Engaging the Criminal Justice System Through JH v Alberta Health Services (As Originally Edited & Posted on the Ablawg website)

We often assume the contours of the criminal justice system are clearly delineated in law and in fact. For a lawyer, every criminal case is immediately identifiable by its style of cause, the ubiquitous “Regina v”. For the non-lawyer, criminal law is a standout in media reports, providing eye catching headlines and a riveting Saturday morning read. We may not know every criminal offence abounding in Canadian law, even though s 19 of the Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46 – which provides that ignorance of the law is no excuse – suggests we should, but we certainly know crime when we see it. What we are less successful at identifying are those situations where the criminal justice system merely lurks in the background chatter of a decision or when the factual matrix does not involve overtly criminal behaviour. In those less obvious scenarios, the case narratives do not engage our interest so readily. In short, we miss the criminal law-ness of the situation. Yet, in these cases, the criminal justice system is, in fact, fully engaged but we criminal law observers simply miss the connection. By missing this connection, we may not appreciate the impact of the case. Instead, we misfile the decision or, worse yet, dismiss the decision as unimportant or inapplicable. By failing to read between the lines, we are missing out on the richness offered by interdisciplinary case law. The recent Alberta Queen’s Bench decision of Madam Justice Kristine Eidsvik in JH v Alberta Health Services, 2019 ABQB 540, is a good example of a case that transcends the purported area of interest – it is a mental health law decision that engages larger issues borrowed from the criminal justice system. In JH, the criminal justice system is fully engaged and plays a vital role in the outcome.

 Justice Eidsvik’s decision, firmly based in the administrative health law arena, reads, sounds, and acts like a true criminal law case. Admittedly much of this criminal law-ness is suggested by the application of the Charter. But the Charter is acting at the behest of the criminal justice system when Eidsvik J. finds that the involuntary committal regime of the Alberta Mental Health Act, RSA 2000, c M-13 (MHA) violates sections 7, 9, 10(a) and 10(b) of the Charter (at para 140). In striking down these provisions, Eidsvik J. is engaging the full force of the criminal justice system. Through this decision, health law becomes criminal law as legal rights familiar to the criminal justice system – such as arbitrary detention and the right to know the reasons for that detention – become the central issues in the case. In this way, the JH decision identifies as pure criminal law with all of its emotive and authoritative qualities. 

Emotion permeates a criminal file. The factual narrative makes us direct witnesses to the event evoking the shame, pain and sorrow felt by all the people involved. True, the legalistic language attempts to deaden us to those painful circumstances. Nevertheless, an emotional response is acceptable and part of the criminal law-ness. In this same way, the JH decision provokes us. Reading the decision, we are shocked, saddened, indignant or just plain angry. The case makes us want to call out our administrative officials to “do better” and to text our government representatives to fix things quickly. The decision does this in different ways; it offers a purely legalistic view of statutory power, yet it does so by placing a mirror to societal conceptions of how “normal” people must and should act. It is a symbol of the universality of our justice system as pressing and persistent mental health issues span the globe. It is also a muscularCharter decision, requiring swift but thoughtful government action. For all these reasons, the JH decision represents the need to modernize our laws as a response to the marginalization of those individuals in our justice system with perceived differences. It is also an exemplar of the power of the Charter, which is increasingly a tool for change. 

For an excellent overview of the initiating factual and legal underpinnings of this decision, read Professor Lorian Hardcastle’s 2017 ABlawg commentary of the quashing of the mental health certificates in this case. See also, a follow-up ABlawg discussion on the constitutionality of the MHA sections written by then law student Kaye Booth and Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre Human Rights Educator, Heather Forester. This earlier action was the individualized response to the improper actions that authorized JH’s detention in a mental health facility. The recent decision offers the flip side of the event, wherein the Court considers and applies the Charter to the systemic issues enabled by the MHA legislative framework. The two decisions can be read separately but we must recognize they flow one from the other. It is the human price paid that precipitates the Court-ordered remedial response. 

This decision is framed and filled in by JH, who is represented by initials to protect his privacy and dignity, yet who was stripped of both within the mental health system. Like Joseph K. in the literary fictional world of Kafka, JH could be any one of us and is, in fact, all of us as he finds himself in the hospital as a result of being a victim of a hit and run accident (at para 11). It is his physical well-being which needs treatment but as we know all too well, the physical often collides with the mental as the less tangible mental well-being of JH becomes the centre of medical attention. To be clear, all participants are acting with the best of intentions. Everyone is trying to “help.” However, like The Trial, which resides in the genre of “bureaumancy” where the surreal is found in the mundane, the story of JH unwinds incrementally, frame by frame, compounded by a series of everyday actions. Actions which transform JH’s sojourn in the physical treatment-side of the hospital into a long-term stay in the mental health side of the facility. Actions which lead inexorably to the penultimate decision rendered by Justice Eidsvik (see JH v. Alberta Health Services,2017 ABQB 477 (CanLII)). 

To the medical authorities JH checks all the boxes needed for an involuntary certification: he is homeless; he is cognitively deficient; he is prone to drink; he is uncooperative; he lacks community support; he is unwell. But there is an alternate story here: JH is homeless because hospitalization made him so; he is not cognitively perfect but how many of us are; his propensities are just that – inert possibilities; he does not co-operate because he knows he does not need this kind of treatment; he lacks community support because he does not “mentally” fit the criteria for a community treatment order; he is unwell because he is, against his will, being treated for a mental health issue that does not in fact exist. To end the recitation is the glaring fact that JHis a member of Canada’s First Nations and subject to all of the preconceptions residing within that identification. In short, JH is on the “other” side of society and needs the insiders help. This paternalistic view of JH can be found in many criminal law cases. 

 We have not exhausted JH’s life story or his deep frustration with an imperfect system, but the story now moves from the private to the public. It is time to consider the criminal law stance of this legal story. The first indication of the criminal law-ness of this decision is apparent in the initial 2017 determination by Eidsvik J. on the potential mootness of the Charter application (see 2017 ABQB 477). This is the “why bother” question the Crown raises on the basis that JH is out of custody. But the Court nicely responds to that question by underlining the societal impact of the MHA and the constitutional importance of her gatekeeper function that protects us all from legislative overreach (at paras 27 and 28). In this decision, JH has moved from an individual’s quest for justice to the overall integrity of the justice system. A similar journey occurs in criminal cases. This is the first indication that in the JH decision, the criminal justice system is fully engaged. The parallels are obvious. Unlawful detention and a lack of due process are familiar criminal law themes. In JH we experience the mental health justice system through those criminal law tropes. The veneer of non-criminal law does not matter. It may file the JH case under “health law” or “administrative law” or even “Charter rights” but it is still a case involving legal protections and rights afforded to all individuals when faced with state-like authority.

 Another way this decision parallels the criminal justice system is in the finer details. The decision is reminiscent of the use of the hypothetical offender in s 12 Charter litigation. A sanction or punishment is “cruel and unusual” under s. 12 if it is “grossly disproportionate” to fundamental sentencing principles (see R v Boutilier[2017] 2 SCR 936 at para 52). In this analysis, the hypothetical offender represents the potential reasonable scenarios in which the application of the impugned legislation could breach the Charter. In considering the effect such provisions would have on the hypothetical person, the court moves away from the particulars of the individual before them to test the constitutionality of the legislation in the broader context. Such a litmus test brings the legislation into sharper focus as the overall Charter cogency of the section is at issue. To quote the then Chief Justice McLachlin in R v Nur[2015] 1 SCR 773, hypothetical scenarios are not merely limited to the “bounds of a particular judge’s imagination” but are delineated by the “reasonable reach of the law” to understand the “reasonably foreseeable impact” of that law (at para 61). As in JH, perspective is everything.

 

Even though McLachlin CJC went on to characterize the scenarios as tools of statutory interpretation, the hypothetical offender is much more than simply a compendium of factoids used to illustrate unconstitutionality. Such hypothetical “people” are not the offender before the court, but they do exist. For instance, in striking down the mandatory minimum sentence of six months imprisonment for the possession of marijuana plants, the court in R v Elliott, 2017 BCCA 214(Can LII)(at paras 47, 48, 69 and 70) considers the not so hypothetical offender who attends university, lives in a basement apartment and grows 6 potted marijuana plants for home use. A 6-month jail sentence imposed in those circumstances would be “clearly disproportionate and shocking to the Canadian conscience” (see McLachlin, J in dissent in R v Goltz[1991] 3 SCR 485at 532). 

Similarly, in JH we have no need for the hypothetical person to shock our sense of moral right and wrong, but a real person caught in a shockingly familiar scenario (as suggested by Dr Baillie’s expert opinion evidence and by the evidence-based arguments advanced by the Intervenor, Calgary Legal Guidance at paras 3, 57, 154, 227 and 228). Turning again to the criminal law, in the most recent decision from Ontario, R v Luke2019 ONCJ 514(Can LII), striking down the mandatory minimum sentence for impaired driving, Justice Burstein also has no need to turn to a hypothetical scenario. Ms. Luke is an exemplar of the devastating effects of colonialism and the justice system’s failure to respond to Indigenous heritage as well as a youthful first offender with “strong rehabilitative potential” (at para 45). The same sense of criminal justice permeates the JHdecision. Granted my parallelism argument depends on a s 12 Charter specific analysis but in many ways JH’s treatment is “punishment” for being someone who is perceived as “outside” of the norm. Of course, being labelled and then being contained apart from the rest of society should not and cannot determine the applicability or availability of basic rights.

Further analogies to the criminal justice system can be found in the way the MHA regime parallels with other mental health regimes engaged by the criminal justice system. For example, after an individual is found not criminally responsible (NCR) for an offence, the mental health system takes over with a decidedly criminal law flavour. In that regime, the criminal conduct constantly frames the response. Another parallel can be found in dangerous offender applications, which are decidedly hybrid in nature. In those criminal sentencing hearings, the risk of harm and dangerousness is driven by mental health assessments and treatment potentials. Notably, these regimes, NCR and dangerous offender, have been Charter tested (see R v Swain[1991] 1 SCR 933and R v Lyons, [1987]2 SCR 309respectively). In the case of NCR, the regime was legislatively re-fashioned to ensure compliance with Charterprinciples of fundamental justice including “ensuring the dignity and liberty interests” of an individual in that system (see Mazzei v. British Columbia (Director of Adult Forensic Psychiatric Services),[2006] 1 SCR 326at para 26). 

Even with this constitutional tune-up, there are continuing issues with the Criminal Code’s s 16 mental disorder test and the ensuing NCR label. I have discussed these issues in episode 18 of my podcast series on the Criminal Code. In that podcast, I comment on the historical basis for the NCR defence, which is virtually the same as the original 1843 M’Naughten Rule fashioned by the House of Lords, some say, at the behest of Queen Victoria who did not take kindly to the acquittal of M’Naughten for his delusional killing of the PM’s secretary. A nice recitation of the history of that case and subsequent rule can be found on the CBC website

In my post, I also mention the continual drive to change NCR as a result of public and political influence such as the changes contemplated in the now defunct Bill C-54, which sought to implement stricter conditions on those found NCR as a result of public push back on the Vince Li case. Vince Li, who was suffering from schizophrenic episodes at the time of his killing of a fellow bus traveller, showed excellent signs of recovery after treatment resulting in a loosening of his treatment conditions. Notably, section 8 of the MHA, providing the criteria for involuntary committal, was amended in 2010 in an effort to implement better controls over those suffering from schizophrenia (JH at para 179). Loved ones dealing with the disease found the dangerousness requirement for involuntary admission as a “too little, too late” response preferring the criteria of “harm” to self or others or requiring an even less restrictive finding of “substantial mental or physical deterioration or serious physical impairment.” Ironically, “dangerousness” was originally added to the criteria to provide more protections for those vulnerable to involuntary committal and was touted as “a significant safeguard” by the implementing government (at para 176). This change in statutory criteria from dangerousness was significant and although implemented with all good intentions, resulted in the involuntary detention of JH as someone who could possibly be a harm to himself or deteriorate if he started consuming alcohol. JH’s situation emphasizes the importance of that hypothetical scenario as a yardstick for statutory change. Instead of applying this test after the fact, all legislation should be subject to a reasonable hypothetical test to ensure the legislation’s effects do not capture those who should not be captured or in the JH case, should not be detained at all.

Having engaged the criminal justice system as the contextual template in which this decision arises, the legal analysis is more easily applied. This unhinging of the criteria from dangerousness meant that the grounds for involuntary detention was not anchored in the objective and purpose of the MHA, which, according to Eidsvik J. was for the temporary detention of “acutely mentally ill persons for the purpose of treatment and release back into the community” (at para 189). The purpose was not long-term warehousing as exemplified by JH himself, who was detained for some 9 months. Another statutory authority was available for long-term concerns under the Adult Guardianship and Trustee Act, SA 2008, c A-4.2 (at para 189). There was no grounding of the loss of liberty to a valid and beneficial objective in the legislative criteria. This glaring gap in the legislative criteria was apparent upon review of other provincial mental health statutes. For instance, the Ontario Mental Health ActRSO 1990, c M.7, connects involuntary committal to previous history of mental disorder, previous successful treatment of that disorder and the need to treat that disorder at the time of the application. Importantly, these provisions were placed in the Ontario legislation after the decision in PS v. Ontario,2014 ONCA 900 (Can LII), which found earlier sections unconstitutional. 

The statutory interpretation not only closes the legislative gap in the MHA but also gives closure to the injustice suffered by JH. Criminal law cases often turn on statutory interpretation and the principle of legality, which “affirms the entitlement of every person to know in advance whether their conduct is illegal” (see R v Lohnes[1992] 1 SCR 167 at p 180, McLachlin J) and constrains the power of the state (see R v Levkovic[2013] 2 SCR 204 at paras 32 to 33). Here too, the authority given by the law to public health facilities must be constrained and people subject to that authority must understand how their mental well-being can engage that power.  

Finally, the JH reasons resonate like a criminal justice system decision because of the societal context that runs like a thread in the in-between spaces of this decision. Mental health issues are no longer hidden inside the hospitals but are discussed frankly in public in an effort to destigmatize individuals who may appear to be on the “outside” of society. More public airing of these issues promotes understanding and lessens the fear of “harm” from those struggling with these issues. Systemic institutions must be part of the answer and part of the conversation if we are to move forward to a less aggressive and more supportive response to those members of our community who need our help. The JH decision tells us that those who are at risk of losing their life and liberty need our special attention. It is now up to the government, who has one year in which to remedy the MHA, to provide the leadership towards the fulfillment of this goal. This should not be a difficult task. Justice Eidsvik, in suspending the finding of invalidity to allow the law makers a 12-month grace period in which to revise the MHA and make it Charter compliant, gave detailed directions to the government on exactly how to do it (at para 317). There should be no time spent in considering the next steps – the steps have already been mapped out with care through the careful consideration of the court.

But let’s not forget the personal story. The crux of this story is about JH and how we are conditioned to react to certain people and certain behaviours. Like a children’s fable, the JH story reminds us that the emperor’s new clothes can be created from thin air or a princess can be hidden in plain view until we finally decide to really look. The case also reveals a deeper truth about these fables: that such narratives are often built on a certain view of what the world should look like and how it should be peopled with those who conform to the old tales. But this is real life in 21st century Canada and our commitment or promise to each other, and more importantly to the Indigenous peoples of Canada, must be to treat each other with dignity, respect and understanding. And the law, as the JH decision has shown, has a role to play in accomplishing this.

 

 

Why Reconsider W(D)? (Cross-Posted From www.ablawg.ca)

I have written at great length on the W(D) decision, R v W(D)1991 CanLII 93 (SCC), and the extraordinary impact that case has on our justice system. In my recent article on the issue, aptly entitled The W(D) Revolution, (2018) 41:4 Man LJ 307, I posit that the decision reflects a watershed moment in the assessment of credibility in criminal cases. The case decision, outlining the analytical approach to be taken in assessing credibility when there are “two diametrically opposed versions”of events, revolutionized such assessments by providing a template for integrating factual determinations within the burden and standard of proof (see e.g. R v Avetysan, 2000 SCC 56 (CanLII)at para 28). The W(D) state of mind was one that ensured that the principles of fundamental justice as distilled through the special criminal burden and standard of proof, would remain front and centre in the ultimate determination of guilt or innocence of an accused. This is not to say that the path towards enlightenment has not been strewn with difficulties. To the contrary, to recognize the imperfections of the decision and to experience the twists and turns of W(D) as pronounced upon in future SCC decisions, is to appreciate the W(D) ethos even more. W(D) has needed reinterpretation and reaffirmation throughout the decades since its release, but the question of whether it needed a reconsideration was at issue in the recent decision from the Alberta Court of Appeal in R v Ryon, 2019 ABCA 36 (CanLII).

Before we consider whether we reconsider W(D) there may be some of you, albeit I am guessing not many, who are unaware of the decision and the principle for which it is named. In W(D), the jury, as the trier of fact, was faced with competing narratives from the complainant and the accused on a sexual assault charge. The accused was convicted. On appeal, the issue was the manner in which the trial judge instructed the jury on the task of assessing the disparate evidence. This concern was not a new one. Previous appellate decisions had warned of the “credibility contest” conundrum in which the trier of fact improperly believes they are obliged to base the verdict on choosing between two stark alternatives of believing the Crown evidence or the defence evidence (see e.g. Regina v Challice, 1979 CanLII 2969(ON CA) at 556). By seeing the decision as binary, the trier was not considering the legitimate alternative – that the trier of fact is unable to resolve the conflicting evidence and is simply left in a state of reasonable doubt. This error effectively shifted the burden of proof, requiring the accused to provide a credible explanation. 

Although the issue at the time of W(D) was far from unique, the error was common. Something more than appellate review was needed. This “something more” came in the form of Justice Cory, speaking for the majority in W(D), who attempted to break the cycle of error by suggesting an instruction that would convey the correct approach. An approach that would be simple yet convey the importance of the burden and standard of proof in a criminal prosecution.

Justice Cory, sadly, was wrong. W(D) has been referenced in 9701 cases and counting. Notably, it has been referenced in 38 Supreme Court of Canada decisions. Of those 38, two of those decisions are from the past year, one, R v Calnen, 2019 SCC 6 (CanLII), as recent as February 1, 2019. In Alberta, W(D) has especially resonated with 968 case mentions, almost the same number as British Columbia and twice as many as Saskatchewan. The Alberta Court of Appeal has considered the case a little more than 50 times from 2015 to present. In this context, it is unsurprising that the Alberta Court of Appeal felt it necessary to reconsider W(D)in Ryon. Indeed, the issue had been raised almost two years earlier in R v Wruck2017 ABCA 155 (CanLII), an application for judicial interim release pending appeal heard before Justice Watson, who later delivers a concurring judgment in Ryon. Presumably, the Wruck appeal was not to be after the bail application was dismissed and the reconsideration was left for another day and another case. Although Ryonappears to be just that case, as I will explain, the Court had already revisited W(D)in 2012.

Before we turn back the W(D) clock, we need to take a close look at the most recent decision in Ryon. Justice Martin writes for the majority. As mentioned, Justice Watson writes a concurring decision but essentially agrees with the Court’s general exasperation with yet another W(D) appeal – and a good one at that, as the Court allows the appeal on the basis of the W(D) error. Instead of sending the case back for a re-trial with a disappointing shake of their collective appellate heads, Justice Martin digs into the time vortex in an effort to rehabilitate, refresh and generally update the W(D) instruction. 

There are many reasons why Justice Martin feels the need to intercede. W(D)is a staple in the trial judges’ decision-making tool kit but it was a framework, a bare bones recommendation that required filling in. It was created with an eye to the factual matrix from which it came involving two competing narratives. It did not account for a more sophisticated evidentiary base arising from a complex factual and legal situation such as a case involving inculpatory and exculpatory evidence from the admission of an accused’s confession, or unsavory witnesses overlaying a Vetrovec caution (See Vetrovec,1982 CanLII 20 (SCC)) onto the instruction or trials involving multiple charges and included offences. In short, the W(D)instruction, when lifted directly from the pages of the decision, lacks context and therefore meaning. Many a trial judge, believing the words spoken by Justice Cory to be adequate, failed to realize the error of leaving the words alone to do the heavy lifting. 

