In Case Law.

Police authority and the power to act can be found in legislation, by agreement, and in common law. The primary source of investigative power is found in the Criminal Code but the supreme law of Canada, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms through sections 7 to 13, has circumscribed and greatly impacted those powers. Police can also act upon agreement or consent of an individual. Although this power must be clearly and unequivocally given, the “ask and you will receive” police power permits consensual searches without a warrant.

Finally, the police have common law powers to effect an investigation. Common law, is unwritten law created through custom and practice and comes to us through the English common law tradition. Much of the common law has in fact been translated into written rules and has therefore become statutory but much has not. Case in point is the police powers found in the common law.

Historically, the police power to search incident to arrest is a common law power. Also a common law power is the police authority to enter a private dwelling place when in “hot pursuit” of a suspect. Common law, although historical, is subject to change. Custom and practice change and thus the common law must evolve with these changes in order to be relevant and responsive to societal needs. Thus, the police common law power to search incident to arrest has evolved into the police power to not only search an accused incident to arrest but to search the offender’s vehicle as well. This search incident to arrest must be connected to the arrest and there must be an articulable reason for it such as a reasonable prospect that the officer will find evidence of the commission of the crime or for police officer safety.

Another common law power to search and seize is known as the “plain view” doctrine. This common law principle permits a warrantless search and seizure where police are lawfully at a location and the contraband is in plain view to the police. In this instance the police do not need reasonable and probable grounds to believe that the item would be present but the police cannot be previously aware of the evidence and must come across it “innocently” or inadvertently. This power does not permit a full search of the location. 

This brings us back to the Fearon case and his cell phone. The argument advanced on appeal did raise the issue of the police common law powers but only on the issue of the police power to search incident to arrest. Plain view was not considered as although the phone itself was found in plain view, it was not contraband. Although the information found on the phone was evidence of a criminal offence, it was not found inadvertently but was found as a result of a purposeful search of the contents of the phone. One wonders if the plain view doctrine might have been engaged if the home screen of the phone showed an incriminating picture or text. That, however, was not the case in Fearon.

The question posited on the issue of search incident to arrest was whether or not the search went beyond what is considered a search incident to arrest. The Fearon court referred to two previous Ontario cases: the 2009 Polius case from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, which found only a “cursory” search was permissible where the search was incident to arrest and the Court of Appeal for Ontario Manley case from 2011, which permitted a search of a cell phone, incident to arrest.

In Manley, the cell phone search revealed a photograph of the gun used in the robberies for which the offender had been just arrested. The “cursory” search of the phone was considered valid as the officer had done so in order to establish ownership of the cell phone as the accused was known to have stolen cell phones in the past. The search was for no other purpose and the photograph was found before the officer established ownership of the phone. Finding the incriminating photograph, in other words, was like finding contraband in plain view. A warrant was later requested to do a complete search of the phone. It should be noted that the robberies were completely unrelated to stolen cell phones and therefore the suggestion that the search was connected to the crime is questionable. In any event, the Court in Fearon preferred to follow the Manley case, believing it similar in facts and actions to Fearon.

Leaving aside the efficacy of the Manley decision, the bottom-line of Fearon concludes that a search of a cell phone, as incident to arrest, where the officer is seeking evidence connected to the arrest, is lawful. The difficulty with Fearon comes with the “throw away” line in the Court’s conclusion as follows

This case is not significantly different from Manley.  I cannot conclude, in the circumstances of this case, that the original examination of the contents of the cell phone fell outside the ambit of the common law doctrine of search incident to arrest.  Apparently, the cell phone was turned “on” and it was not password protected or otherwise “locked” to users other than the appellant.  The police officers had a reasonable belief that they might find photographs and text messages relevant to the robbery.  The initial search at the time of the arrest involved a cursory look through the contents of the cell phone to ascertain if it contained such evidence. (underlined for emphasis)

This comment on the cell phone being turned “on” and not locked or password protected to other users seems to have been commented on by the Court without explanation. If the search of the cell phone is permissible under the common law authority of a search incident to arrest as defined in the Supreme Court of Canada case of Caslake, then the fact the cell phone is in the off or on position makes no difference. The emphasis should be on the legitimate connection between the arrest and the incidental search. In Fearon, the search was wholly connected to the investigation of the crime committed by the accused. As explained by Chief Justice Lamer, as he then was, in Caslake,

The authority for the search does not arise as a result of a reduced expectation of privacy of the arrested individual.  Rather, it arises out of a need for the law enforcement authorities to gain control of things or information which outweighs the individual’s interest in privacy.