Although Justice Martin fills in the framework to account for these variant situations at paragraphs 29 to 32 of Ryon, it is the common-sense admonishment underlying his decision that truly encapsulates the essence of W(D). At paragraph 38, for instance, he advises us to “step back and consider the message intended to be delivered.” Later, at paragraph 48, Justice Martin reiterates the need for the instruction to be “contextual and responsive to the evidence.” Finally, after recommending a more inclusive instruction, Justice Martin at paragraphs 53 and 54 cautions that 

Like W(D), the foregoing is not intended to be an incantation that must be included in every trial where there is conflicting evidence to be resolved. Ultimately, the wording used is not critical so long as the trier is given sufficient information to understand the correct burden and standard of proof to apply ... However, reciting and relying solely on the wording of W(D), without elaboration, will not usually be sufficient in a jury trial. That portion of the charge must be responsive to the evidence and explained in such a manner that the jury is able to understand the message intended to be conveyed.

Like W(D), the foregoing is not intended to be an incantation that must be included in every trial where there is conflicting evidence to be resolved. Ultimately, the wording used is not critical so long as the trier is given sufficient information to understand the correct burden and standard of proof to apply ... However, reciting and relying solely on the wording of W(D), without elaboration, will not usually be sufficient in a jury trial. That portion of the charge must be responsive to the evidence and explained in such a manner that the jury is able to understand the message intended to be conveyed.

Like W(D), the foregoing is not intended to be an incantation that must be included in every trial where there is conflicting evidence to be resolved. Ultimately, the wording used is not critical so long as the trier is given sufficient information to understand the correct burden and standard of proof to apply ... However, reciting and relying solely on the wording of W(D), without elaboration, will not usually be sufficient in a jury trial. That portion of the charge must be responsive to the evidence and explained in such a manner that the jury is able to understand the message intended to be conveyed.

These are sentiments that apply to every situation in which the accused’s exculpatory evidence is pitted against the prosecution’s case. In the end, it is the trier of fact alone, equipped with the special criminal standard, who must use and apply their common sense, as nurtured by lived experience, to the set of facts before them. However, in the case where there is potential for a credibility contest, the concept of reasonable doubt as it applies to that evidence must be brought home to the trier of fact. As Justice Sopinka said in R v Morin1988 CanLII 8 (SCC) at 360, rendered before his dissent in W(D), “The law is clear that the members of the jury can arrive at their verdict by different routes and need not rely on the same facts. Indeed, the jurors need not agree on any single fact except the ultimate conclusion.” This freedom to fact-find is essential to our criminal justice system and through the judicious use of judicial instructions on how to get to that ultimate conclusion, we are ensuring that the verdict arrived at will be a fair and just one.

Although Justice Martin is right to bemoan the overuse of W(D)as a panacea for credibility assessments, he does seem to get too far into the weeds by over-instructing the trier of fact with all the potentialities of a W(D)situation. His comments on the sequence of the instruction, including which evidence must be considered first, may create a less flexible framework and run contrary to Justice Sopinka’s fact-finding vision as articulated in Morin. Granted, providing clarity on the type of evidence to be considered, exculpatory rather than inculpatory, is helpful, but to get into parsing evidence into types may cause more problems than it’s worth. For instance, the concern raised with applying W(D) to neutral evidence may result in arguments by counsel over what is neutral evidence and what is not. At some point we must trust the jury to come to a true verdict by allowing them to draw inferences from the evidence on the basis of their findings of fact.

Nevertheless, Justice Martin’s penultimate statement on what information should be imparted to the jury at paragraph 51 is helpful and does fill in the skeleton-like structure of the W(D) instruction. Of course, Justice Martin had ample opportunity to consider this as he expounded similar suggestions in his 2012 decision, R v Gray2012 ABCA 51 (CanLII). As an aside, that decision received quite a bit of traction with the Honourable Judge Gorman of the Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Court who quoted the Gray decision in 13 cases between 2012 and 2014. I too will quote from Justice Martin in Gray at paragraph 45 in which he explains that “In other words, the instruction is a contextual, evidence‑sensitive, one that requires a trial judge to carefully mould it to the evidence and not just recite it in isolation with the hope that the jury will understand or figure it out.” Truer words have never been spoken—or, rather, they have been spoken but not listened to—but perhaps this time these words will have the impact they deserve.

I conclude this post with some final thoughts on conflicting narratives and criminal trials. The situation of competing narratives is not in and of itself unusual. A trial is a time anomaly. The trial itself is conducted in the present four corners of the courtroom, yet it is concerned with past events that lie outside of those courtroom walls. In many ways a trial borders on science fiction as it leaps through the time-space continuum. 

The trier of fact, who is in the present space, must turn the present tense into the past through the consideration of days gone by. In short, a trial is stuck in the past and the trier of fact needs tools to translate the past events into a language of the present. This is particularly important as at the time those past events were occurring, not everyone involved could see the future significance of those events. The narrative was not captured in pristine form at the time. A further “past meets present without future thought” problem is that often those events did not involve direct observers. The people living those events did not rush out and bring in a witness for future use. Indeed, these events are by their very nature done in private. Nor did these events necessarily produce animate items for future use at trial. 

The W(D) trial is a description of the past from the perspective of the complainant and the accused person. The trier must assess that information through a kaleidoscope of time, which collapses those past events into present time. But that is not all—those events are also filtered through legal rules and principles. This changes the texture of those narratives and gives them a different, special meaning. It is the application of those legal principles that frames the past so it may be used in the present time of a trial. This is the true message of W(D), which serves as a memorial itself by commending to a trier of fact a possible, but not the only, way to review evidence in coming to the ultimate decision of guilt or innocence. 

 Does W(D) need a reconsideration? There is not much wrong but much right about re-energizing legal principles and ensuring they are understandable, meaningful and relevant for those who must apply them. An update and a re-working can enhance the administration of justice. However, in that new look, we must retain the essence of that original statement and its raison d’etre. In the case of W(D), any reformulation must emphasize the linkages that must be made between credibility assessment and reasonable doubt. Without this crucial connection, a reconsideration is not doing W(D) justice. Justice must not only be seen to be done, it must also be done. The Ryon decision, in its aspect and essence, will go a long way of doing just that.

 

 

 

Casting Light into The Shadows: Finding Civil Contempt in the Envacon Decision (as originally posted on ABLAWG website at www.ablawg.ca but as tweaked by the author)

Case law and common sense tells us there must be a bright line drawn between civil and criminal matters. From standard of proof to sanctioning, civil justice diverges significantly from criminal justice. Despite this great divide, there are occasions when the two areas meet. When that occurs, the law creates something singular, defying categorization. Civil contempt is one such area. In the recent Alberta Court of Appeal decision in Envacon the Court grapples with these distinctions by emphasizing the criminal law character of civil contempt. The question raised by this decision is whether civil contempt’s criminal law character should dominate the proper interpretation of this unique application of law.

First, a civil contempt primer is in order. Civil contempt arises from English common law, although it can now be grounded in statute. It is a tool used by the civil courts to enforce court orders and to maintain the integrity of court proceedings. To be in contempt in the eyes of the law is to be in disobedience of that self-same law. Contemptuous behaviour cannot be countenanced and must be severely punished. A loss of liberty can be the result. A loss of legal rights is inevitable. Yet the kinds of behaviour captured under the rubric of civil contempt is varied. For instance, civil contempt proceedings can occur in the context of a self-represented suitor failing to attend case management meetings (Pintea v Johns2017 SCC 23 where the Supreme Court vacated the declaration of contempt) or when lawyers fail to comply with a Mareva injunction by disposing of assets as in Carey v Laiken2015 SCC 17(Carey) or when First Nations engage in a peaceful blockade contrary to court injunctions (Frontenac Ventures Corp. v. Ardoch Algonquin First Nation2008 ONCA 534). Civil contempt covers a wide net. It can arise from family matters, labour disputes, and environmental rights. An order of the court is one thread that binds them all. 

 Although a common law tool, it is found statutorily as well. It is in the statutory powers where civil and criminal law straddle the divide between them. In the Criminal Code RSC 1985, c C-46, for instance, section 127 creates a blanket offence for when any person, “without lawful excuse,” “disobeys” a court order, other than an order for monetary compensation. As worded, this offence can apply for non-compliance of a civil court order. Even so, this offence, although broadly engaged, is an offence of last resort. It cannot be utilized if there is another recourse, “expressly provided by law,” available. 

There are indeed other statutory recourses to the criminal law. Turning from the Criminal Codeto the Alberta Rules of CourtAR 124/2010, Part Ten, Division 4, provides a mechanism for non-compliance with rules of court and interference with the administration of justice under Rule 10.49. Civil contempt of court is found under Rules 10.51 to 10.53. These Rules specify the entire civil contempt regime including the process used to bring the alleged contemnor before the court (Order to Appear pursuant to Form 47, which can double as an arrest warrant), the mechanism for finding a person in contempt (Rule 10.52), and the possible punishment such as imprisonment “until the person has purged the person’s contempt” (Rule 10.53). Rule 10.52(3) provides criteria for declaring a person in civil contempt with the caveat that no such declaration will ensue should the person have a “reasonable excuse.” Similar powers are found for provincial court matters under s. 9.61 of the Provincial Court Act RSA 2000, c P-31. There, however, no such contempt declaration is made if the person furnishes an “adequate excuse.”

In the lower court decision in Envacon (2017 ABQB 623), Associate Chief Justice Rooke declared the Appellant/Defendant 829693 Alberta Ltd in civil contempt pursuant to the criteria enumerated under Rule 10.52(3) of the Alberta Rules of Court. The contempt related to a failure of 829693 Alberta Ltd to produce financial statements in accordance with three production orders issued by the case management justice. To assist in interpreting the requirements under the Rules, the Associate Chief Justice applied Alberta case law arriving at four key elements of a civil contempt declaration (Envacon QB at para 17). First, was the requirement for court orders to produce the statements. Second, was the notice requirement to 829693 Alberta Ltd of those orders. Third, was proof that the failure to produce was as a result of “an intentional act of a failure to act” on the order. Fourth, was the requirement, on a balance of probabilities, that the failure to act was performed without “adequate” excuse. 

As all elements were established, a contempt finding was declared. The remedy or more properly the punishment for the contempt was to strike the pleadings of 829693 Alberta Ltd should they continue to be in non-compliance with the orders. Solicitor and client costs for Envacon were also granted (Envacon QB at para 31). On appeal, the Court of Appeal found the first and second production orders were not “clear orders” and vacated the contempt relating to them (at para 68). The third production order, however, was clear and unequivocal requiring 829693 Alberta Ltd to produce the statements (at paras 14, 29 and 67). This left two real issues on appeal: whether 829693 Alberta Ltd failed to comply with the order and if so, whether 829693 Alberta Ltd had a “reasonable excuse” for that non-compliance. Ultimately, the Court of Appeal found 829693 Alberta Ltd did fail to comply with the order and there was “ample support” for the conclusion the corporation had no reasonable excuse (para 58). On the final issue of the remedy, the appellate court varied the penalty by removing the potential striking of 829693 Alberta Ltd pleadings and granting Envacon “costs on a solicitor and client basis” not on “solicitor and own client costs” (at paras 67 and 69. See also Twinn v Twinn2017 ABCA 419 for a discussion of the differences between the two forms of costs at paras 23–28).

The issues arising from this appeal are inter-related. A failure to comply may be connected to a reasonable excuse for doing so. A remedy is reflective of the context of the contempt and the corrective influence such a remedy may have. In other words, is the contempt power used to punish or is it used to coerce compliance? Is the court maintaining integrity of its processes or is it using the sanction, as in criminal law, to show the disapprobation attached to the contemptuous conduct? Here again we see that bright-line division between criminal and civil matter.

It is this bright-line which previous case law on civil contempt attempted to illuminate. In the 2015 Careydecision, Justice Cromwell at paragraph 31, commences discussion of the elements of civil contempt by comparing civil contempt with criminal contempt. According to the Court, criminal contempt required an element of “public defiance,” while civil contempt was primarily “coercive rather than punitive.” The Carey decision rightly demarcates criminal and civil contempt by invoking the traditional dividing line between the two areas of law. This public nature of criminal law versus the private matter of civil suits lends a contextual framework to the law of civil contempt as delineated in Carey and in Envacon. Although residing on two sides of the same coin, there is still a public aspect to civil contempt. The disobedience of a civil court order can add time and expense to a civil case, reducing access to the courts and impacting the administration of justice. In the era of Hyrniak v Mauldin,2014 SCC 7 and Jordan, 2016 SCC 27, where civil and criminal justice is at risk due to a complaisance attitude toward trial fairness, “public defiance” has a new and more robust meaning. Further, in certain circumstances, there can be a punitive dimension to civil contempt to highlight the public interest need for deterrence and denunciation. The higher standard of proof also recognizes the public dimension of civil contempt. In such a finding, the public is not indifferent but is engaged through the lens of public interest. The Envacondecision recognizes the overlapping aspects of contempt by requiring judges to impose remedies consistent with the specific objective of the original order. 829693 Alberta Ltd was required to produce financial statements as part of case management in order to “permit proper adjudication of the claims” (at para 67). The failure requires a coercive response not punishment.

The public versus private distinction not only impacts the remedy but also the interpretation of civil contempt requirements. The failure to comply is not an intentional or deliberate disobedience of the order itself. Rather, it is an intentional act to fail to act in accordance with that order. The difference is subtle yet essential. In the first instance, requiring intent to disobey the order, the fault requirement is high, consistent with the high level of subjective mens rea typically required for murder (intent to kill) or robbery (intent to steal). Such a high level of intention or, as Justice Cromwell in Careycharacterized it, contumacious intent, would “open the door” (Carey at para 42) to unjustifiable arguments against a declaration of contempt. The focus would no longer be on the act that creates the disobedience. Instead, the contemnor could argue there was no intention to disobey as they were mistaken as to the import of the order or they misinterpreted it, despite the order’s clarity. Such a situation would be incongruous. As suggested by Justice Cromwell, as he then was on the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal in TG Industries Ltd. v. Williams2001 NSCA 105 (TG Industries), it would provide a mistake of law defence for civil contempt when such a defence would be unavailable for a murder (TG Industries at para 11). Thus, the criminal and civil law analogy only goes so far. Civil contempt is firmly not criminal and the application of criminal mens rea principles have no place in the determination. 

In the case at hand, 829693 Alberta Ltd did not produce the financial statements (Envacon QB at para 17). There was some argument that the statements were not in 829693 Alberta Ltd’s power to produce as they were lodged with the CRA and the IRS. 829693 Alberta Ltd wrote to these organizations and provided the production order with no success. The requests made, however, were not in proper format (Envacon ABCA at para 23). Finally, the CRA sent documents, which were not complete. 829693 Alberta Ltd did not contact the CRA for explanation or with a further request (Envacon ABCA at para 26). Efforts with the IRS were no better (Envacon ABCA at para 27). The court of appeal agreed with Rooke ACJ that 829693 Alberta Ltd did not act with “a sufficient degree of due diligence” in attempting to comply (Envacon ABCA at para 28). 829693 Alberta Ltd thereby intentionally failed to produce as required by the order.

This finding, although logical, does impact the role of “reasonable excuse” in the contempt finding. If a finding of intentionally failing to act involves a due diligence discussion, then what kind of discussion is needed to determine if the person was acting without reasonable excuse? Is due diligence different than reasonable excuse and if so how? Carey is silent on this. Rooke ACJ considered both issues separately. In paragraphs 19 to 21 of his decision, Rooke ACJ found an intentional failure to produce based on a number of factors including that the order requirements were clear, that there was in fact no production of those statements, and that requests were “inadequately made” on the basis 829693 Alberta Ltd was “going through the motions,” the request lacked specificity and there was no “follow up.” (Envacon QB at para 21). Although “due diligence” is a loose summary of Rooke ACJ’s finding on that aspect, the discussion of “adequate excuse” ran much deeper. It is in that review, where the court is clearly going beyond the discussion points on 829693 Alberta Ltd’s failure to act. For instance, at paragraph 22, Rooke ACJ finds 829693 Alberta Ltd to have obstructed justice in the sense that their efforts to produce the statements from the CRA and the IRS was not the point. The point was their ability to produce by other means such as recreating the documents.

The Court of Appeal considered how the ruling in Careyon the intent required for civil contempt impacted the reasonable or adequate excuse requirement. Carey, in their view,did not change this requirement. Admittedly, Justice Cromwell in Carey did not directly discuss the impact of the reasonable excuse requirement. He did find the contemnor “was in contempt and his obligations to his client did not justify or excuse” the failure to comply with the Mareva injunction (Careyat para 3). However, on a review of the TG Industries decision, written by Justice Cromwell when he was on the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, he suggests such an analysis may be pertinent to the discretion wielded by the judge after a finding of contempt (comments on the due diligence defence at paras 31 and 32). This is further supported by Justice Cromwell’s comments in Carey on the three elements of civil contempt, none of which include contemplation of an excuse, reasonable or otherwise (Careyat para 32). This omission may be explained by the context of Carey, which applies Rule 60.11 of the Ontario Rules of Procedure RRO 1990, Reg 194. That rule sets out contempt procedure but offers no criteria for a finding of contempt except that it may be found when it is “just” to do so. This is in contrast with the Alberta Rules that have clear requirements including a reasonable excuse determination.

The Court of Appeal does not, however, focus on these statutory differences but on the criminal/civil law differences. In their view, the discussion in Carey was about the level of intent needed for contempt, a classic criminal mens rea or fault element issue (at para 36). This did not, in their view, impact the reasonable excuse requirement, which, in the case of contempt, could impact actus reus or conduct (at para 37). By applying criminal law nomenclature such as actus reusand mens rea, the court is drawing an analogy between civil contempt and a criminal offence. Yet, the classic criminal law definition of an excuse given by Justice Dickson, as he then was, in Perka v The Queen, [1984] 2 SCR 232, 1984 CanLII 23 (SCC), suggests otherwise. An excuse, according to Justice Dickson, applies after the mens rea andactus reus are proven as it “concedes the wrongfulness of the action but asserts that the circumstances under which it was done are such that it ought not to be attributed to the actor”(Perka at p 246). A successful excuse defence will result in an acquittal. The problem in Envacon is not whether the court properly identified whether the excuse pertains to mens rea or actus reus. The true problem with the decision lies in the use of the criminal law analogy in the first place. Civil contempt is not a criminal offence. The overlay of criminal law concepts onto civil contempt simply does not work. 

This ab initio error leads the court to further suggestive reasoning. At paragraph 37 of Envacon, the court explains how a reasonable excuse can relate to the actus reus

Particularly in the case of mandatory orders, an alleged contemnor may argue that his or her failure to do what the court required was not intentional. In these cases, a finding of contempt will turn on whether the alleged contemnor did enough to bring about the result the court order required. This enquiry is distinct from the question of mens rea or contumacious intent, which was at issue in Carey. Thus, not all “reasonable excuses” encompassed by rule 10.52(3) are excluded by the Supreme Court’s rejection of contumacious intent as an element of contempt.

The inquiry of whether the alleged contemnor “did enough” seems to be connected to whether they intentionally failed to do the act as required by the order, which Rooke ACJ did contemplate during discussion under paragraphs 19 to 21 of his judgment, separate from the “adequate excuse” discussion following those findings. The court of appeal appears to be conflating the finding of a failure with the reasonable excuse requirement. The reference, in paragraph 38 and 39 to Justice Cromwell’s position in Carey, that due diligence may be considered after a finding of contempt, hardly supports the court of appeal’s reasoning. As indicated earlier in this case commentary, Justice Cromwell’s position seems to weaken the applicability of reasonable excuse, not strengthen it.

Note as well the fluidity between the qualifier of that excuse as found in the various statutory pronouncements on civil contempt. There is “reasonable” excuse in the revised Alberta Rules as opposed to “adequate” excuse as indicated in the previous iteration. All of adjectives are further compared to the Criminal Code version of contempt with “lawful” excuse being the requirement. Although the Court of Appeal does not differentiate between these types of excuses, they should. Is the change in wording from adequate to reasonable mean anything in terms of meaning? If not, then the argument may be stronger for a civil view of cvil contempt. Certainly an “adequate” excuse suggests a much lower standard than even due diligence, which “reasonable” might invoke. Either way, comparing that terminology to “lawful” as required under the criminal law version of contempt puts us squarely into criminal law nomenclature. Such a term brings into the assessment those excuses defined by law or as found in other statutory authority. A much higher standard than merely due diligence.