How then would the fact a cell phone may be locked impact this legitimate interest? It should not, unless the Court found that a cell phone itself has such a high privacy interest to outweigh law enforcement interests. This argument would bring us back to the SCC Cole case and whether, like a personal computer, the information contained on a cell phone touches a person’s biographical core. For a further discussion of this, see my previous blog on the case. However, Fearon did not refer to the Cole case or the issues raised by it.

Interestingly, the Court of Appeal for Ontario in an earlier case from 2011, R v Jones, which incidentally had Justice MacPherson, who was a member of the Court in Fearon, as a panel member, decided on the issue of a plain view seizure of information relating to child pornography during a legal search of a computer for a fraud offence, acknowledged that

Whether the plain view doctrine should apply in circumstances involving a computer search has been a matter of much debate.  The debate has centred on the intrusive nature of computer searches and the somewhat awkward fit between traditional search and seizure concepts and computer technology.

This “awkward fit” appears to be continuing as seen by the Manley and Fearon cases and will continue until we have some clarity from our Supreme Court.

 

 

 

 

 

The Pistorius Case: What Is Murder In Canada May Not Be Murder In South Africa

The Pistorius case is both intriguing and disturbing on many levels. There is of course the intrigue occasioned by our celebrity fascination when a public figure is accused of a crime. This tabloid-level of interest tends to wan once the court dates become less frequent and the trial date is finally set. There is also the disturbing aspect arising out of the media’s push to reveal, unfiltered, the personal information of the parties involved, including intimate details of their relationship and their families’ shock and horror of the events. This tawdriness becomes even more magnified in the unbounded information world of the Internet.

But after the excitement of the situation diffuses, what lingers on is the legal speculation with not only the type of charges laid but also the manner in which the charges will be proven in court. In a case such as Pistorius, this legal fascination is compounded by the exotic quality of the case as it raises legal issues outside of the usual North American purview. Instead of the media calling and quoting local law professors, the press must dig deeper to present an understandable context to the foreign charges.

The initial reports immediately delineated the charge: “premeditated murder.” Even without legal training, the concept of “premeditation” seems straightforward and easily visualized. However, in reality, the South African concept of murder is anything but simple. Murder, an intentional killing, is distinguished from “culpable homicide,” a negligence based killing. Premeditation would suggest, not only an intentional killing, but also one, which is planned and deliberate, similar to the first-degree requirements in Canadian law found in s. 231(2) of the Criminal Code.

But the concept of “murder” has shifting meanings in South African law as well. Originally, South African criminal law followed the common law precepts of providing for a reduced form of homicide, known as “culpable homicide,” resulting from a provoked killing. Such provocation, based in the common law, occurs when the killing is committed in the heat of passion, before passion has time to cool, and in circumstances where an ordinary person would lose control. This concept of a partial defence based on provocation was a concession to the availability of the death penalty, since removed in 1997, as the Dutch legal tradition treated emotional excuses as mitigating sentence only.

In Canada, consistent with our common law tradition, we too have a partial defence to murder based on the common law provocation defence as codified in s.232 of the Criminal Code. When provocation is accepted as a defence in Canada, the murder charge under s.229 of the Criminal Code is reduced to the lesser but included offence of manslaughter. Manslaughter is defined in s.234 of the Criminal Code as culpable homicide that is not murder or infanticide and therefore can be assumed to be an unintentional killing of a human being. The Canadian concept of “culpable homicide,” as found in s.222 of the Criminal Code, is not an in-between state of unintentional murder as in South Africa but is the general category for all culpable or blameworthy killings of a human being be it murder, manslaughter, or infanticide. Any killings not found to be murder, manslaughter or infanticide is non-culpable or not blameworthy and therefore the accused, although still responsible for causing the death of a person, is not guilty of a crime.

South Africa, however, ultimately rejected the common law view of provocation, which considered the presence of intention, for a more nuanced approach in which provocation, defined as the even broader categorization of emotional stress, was connected to an individual’s capacity to form the requisite intent. Thus, the presence of emotional stress was treated like the presence of intoxication or insanity. South African criminal law then further compartmentalized capacity by labeling insanity as pathological incapacity while emotional stress and intoxication raised issues of non-pathological incapacity. With this shift from intention to capacity, provocation or emotional stress was no longer viewed as a partial defence resulting in a finding of culpable homicide but as a full defence requiring an acquittal. This is consistent with legal principles, as an accused, not even capable of forming an intention to act, cannot be viewed as responsible and therefore cannot be properly within the domain of the criminal justice system. Although, the South African courts have resiled to a certain extent from this position, particularly where the incapacity is emotion-driven, it appears provocation, depending on the circumstances, may be a full defence to murder.

This broadening of capacity and the removal of a partial defence re-aligned the South African concepts of culpable homicide and murder, separating these two offences through the concepts of dolus and culpa. Dolus is the malicious intention required for murder, while culpable homicide requires no dolus but culpa or negligence. This is not the same concept as the criminal negligence required for Canadian manslaughter. In Canada, manslaughter is based on a broader assessment of an accused’s objective forseeability of bodily harm where death ensues and does not require the foresight of death, as long as the underlying act is itself objectively dangerous or based on criminal negligence. Conversely, in South Africa, if an accused could reasonably foresee death ensuing as a result of his or her actions, he or she is guilty of culpable homicide.

What does this mean for Oscar Pistorius? Reviewing the news reports, this means the prosecution is pursuing murder or an intentional killing charge as opposed to a culpable homicide charge. This is based also on some of the evidence, which suggests a baseball bat was used in the crime. Pistorius’s plea of not guilty on the basis of an accidental killing also leaves no room for consideration of culpable homicide. As the facts shift and change, and as the trial publically unfolds, so too will the law reveal further possibilities in this tragic case of celebrity misconduct.

 

 

Reasonable And Probable Grounds and Philosophy’s Theory of Knowledge

In an effort to increase my knowledge, I decided to take a MOOC or Massive Open On-line Course offered by Coursera. I chose Introduction of Philosophy taught through the University of Edinburgh. Admittedly, I am finding the course a bit elementary but what did interest me was the lecture on Epistemology and the Theory of Knowledge, a philosophical area concerned with “knowledge-that” as opposed to “knowledge-how.” “Knowledge how” is how we know to do certain tasks – how to build a birdhouse, for instance. “Knowledge that” or propositional knowledge involves knowing that birds fly or knowing that s.265 is the assault section in the Criminal Code.

Plato was the first philosopher to detail the requirements of propositional knowledge, which is known as the “traditional” analysis of knowledge. Propositional knowledge or how someone knows a proposition is true, according to Plato, is based on three criteria. First, the knowledge must be believed by the person proposing it, meaning that one can only know something if they believe it. Second, the knowledge must be true. Thus, even if we believe in a state of facts, if that belief state is not true, there is no knowledge. This criterion requires objective truth. Third and lastly, there must be a justification for believing the knowledge is true. In other words, we must be able to articulate, based on “sound reasoning and solid evidence,” why we believe the knowledge to be true. If all three criteria are present, then the knowledge is accepted as true knowledge as opposed to “random” knowledge, which is based on a “lucky guess.”

All of this sounds very familiar and it should sound familiar as indeed in the legal arena, this Theory of Knowledge is used. For example, in criminal procedure, before a police officer can arrest an accused he must have reasonable and probable grounds or RPG for the arrest. There is no “fixed” definition of rpg, primarily due to the Charter, which prefers a contextual approach to determining whether or not an officer has RPG in the circumstances of each case. However, there are descriptions of rpg in differing areas of the law, which seem to be consistent. For instance, RPG is similar to the traditional English concept of “reasonable and probable cause” required for prosecuting a malicious prosecution case. The term is defined in the 1938 English House of Lords case Herniman v. Smith where Lord Atkin described it as


… an honest belief in the guilt of the accused based upon a full conviction, founded upon reasonable grounds, of the existence of a state of circumstances, which, assuming them to be true, would reasonably lead any ordinarily prudent and cautious man, placed in the position of the accuser, to the conclusion that the person charged was probably guilty of the crime imputed.

In the Supreme Court of Canada, the Court came to similar conclusions in Bernshaw when Madame Justice L’Heureux-Dube commented on previous decisions, which called rpg “credibility-based probability” and “reasonable probability.” Despite, no single definition for the concept, there seems to be a very good general understanding of what RPG means. This differs from the concept of “reasonable suspicion,” which, according to Kang-Brown “means something more than a mere suspicion and something less than a belief based upon reasonable and probable grounds.” As discussed in a previous blog, the SCC will clarify “reasonable suspicion,” hopefully, when they release the judgments on two sniffer dog cases, MacKenzie and Chehil.