The court of appeal, having found reasonable excuse as an element of civil contempt, discusses the burden and standard of proof for that element. It should be recalled that Rooke ACJ in assessing “adequate excuse” relied on previous Alberta case law that “once the actus reus of contempt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the contemnor may respond, on a balance of probabilities, with evidence and argument intended to try to demonstrate justification” (Envacon QB at para 23 and see FIC Real Estate Fund Ltd v Lennie2014 ABQB 105).Here again, Carey provides little assistance other than reiterating the ultimate standard of proof as proof beyond a reasonable doubt. There is no due diligence defence specifically contemplated in Carey and thus no need to suggest a different burden for the reasonable excuse requirement. 

It is also difficult to have a discussion on the burden of proof issue considering the clear message from Carey that civil contempt should be distinguished from criminal contempt. As such, civil contempt is unique and should not be viewed through the criminal law lens. There is no other civil construct requiring this high criminal standard. However, this high standard is required, not because civil contempt is criminal law, but because of the potential loss of liberty. It is the criminal law-like sanction that attracts the high standard not the criminal quality of civil contempt. The court of appeal by applying a criminal template to civil contempt obscures the real issues in the Envacon case.

In fact, the court of appeal had two viable options. The first option would be to find that reasonable excuse is subsumed by the Careycivil contempt elements and is not a separate decision-making requirement. The second option would be more consistent with Carey and TG Industries by finding reasonable excuse applies after the finding of contempt. Thus, reasonable excuse would have a gatekeeper discretionary function. Acting as a concession to human or corporate frailty, so to speak. Instead, the court of appeal entered into a regulatory offence type of discussion on burdens of proof and whether the burden shifted on the alleged contemnor to satisfy the court they had a reasonable excuse on a balance of probabilities. The court of appeal preferred to find that neither the legal or evidential burden shifted but that, depending on the circumstances, a prima facie case may require the contemnor to proffer some evidence of an excuse (para 48). This preference is no doubt resulting from the uncomfortable fit a shifting of the burden would be considering civil contempt is not prosecuted and is a judge-led determination. Nevertheless, making evidence of an excuse a tactical or strategic requirement makes good sense, but it still muddles the issues. The court of appeal in many ways creates something out of nothing and lends a criminal law nostalgia to a uniquely civil common law tool.

Civil contempt proceedings are not unique in Alberta. According to a CanLII database search, Alberta has 384 case decisions on civil contempt, second only to Ontario with 393 decisions. Civil contempt is an important expression of the court’s obligation to protect the integrity of the administration of justice. It is a powerful tool, which must be wielded carefully and sparingly considering the potential dire consequences. The stakes of a civil contempt finding are incredibly high as loss of liberty is possible and a loss of access to justice is inevitable. In an age where the spotlight of public confidence centres on the courts, civil contempt deserves clarity. The decision in Envacon may have cast more shadows on an area of law which appears to be cast in a light of its own.

 

What Precisely Is A Regulatory Offence? (Cross Posted From ABLawg at https://ablawg.ca/2018/09/26/what-precisely-is-a-regulatory-offence/)

This semester, I will start teaching 1Ls the first principles of criminal law. The main components of a crime, consisting of the familiar terms of actus reusor prohibited act and mens reaor fault element, will be the focus. These concepts, that every lawyer becomes intimately familiar with in law school, are figments of the common law imagination as actus reusand mens reado not figure in the Criminal Code. The terms are derived from the Latin maxim, “actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea,”which translates as “there is no guilty act without a guilty mind.”  This stands for the proposition that the actus reusor prohibited act must coincide or happen at the same time as the mens rea or fault element. That maxim, however, fails to shed light on what those terms mean in law. Indeed, what exactly is a prohibited act or actus reusdepends on the crime as described in the Criminal Code, and what exactly is the fault element or mens readepends on a combination of common law presumptions, statutory interpretation, and case law. In other words, it’s complicated. Even more complex is the vision of these terms when applied to the regulatory or quasi-criminal context. In the recent decision of R v Precision Diversified Oilfield Services Corp2018 ABCA 273[Precision], the Alberta Court of Appeal attempts to provide clarity to these terms but in doing so may be creating more uncertainty.

Although apparently straight forward, appearances in the regulatory world are not as they seem. Even the facts of Precision suggest the dichotomy that is regulation. On a high-level view, the incident is straight forward: a worker is involved in a workplace incident and suffers serious injuries. But when the trial court wades into the minutiae of the moments surrounding the incident, the factual matrix becomes complex and more nuanced. The simple incident devolves into an evidentiary whirl of drilling rig operations and oilfield “jargon” (at para 8). Arising from this factual cacophony is an incident involving manipulation of a machine by more than one worker creating a toxic mix of automation and human fallibility. The result is tragic.

However, the facts alone do not reflect the entire legal narrative. They must be viewed through the legislative scheme, adding an additional layer of intricacy. The defendant company was charged with two offences under the Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Act, RSA 2000, c O-2 [OHSA]. One offence was of a general nature invoking a general duty under s. 2(1) of the OHSAto ensure the health and safety of the worker “as far as it is reasonably practicable for the employer to do so.” The other more specific offence, found under the Occupational Health and  Safety Code 2009, Alta Reg 87/2009 [Safety Code], sets out, in regulatory fashion, the detailed rules of workplace engagement (at para 38). The specific rule allegedly breached was s. 9(1) of the Safety Code, requiring the company to take measures to eliminate identified workplace hazards or, “if elimination is not reasonably practicable,” to control them. Unsurprisingly, these two offences are not self-contained but overlap; a not unusual occurrence in regulatory enforcement. 

This overlap in offence specification also results in an overlap in the factual foundation. Even so, at trial, the prosecutor took different legal approaches in proving each charge. The offences are strict liability offences, a form of liability proposed in R v Sault Ste Marie, [1978] 2 SCR 1299[Sault Ste Marie]. This requires the prosecutor to prove the actus reus beyond a reasonable doubt, from which the fault element would then be inferred. Upon such proofthe burden of proof shifts onto the defendant to prove, on a balance of probabilities, they exercised all due diligence or took all reasonable steps to avoid liability. This formula for strict liability remains unchanged since the seminal decision of Sault Ste Marie.For instance, in La Souveraine v. Autorité Des Marchés Financiers[2013] 3 SCR 756[La Souveraine], the Supreme Court’s most recent discussion of due diligence requirements for regulatory offences, the court reiterates these basic elements as essential for the fulfilment of regulatory objectives of public welfare and safety (La Souveraineat para 54). Effectively then, the due diligence defence rebuts the presumption for fault. The onus rests on the defendant to discharge this burden on the premise they have the best evidence of the reasonable steps and industry standards required to proffer such a defence. For the prosecutor, proof of the actus reus is of vital importance in founding a conviction. 

 Consistent with this strict liability notion, the prosecutor in Precision, for the general duty offence under s. 2(1) of the OHSA, relied upon “accident as prima facie proof of breach” pursuant to R v Rose’s Well Services2009 ABQB 1[Rose’s Well]. The Rose’s Well decision considered the same section in arriving at this position (Rose’s Well at para 68 and Precision at para 5). Quite simply, this was an “I think therefore I am” position: there was an accident, the worker was harmed, and Precision Corp. was the entity directing such work, ergo the prosecutor has proven the actus reus beyond a reasonable doubt shifting the burden onto the defendant. The more specific Safety Code offence, however, required a more detailed analysis of the actus reus. In neither of the offences did the prosecutor prove, as part of the actus reusrequirements, what was “reasonably practicable” in the circumstances. This, the prosecutor submitted, was a matter of proof for the defendant as part of the due diligence defence. The trial judge agreed, convicting Precision Corp. of both charges. 

On summary conviction appeal, the judge found errors in this approach. Although the “accident as prima facie proof of breach” could be sufficient to prove actus reus in some cases, it was “not a strict rule of law” (at para 27). At trial, the prosecutor failed to prove the commission of a “wrongful act” and as such failed to prove the required actus reus components of the general duty charge.  The “wrongful” part of that act could be found, according to the summary conviction judge, in the failure of Precision Corp.to do what was “reasonably practicable” to avoid the harm as required of the section. This phrase “reasonably practicable” was an essential element of the actus reusand without this evidence, the charges could not be made out. The appeal was allowed, and acquittals entered. It is that distinctive “reasonably practicable” phrase, which colours the meaning of the facts and in turn presents difficulties in discerning the not so bright line between actus reus and mens rea in the alleged contravention of general duty in a regulatory statute such as that set out in s. 2(1) of the OHSA.

This means that, unlike most appeals, the facts frame the issue and drive the legal principles. The conversation immediately devolves into a part legal, part factual debate on causation and fault, which requires a deeper dive into the facts. Even the characterization by the summary conviction appeal judge of the act as “wrongful” raises the level of the discourse up a notch. But how deep must the prosecutor go when it is a regulatory offence and not a criminal one? The exacting standards required of a criminal case gives way when the overarching objective is public welfare. Yet, where that line is to be drawn is an ongoing moving target that at some point must give way to clarity and immobility. An incident happens but how much detail is required for the prosecutor to meet the burden of proof? An incident happens but is it merely an unforeseeable accident? An incident happens but is it preventable and did the company do all that is “reasonably practicable” to prevent it? Already the factual matrix broadens into a general discussion of the company’s duty of care and the standard on which they must discharge that duty. However, in the world of actus reusand mens rea, as borrowed from the criminal law, the lines between act and fault are rigidly applied. The main issue in Precision is whether the lines as drawn in previous case law are workable in this regulatory regime of occupational health and safety.

 The majority, written by Madam Justice Veldhuis — yes, this is a split decision of the court suggesting this principle may have a future in the higher court — finds the phrase “as far as it is reasonably practicable for the employer to do so” is an active part of the actus reus. The minority decision of Justice Wakeling takes the opposite view, leaving the issue of reasonableness to the fault element analysis required in considering due diligence. Although the lines are drawn inPrecision, they are not written in stone. There are problems with both the majority decision and the dissenting opinion in this case, problems that are inherent to the regulatory/criminal law divide.

 For instance, this slippage from actus reus into mens rea seems natural when considering regulatory offences. La Souveraine, one of the more recent decisions of the Supreme Court on regulatory matters, makes this point. There, Justice Wagner, as he then was, for the majority of the court makes preliminary comments on the jurisdiction of the court to hear arguments on actus reus issues when leave was granted on the basis of mens rea due diligence concerns (La Souveraine at para 20). Justice Wagner finds the two issues “inextricably linked” (La Souveraine at para 26) and therefore the jurisdiction to consider both was evident. 

Here too, in Precision, it is difficult to separate the two concepts. In some ways this inability to distinguish clearly between the prohibited act and the fault element results in the finding of the majority in Precision that proof of what was “reasonably practicable” must be proven by the prosecutor as part of the actus reus. This circularity is embedded in the creation of strict liability as the compromise “half-way house” form of liability in Sault Ste Marie (at pp 1313, 1315 and 1322). According to Justice Dickson, as he then was, in Sault Ste Marie, this purely regulatory type of liability was needed to relieve the harshness of the absolute liability offence for which a defendant has little ability to defend themselves. Strict liability also assuages the concerns inherent in subjective liability offences, which by nature mimic the full mens rea requirements of proof from criminal law. Instead, strict liability permits a contained but fair due diligence defence; a defence mirroring the regulatory obligations of the defendant, yet in a manner which relieves the prosecutor from climbing into the psyche of the defendant and taking on the defendant’s expertise and knowledge  to prove a fault element beyond a reasonable doubt. With strict liability, the prosecutor need only prove beyond a reasonable doubt the objective facts of the actus reusthus triggering the response from the defendant to show they acted duly diligently. Key to this form of liability is the inference drawn from the actus reus of prima facie proof of the fault element. It is in this half-way form of liability where the mens rea or fault element can be found in the actus reus, binding the two concepts together. It is no surprise then that the majority in Precision sees the need for proof of a mens rea type concept as part of the actus reus, where, based on statutory interpretation, the legislature specifically emphasized the need for it. Without such a finding, the phrase “reasonably practicable” would have little to no meaning. 

But does it have meaning on this reading? Or is it merely a euphemism for “show me the facts.” Is not the reality of the majority decision in Precision merely another way of putting the prosecutor on notice that, with this offence as it is worded, they cannot simply rely on the surface facts of an accident but must do their own “due diligence” by leading evidence of the circumstances surrounding the incident? 

Notably, the majority’s decision may parallel similar findings in careless driving prosecutions, where actus reus and mens rea elements are interconnected and provide mutual meaning. In a recent decision from the Ontario Court of Justice in R v Gareau2018 ONCJ 565, the Justice of the Peace considering the issue made insightful comments on the “unique nature” of the actus reus found in careless driving under the provincial legislation (para 48). JP McMahon correctly points to the essential actus reus component of the charge involving a failure to meet the standard of a reasonably prudent driver (see also R v Shergill[2016] OJ No 4294 (QL) at para13). Proving this, the JP opined, “easily leads to confusion” as negligence becomes part of the actus reus proof process (para 48). The “practical effect” of this, according to the JP, is that a defendant will be acquitted if the defendant is able to raise a reasonable doubt as to whether they were driving below the required standard. Raising a reasonable doubt is all that is needed as the standard of care forms part of the actus reus, which must be proven by the prosecutor beyond a reasonable doubt. Raising a reasonable doubt, as suggested by the JP McMahon (at para 49), is an easier burden to meet than the standard of proof on a balance of probabilities, which is required for a due diligence defence (See R v Wholesale Travel Group Inc[1991] 3 SCR 154at pp 197–198 [Wholesale Travel]). The same can be said of the Precision decision by importing reasonableness into the actus reus, the enforcement mechanism weakens, bringing into question whether the objectives of regulatory regimes are being advanced.

As with all that is regulatory, the Precision decision engages a myriad of tough issues. So tough, in fact, that the court of appeal required further argument on a number of specific issues, which resulted in a divided court (at para 31). It is telling that this re-focus was required as the parties drifted back into the mens reaor due diligence tropes. As Gareau reminds us, looking at actus reus where a duty of care is involved is like looking into the fun house mirror that endlessly repeats the same image. Regulatory mind tricks aside, the issues in Precision span the legal repertoire with concerns involving the viability of long-held legal principles, application of the rules of statutory interpretation, proof and procedural requirements. All of this, of course, is in the context of promoting the pressing and desired societal objective of ensuring a safe and healthy workplace environment. 

Regulation of legitimate activities is a sign of good government and is at the core of our democratic ideal. Of course, there is room for a robust debate on the quantity of regulation needed. Naysayers tend to depict a “nanny state” where our lives are burdened with rules, while those in favour look to the benefits of regulation as providing incentives or nudges to individuals to make those safe and healthy life choices. Whichever side one takes, we all agree that, particularly in the workplace regulation is needed and the proper incentives to comply, considering the potential harm, must be vigorously enforced. Precision presents a situation, however, that is all too familiar in the regulatory field: when it comes down to the mechanics of enforcement, who is in the best position to bear the burden of proof and cost? More important is the question of which approach will promote the objective of providing the right kind of incentive without severely impacting the real economic benefits of such activities.

The added difficulty, as exposed in Precision, is the reality of the regulatory regime. In the regulatory world, there are no clear edges of the criminal law; rather, there are blurred signposts where the law is part criminal, through the application of criminal law concepts and terminology, and part civil law, as the conduct complained of are not true crimes like murder or theft but engages what we would consider legitimate activities. We want to promote those activities, but we also want to ensure these legitimate activities are performed mindfully, to use a new age term. Mindfulness means we need to recognize we are part of a collective of individuals all doing our own thing but doing it in the same space as one another. We want to be sure people conduct themselves with the other person in mind; when we mow our lawn, when we smoke a cigarette, and when we work, for example. Work, play, and leisure time is not, therefore, truly our own. Underlying this is our drive toward the market economy as we want to incentivize people and corporate entities to strive for innovation and production. In criminal law terms, this is foreign; we want to incentivize people to make the right choices, but we do not concern ourselves with how they make them, as long as they are within the boundaries our criminal law has set for them. Does it therefore make sense — common sense — to impose on the regulatory world criminal-like requirements when the two worlds, criminal and regulatory, are objectively and subjectively not the same?

As recognized by the Supreme Court in a number of decisions (See e.g., Beaver v The Queen[1957] SCR 531, Sault Ste Marie, and Wholesale Travel), there are fundamental differences between the criminal justice system and regulatory regimes. Justice Cory in Wholesale Travel succinctly described those differences: “criminal offences are usually designed to condemn and punish past, inherently wrongful conduct, regulatory measures are generally directed to the prevention of future harm through the enforcement of minimum standards of conduct and care” (at p 219). Thus, the two systems are different yet, “complementary” (La Souveraineat para 90). Complementary does not mean one system eclipses the other. Complementary suggests one needs the other. Criminal law underlines our fundamental values and collectively speaks out when egregious wrongs are committed. Regulatory law safeguards the public interest and creates a safe place for us to live. We need both. It is therefore, as suggested by Justice Wagner in La Souveraine “essential not to lose sight of the basic differences between the two systems and, as a result, to weaken the application of one by distorting the application of the other” (at para 90). In the context of Precision, this caution can be applied to the fallacy of reading into the regulatory field the ill-suited rigidly defined criminal law concepts. For in the regulatory regime the individual rights paradigm is not paramount. Rather, the public good is supreme.

What will be the fallout from this decision? Certainly, prosecutors will be mindful of their proof and particularization obligations under the pertinent sections of OHSA. The exact phrase, “as far as it is reasonably practicable for the employer to do so” is integral to this legislation and the previous iterations of this section. Yet, a CanLII search reveals 561 legislative references to the phrase “reasonably practicable” in many occupational health and safety regulations across the country, covering everything from length of ladders (See s. 9 of the Federal Canada – Nova Scotia Offshore Marine Installations and Structures Occupational Health and Safety Transitional Regulations, SOR/2015-2) to general duties of employers in Saskatchewan (See s. 3 of The Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Act, 2012, SS 2012 c 25). This decision reaches far and will reverberate in the workplace and the many “textbook” examples of public welfare legislation (Precision at 46), where a duty of care is required. It may also prove to be the Supreme Court decision which will precisely describe the constituent elements of a regulatory offence. This, we hope, will not be done in criminal law terms but in a manner befitting the objectives of our regulatory regimes.

A Fine Balance: Sentencing Suter in the Supreme Court of Canada (Cross posted from ABlawg @ https://ablawg.ca/2018/07/19/a-fine-balance-sentencing-suter-in-the-supreme-court-of-canada/)

Sentencing, Chief Justice Lamer tells us in R v M (CA), 1996 CanLII 230,[1996] 1 SCR 500, atparagraph 91, is “a delicate art which attempts to balance carefully the societal goals of sentencing against the moral blameworthiness of the offender and the circumstances of the offence, while at all times taking into account the needs and current conditions of and in the community.” This sentiment neatly encapsulates all that is sentencing: an ephemeral yet earthy task in which the sentencing judge envelopes themself in a venture engaging both heart and mind. It is a “delicate” process, not heavy-handed, which requires a deft understanding of the human condition within the clarity of legal rules and principles. It is an art, not a science, meaning it is not a base computation or a tallying up of factors given pre-determined weight. Art also suggests artistic freedom and the discretionary nature we nurture in the sentencing process. But it is a determination statutorily mandated with well-defined rules and principles. There is wriggle room but just as we must stay within our lanes while driving, the sentencing judge must not over-correct or act erratically in imposing sentence. There are parameters. Some are, as indicated, statutory, as the “sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender” (s. 718.1of the Criminal Code). Other parameters arise from the profound sense of community that envelopes us when a fellow member breaks our laws – the laws that reflect our fundamental values. We feel the impact of rule-breakers, but we also feel their angst. We all know, to some degree, we too could be similarly situated, both as victim or offender. It is at this tipping point where the sentencing judge’s task becomes even more delicate as it searches for the fair and just balancing of all which is required to impose a fit and appropriate sentence tailored to the circumstances of the offence and the background of the offender. It is this delicate or fine balancing which is at the core of the myriad of issues arising in the newest Supreme Court sentencing decision in R v Suter2018 SCC 34

True to Justice Moldaver’s view, writing on behalf of the majority in Suter, that sentencing is a “highly individualized process” (para 4), the facts in Suterare highly unusual and particularly tragic. Mr. Suter entered a plea of guilty to a charge of failing or refusing to comply with a demand to provide a breath sample pursuant to s. 254(5) of the Criminal Code. A young child was killed when the vehicle Mr. Suter was operating crashed into a restaurant’s outdoor patio where the child and his family were enjoying a family meal. As a death occurred, the maximum punishment for the refusal to provide a breath sample was increased to life imprisonment under s. 255(3.2). However, the sentencing judge accepted Mr. Suter was not impaired by alcohol at the time of the incident. Indeed, the events leading to the incident involved a highly charged emotional event in which Mr. Suter and his spouse were arguing in the vehicle. Moreover, Mr. Suter’s refusal to provide a breath sample occurred after he received, incorrectly, legal advice to refuse. The fatality was widely publicized and Mr. Suter was a victim of a disturbing and brutal form of vigilante justice (paras 1-3). 

With this unique and troubling fact situation, the sentencing judge crafted a sentence seemingly far below the norm for the offence by imposing a term of four months incarceration with a 30-month driving prohibition. The Crown appealed the sentence to the Alberta Court of Appeal resulting in a substantial increase to the sentence to 26 months incarceration. Leave to appeal to the Supreme Court was granted. Unusually, the majority of the Supreme Court found both the sentencing judge and the court of appeal were in error (paras 5-6), resulting in the Supreme Court re-sentencing Suter (para 5). In the majority’s view, a term of 15 to 18 months incarceration was appropriate (para 103). However, as re-incarceration would cause undue hardship, it was “in the interests of justice” to impose a sentence of time served, amounting to 10 and a half months incarceration (para 103). The sole dissent of Mr. Justice Gascon found the sentencing judge imposed a fit and appropriate sentence and committed no error in law (para 109). He too allowed the appeal in part but restored the original sentence. Both the majority and the dissent upheld the sentencing judge’s imposition of a 30-month driving prohibition (paras 24, 104 & 202). 

With these facts firmly in mind, the issues arising in the case are as unique as the facts and the ultimate outcome. The issues do not arise from the facts but flow from them. There is a difference. In appellate advocacy, the appellate lawyer combs through the reasons, issue spotting and identifying arguable points based on knowledge of the types of appellate issues, which regularly arise in an appeal. For instance, are there grounds for an unreasonable verdict? Did the trial judge reverse the burden of proof in convicting the offender? These are just a couple examples of the specific appellate issues arising from a case. This is not to say that there may not be identifiable non-appellate type issues, such as errors involving substantive elements of an offence, but again those too would be easily spotted and seen to be arising from the facts. In a parallel manner, the appellate decisions based on these grounds swing from one issue to the next. Uniquely, in Suter, the issues flow and are not uniquely identifiable. There is no issue spotting as the legal issues move steadily and continuously resulting in the sensation that the Supreme Court’s treatment of this appeal flow. 

On this basis, setting out the myriad swirling of issues flowing from this decision is no easy task. Identification is also encumbered by the presence of a vocal dissent. In any event, on a meta-view of the decision, the first bundle of issues directly flow from the sentencing of Mr. Suter. One such point of discussion is on the use of vigilante justice, also characterized as a collateral consequence, as a mitigating factor in the sentencing balancing exercise. In Suter, the sentencing judge relied upon the incident in mitigation of sentence while the Court of Appeal found the judge erred in doing so. Both the majority and dissent in Suter agree that vigilante justice, as a non-state collateral consequence, was a mitigating factor to be balanced with all other considerations in arriving at a fit sentence. Justice Moldaver, however, restricted the use of such a collateral consequence to prevent “legitimizing” such illegal behaviour by accepting it as part of a legitimate legal process (para 58). Justice Gascon found the sentencing judge properly balanced the incident in arriving at a fit and appropriate sentence (paras 105, 109, 113-114 & 150).

The issue of the effect of Suter’s quasi-mistake of law can also be identified in this first sequence. I use the descriptor ‘quasi,’ meaning in this context, “apparently but not really” not for pejorative reasons but to emphasize what is at the root of the different world views between the majority and the dissent on this point of law. Neither Justice Moldaver nor Justice Gascon clearly and cogently describe what mistake of law truly is in legal terms. To be sure they discuss around the concept and drop hints, some large hints, of what their working definitions are but the reader is never entirely certain from where each position is starting. Without knowing the legal principles around this legal construct, it is the justification for the ultimate conclusion that becomes the legal construction of mistake of law. This serves to reinforce the feeling that this decision flows in a non-traditional legal judgment manner. Instead of starting with what mistake of law is in legal terms, involving academic scholarship (Glanville Williams comes to mind) and case law (mistake of law versus mistake of fact, colour of right and officially induced error have a large body of case law discussing the substantive issues) including a statutory analysis (s. 19, albeit there is a sparse discussion of this in the dissent), the Court presumes the principles and relies on the justification or their interpretation of whatever legal status they have given the term. Justice Gascon does come closer by challenging Justice Moldaver for this lack of a principled approach (para 125) but does nothing concrete to reverse the time machine and go back to the essentials of what mistake of law is in light of legal principles (paras 125 to 128). Instead, Justice Gascon fashions a template of his own in paragraph 128, in which he creates a sliding scale of blameworthiness based on a range of knowledge that could be attributed to Suter. Thus, the case authority discussion is derailed by the Court not focussing on the issues and instead allowing their decision to be pulled by the current of reasoning, justification, and the issue-spotting of errors found in one another’s reasons. 

Context is one reason why neither the majority nor the dissent gives clear direction on the mistake of law. This mistake of law, based in Suter’s reliance on bad legal advice to not provide a breath sample, is only notionally acting as a defence in order to provide mitigation of sentence. It is not acting as a defence per se. The slurring of the legal meaning of mistake of law is understandable considering the focus is not on the mistake, as operating as a defence impacting guilt or innocence, but as a mitigating factor on sentence to be balanced with all of the other sentencing considerations. Unfortunately, by not approaching the issue in a principled fashion, by allowing the reasoning to be the de facto substitute for those principles, we are never clear as to when and how mistake of law can be used on sentencing generally. The Supreme Court, as the final arbiter of all that is law in Canada, has not given us rules to live by or even rules to apply. 

The analysis of the mistake of law issue is an important one as it provides the dominant mitigating factor on sentence. Without a clear indication of the basis of this mitigation, the balancing is tainted, and the sentence imposed is rendered unfit. Using incomplete defences, which would not amount to a full defence to the charge, in mitigation of sentence is appropriate. This was not disputed in Suter (para 64 of majority judgment and para 125 of dissent and see dissent of Justice Gonthier in R v Pontes1995 CanLII 61 (SCC), [1995] 3 S.C.R. 44 at paras 75 and 87 and the Court in R v Stone,1999 CanLII 688, [1999] 2 SCR 290). The twist in Suteris the general unavailability of mistake of law as a defence unless it falls, as discussed below, within an exception such as mistake of mixed law and fact, colour of right and officially induced error. Again, without knowing the premise of the mistake, in law, we are unsure if the mistake is being used at sentencing as a defence that could not be proven at trial or as a defence unavailable at trial.

There is glancing discussion by Justice Gascon on s.19 of the Code which sets out the admonition that ignorance of the law is no excuse (para 127). There is, however, no discussion of when a mistake of law can be a defence such as when it is a matter of mixed fact and law (see R v Manuel2008 BCCA 143 at paras 16 and 17), a colour of right (see Justice Moldaver’s decision in R v Simpson2015 SCC 40, [2015] 2 SCR 827), or officially induced error such as in Lévis (City) v. Tétreault2006 SCC 12 , [2006] 1 SCR 420. Not referencing the Lévis decision is a surprise as it is that decision in which the Supreme Court outlines the very strict requirements for the defence of officially induced error, a defence traditionally only applicable in regulatory matters. A reliance on another person for knowledge of the law seems to fit squarely within the Suter form of mistake of law. Yet, there is no discussion in Suter of this point. We do not know under what form of mistake of law the Court is considering. Is it officially induced error as Justice Gascon seems to be suggesting or is it an honest but mistaken belief in law? Is the issue a mixed law and fact, permitting a defence? Or is it a question of scope and interpretation of the law, which is a feature of mistake of law? Does it even matter if the defence is available in law or not or what it may consist of if we are in the sentencing hearing stage where the procedural and evidential standards are relaxed? These and many questions are simply left out of this decision to be filled in by speculation.  Again, there are hints to their approach as the issue of the lawyer’s incorrect advice and the reliance on it is a point of discussion and disagreement. 

To be sure, duty counsel or Brydges lawyer (referring to R v Brydges1990 CanLII 123,[1990] 1 SCR 190, in which the Supreme Court found the state must provide an accused access to a lawyer upon arrest to comply with s.10(b) right to counsel under the Charter) does not, according to case law, fulfil the Lévisrequirement that the official who gives the legal advice be a government official authorized to speak on the issue. In R v Pea, 2008 CanLII 89824(ON CA) and R v Beierl2010 ONCA 697duty counsel was not considered an official for purposes of the defence. This point, seemingly at issue in an officially induced error scenario, was not discussed in Suter just as the defence itself was not directly raised.

Also, not fully discussed is the Pontesdecision, referenced earlier in this post, in which Justice Gonthier, for the dissent, enters into a principled discussion of the operation of s. 19 of the Codeand thoroughly discusses instances where a mistake of law may be a defence to a strict liability offence (paras 71 to 80). Although Pontesis decided in the context of regulatory offences, Justice Gonthier considers an earlier Supreme Court decision in R v Docherty, 1989 CanLII 45 (SCC), [1989] 2 S.C.R. 941, on the required elements of the then Criminal Code offence of wilfully failing or refusing to comply with a probation order. In his analysis in paragraph 75 of Pontes, Justice Gonthier relies on Docherty for the contention that ignorance of the law may provide an excuse where knowledge of the law is part of the mens reaof the offence. The evidence of an accused’s lack of knowledge of the legality of the breach would negate a “wilful” failure or refusal to comply. There is no discussion in Suter on the mens rea required for the offence for which Suter entered a plea and subsequently this aspect was not raised.

There is another telling dimension to the mistake of law approach. Throughout the dissent, Justice Gascon calls the offence “administrative” (paras 107, 172, 181, 183, and 201) signalling his belief the offence is more akin to a regulatory matter. This characterization renders the mistake of law defence even more applicable based on its broader usage in the prosecution of regulatory matters where knowledge of a large body of regulation is difficult. Yet, the Suter offence is in the criminal code and is not regulatory. To characterize this offence as administrative in nature deflects the issue away from the reason behind the offence not just as an incentive to assist police in the investigation of impaired driving crimes but to provide a disincentive to refuse to do so in order to escape criminal or civil liability. Courts have characterized this offence in a similar way (see R v Seip,2017 BCCA 54 at para 36).

This result-oriented perspective occurs to such an extent in Suter that we are not even sure to what standard of proof the mistake of law must be proven for the mistake to be considered in sentencing. This missing piece acts to magnify the differences between the majority and dissent. Justice Moldaver enters into a discussion of Suter’s sincere and honest belief in the mistake (paras 62-70) akin to a mistaken but honest belief assessment needed for the defence of mistake of fact. Conversely, Justice Gonthier focuses on the bad legal advice, without which, Suter would not be in court, making Suter’s “moral blameworthiness ... infinitesimal” (para 174). No one meaningfully articulates the commonalties, other than mistake can be considered on sentence. It is as if the Court is working backward from the sentence to the mistake itself. This backward glance is the source of friction between the two decisions and is most readily apparent in their perception of the importance of the legal advice on the mistake.

This framing of the so-called mistake of law scenario leads into the very different perspective on the bad legal advice given to Mr. Suter. Justice Moldaver pins the mistake of law on Suter in terms of his belief of what the law required. In the majority’s construction of legal rights and responsibilities, it is the individual and their personal choices that control the effect of the law. Justice Moldaver takes a hard-line in finding a paucity of evidence on the true substance of the legal advice given and counters that absence of evidence with the presence of the police officer, who fulfills his Charter duty by cautioning Suter to provide a sample or face the consequences of a criminal charge. To take this position in the context of a sentencing hearing, where evidential and procedural rules are relaxed (see R v Lévesque2000 SCC 47, [2000] 2 SCR 487) shows a clear desire to minimize the impact of the mistake, in whatever form it is in.  

Justice Gascon pins the mistake on the duty counsel lawyer and then frames Suter’s duties within a Charter framework. The dissent leans on the Charter as an explanation for why Suter was acting under a mistake of law relying on Charter protections not as stand-alone arguments where rights are breached but to provide the basis for inferences as to why people choose to do what they do. Thus, Suter’s failure to blow, despite the police officer’s dire warning that a failure will result in a criminal charge, is waved away by Justice Gascon as a reasonable response of an accused to information from an agent of the state – the very agent who is attempting to build evidence against him. This emphasis on the state as the bad actor so to speak builds a much different narrative than the majority. It also fails to acknowledge some case authorities that have tackled the issue of officially induced error where the police caution to provide a sample is confusing (see R v Humble2010 ONSC 2995). Again, we are on uncertain ground by not knowing what the mistake of law is predicated on and who the “authorized” officials are in the scenario. The Suter decision is directionless on this and yet the appeal provided a perfect opportunity to provide clarity on these issues, despite the uniqueness of the fact situation. 

Nestled within these correlated issues and directly arising from the sentencing hearing, flows the discussion on the application of the 2015 Supreme Court decision on sentencing principles, R v Lacasse2015 SCC 64, [2015] 3 SCR 1089. Where Suter is set in a unique factual circumstance, Lacasse involves the all too often scenario of impaired driving causing death. There is, sadly, nothing unique about the facts there. Indeed, the Lacassedecision is broadly based and serves to clarify general sentencing principles and the role of the appellate courts in considering a sentence appeal. Suter, while applying Lacasse, resurrects some of those self-same issues. Notably, Justice Gascon dissented with the then Chief Justice McLachlin, giving Sutera déjà vu flavour. Some might even say based on Justice Gascon’s dissent, that far from applying Lacasse, the Court in Suteris doing just what Lacasse attempted to avoid – the “tinkering” of the quantum of sentences at the appellate level. In Suter, as in Lacasse, moral culpability, proportionality and gravity of the offence drive the foundational underpinnings of the decision.

The next issue, flowing from the first two, involves the larger discussion on the role of the Supreme Court in sentencing appeals – not just appellate courts – but as the court of final appeal. This is not just a purely jurisdictional discussion as found in R v Gardiner1982 CanLII 30 (SCC),[1982] 2 SCR 368, and as distilled by Chief Justice Lamer in paragraph 33 of the M(CA)decision. This is a complex interplay between the roles of trial courts versus appellate courts in determining fitness of sentence that flows beyond jurisdiction. Appellate intervention is hierarchical yet infused with deference. Deference to the trial judge is a continual appellate theme, as it symbolizes the core of our common law justice system. This is a system where judicial parameters are laid down in principle but not rigidly adhered to. There is, as mentioned at the start of this post, wriggle room for the judges to apply their own common sense and discretion, based naturally in law so as not to be unreasonable or erratic. It flows from judicial independence and from a desire to inject into the process a good dose of humanity in the form of equity. 

Deference to the trial judge in Suter becomes not just an issue arising from the appeal but becomes a tool used by the dissent of Justice Gascon (paras 161 – 178). For Justice Gascon, the majority becomes a court of first instance as they exercise their own discretion, wielded through their own judicial lens by sentencing the accused ab initio. All of this, to Justice Gascon’s chagrin, to ‘tinker’ with the sentencing judge’s perfectly principled original sentence. Justice Gascon goes so far as to ‘call out’ Justice Moldaver for obfuscating the real reason for the increased sentence imposed by the majority as a pandering to the public/government’s tough on crime agenda, particularly in the area of impaired driving (para 159). This deference is hard won as Justice Gascon himself admits that he would have “personally ... weighed the gravity of the offence more heavily than the sentencing judge” (para 170). His challenge to the majority is a clear indication that the court is divided philosophically, politically and legally. Deference in Suter becomes not just trial judge deference but deference to the Rule of Law, to the independence of the courts and to each other.

Indeed, Justice Moldaver commences his reasons by applying an earlier Supreme Court case, R v Mian2014 SCC 54, [2014] 2 SCR 689, on the scope of appellate review (see my earlier blog posting on the issue on my ideablawg website). Mian raises the spectre of a reasonable apprehension of bias at the appellate level when the appellate court raises issues not identified by appellate counsel. In Mian, it is not so much the raising of the new issue which is problematic but raising the issue without giving counsel the ability to respond. In Justice Moldaver’s view this opportunity was given in Suter

But flowing from the Mian concern is the additional problem or error of the court of appeal in sentencing Suter for offences of which he was not charged (paras 35 to 44). The procedural concept of an appellate court raising new issues on its own motion becomes an error in law as the court of appeal created a “novel and confusing” form of impairment “by distraction” akin to a careless driving or dangerous driving delict (para 38). According to Justice Moldaver, by doing so, the court of appeal was “circumventing the sentencing judge’s finding that this accident was simply the result of “non-impaired driving error” (para 38). Again, deference to the trial judge re-appears, as finding of facts is the province of the trial judge, who lived and breathed the evidence, not the appellate court, who merely reads it. This is particularly important in sentencing as a sentencing judge can sentence an accused on uncharged offences arising from the facts, but those aggravating features must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt (see R v Angelillo,2006 SCC 55, [2006] 2 SCR 728). There is a further concern with this position as it reflects on Justice Gascon’s concern with the majority’s decision to re-sentence Suter. Sentencing as an art is a collage of facts and principle where the emotional content of the accused’s background and the gravity of the offence colour the decision-making. Who better to do this than the original sentencing judge.

Indeed, who better? Briefly looking at previous sentence appeals decided at the Supreme Court level, the re-sentencing of Suter is unique. The Court may remit the matter back to the trial judge for imposition of sentence where the Court enters a conviction overturning an acquittal (see for example R v Bradshaw, [1976] 1 SCR 162,1975 CanLII 19 (SCC)Rv Audet, [1996] 2 SCR 171, 1996 CanLII 198 (SCC),and R v Ewanchuk, [1999] 1 SCR 330, 1999 CanLII 711(SCC)). The Court may also remit the matter to the lower appellate court for re-consideration pursuant to that court’s power under s. 687 of the Criminal Code to vary the sentence imposed (see for example Lowry et al v R, [1974] SCR 195, 1972 CanLII 171 (SCC)and R v Loyer et al, [1978] 2 SCR 631, 1978 CanLII 194 (SCC)where the Supreme Court ordered the matter back to the court of appeal to pass a new sentence upon hearing of sentencing submissions by counsel at page 204). Rarely does the Supreme Court re-sentence an Appellant but never before has the Court found both the trial judge and the court of appeal to be in error in the fitness of sentence imposed (according to my Canlii database search). The Supreme Court has no direct statutory authority to impose sentence as in the case of a provincial court of appeal. 

Although re-sentencing in toto has not happened previously, the Supreme Court has adjusted a sentence. For instance, in R v Morrisey[2000] 2 SCR 90, the Court varied the sentence to properly account for pretrial custody. Also, the Court has adjusted a sentenceto bring it into conformity with a joint submission on sentence such as in R v Anthony-Cook,2016 SCC 43, [2016] 2 S.C.R. 204. Prior to Suter, the closest the Court came to imposing a sentence is in R v Middleton,2009 SCC 21, [2009] 1 SCR 674, where Justice Cromwell, dissenting in part, found the sentence to be illegal but refrained from deciding what sentence he would impose considering the outcome of the appeal per the majority’s decision (see paras 112 -113).

Justice Gascon, to put it mildly, did not approve of this re-sentencing. As mentioned earlier, he found the new sentence imposed by the majority to be effectively a non-sentence as it amounted to time served. Consistent with this view, Justice Gascon labelled the majority’s decision as a “stay” of the sentence (para 158). The Supreme Court has stayed the passing of sentence in previous appeals but not in conjunction with re-sentencing, such as in Suter, where the Court actually applies sentencing principles and balances the required considerations to arrive at an actual sentence quantum. In R v LFW2000 SCC 6, [2000] 1 SCR132 for example, the Court found the conditional sentence was inappropriate and a term of incarceration was required. The then Chief Justice Lamer stayed the passing of that imprisonment as the offender had completed the conditional sentence and it would be “very difficult” for the sentencing judge to re-sentence (para 32). In another decision, the Court restored but stayed a conditional sentence order where the offender had already served the period of incarceration ordered by the court of appeal (see R v RNS2000 SCC 7,[2000] 1 SCR 149). Suteralso differs from R v Fice, [2005] 1 SCR 742, 2005 SCC 32 (CanLII), where the Supreme Court found the court of appeal erred in upholding an illegal conditional sentence order but stayed what would otherwise be a penitentiary sentence. The Court in Ficedid not enter into a sentencing assessment and the stay appeared to be with consent of all parties (para 46).