Clearly, the concept of RPG is Plato’s propositional knowledge, which is fulfilled when the person has a sincere belief in a true set of facts based on justifiable reasons.

However, not all philosophers have agreed with Plato’s Theory of Knowledge. Edmund Gettier did not agree that justified true belief was knowledge. To support his dissent, he created what is known as Gettier Counterexamples or Gettier Cases, which present situations where Plato’s Theory fails.

Two Gettier Counterexamples were given in the lecture I watched. One counterexample was called The Stopped Clock Case. In this case, every day you pass by a clock and check the time. One morning you pass by the clock, which shows the time as 7:00 a.m. As you have taken time from this clock countless of times before, you sincerely believe the time is correct and your objective belief is justified, as the clock has been correct every other time you have used the clock. Indeed, it is 7:00 a.m. However, the clock is not working and had stopped at 7:00 a.m. the previous morning. It is just luck that you happened to glance at the clock when it apparently showed the correct time. Although on the surface, Plato’s Theory was fulfilled, in actuality the sincere belief was not premised on truth.

These fallacies show that knowledge is not necessarily justifiable true belief. Yet, it is this very premise – that knowledge can be justified if it is based on a true belief – which lies at the heart of reasonable and probable grounds. It is possible, therefore, that what is accepted as RPG is merely a Gettier Case and should not form the basis of a criminal charge. Perhaps, it is time to rethink even the basic propositions of criminal law to ensure we have a relevant and viable system.

Not only, did this MOOC make me think, but it also left me wondering; does the law need fewer lawyers and more philosophers?

Not To Make Excuses, But - The (Un)Responsiveness of the Supreme Court of Canada To Duress

The new Supreme Court of Canada decision on duress highlights the limitations of our English common law system. In that system, an articulated defence cannot be found for Nicole Ryan who, as a result of years of abuse and threats, acted contrary to the law because she could not act in any other way. Although ultimately the result was a veiled recognition of this, the manner in which the SCC came to the result was a clear and unequivocal endorsement of the rule of law.

There are many reasons for not broadening the restrictive application of excuses in our criminal law. One reason involves the dynamics of excuses: such a defence is predicated on the commission of a crime, where both the unlawful act, or actus reus, and the criminal intention, or the mens rea, has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In a world without excuses, a completed offence labels the alleged accused as a convicted offender with all of the responsibility and accountability that goes with such a designation. The next step involves the manner of the State's response to such abhorrent behaviour. The next step is punishment and the meting out of sentence, crafted in bespoke fashion to fit the particular circumstances of the case and the specific background of the offender. In the sentencing forum, discretion and compassion is allowed. But why do such considerations have no part in the determination of guilt?

This can only be answered by reading legal theorist George P. Fletcher’s essay on The Individualization of Excusing Conditions. According to Fletcher, his call for individualization envisions a criminal law, not shackled by the constraints of the English common law system, but set free by compassion, where the unique frailties of an individual are taken into account in determining criminal responsibility. The focus is therefore on the person, the very human being who was faced with very real extraordinary circumstances, and who had no choice but to act in an extraordinary manner. Fletcher argues to connect excuses to the individual's personal make-up creates more reasonable and rational outcomes than the English common law's desire to connect actions to an ephemeral and superficial "reasonable" person. To use a reasonable person standard in assessing criminal liability constructs a false rule of law bent on dehumanizing the law. When that happens, argues Fletcher, all we have left are stark, disembodied rules imposed in restrictive and unrealistic circumstances. 

In this restrictive world, Fletcher suggests, any prospects of individualization is pushed away onto the fringes of the criminal justice system to reside in the "semi-secret" sentencing arena. Sentencing, as a forum for individualization, permits discretion and compassion but, as Fletcher points out, such flexibility comes too late. Sentencing is for the guilty, not for those who should be viewed by society as innocent. 

In the Ryan case, the SCC followed the strictures of the English common law and thus the rule of law and failed to take the much needed bold step toward individualization. This is not surprising considering the slow dance the SCC has taken towards objective mens rea as the standard for crime as opposed to subjective mens rea - the last bastion of the individual. For further discussion see my previous posting Is This The End Of Subjective Intention?The Supreme Court of Canada and the Walle Case

Although the end result crafted by the SCC, in some way, vindicates Nicole Ryan, it is cold comfort to those facing dire situations, who must rely on excuses as a defence. In those cases, justice comes in the form of "semi-secret" pronouncements and extraordinary remedies and not where it counts - in assessing the true nature of criminal liability.