It should also be noted that the concept of imposing time served on a sentence appeal even if a longer sentence was appropriate is not unusual. Provincial appellate courts of appeal regularly take into account whether it would be in the interests of justice to re-incarcerate the Appellant when a sentence appeal is allowed (see R v Reddick1977 ALTASCAD 199 (CanLII)at para 4; R v Mann1995 CanLII 321 (ON CA)and R v Maxwell-Smith2013 YKCA 12(CanLII) at para 21). What is unusual is the fact that it is the Supreme Court doing it. Justice Moldaver, who sat as a trial judge and as a court of appeal justice, is very familiar with sentence appeals and the pragmatic outcomes needed. We see in Sutera clear division along the lines of practical realism on one hand and principled rule-based approaches. 

The last set of issues flow from the previous ones as we read between the lines of this judgment. Such a close reading reveals both this Court’s approach to criminal law and the sense of discordant approaches within the Court itself. Examples of this can be seen in the majority and dissent positioning around mistake of law and deference. It is also viscerally read in the tone and approach of Justice Gascon’s dissent with a specific part dedicated to pulling apart the majority’s position to the point of parsing in all of its minutiae the majority’s reasoning (paras 156 – 159). This dissection reminds me of the Supreme Court’s own caution not to cherry-pick or parse a trial judge’s reasons but to view the whole of the reasons in determining whether an error was occasioned and if there is an error, the significance of it (I discuss this more thoroughly in a soon to be published paper in the Manitoba Law Journal entitled The W(D) Revolution). Justice Gascon’s dissent shows this is easier said than done.  

This extensive point by point response to the majority and even the majority’s anticipatory responses to the dissent belie a tension hitherto not seen to such a degree in the Supreme Court. Even in the heady days of the Nineteen- Nineties when the court was fractured, there was a sense the Court was still attempting to talk to us, the legal community, albeit disparately, about the legal principles. Suter feels different. In Suter the judges are airing their laundry so to speak and speaking as they probably do behind closed doors where they engage in no doubt vigorous debate about the issues. Is this the transparency Chief Justice Wagner is encouraging from the Court? Or, as parts of this judgment feel, is this exclusionary as the legal community becomes the child in the room who can sense the tension from the parental tone of voice but cannot understand the meaning of the words? In some ways we are not privy to the deeper discordance that may lay behind this judgment – perhaps the differences between principal and pragmatism, which seems to permeate this judgment.

This leads us finally to a discussion of not what lies between the lines but how those lines are written and the judgment as a unique literary device that may challenge our idea of how the law is not only decided but also represented in Canadian case law. I mentioned this earlier, but the judgment reads as a discourse in which the majority and dissent write for themselves and between themselves. This may suggest an American approach where the SCOTUS render opinions, not judgments, and as such tend to be opinionated in their approach by consistently responding to one another either directly in the opinions or through footnotes. Whether Suter signals a change in writing style and approach will be a matter of record as this newly minted Wagner court renders decisions on decisive issues. 

This decision is important. It discusses novel issues in a novel way. It exhibits an approach from the Supreme Court which we have not seen before. It impacts an area of criminal law in much need of legal discussion considering much of what a trial judge does in criminal law focuses on the criminal sanction. But the Suter decisionis wanting as it leaves us wanting more. Sentencing is a delicate art and requires a fine balance between oft opposing principles. So too, a Supreme Court judgment requires that self-same balance to help us navigate our clients through the legal maze. Although Suter fails to achieve this balance, it does leave a legacy of the further work which needs to be done by the legal community 

DISPENSING SPEEDY JUSTICE: THE SUPREME COURT OF CANADA & DECISIONS FROM THE BENCH

Recently, I was asked to comment on the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision on R v Stephan2018 SCC 21. The decision, given from the Bench immediately after the argument of the appeal, took many media outlets by surprise. The media, and to a large extent, lawyers, are not accustomed to speedy decision-making from the Supreme Court. We collectively expect the Court to reserve judgment and then, after months of diligent research and writing, the Court issues an unassuming missive that the judgment will be rendered on X date at Y time. I have often waited at my computer close to the appointed hour in order to immerse myself in the expectation of a new judgment release. For instance, I eagerly awaited the release of R v Marakah[2017] 2 SCR 608 and R v Jones[2017] 2 SCR 696, at 9:45 a.m. ESTto be first in line to the lines of decision-making, which would, we all hoped, reveal the answers to the perplexing issues raised by the s. 8 issues surrounding the seizure of text messages found on a 3rdparty’s smart phone. True, the Supreme Court could disappoint as reality often does not live up to expectations. But at least we had 200 paragraphs on which to mull over how we should have or ought to have known better. So, when the Stephandecision was rendered so quickly, I began to wonder if this was a trend on the part of the Supremes or whether it was merely my own biases coming into play. I was determined, therefore, to see if in fact the Supreme Court is rendering from the Bench more often than in the past and if so, why.

First, I need to reveal my bias. This bias is based on a self-made presumption on the differing roles of a trial court and an appellate court and on the hierarchal stature of those courts as ingrained into me through law school and legal practice. The baggage I come with is this: that trial courts are a messy affair where the hubbub of provincial court requires speed over judicial consideration in contrast with the quiet decorum of the sparsely populated appellate courts filled with robes and lacking in lay observers. This perception of justice is overlaid with a leap in logic that in retrospect may be an improper inference: that the noisy and boisterous trial court, which dispenses speedy justice is not engaging the law writ big but is merely applying the law given to it by the bigwigs. This kind of decision making doesn’t take long does it? The idea of a reserve in the trial courts is not as welcome as in the appellate arena as it spells unconscionable delay for a client with the charge hanging over her head or, even worse, it has some ominous meaning which cannot possibly result in a good outcome. But, the appellate courts, struggling with the law, now they should take their time to render a true and just decision. We want them to read, contemplate, to hear and consider and then to write so we can all take it in. Of course, we have the hybrid superior court where the pace is less frenetic and more scholarly – we will except somedelay there but only for trial matters, applications and such must be dealt with summarily.

As outlined, this bias may result in the impermissible inference that what happens in provincial court doesn’t matter but what happens in the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court must matter because, well, they take so long. Or do they? After the release of Stephan,I was determined to find out. 

I started with an analysis of 2018 from January 1 to May 21. There are 12 criminal law judgments rendered by the Supreme Court with 8 of those decisions given from the Bench, orally, immediately after the hearing of the appeal. Out of those 8 oral decisions, 3 of the appeals (R v GTD,2018 SCC 7R v Black2018 SCC 10,  R v Stephan2018 SCC 21) are allowed resulting in new trials. Two of 3 appeals allowed are from the Court of Appeal of Alberta. 

A Bench decision, does not mean unanimity; 3 of the 8 decisions have dissenting positions from one member of the panel (R v GTD,2018 SCC 7with Chief Justice dissenting, RA v Her MajestyThe Queen2018 SCC 13with Justice Gascon dissenting, R v Cain2018 SCC 20with Justice Côtédissenting). Seven of the 8 Bench decisions, are from appeals as of right, as appeals, not requiring leave, on a question of law arising from a dissent in the lower appellate court.  Only 1 decision R v Seipp2018 SCC 1, was a dismissal after receiving leave to appeal. On the civil side, there are 10 judgments released thus far this year with only 1 judgment dismissing the appeal from the Bench but with a dissenting decision (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 773 v. Lawrence2018 SCC 11). Of note, 1 of the judgments released with reasons, R v Magoon2018 SCC14, was an appeal heard and dismissed, with the co-accused’s appeal R v Jordan2017 CanLII 80438on November 27, 2017, but with an indication by the Court that reasons would follow.

As an aside, of the 4 criminal appeals with written reasons, 2 cases are from the Court of Appeal of Alberta. In R v Canadian Broadcasting Corp., theCourt considered whether the CBC must delete publicly accessible information on a case for which a publication ban was issued after the publishing of that information. The Supreme Court allowed the appeal, unanimously reversing the majority decision of the Court of Appeal and upheld the decision of the chambers judge who dismissed an application for a mandatory interlocutory injunction to order the deletion of the information. The other written decision, is the previously mentioned R v Magoon, which was dismissed unanimously. Of the 12 decisions rendered on criminal cases this year, half of those are from the Court of Appeal of Alberta. 

What does all of this mean? At first blush, there appears to generally be a large number of appeals going to the Supreme Court from Alberta. The reason for this is due to s. 691, which gives an offender the right to appeal to the Supreme Court on a question of law where a judge of the court of appeal dissents. Four of the 8 oral judgments are from Alberta as appeals as of right under s. 691(1)(a) based on a dissenting decision on a question of law. The other 3 as of right appeals with an oral decision are from the Ontario (with 2 cases) and Nova Scotia appellate courts. What we can infer from this that there are a large number of dissenting decisions, on a question of law, from the Court of Appeal of Alberta. This can then lead to an inference that this higher number of dissenting decisions in Alberta are leading to a larger criminal case load in the Supreme Court. As the majority of the appeals are as of right and are not heard on the basis of leave involving issues of national importance or due to conflicting decisions from province to province, they do not engage the deep analysis needed from the Supreme Court as the final court of appeal. 

This propensity to deal with the higher caseload by rendering immediate decisions from the Bench, may also however be directly connected to a new cultural shift in the post-Jordanera. The Supreme Court must administer their court, as they admonished the lower courts to do, efficiently and effectively. Timeliness is a key feature of the s. 11(b)unreasonable delay decisions of R v Jordan, [2016] 1 SCR 631and R v Cody[2017] 1 SCR 659and that timeliness depends upon the administration of justice and court management. In many ways, the Supreme Court by setting an example of a hard-working court who reviews written material in advance, who is able to retire after hearing argument to make a final determination on legal issues, is signalling to the lower courts, including the appellate courts, that efficiencies can be found. 

In an effort, therefore to dispose of the volume of appeals, heard as of right, in a timely manner, the Supreme Court is dispensing their decisions on these cases more readily from the Bench. In so doing, they are essentially choosing “sides” by indicating whether they substantially agree with the majority or the dissent. They are, however, not only leaning on the lower court decisions in these oral judgments, but are often adding brief oral reasons, highlighting the basis for their decisions. For instance, in the most recent decision of R v Stephan, the Court agreed with the dissent of Justice O’Ferrall but briefly particularized the basis of that agreement. More substantial oral reasons were given in R v GTD,2018 SCC 7, again from Alberta, but on the issue of a breach of the Appellant’s right to counsel under s. 10(b) of the Charterand whether the violation should result in the exclusion of the statement under s. 24(2). Here, the majority of the Supreme Court allowed the appeal against conviction and reversed the majority decision of the Court of Appeal of Alberta This was a significant decision as it found a right to counsel violation when the police officer fails to “hold off” in questioning the accused where the accused indicates a desire to exercise their right to speak to a lawyer. The statement in that case was given after the Appellant was read his right to counsel with an indication he wanted to exercise that right, but the officer immediately proceeded to ask if he had anything to say, a usual question asked at the end of the standard caution. This “standard” practice was not only a violation but one in which the Court found was serious enough to require the statement given to be excluded under s. 24(2). Although a brief oral judgment, this was an important one. 

However, this rush to judgment may not always be satisfactory. Although, R v GTDoral decision is clear enough, the oral reasons in the Stephancase seem to leave us wanting more. In that case, the Appellants were convicted by a jury of a failure to provide the necessaries of life to their young child under s. 215 of the Criminal Code. The majority of the Court of Appeal for Alberta found no error in the instructions to the jury, relying on the familiar case law tropes which urge appellate courts to view the so-called error in the context of the whole charge to the jury, to not be blinded by formulaic instructions but to look at content over form and to keep in mind that a jury charge need not be error free or “perfect” (paras 43 to 44, 86 to 87 & 105, 108 & 135). 

In contrast, the dissenting Justice O’Ferrall found much wrong and little right in the instructions to the jury. At paragraph 212, he calls the instructions on the essential elements of the offence “confusing, misleading, and deficient.” The charge was so “problematic” (para 212) that it gave the jury ‘little choice but to convict” (para 214). Specifically, Justice O’Ferrall commented on the failure of the trial judge to explain what would constitute a “failure” to provide the necessaries of life and whether that so-found “failure” would amount to an endangerment of the child’s life (paras 226 to 243). These concepts were key to proving the actus reus elements of the offence and needed clear and separate attention rather than the collapsed discussion of those elements offered to the jury. He also identified an error in the trial judge’s lack of explanation of the mens rearequirement of the offence, which required proof that the Appellants conduct was a marked departure from the standard of a reasonably prudent parent (paras 244 to 272). The trial judge failed to not only explain the meaning of the term but also failed to connect to that term the relevant trial evidence on the issue. 

The Supreme Court agreed with the dissent of Justice O’Ferrall by stating from the Bench in a decision given by Justice Moldaver, known as the ‘criminal law judge’ on the Court, that

In particular, we agree that the learned trial judge conflated the actus reus and mens rea of the offence and did not sufficiently explain the concept of marked departure in a way that the jury could understand and apply it.

Considering the issues raised by Justice O’Ferrall, this case would have benefited from a written decision on what the legal meaning of “failure” is in the context of s. 215 specifically but also generally in the context of offences that require an omission to act rather than a commission. Additionally, an analysis of the meaning of the term “marked departure” would further clarify an area of law, namely objective mens reaoffences, which calls out for clarity. Although the Supreme Court in R v Beatty, [2008] 1 SCR 49, went a long way in ending a decades long argument in the Supreme Court on what form of liability criminal negligence is (objective) and that no personal characteristics are imported to the reasonable person construct, it did not provide a meaningful description of what a marked departure, in reality, would be. The best Madam Justice Charron, speaking for the majority, could do was to articulate what “marked departure” was not. It is not a form of civil negligence. It is blameworthyconduct that amounts to penal negligence (para 6). That may help but whether that would in reality help a jury decide is another matter. 

In fact, I often explain “marked departure” in class spatially, showing the difference between being off the standard civilly and being off the standard markedly as a difference in space between my outstretched hands. That usually garners a giggle or two in the class, but there are more than giggles when I then demonstrate the “marked and substantial departure” standard for s. 219 offences. The laughter is often short-lived when the students struggle to articulate the differing standards on an exam. Even with an application of facts to the standard, which should assist in the discussion, the students feel a sense of vertigo when trying to apply the law to the facts. The Stephancase would have been a perfect opportunity for the Court to set things right and give those who must apply the law a meaningful standard on which to base their decisions. 

This brief foray into the 2018 bench decisions has revealed some interesting possibilities as to why lately there just seems to be so many oral decisions rendered from the Supreme Court bench. Those reasons may be procedural (appeals as of right), may be jurisdictional (large number of dissenting decisions from the Court of Appeal of Alberta), may be a push to become aligned with the post-Jordanera or may be a combination of all three. Certainly, there is a need to go further in this analysis to determine what 2017 looked like and whether this is the ‘new look’ of this new court now lead by a new Chief Justice. There is also a need to determine if this change did indeed happen after the release of Jordanor whether this a hiccup due to dissension in the Alberta appellate court. Whatever the true reason is, there will still be a need for the Supreme Court to act as the final arbiter of the law to give clarity in those areas where we need direction and to not just speak the words of justice but to dictate them as well.

 

Tracing the Likeness of Coulten Boushie in the Law Classroom (cross posted on Ablawg.ca)

On January 29, 2018, the nation’s gaze was decidedly fixed on Battleford, Saskatchewan where the second-degree murder trial of Gerald Stanley was commencing. From that first day of jury selection to the present, there is a general sense of shock, outrage and disbelief from so many corners of our country. In the legal community, there is much debate on the legal issues arising from the trial as well as concerns with jury selection and the presence of discriminatory practices that are embedded in our justice system. Many voices are being heard that are challenging the traditional common law perspective. Many of these voices are from the Indigenous community who are speaking from their heart and from their own personal experiences. As part of this reaction, the legal community is debating these issues through a variety of lenses and all sides of the issues. Like most everyone touched by this issue, I have read these accounts with interest. As a lawyer who practiced criminal law and now teaches it, my initial reaction is typically lawyerly: to parse the charge to the jury for legal errors, to debate the efficacy of peremptory challenges and to call for change in our justice system. But the overwhelming message, in my view, the message which needs to be presented in the law classroom is not just one promoting a legalistic analysis but one providing a broader more meaningful message presenting this case and this verdict as part of an overarching theme or subtext, which can be traced in the law classroom.

As mentioned, there are many salient legal arguments to be made in wake of the acquittal of Stanley for the murder of Colten Boushie. Most of those arguments are legalistic involving the law of homicide and the mens rea requirements for unlawful act manslaughter, the legal significance of the so-called “defence” of accident, opinion and expert evidence, instructions to the jury, and jury selection. But overlaid onto these legal arguments is the brutal truth – that our criminal justice system is slow to embrace the kind of change needed to make our justice system reflective of our Indigenous peoples. In fact, we have been meandering toward change in a very familiar and comfortable manner. To my case-law attuned mind comes the expression “incremental” change (i.e. R v Salituro, [1991] 3 SCR 654) as a description of how the justice system has responded to the dire issues raised by the Indigenous voices attempting to awaken the system. I cannot pretend to speak on behalf of those voices nor do I have the right to do so but I can through my own personal perspective add to this much needed call for change. To trace the likeness of this issue though the law classroom is an important piece of the awareness or awakening which needs to happen in our legal profession. We are the defenders of the rule of law but also the framers of that law and we need the future of our profession to be mindful of this awesome duty to create sustainable and meaningful change through law.

The trail must start somewhere, and I will choose to start it with a case which resonated with me as a young law student and then lawyer and still catches in my throat today: the story of Donald Marshall Jr., a young Mi’kmaq man wrongfully convicted of murder. His story was an egregious example of the miscarriage of justice our system could generate, and a shameful example of the discrimination and racism tolerated in that system. Out of that example came an acquittal, after years in prison, a royal commission advocating change, and a man who dedicated his life and voice to Indigenous rights. As inspirational as he is even a decade after his death in 2009, his example dates back to the 1980’s, some 35 years ago. His fight for traditional fishing rights culminated in a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1999 (R v Marshall, [1999] 3 SCR 456) in which he was vindicated yet again for breaches of the Fisheries Act but this time on behalf of his people. This story exemplifies the subtext that can be found within the borders of case law and between the words enunciated by a jury verdict.

But I do not need to go back that far to continue the trace or the shadow cast by the “long arm of the law.” When I taught as a sessional instructor human rights and civil liberties to undergraduate criminal justice students in the 2000’s, I was sure to discuss Burnt Church First Nation’s struggle with fishing rights, the Neil Stonechild tragic and unnecessary death, and the treatment and incarceration of Indigenous peoples in the prison system as seen through Michael Jackson QC’s perspective on prisoner’s rights, the Arbour Report on the Prison for Women and the numerous reports from the Correctional Investigator of Canada. Added to this narrative is the Truth and Reconciliation Report and the call to action for monumental change, not incremental change, needed to eradicate injustice in our system. This mountain of information is more than a discussion piece it is the reality of our criminal justice system.

But the Stanley trial and the implications of the case shakes me out of past legal narratives to the present and to the continuing issues we see within the criminal justice system. In the 1L classroom my criminal law colleagues and I implemented curriculum changes to include Aboriginal sentencing issues and a panel discussion to hear, understand and experience the human connection between Gladue reports (R v Gladue, [1999] 1 SCR 688) and the criminal court room. Again, an example of how the law almost two decades ago changed but the impact of that change has not been a visceral one but a legalistic conversation which still haunts the criminal court room and the law classroom.

New cases emerge, adding to the memories of Donald Marshall and emphasizing the need to offer these examples as the contextual foreground in law classroom doctrinal learnings. Gladue comes easily to us as a paradigm of a discrete area of law involving clear statutory directions in s. 718.2 to include the aboriginal perspective. These newer examples are more difficult legally as they serve as counterpoints to the traditional trope of miscarriage of justice through the accused’s perspective. We are comfortable in law dressing our outrage in the language of legal errors directed toward our most cherished values as embodied in the presumption of innocence. This is important as evidenced in the Donald Marshall case but what is not evident and what is harder to debate is the criminal justice system as a societal mirror of how we implement the rule of law on behalf of the entire nation. To push ourselves to view justice in a big picture way is counterintuitive to the lawyer who is trained to peer through the magnifying glass and find those lacunae, those minute errors which provide us with the “Aha” moment when we can decry a miscarriage of justice on behalf of the accused who must face the imbalance of state authority and power. But it behoves us all to take up the mantle of lasting change by widening the focus and emboldening a deeper conversation involving the entirety of the justice system. These cases sit at the edges of the law but also serve as the reminders of what is at stake when the criminal justice system provides space for the stereotypical characterization of Cindy Gladue in R v Barton, 2017 ABCA 216 (see my previous posting on the case) and the impassive resistance of the complainant in R v Blanchard (see Alice Woolley’s excellent posting on this case)

The subtext or context or trace of the likeness of Colten Bushie can and must be taken in the law classroom. We must approach the discriminatory and slow to change mechanisms of our criminal justice system not as a mere legal problem or as a simple teachable legal moment akin to an in-class case hypothetical but as a mindful approach to what the legal principles and case law really mean. These discussions are hard and debatable but that does not mean we do not do it. We should question and debate the role of law in our society. A society committed to diversity, change and tolerance as reflected in our laws and our application of those laws. Sometimes incremental change works but sometimes it merely pulls from behind and pushes forward the vestiges of our legal past. If we want real change we need to listen to the echoes of the past through the lens of today and that includes the black-letter law we teach in the classroom.

We have the tools of reconciliation – desire and willingness to change but we need courage to do so. Our justice system is slow to embrace and integrate indigenous learning and practices. It should not be a question of accommodating or conforming. It should be a question of inclusivity. We are a unique nation and we need to recognize injustice when we see it and welcome those voices into the law classroom.

 

 

Unpacking R v Barton

R v Barton is a bold and intrepid decision. It is not so much a lengthy decision as it is densely packed and nuanced, examining and uncovering layers of issues. It is a case that identifies errors and then offers solutions. It is a decision that exudes the modern principled approach, now a staple in an appellate Court’s analysis of a variety of legal issues from the admission of evidence to the interpretation of statutes. Admittedly, the decision can give the reader a sense of discomfort, the kind of unsettling feeling one gets when being challenged to think differently. The kind of feeling one can have when reading something unexpected. But that does not mean the feeling is unwelcome. In this post, together we will “unpack” or identify some of the salient features of the decision. I will also try to respond to this feeling of discomfort. I caution however that the decision requires much contemplation and measured thought. What I am attempting to do here is to articulate my impressions upon reviewing the decision. I will leave to a later date in a further article an analysis of the myriad of legal issues raised in this decision through a review of precedent and legal principles.

The facts are startling, sad, and familiar. Cindy Gladue, a young Aboriginal woman, was paid sixty dollars by Mr. Barton to perform sex acts. Two interactions occurred over two days and on the second evening, Ms. Gladue died in the bathtub of Mr. Barton’s hotel room. She bled to death from a perforated vaginal wall. At trial, Mr. Barton admitted he had sexual contact with the deceased that evening. He admitted he repeatedly pumped his fist into Ms. Gladue’s vagina at which point she started to bleed. He maintained that he did not intend to harm her and that he was unaware of her condition until he awoke in the morning and found her immobile in the bathtub. In his evidence, he called the incident an “accident”. After finding her in an injurious state, Barton tried to mop up the blood, fled the scene, and discarded the bloody towel, only to return to the hotel room soon thereafter at which point he called 911. His statements after the incident, to both friends and the police, suggested Ms. Gladue came to his hotel room and asked to shower in his washroom, where he found her dead the next morning. At the time, he denied any physical interaction with the deceased. At trial, medical evidence was called on behalf of the Crown and the defence. The Crown’s expert contended the perforation was caused by a sharp object, while the defence expert disagreed and opined that weakness in the vaginal structure was the operating cause of the injury.

The trial was heard before a judge and jury in the early part of 2015 and Mr. Barton was ultimately acquitted. An application was made by the Crown, during the trial, to admit “real” evidence in the form of the vaginal tissue of Ms. Gladue to assist in understanding the evidence of the medical expert who examined the tissue (R v Barton, 2015 ABQB 159 (CanLII)). Real evidence is directly observable by the trier of fact. Like direct testimonial evidence of a witness who has personally observed an event, it does not require the trier of fact to draw an inference from the evidence, should it be accepted. Unlike direct testimonial evidence of a witness, the trier of fact becomes the direct observer, acting, in some sense, as the witness to the event. This act of “direct self-perception” or “autoptic proference” as Wigmore described it (John Henry Wigmore, Evidence in Trials at Common Law, revised by John T. McNaughton (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1961) vol. 4 at 1150), occurs with all real evidence such as photographs, audio and visual recordings, electronic and hard copy communications or the spent cartridges of a firearm. Similarly, application can be made pursuant to section 652 of the Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46  during the course of a jury trial, up until the verdict is rendered, for a “view” of “person, place or thing” located outside of the Courtroom. These direct observations made by the trier of fact become part of the evidence assessed at trial. Often, real evidence or direct observations by the trier can “speak for itself,” such as those spent cartridges but real evidence, in terms of how it fits into the narrative puzzle, is subject to interpretation. Either way, real evidence is admissible at trial if it is relevant and material to the case. Relevancy depends on authenticity. An item that does not reflect its true nature at the time of the incident is worthless and has no probative value. Applications to admit such evidence are usually, therefore, framed in authenticity terms: Is the item unaltered and unchanged? The application, in this instance, was opposed by the defence, not because the tissue was irrelevant or not authentic but because the prejudicial effect of such evidence before the jury would outweigh the probative value. This exclusionary discretion or gatekeeper function of the trial judge is an important safeguard in ensuring a fair trial while ensuring the truth-seeking function of the trial is not inappropriately compromised. This discretion is an example of the balancing done over the course of a trial. In the area of expert evidence, for instance, the trial judge has an ongoing duty to ensure such evidence stays within its scope to ensure trial fairness (White Burgess v Haliburton, 2015 SCC 23 (para 54) and in R v Sekhon, 2014 SCC 15 (para 46)). In this instance, the trial judge admitted the evidence, recognizing the probative value outweighed the prejudicial effect. It was, in the Court’s opinion, evidence to assist the jury in their consideration of the case. The trial judge also reminded the jury to decide the case fairly and dispassionately and not to base the verdict on an emotional response to the evidence. Although, as noted by the Court at paragraphs 127 and 128, standardized cautions to the jury without contextualizing the instruction to the facts of the case are meaningless.

This narrative of the admissibility of the tissue evidence highlights the balancing required throughout the trial in both the admissibility of evidence and the instructions to the jury. But this story of admissibility goes even further than the bounded space of the Courtroom. Ms. Gladue’s family was devastated with the decision to admit the tissue evidence. To the family, it was a decision that required their input and consent to protect Ms. Gladue’s dignity as an Aboriginal woman. To the friends and family of Cindy Gladue, she was “more than a statistic, more than an addict and more than a piece of tissue” (Death and Life of Cindy Gladue by Kathryn Blaze Carlson, May 15, 2015, The Globe and Mail). In the interview for the Globe article, Ms. Gladue’s mother emphasized that Cindy is “still human, she still has a name, not just ‘prostitute’.” This evidentiary application highlights the concern the Court of Appeal has in Barton with the approach this case represents: We in the justice system are attuned to categories of legal issues to which we must respond such as the admissibility of real evidence, the inadmissibility of bad character evidence, the proper use of circumstantial evidence and the correct legal articulation of the substantive law. We are not trained to be mindful of the larger view of the case which involves a self-assessment of how the case, in totality, presents. We are not recognizing that important societal values, some of which are Charter values, must also be reflected in the justice system. This includes the way we refer to a witness as a “prostitute” rather than a “sex worker” or even why that kind of labelling, done throughout the trial by all participants in the case (para 116) is required. We need to constantly ask ourselves when we prepare and present a case, “why”? Why do we need the witness to be called a “prostitute”? How does it advance the case? Is there another way of making our point that does not fall into stereotypes or is the notion simply not required as its sole purpose is just prejudicial and irrelevant? These basic questions are part of the Court of Appeal’s “re-setting” to the modern approach to the contextual appreciation of a case.

The facts of this case do not serve merely as the framework upon which the legal issues are placed but are the essence of this decision. Woven in between these facts are the legal issues, which, to extend the metaphor, become the fabric of our discussion in this post or the “unpacking” of the case. Typically, this term “unpacking” refers to an analytical unfolding of issues that are difficult to ascertain without some sort of roadmap or guide. In essence, “unpacking” suggests an opening up of the folded map or triptych to reveal the whole route. It requires us to also extend ourselves and to examine the big picture. In seeing the whole, we can then consider how these various packets of legal issues fit together to provide the final outcome. But “unpacking” can also mean what it says – that a journey has ended and it’s time to clean out the baggage. We are done but not finished as when we “unpack” we might re-fold in a different or better way or we may clean and re-start again. We may even discard. After reading Barton and after reflecting on it, this post is about both types of “unpacking”. As I have already suggested, we need to ask broader and deeper questions such as: What is the long view of this decision? Where does it lead us? What will it impel us to do?

Admittedly, all of this may seem too existential for a legal blog but as a practitioner and academic, I am enjoying the pure joy of reading a decision which challenges me to set aside a legal response and instead to think about the kind of justice system which appropriately reflects who we are as a society and who we want to be. It sparks a badly needed conversation about our approach to the law and whether it is approachable for all those impacted by it. I can’t say with certainty that I know what the justice system should look like or can look like but I can say that this is something that we all need to be engaged in because change requires hard work and dedication. It also requires all of us to step out of our comfort zone, which cases such as R v Jordan, 2016 SCC 27 (CanLII), and now Barton push us to do. However, change does not mean we give up what is essential to us as a country committed to Charter values. It simply requires us to be mindful of those values in fashioning our justice system. We should not be pressured into cutting corners or rights in the name of expediency. Rather, we should be scrupulous in our desire to see justice done. Complacency or leaving the status quo, be it trial delay or conviction of the innocent, is a dead end to nowhere. Only thought that leads to action makes a difference.

As I first suggested, the Barton decision is nuanced, providing layers of discussion: I suggest at least seven layers which interconnect. Looking at the first layer of the unpacking of issues, there is an overarching theme, which in my mind extends far beyond the case at hand, relating to instructing the jury in a clear, robust and frank manner. We in the legal profession too often rely on the probity of legal nomenclature to get us to where we are going (model jury instructions can be found on the National Judicial Institute website: https://www.nji inm.ca/index.cfm/publications/model-jury-instructions/). Barton reminds us that justice is not only for those in the know but is also for those who really don’t care to know until they are face to face with questions of justice. Clarity of thought, simplicity of explanation, and frank conversation go a long way to inform the non-legal partners in our justice system. To be truthful, this approach goes a long way for those legal minds who are in the know as well. I will call this approach to jury instructions, in legal language, the modern principled approach, which embodies the contextual approach approved of and utilized by the Supreme Court of Canada in other areas of law such as in statutory interpretation (para 21 of Rizzo & Rizzo Shoes Ltd. (Re), 1998 CanLII 837 (SCC)) and in the admissibility of hearsay (see R v Khan, [1990] 2 SCR 531, and R v KGB,[1990] 1 SCR 740 as the foundational cases). This approach is open to doing law differently, within the bounds of legal principles and within the context of the case at hand. To do otherwise would be to detach the decision-making from the unique narrative offered by each case.  

A modern approach to jury instructions sounds grand but in the context of Barton it finds meaning. This is where the Alberta Court of Appeal provides us with guidance and helpful exemplars for the fulfillment of the modern approach. A jury instruction must provide meaningful assistance to the jury by simplifying the complex law on sexual assault while recognizing no two cases are alike. The trial judge’s role is to also “unpack” by unfolding the trial narrative with the concomitant legal issues as they are relevant in the particular case. The trier must ask, is this a case involving consent or no consent? Or is it an issue where consent is given but vitiated? If so, on what basis is there such a vitiation? This deep dive into the facts, this modern contextual approach, requires the trial judge to specifically identify the essential nature of the offence. As discussed throughout Barton, the emphasis in the charge was askew. For example, the focus should not have been on the “application of force” as required for the “assault” element of the offence but on the “sexual activity in question” per s 273.1 of the Criminal Code, which defines consent for the purpose of sexual offences. As recognized in the decision, sex, which is in and of itself a legal activity, is by nature a touching. This case is not one where the accused denied the sexual conduct so the emphasis in the instructions on a finding of an “application of force” was confusing and unhelpful for the jury (para 189). Instead, the focus for the jury should have been on the amount of force used as an aspect of the sexual activity (paras 193, 194).

Creating a jury charge that fits the case is not the only function of this modern jury instruction approach. A modern principled approach requires balance in the instructions to the jury. But balance does not mean the traditional evidential and procedural safeguards are no longer necessary. Instructions on the presumption of innocence and on impermissible inferences must be part of the discourse between trial judge and jury. However, the trial judge, who must remain balanced in thought and impartial in aspect throughout the trial, has a duty to present all evidence in a fair manner. The accused is to be judged on the evidence and not on improper inferences arising from it. In the Barton case, the trial judge admonished the jury to not engage in “reasoning prejudice” or “moral prejudice” that occurs when a trier draws an inference that the accused was a bad person and worthy of conviction because he consorted with an “unsavoury” person, in this case a “Native girl” who was a “prostitute” (para 130). This classic limiting instruction is given to ensure any potential “bad character” evidence, which is presumptively inadmissible, is not used for that impermissible purpose (see R v Mack, [2014] 3 SCR 3; 2014 SCC 58 para 57).  But in this case, the concern to protect the potential “bad character” of the accused was not informed by the gate keeper function of a trial judge that aims to provide balance and fairness into the trial. Here, again, is the problem with the silo approach to law where case approach is embodied by a check-list of issues. By this one-sided appreciation of “prejudice” in this case, as only the accused person’s prejudice, the full meaning of trial fairness, as functionalized by the gate keeper function of the trial judge, was missing.

The missing instruction, according to the Barton Court, was the lack of instruction cautioning the jury to refrain from entering into similar reasoning or moral prejudice in assessing the status of the deceased as a female, Indigenous sex worker. Similar to the instruction regarding the accused, the jury should have been told not to draw the impermissible inference that because the deceased was a “prostitute”, she implicitly consented to all forms of sexual interaction by virtue of her profession (Barton paras 116-132). This connects to the further error, discussed later in this post, relating to the lack of a section 276 application regarding sexual history evidence. The jury would also have benefited from a direction that Ms. Gladue was not less “worthy” as a person because of how she was “labeled” or defined by society as a female, as an indigenous person, and as a sex worker. Defence counsel and Crown counsel in this case should welcome such instruction as it would completely neutralize any suggestion of “bad personhood” on the part of Barton. It would also humanize the case, placing it in real terms. As eloquently referenced in para 128 of the Barton decision, the case is about relationships between race, gender and status. It is also about the trial judge’s relationship with the jury, the relationships between all parties in the case and the relationships between the justice system and the community. These relationships are at the core of the criminal justice system. They are based on trust and confidence. In these relationships we expect a “fair” trial not a “fixed” one as emphasized by the Court of Appeal in Barton (at para 262).

This kind of instruction, I suggest, is also consistent with the Supreme Court of Canada’s position on the editing or excising of an accused person’s criminal record in R v Corbett, [1988] 1 SCR 670, 1988 CanLII 80 (SCC). There, the Court considered the prejudicial effect of placing an accused’s criminal record before the jury in a situation where the accused will testify, and the resultant moral and reasoning prejudice which may arise from the accused person’s prior criminal convictions. The concern is two-fold; that the jury will find that the accused is a bad person who has a propensity to commit crimes, and therefore likely committed the present crime and is therefore worthy of punishment and that such a prior record could distract the jury from their duty to determine guilt or innocence on the basis of the evidence before them. Although the Corbett Court recognized the discretion of the trial judge to edit or excise a criminal record to ensure trial fairness, Chief Justice Dickson cautioned that such application must not result in a “serious imbalance” where the Crown witnesses may also have previous convictions and where, as a result, their credibility is attacked (Corbett para 34). This requires the judge to look at the context of the case or the long view of the facts which would be before the jury to ensure the case was not reimagined unfairly and that the truth-seeking function of the Court remained intact. This application is an example of the exclusionary discretion or gatekeeper function of the trial judge I mentioned earlier in this post in which the focus is on trial fairness. The Alberta Court of Appeal in Barton was applying the same reasoning in calling for a more balanced and contextual approach in the jury charge.  

The second layer of issues in the case, which flow from the general concern with the jury instructions, are the numerous specific “traditional” legal errors in the charge identified by the Court. I am labeling these issues as “traditional” as they are the kind of legal errors in instructing a jury one regularly argues on a murder appeal. Here too, I would suggest, the errors are connected. For instance, as I will explain further, the misdirection and non-direction to the jury on the use to be made of the post-offence conduct is related to the misdirection on the “defence” of accident. In turn, these errors are compounded by the misdirection in the charge on unlawful act manslaughter and the inadequate charge on the two potential pathways (standard and Jobidon related as I will discuss later in the post) to manslaughter. I caution again that the purpose of this post is not to thoroughly discuss the legal niceties of these errors. These errors, however, serve to highlight the entanglement of issues found in this case.

Post-offence conduct must be approached by the trier of fact with caution to ensure such potentially damning evidence is considered in its proper context (see R v White, [1998] 2 SCR 72, 1998 CanLII 789 (SCC)). There are instances where an accused person’s actions after the incident “look suspicious” but are in fact consistent with an innocent explanation. Of course, it is within the purview of the trier of fact to accept or reject evidence and to determine the weight, if any, to place on evidence. However, as with impermissible character evidence, the trier of fact should not be concerned with evidence that has no probative value and merely distracts the jury from its duty to fairly and objectively assess the evidence. The concern with post offence conduct is the potential illogical “leap in logic” which can occur should the trier unreasonably infer guilt from evidence that merely “looks bad”. This does not mean that such evidence is presumptively inadmissible. On the contrary, post-offence conduct can be useful circumstantial evidence of guilt, of motive and of credibility, as noted by the Alberta Court of Appeal in Barton (paras 57-75). The misdirection and non-direction on the use of such evidence in Barton impacted the jury instructions on Mr. Barton’s position that what happened was an accident, as his “innocent explanation” seemed to negate a proper instruction on the use to be made of the post-offence conduct (paras 63-69).

The Court in Barton raises the “elephant in the room” concern, which is whether “accident” is a positive defence the jury will be specifically instructed to consider like self defence or duress (paras 184-293). Of course, such an instruction would only be given if the defence has an “air of reality.” This test requires the trial judge to determine “whether there is evidence on the record upon which a properly instructed jury acting reasonably could acquit.” (R v Cinous, [2000] 2 SCR 3 paras 47 to 57) Without entering into a thorough discussion here on that issue, put simply, the Barton Court finds that there is no self-contained “defence” of accident as such a position merely negates the essential elements of a crime, be it actus reus or mens rea. Further, the characterization of the defence as “pure accident” in the charge (para 287) was inconsistent with Mr. Barton’s admission at trial that he repeatedly and forcibly entered Ms. Gladue’s vagina with his fist. I would add that even if “accident” is a “defence,” it is arguable whether, on the evidence, the defence had any “air of reality” such that it was properly placed for consideration before the jury. Further, this emphasis on “accident,” as it is mentioned enhances the error in misdirecting the jury on post offence conduct and on the mens rea for unlawful act manslaughter, which is based on an objective foresight of bodily harm per R v DeSousa, [1992] 2 SCR 944, 1992 CanLII 80 (SCC), and R v Creighton, [1993] 3 SCR 3, 1993 CanLII 61 (SCC). Additionally, the lack of direction on the objective dangerousness of Barton’s actions in the context of a manslaughter charge is in and of itself worthy of appellate intervention.

These “traditional” errors also led to the third layer of legal errors to be unpacked relating to the law of sexual assault, now so sadly prevalent in the appellate courts. These errors impact the substantive instructions on the law of murder and manslaughter, as the element of sexual assault causing bodily harm is integral to a proper understanding of the homicide instruction. This layer takes us back to the beginning as it reveals the fragility of the model jury instructions, the weaknesses inherent in a categorical “check list” approach rather than the modern contextual holistic approach, and the lack of a “humanity litmus test”, which reminds us that this case is about real people, whose voices (or lack thereof in Ms Gladue’s case) are being heard by real people. This set of errors impacts how we generally and traditionally approach the law of sexual assault but also reminds us of the need to step back and look at the case we are presenting and ask ourselves those “why” questions. For the Crown and the defence those “why” questions should be in the context of their theme/theory, strategic decisions including the thought processes on how to present the best and most effective case before the jury that promotes trial fairness. The Court in Barton identified legal errors in the instructions on the law of sexual assault but also in the manner in which the law of sexual assault was presented as part of a “boiler plate” or “fossilized” (para 8) instruction (paras 173-258).

This misdirection in the charge was preceded by and imbued with the missing procedure under s 276 of the Criminal Code or what is known as the “rape shield” law (paras 85-153 of Barton and for further discussion see R v Seaboyer;R v Gayme, [1991] 2 SCR 577). Again, this fourth layer of error relates to the admissibility of evidence that may lead to impermissible, prejudicial, and illogical inferences. Section 276 prohibits evidence whose sole purpose is to perpetuate the “twin myths” (para 89) relating to sexual assault complainants that prior sexual conduct, including being a “prostitute,” means consent was present at the time of the offence and that prior sexuality is a form of “bad personhood” making such a person of “loose morals” less credible. This prohibition is to ensure trial fairness and balance. The same balance that requires the instructing judge to remind the jury that Ms. Gladue, like all people in the justice system—the accused, the lawyers, the witnesses—must be treated with dignity and respect. A person is not to be “judged” by race, sexual orientation, gender or profession.

An application to use prior sexual history evidence for purposes other than the prohibited twin myths relating to consent and credibility is required whenever the accused is tried on a sexual assault charge. However, s 276 does not specifically reference homicide, which requires, according to s 222(5), an unlawful act. Such an unlawful act can be sexual assault or as in this case, sexual assault causing bodily harm. The Barton Court interprets the s 276 requirement that the application is engaged “in proceedings in respect of an offence” as including a homicide, where the underlying act is a sexual offence. This interpretation, using the modern approach as defined by Rizzo & Rizzo Shoes Ltd. (Re), [1998] 1 SCR 27, 1998 CanLII 837 (SCC), is consistent with the purpose and objective of the section. To interpret it otherwise would present an absurdity and would be contrary to Parliamentary intention in creating the protection under s 276. The section provides a mechanism whereby the accused can apply to have such evidence admitted if it is connected to a relevant matter that goes beyond the realm of myth and is needed for fair trial purposes and to fulfill the accused’s right to full answer and defence under s 7 of the Charter.

The fifth area to unpack is the obiter comments found in the reasons. There are three areas of concern involving, as already discussed, whether there is a recognized stand-alone “defence” of accident (paras 284-293), the use of public policy in defining or confining consent pursuant to Jobidon, and a call for clarification of the “reasonable steps” requirement for mistaken belief in consent under s 273.2(b). All three of these concerns are valid and worth investigating, particularly the continuing struggle to reconcile R v Jobidon, [1991] 2 SCR 714, 1991 CanLII 77 (SCC), with the much-changed legal landscape on the matter of consent since its release 26 years ago (paras 301-310 and for further discussion see my previous post on Jobidon). Again, these discussions require a detailed response for a later date, however, I would like to acknowledge the pressing issue of the clarification of the “reasonable steps” requirement as raised in Barton (paras 294-300). Section 273.2 enumerates situations where the accused in a sexual assault case cannot rely on the defence of mistake of fact in consent.  Under subsection (b) the mistaken belief in consent defence is unavailable where the accused does not take reasonable steps to ascertain consent. Soon after the release of Barton, the Supreme Court of Canada released R v George, 2017 CanLII 24267 (SCC), involving a charge of sexual interference under s 151 where the accused was 35 years of age and the complainant was 14 and a half years old. Section 150.1(4) of the Criminal Code prohibits a mistake of age defence unless the accused took “all reasonable steps”. In the George case, the Court found that where there is an air of reality to the defence of mistake of fact, the burden is on the Crown to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that either the accused did not honestly believe the complainant was at least 16 or the accused did not take all reasonable steps to ascertain the age of the complainant. Considering the similarity in wording with s 273.2, as recognized by the Barton Court, this obiter issue, which was not raised in the Barton appeal, becomes even more pressing to consider (para 294).

The sixth unpacking involves the notion of appellate review of an acquittal. Section 676(1) of the Criminal Code confines an appeal against acquittal by the Attorney General to a question of law alone. This limitation arises from the core values of our justice system. As articulated by Justice Wilson in the majority decision of R v B(G) [1990] 2 SCR 57, 1990 CanLII 115 (SCC) at 66, the restricted appellate review “reflects the fundamental principle that an accused is presumed to be innocent until proved guilty by proof beyond a reasonable doubt”. In B(G), Justice Wilson reviewed what the term “question of law” entails. Although factual errors alone, as in an unreasonable verdict or sufficiency of the evidence, would not amount to a question of law, a misapprehension of fact could be if it amounted to a misdirection on the law (pages 70-72). Throughout Barton, the Court is careful to characterize the errors as irreversible misdirections and non-directions of law.

As raised earlier in this post, the recent Supreme Court of Canada George decision may have an impact on the obiter legal issues raised by the Court in Barton on the clarification of the “reasonable steps” requirement for a defence of an honest belief in consent under s 273.2(b) of the Criminal Code. George was a case of an appeal against acquittal and it is the comments on the jurisdiction of appellate review of an acquittal, which may pose further discussion points in the review of the Barton decision. For the appellate Court to intervene in an appeal against an acquittal, there must be an error in law and that error must materially impact the not guilty verdict. The threshold for such materiality is quite high. There must be at least an error that with a “reasonable degree of certainty” has a material effect (George para 27). In paras 6 and 52 of the Barton decision, the Court suggests the identified legal errors “might reasonably” have a material bearing on the outcome, which could suggest too low of a threshold. However, later in the reasons the Court clearly finds the specific legal errors did have a material bearing on the acquittal. In any event, although it might seem like semantics, I could see an argument made on a further appeal that the threshold they used was too low. Additionally, the Court in George discussed the concern with conflating what are factual issues with legal issues, whereby the “legal” errors are actually factual ones (George para 17). Again, it would be difficult to suggest the Barton Court entered into the same error. 

A final comment to make, the seventh unpacking, is a connection I see with some of the research I have been doing on the evolving role of the trial judge in a criminal case as the trier of fact, the arbiter of the law, and the gate keeper and guardian of the courts, and the impact the sense of community or societal values is having on this “enhanced” version of the trial judge. I jokingly refer to the new and improved vision of the trial judge as “gate keeper on steroids” but really a trial judge does not sit alone but sits in the heart of the community of justice. It is the relationship or connection between all individuals in the criminal justice system which interests me and which I believe profoundly impacts the way the courts impart justice. It also, in my view, explains why we are now struggling, in an existential way, with our conceptions of what the justice system should be. Cases like Barton, Jordan and even older cases such as R v Anthony-Cook, [2016] 2 SCR 204, 2016 SCC 43 (CanLII), R v St-Cloud, [2015] 2 SCR 328, 2015 SCC 27 (CanLII), and R v Lacasse, [2015] 3 SCR 1089, 2015 SCC 64 (CanLII), signal a new modern approach to criminal law. If this is so, then we need to be prepared to answer the issues raised in those cases, to be modern in our aspect and approach while continually ensuring the fundamental values embodied in our presumption of innocence and fair trial principles are not diminished and remain central to that modern approach.

The Barton decision is fresh and challenging. It will impact, not only the re-trial of this case but also future cases and has already been cited in a recent Alberta Court of Appeal decision (R v ARD, 2017 ABCA 237 at para 57). We are put off balance by the intricacies offered by the decision but then only until we re-adjust to a new balance. The unpacking we have just undertaken is a step toward discussion and review of what has been done in the past and whether the past can be a jumping off point that, as the Court recommends in Barton, allows for a “re-setting” to the modern approach.

 

 

The Delicate Balance of Sentencing: The Application of the Totality Principle in Regulatory Offences

Chief Justice Lamer succinctly described the sentencing process and the sentencing judge’s role in that process in R v M(CA), [1996] 1 SCR 500 (CanLII):

The determination of a just and appropriate sentence is a delicate art which attempts to balance carefully the societal goals of sentencing against the moral blameworthiness of the offender and the circumstances of the offence, while at all times taking into account the needs and current conditions of and in the community. The discretion of a sentencing judge should thus not be interfered with lightly. (at para 91)

In the recent split decision of the Alberta Court of Appeal in Alberta (Health Services) v Bhanji, the court considered the “delicate” balance needed in determining a fit global sentence in quasi-criminal or regulatory offences where the only sanction available is a monetary one. Specifically, in Bhanji, the penalty provision in section 73 of the Public Health Act, RSA 2000, c P-37 was at issue. However, in an arena where public safety is paramount and sanctioning limited, this “delicate” balance is difficult to maintain. Indeed, the response tends to be a pure mathematical exercise, an apportioning of blame through numbers.  The Bhanji decision is an excellent reminder that regulatory behavior does matter and that sentencing is not mere number crunching, nor is it simply “the cost of doing business” (at para 17). Rather, regulatory sanctioning must be an even-handed reflection of society’s disapprobation for public welfare misconduct. In an era where the health and welfare of the “community” is becoming increasingly more important to societal well-being and sustainability, regulatory responses must keep pace with this priority.

The facts of Bhanji describe an all too familiar scenario. The motel at issue in the case was owned by a married couple through a closely held numbered corporation. The motel was part of a family inheritance and the couple, who did not live in the area, employed a manager for the property. The facility was inspected by public health officials and on June 6, 2011 the corporation was ordered to repair the facility, which was in a derelict condition, posing public health and safety hazards. Renovation work was started but some long-term residents remained on site despite the poor condition. The remedial repair efforts continued for a lengthy period, causing the health officials to issue an Order for closure of the motel on June 8, 2012. Finally, on October 4, 2012, the corporation, the couple, and their seventy-two-year-old uncle, who was helping with the renovations, were charged with 144 offences under the Public Health Act covering the period from June 27, 2011 to September 6, 2013. During some of the time covered in the Information, although the facility was not in compliance with the Act, there were no real risks to the public as there were no residents (at para 17).

The offences were narrowly framed, pertaining to several specific violations in each motel unit. Many of the offences overlapped by relating to similar violations for closely connected items of disrepair. For instance, two charges for the same unit engaged the same issue of bathroom disrepair and involved the same problem, a lack of proper waterproofing of the shower/bath area: one offence was a failure to maintain the wooden shower frame and the other offence alleged inadequate caulking. Every individual motel unit which suffered the same deficiency was the subject of a separate charge. In the majority’s view, this type of “doubling up” of charges resulted in “over charging” for the number of offences arising out of the same transaction and the number of closely related parties charged (at para 76).

The sentencing principles engaged in the regulatory sentencing process would be familiar to any criminal lawyer making sentencing submissions in the criminal courts. Section 3 of the Provincial Offences Procedure Act, RSA 2000, c P-34 incorporates applicable Criminal Code provisions, to the extent the provisions are not inconsistent with the Act or regulations, effectively importing the “Purpose and Principles of Sentencing” as found in sections 718 to 718.2. Of note, and not referenced in Bhanji is a further sentencing section, 718.21, added to the Code in 2003, on factors to consider in sentencing an “organization.” The term “organization” is defined under section 2 of the Code and includes a “body corporate” or any business association such as a company or partnership. I will return to these sentencing factors later in this post. The section that is discussed in Bhanji is the fundamental sentencing principle as codified under section 718.1, that “a sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender.”

This key concept of proportionality is central to the Bhanji decision as it directly engages the further sentencing concept of “totality.” The concept of totality, arising both from common law and statute, requires that the global or total sentence imposed on an accused, or in the regulatory sense, the defendant, must not be, in the words of section 718.2(c) of the Criminal Code “unduly long or harsh.” This sentencing concern was at issue in Bhanji as multiple parties were charged with multiple offences resulting in a total fine of some magnitude. The four defendants entered a plea of guilty to count one in the Information, which was an offence of failing to comply with the remedial work orders for 801 days pursuant to section 73(2) of the Act. Under that provision, an offender is liable to a fine of not more than $100 for each day of non-compliance, resulting in a potential maximum fine for each of the defendants of $80,100. Considering the close relationship of the defendants, the Bhanji family would be liable for a maximum fine of $320,400 on that count. The defendant corporation entered pleas of guilty to 40 of the further 143 charges with each charge having a maximum fine of $2000, amounting to a total maximum fine of $80,000 for the 40 offences. These further counts related to specific deficiencies identified in the original inspection. There was, therefore, an overlapping of the actus reus or prohibited acts, as delineated in these original violations, with count one, which was the failure to comply with the subsequent order to remediate those deficiencies. The total potential fine for all counts and for all defendants was $400,400.

At the sentencing hearing, the prosecutor urged the trial judge to impose a global monetary penalty that was not simply “a cost of doing business” and reflected the sentencing principle of deterrence (at para 9). The prosecutor grouped the 41 offences into three categories: general maintenance issues, items relating to public health, and more serious violations involving risks to the safety or lives of the guests and tenants. On count one, where the maximum global fine would be $320,400, the prosecutor submitted the “starting point” would be half the amount or $160,200 divided evenly between the four defendants, $40,050 per defendant (at para 10). For the remainder of the corporate convictions, the prosecutor suggested the maximum fine for the seven offences in the most serious category and the balance of the offences should attract a fine of $1000 each, again 50% of the maximum, for a total fine of $47,000. In real terms this would be a global fine of $207,200.

The defendants’ counsel, who acted for all four parties, submitted that the penalty should consider the defendants’ actions to remediate and should recognize that for a part of the period of non-compliance, the facility was without tenants. Counsel also identified the potential for “over-charging” through multiple counts against multiple closely related parties. Additionally, the motel, due to its poor state, was not profitable. In other words, the fines would not be merely a “cost of doing business” but would be a very real penalty to the defendants. Counsel submitted the fine on count one should be $2500 for Mr. and Mrs. Bhanji and $1000 for the uncle. For the corporation, the global fine should be $52,250 with a “global discount” for totality, bringing it down to $22,250. The final amount for all defendants would be $28,250, close to 14% of the fine suggested by the prosecutor.

The sentencing judge acknowledged that the sentencing principles engaged in the case involved deterrence, proportionality and totality. On count one, involving non-compliance with remedial work orders, the court imposed $20,000 fines on Mr. and Mrs. Bhanji separately and a $3000 fine on the uncle. The corporation was fined $50,000 plus the maximum fine of $2000 for seven of the most serious breaches and $1000 for each of the remaining 33 charges for a total of $97,000. The global fine for all counts on all defendants equaled $140,000 (at paras 18-19).

On appeal the Summary Conviction Appeal Judge found that the global fine, based on precedent, was not proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the culpability of the various offenders and that therefore the sentencing judge had imposed an unfit sentence (at para 21). Further, the sentencing judge failed to appreciate the mitigating factors that the defendants were not in flagrant or deliberate violation of the work orders and that the motel was empty for much of the non-compliance period. Additionally, although the sentencing judge referred to the correct sentencing principles, there was no indication of how the judge applied the concept of totality to the global fine. Ultimately, the sentence as it stood was unduly harsh and excessive.

The Summary Conviction Appeal Judge allowed the appeal, reduced the sentence on count one to $5000 each to Mr. and Mrs. Bhanji and $25,000 to the corporation, the entity primarily responsible for the offences. For the 40 corporate offences, the sentence was reduced to $25,000. The total fine on all defendants was $63,000. The appeal judge did not adjust the global amount further as the sentence, globally, was fit and appropriate in the circumstances.

Leave to appeal this sentence to the Court of Appeal was permitted on a narrow basis, which the majority called “unfortunate” (at para 31), as it was based on a specific question of law. The question on appeal asked the court to consider the approaches to the application of totality in two previous Alberta Summary Conviction Appeal decisions, R v Goebel, 2003 ABQB 422 (CanLII) and R v 50737 Alberta Ltd, 2009 ABQB 476 (CanLII) to determine if they “overlap, compete with, or duplicate each other, so that full application of both may improperly overcompensate or double deduct for totality” (at para 29). The majority decided that to adequately answer this question, the court needed to consider the broad implications of applying totality in regulatory sentencing where a fine was imposed.

In Goebel, Justice Slatter, who was then on the Court of Queen’s Bench and was a member of the majority in Bhanji, overturned the sentence as the sentencing judge inappropriately imposed a global sentence based on the “condition of the building” as opposed to imposing a fit sentence on each count and then adjusting for totality. In effect, the sentencing judge erred as he imposed a sentence without regard to the nature and severity of the breach. The court found that the approach of the sentencing judge to sentence globally was “not an appropriate way of initially setting a sentence in the case of multiple convictions on multiple counts” (Goebel at para 86). The appropriate approach, according to Justice Slatter, was to impose an appropriate sentence for each count and then to review the global sentence to ensure it was not unduly harsh or excessive. As the sentencing judge “never turned his mind to the appropriate sentence for each count” and gave no “express reasons” for the decision, the matter was remitted to the sentencing court to do so (Goebel at para 89). It should be noted that the offender in Goebel was an individual charged with several Public Health Act violations, some of which were failures to comply with work orders (Goebel at paras 83-84). This case did not engage concerns with sentencing closely-related multi-parties with overlapping multi-charges.

The sentencing approach and the type of defendant in R v 50737 Alberta Ltd. were much different than in Goebel and more akin to the scenario in Bhanji. There, Justice Burrows was reviewing the sentence of three closely-related defendants, a husband and wife and a closely held corporation, for 54 violations of the Public Health Act. The sentencing judge applied the approach recommended by Justice Slatter in Goebel but, according to Justice Burrows, imposed demonstrably unfit sentences in relation to some of the counts by failing to consider multiple charges arising from the same breach in multiple housing units, namely guardrails not to code and deteriorating concrete. It was therefore an error to impose the same fine for each count of the same violation even before consideration of totality of the sentence. In Justice Burrows’ view, “the moral blameworthiness of a violation in respect of 15 balconies is not 15 times the moral blameworthiness of a violation in respect of one balcony when all violations occur at the same time” (50737 at para 33). Instead, the sentencing judge, in considering the totality principle, should have considered a graduated fine for the multiple charges based on the same prohibited act and arising from multiple units (50737 at paras 35-38).

In effect, Justice Burrows considered these type of offences as engaging the criminal law concept of ordering sentences of imprisonment on multiple charges to be served at the same time or concurrently. By employing this power, the sentencing court, in a criminal case, ensures the global sentence adheres to the principle of totality. The imposition of concurrent terms is particularly appropriate where multiple charges arise from the same subject matter or the same series of events. In the regulatory field, where often a monetary penalty is the only sanctioning option, as in the Public Health Act, fines cannot be imposed concurrently but can be imposed pursuant to the spirit of that concept by utilizing graduated fines for similar offences. In R v Great White Holdings Ltd., 2005 ABCA 188 (CanLII), Justice Côté commented on this anomaly and emphasized the duty on the court to review the sentence for its global cogency, especially when arising out of the same set of facts (paras 26, 29). Not only can fines not be imposed concurrently, but they must also be paid as a global amount. Totality is therefore a controlling feature of sentencing fine-only offences where there are multiple counts.

Additionally, the Public Health Act contemplates fine-only penalties within a very specific range. In criminal sanctioning, the options for sentencing an individual offender are varied, providing for a range of sentencing options and for the imposition of a combination of those options. For instance, under section 734(1) of the Criminal Code, a court can order a fine in addition to another sentencing option such as probation or imprisonment. Under section 735, an organization, when convicted of a summary conviction offence, is subject to a maximum fine of one hundred thousand dollars, in lieu of imprisonment. As an aside, traditionally, there were few sentencing options for a corporation convicted of a criminal offence other than monetary sanctions, however the Code amendments which came into force in 2004 provided for the imposition of probation orders on offender organizations. The conditions of these orders can have a profound impact on the corporate culture of an organization by requiring the establishment of “policies, standards and procedures” to reduce the likelihood of further offences (see section 732.1(3.1)(b) of the Criminal Code). For more discussion of these changes in the Code, read A Plain Language Guide to Bill C-45 – Amendments to the Criminal Code Affecting the Criminal Liability of Organizations.

Although criminal law principles are applicable, the court recognized that there are very real differences between regulatory and criminal offences, which must modify the general sentencing approach to proportionality and totality (at para 32). Regulatory offences are not constitutionally required to be full mens rea offences. The presumptive mens rea for regulatory offences, per R v Sault Ste Marie, [1978] 2 SCR 1299 (CanLII), is strict liability, a form of civil negligence. This parliamentary presumptive intention can be rebutted by Parliament in favour of absolute liability, requiring a “no fault” element. However, in accordance with section 7 of the Charter and our principles of fundamental justice, an absolute liability offence is only viable where there is no potential loss of liberty. In other words, where the penalty is fine-only. The fact, therefore, that the public health sanctioning system is purely monetary may suggest that these offences require no proof of a blameworthy state of mind or even no inference of such a fault requirement from the proof of the prohibited act. The concept of proportionality then, that the sanction be consistent with the gravity of the offence and the blameworthiness of the offender, may not have the same gravitas as in the case of an offence where an element of fault is required. However should the offender facing an absolute liability offence have an intention to commit the offence or, in other words, be found blameworthy, that would certainly be a factor aggravating the sentence.

In R v Maghera, 2016 ABQB 50 (CanLII), Justice Jeffrey commented on this aspect of sentencing for absolute liability regulatory offences. The defendant in that case entered pleas of guilty to offences under the Alberta Fair Trading Act, RSA 2000, c F-2, which did attract penalties of incarceration. Nevertheless, Justice Jeffrey noted that “typically the degree of moral blameworthiness will be less than in criminal offences, as will be also the gravity of the offence” (Maghera at para 12). On that basis, there is a different approach to regulatory sentencing which does not require proof of a blameworthy state of mind. The primary sentencing objective in those cases is the “balancing” of “competing considerations in favor of rehabilitation of the offender and protection of the public” (Maghera at para 13). This shift, from individual interests to public interests or from denunciation to the protection of the public from harm, is in a sense the hallmark of a regulatory offence as opposed to a criminal one. It is the consequences of the behavior being sanctioned as opposed to the culpability of the offender being punished. However, the more serious the regulatory offence, as evidenced by the fault requirement, which in turn is proportionate to the possible punishment, the closer that regulatory behaviour comes to criminal law. In the end, much regulatory behaviour, as in the Public Health Act, is concerned with the potential or risk of harm as opposed to actual harm. Sentencing for risk or the potentialities of the conduct is inherent in much regulatory sanctioning (Maghera at para 14).  

The majority in Bhanji found no inconsistency between the Goebel and 50737 decisions. In their view, each case applied the same principles but in differing fact situations. In sentencing, a judge could use either or both approaches depending on the case providing the judge did not “double count” or use totality as a double deduction of the appropriate sentence (at para 78). The majority goes further to give an excellent survey of the sentencing principles to be employed in the case (at para 79). This paragraph gives clear direction for sentencing in this area where totality is engaged.

To elucidate the principle of totality and the approaches used, the majority referred to some previous Alberta Court of Appeal decisions in criminal cases but did not refer to their most recent decision, R v Meer, 2016 ABCA 368 (CanLII). Coincidentally, Justice Watson, the other member of the Bhanji majority, was a member of this panel. Although it was a criminal case, the appellant in Meer argued that the appropriate approach in a case of multiple charges, some of which are related factually, is to group those offences into like categories and then apply the totality principle on each group or category of offences. Then, the sentencing judge, as a “last look,” should review the total global sentence imposed to ensure the global sentence is appropriate. This requirement for an “intermediate totality adjustment” was soundly rejected by the Court of Appeal (Meer at paras 17-19). However, the court did find the sentencing judge erred by not applying the statutory totality requirement under section 718.2(c) of the Code as required in the earlier Alberta Court of Appeal decision of R v May, 2012 ABCA 213 (CanLII), (at paras 13-14), a decision which is referenced in Bhanji.

In the May decision, and as echoed in Bhanji, totality engages the principles of proportionality and of restraint (see R v Proulx, [2000] 1 SCR 61 (CanLII), at para 90, Lamer CJ), both of which must be balanced, indeed “delicately” balanced, in arriving at a just and appropriate sentence. Restraint, returning to Chief Justice Lamer in M(CA), is an underlying tenet of our sanctioning system which tempers the potentially heavy hand of retributive justice by fashioning a fair and human sentence which “invigorates” (see May at para 14) public confidence in the justice system and thereby is consistent with the community’s sense of justice. The comments in Proulx are specifically directed to incarceration as the “last” resort as recognized under section 718.2(d). The sentencing judge, although not required to apply intermediate totality, was required to apply totality globally. In M(CA) Chief Justice Lamer explains the purpose of totality is “to ensure that the cumulative sentence rendered does not exceed the overall culpability of the offender” (at para 42). In this paragraph, Lamer CJ approves of the description of totality as requiring “a sentencer who has passed a series of sentences, each properly calculated in relation to the offence for which it is imposed and each properly made consecutive in accordance with the principles governing consecutive sentences, to review the aggregate sentence and consider whether the aggregate sentence is ‘just and appropriate’.”.

However, the Bhanji majority does refer to the case of R v Elliot, 2012 ABCA 214 (CanLII), on the totality issue. Elliot is not referenced in the Meer case but is a decision rendered on behalf of the court by Justice O’Ferrall, the dissenter in Bhanji, as a Memorandum from the Bench. Of interest, Justice Watson, a member of the majority in Bhanji, was also on the Elliot panel. In Elliot, Justice O’Ferrall, for the court, outlines the totality approach to multiple counts, again, as consistent with the earlier case of Goebel and the later decision of Meer (at para 7). Individual sentences must be fit and appropriate, then the court considers which sentences should be concurrent or consecutive based on similarities in the fact situation, and then a final review of the global sentence to ensure compliance with section 718.2(c). If the global sentence is unduly long or harsh, then the judge should reduce the individual sentence, even though in isolation the sentence is fit, or direct that some consecutive sentences be served concurrently. I would add to this discussion that the court in determining concurrent sentences must also be mindful of the direction under section 718.3(4)) to consider imposing consecutive terms under certain circumstances, including where the offences do not arise out of the same series of events or where the accused was on judicial release at the time an offence was committed or where the offences were committed while fleeing from police. The clear tension between the approach to totality and this statutory requirement suggests that sentencing judges must clearly and explicitly articulate how they are crafting a sentence where totality is an issue.

In the end, the majority, after a thorough discussion of the relevant sentencing principles engaged in the case and after due consideration of the aggravating and mitigating circumstances, found the Summary Conviction Appeal Court Judge did not error in overturning the sentencing judge’s disposition and reducing the global fines (at paras 21, 24). Nor did they find, as urged by the appellant, that the appellate judge “double counted” or improperly applied totality concepts in imposing the individual sentences and in the final “last look” (at para 76). As discussed above, the majority was not satisfied that in the unique circumstances of regulatory sentencing, where there is no option to impose concurrent sentences, and where there is a suggestion the offences “overlap” both factually and by relationship of offenders, the original sentence was globally appropriate. The sentencing judge did not merely fail to adequately compensate for totality, the judge also failed to adequately consider the mitigating features of the offence as well as the multi-party/multi-offences conundrum (at para 76). The Summary Conviction Appeal Judge therefore properly reconsidered the matter by considering all relevant sentencing principles.

The dissent of Justice O’Ferrall offers a different perspective, finding there was no error in principle made by the sentencing judge and that effectively the Summary Conviction Appeal Judge substituted his own opinion on a sentence in which there was no clear error. The dissent does not share the multi-party totality concerns that the majority found to be engaged. Indeed, Justice O’Ferrall questions whether the principles of totality as conceived in criminal law even have a place in the regulatory context when monetary fines are the norm (at paras 85, 94, 108, 109). Neither the approach in Goebel nor in 50737 Alberta Ltd., in Justice O’Ferrall’s opinion, was therefore applicable. There was no “discretion” to forgive any of the 801 days of non-compliance and the sentence should reflect that. In finding the original penalty fit, Justice O’Ferrall viewed the aggravating and mitigating features of the case in a much different light than the Summary Conviction Appeal Judge and the majority decision. His position emphasizes the regulatory nature of the sentencing and the overarching objective of regulation to, in the words of Justice Blair of the Ontario Court of Appeal decision in R v Cotton Felts Ltd, (1982), 2 CCC (3d) 287, “enforce regulatory standards by deterrence.” The complexities of sentencing are further reinforced by the special nature of organizations and those peculiar factors that must be considered in sentencing such an offender as evidenced by the Criminal Code sentencing factors in section 718.21. However, it should be noted that some of those factors are more applicable to a large corporation, one less closely held than the case at bar.

The Bhanji decision, despite its specific application, does remind us of the difficulties in crafting an appropriate sentence in any area of criminal or quasi-criminal law. The disjunction between the majority and dissent decisions exemplifies the inherent obstacles found in the “delicate art” of sentencing and helps explain the panoply of decisions, at all level of courts, on the proper approach to those principles. This “delicate” balance of sentencing becomes more fragile and at risk when a confluence of common law and statutory sentencing principles is engaged. In Bhanji, there are issues of proportionality, totality, consecutive terms, multi-parties, multitude of counts, corporations, and closely related offenders superimposed on the strictures of regulatory liability and regulatory sanctioning. In the end, the sentencing judge’s “last look” must, colloquially, “do the right thing.” But how? How does a court reflect society’s desire to protect with the law’s commitment to principle? Do we simply graft onto the regulatory process the punitive sanctioning principles from criminal law and from those principles craft regulatory principles consistent with the uniqueness of the regulatory arena as a quasi-criminal process? Is that even simply done? These are in fact the difficult issues at the heart of the Bhanji case.

Although the court in Bhanji is rightly concerned with this delicate balance, when reading through this case and the other cases engaged in this issue, one realizes that perhaps, as suggested by Justice O’Ferrall’s dissent, this “last look” loses meaning when applied to the regulatory field. To be sure, the courts have it right in terms of principle but the ultimate question may engage whether those principles themselves are appropriate considering the heightened importance of regulation and the deepening moral values we attach to proper regulatory conduct. There is a tension there between what we once thought regulatory behaviour to be - consequence-based conduct which is not inherently wrong - as opposed to what we feel now - conduct which has the great potential to be inherently wrong. In a sense, it is our initial approach to these cases which deserves a second look, including a move away from straight monetary penalties to more “creative” sentencing as found in other regulatory statutes and even as envisioned under section 732.1(3.1) of the Criminal Code, dealing with possible probationary terms on organizations. To end with Lamer CJ’s metaphor in M(CA), the “delicate art” of sentencing needs artists who are fully equipped for their task. 

Order In the Skyways: A Comment on the Regulation of Drones

The increasing popularity of drones is attracting the attention of the regulatory process as municipalities, such as Calgary, attempt to control the use of drones in public areas through the bylaw process (see section 24(c) of the City of Calgary Parks and Pathways Bylaw 20M2003). In fact, the issue has become so pressing that the federal government recently announced immediate action through the Interim Order Respecting the Use of Model Aircraft  by amending the Aeronautics Act RSC 1985, c. A-2 to more specifically address the “significant risk” the operation of drones have “to aviation safety or the safety of the public.” However, regulation in this nascent area of recreation has not been without difficulties. The extent to which the regulatory regime can effectively and fairly maintain order in the skyways may appear a simple task but as with any statutory process, “the proof is in the pudding” or as in the recent summary conviction appeal against conviction in R v Shah, 2017 ABQB 144 the “proof,” involving the appropriate application of the standard of proof, was lacking.

The Appellant in this case, ably represented both at trial and on appeal by our very own Student Legal Assistance, was flying a recreational remote controlled drone during the evening hours of January 16, 2016 when he was charged under section 602.45 of the Canadian Aviation Regulations SOR 96/433 enacted under the Aeronautics Act. The section states that: “No person shall fly a model aircraft or a kite or launch a model rocket or a rocket of a type used in a fireworks display into cloud or in a manner that is or is likely to be hazardous to aviation safety.”

R v Shah is an appeal of a summary conviction entered at trial in Provincial Court.  Three grounds of appeal were advanced before Madam Justice J. Antonio (at para 2). The first ground concerns the trial judge’s application of the standard of proof. The second ground involves the proof of the required actus reus elements of the offence, namely the requirement the model be flown “in a manner...likely to be hazardous to aviation safety.” The third ground raises the issue of reasonable apprehension of bias on the basis that the trial judge “pre-determined” the case. The first ground was successful while the other two were dismissed. Justice Antonio has ordered a new trial.

The facts are brief but provide insight into the issues raised on appeal. While on road patrol, two officers observed “some blinking lights in the dark sky” above a park located “just south” of the main runway of the Calgary International Airport (at paras 4 and 6). The officer noticed the lights were above the trees, which the officer “estimated” as 80 feet tall (at para 4). When the officers arrived on scene located at a nearby park, the Appellant was packing away his recreational drone into his car. While the officer was conversing with the Appellant, passenger planes were “coming in for landing with wheels down” at an “estimated” altitude of 200 to 250 feet (at para 6). The officer, did not however, notice any planes in the air when the drone was in use. According to an officer who later tested the Appellant’s drone, the object could fly up to an “estimated” height of 200 feet (at para 7).

The officers were not qualified to give expert evidence and no other evidence was called by the Crown in support of the prosecution. Although initially the Crown attempted to rely on a regulatory requirement imposing a 9 km no-fly zone for drones near an airport, an adjournment revealed that in fact there was no such regulation in place at the time of the incident. Ultimately, the trial judge convicted the appellant of the offence in a brief oral judgment.

Turning to the first ground, the error which resulted in an order for a new trial, Justice Antonio found that in convicting the appellant the trial judge failed to correctly resolve the required standard of proof. It was argued, and referenced by the trial judge, that the matter, as a regulatory offence, was one of strict liability. A strict liability offence, as described by Justice Dickson at page 1326 of the seminal case on regulatory or public welfare offences R v Sault Ste Marie [1978] 2 SCR 1299, is an offence for which the Crown need not prove mens rea as the proof of the conduct is prima facie proof of the offence at which point the burden then shifts onto the defendant to establish a due diligence or mistake of fact defence. Strict liability offences are, as Glanville Williams explained in Criminal Law (2d ed.): The General Part at page 262, a form of negligence with the focus on whether the defendant, as a reasonable person, took all due care in performing the legitimate yet potentially harmful activity.

This form of liability was reviewed under section 7 of the Charter in R v Wholesale Travel Group Inc, [1991] 3 SCR 154 where the Supreme Court unanimously concluded that the Charter requirements are “met in the regulatory context by the imposition of liability based on a negligence standard” (Justice Cory at p 241). However, as proof of the actus reus elements of the offence is key to conviction and considering the Charter values reflected in the presumption of innocence, the Crown, is obliged to prove the actus reus components of a regulatory offence beyond a reasonable doubt (at p 248). This basic proof principle was not clearly recognized by the trial judge in the Shah case when he stated in his reasons for conviction that the Crown “met the burden of establishing” the actions of the Appellant to his “satisfaction, and I’m not certain whether it’s beyond a reasonable doubt” (at para 13). It was this clear error, as found by Justice Antonio, which resulted in the quashing of the Appellant’s conviction and the ordering of a new trial. Hopefully, this decision will highlight this key requirement in future such prosecutions. Certainly, it is the obligation of the Crown to articulate this standard in their submissions.

The second ground of appeal was dismissed by Justice Antonio but still deserves attention. Essentially, the Appellant’s argument was that the Crown was required to prove the drone was operated by the Appellant “in a manner...likely to be hazardous to aviation safety” by way of expert evidence, and that by not doing so the Crown failed to provide any evidence upon which the trial judge could reasonably convict. The Appellant further alternatively argued that the trial judge erred in his interpretation of the term “likely.” Justice Antonio collapsed these two issues and entered into a statutory interpretation exercise, focusing on the word “likely” as it modifies the term “hazardous.”

Through this approach, Justice Antonio found that the required elements of the offence are directed to the likelihood of an aviation hazard, implying “a risk of a risk” and therefore casts “a broad actus reus net” (at paras 21 and 22). On that basis, considering the wide range of possible hazards, Justice Antonio found expert evidence on that issue may or may not be required depending on the facts of the case. As an example, she referred to the R v Khorfan, 2011 ABPC 84 (CanLII) decision wherein Judge Fraser considered expert testimony on the use of a halogen spotlight a “hazard” under the regulations. In Justice Antonio’s view, it would “fall to the next trial judge to determine whether the evidence before him or her” was sufficient to prove the conduct fulfilled the offence requirements of “likely hazardous” (at para 25).

Although Justice Antonio’s reasoning on this issue is attractive and provides for a robust reading of the section consistent with the objective of the regulatory scheme as aviation safety, the salient issue here is not how “likely hazardous” may generally be proven but whether in this specific fact situation there was evidence upon which a properly instructed trier of fact could reasonably convict. In this case, the only evidence before the court was from two officers who had no particular knowledge or expertise in estimating height, never mind any ability to “estimate” the height of an airplane at night in the backdrop of a darkened sky. As cautioned in Graat v The Queen, [1982] 2 SCR 819 (CanLII) police officers testifying in this manner are giving a compendium of observations, which are merely factual observations similar to any other witness’s factual observations. Their evidence is not enhanced by their position as police officers. In other words, these officers were in no special position to make the height estimates. Officers may have some expertise in assessing speed and vertical distance due to their daily role as police officers who enforce traffic regulations, however. they have no particular expertise in assessing altitude. This is not a road hazard but an aviation safety hazard.

In fact, the federal aviation regulations (section 602.14 of the Canadian Aviation Regulations) specify aircraft height maximums when flying over a built-up area. Although the regulations also indicate that those maximums do not apply when the aircraft is landing, there is absolutely no evidence in the Shah case at what point any of those observable aircrafts were in their landing and therefore not subject to the regulated height restrictions. The issue here is not just if the conduct was a “likely hazard” but is this conduct, as observed by the officers on the evening in question, “likely hazardous to aviation safety.” To prove the risk of the conduct to aviation safety beyond a reasonable doubt more cogent evidence was needed to connect the inferences than simply a lay person’s belief that this drone “might” reach a certain “estimated” height and “might” therefore be a hazard to an airborne aircraft which “might” be at another height. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt cannot rest, without more, on such imprecise opinion evidence dependent on an imprecise chain of reasoning. In Professor Wigmore’s words (7 J. Wigmore, Evidence, 1917 at 1-2.), a witness must be a “knower, not a guesser.” This evidential requirement is even more important considering the new changes announced to the aviation regulations which provide for precise statutory limits within which a drone cannot be flown. The new legislation prohibits the flying of recreational drones “at an altitude greater than 300 feet AGL” or “within 9 km of the centre of the aerodrome” circumscribing what would constitute a likely hazardous situation. It is interesting to note that the height in the new regulations differs from the height “estimates” provided by the police officers.

Clearly, there needs to be reliable and probative evidence on the record to make these findings be it expert evidence or not. In the Khorfan decision, for instance, the prosecution called non-expert evidence from an air traffic controller who was on duty the evening of the offence and gave crucial evidence on “aircraft taking off and their height and angle” (at para 30) at that time. This kind of evidence could provide the needed connection between the drone flight altitude and the “likely” aviation safety hazard. This argument ties into the first ground of appeal where concerns were rightly made with the trial judge’s application of the appropriate standard. There was simply no evidence upon which to convict beyond a reasonable doubt.

The final ground of appeal concerns the trial judge’s role as an impartial arbiter of the case, a role which is at the heart of our adversarial system. The test for unreasonable bias for good reason requires a high standard and Justice Antonio correctly articulates the difficulties in advancing such a ground, particularly in provincial court where justice must be done not only fairly but also efficiently. On a certain view, however, this ground is also linked with the first and second grounds of appeal in that the failure to properly apply the required standard of proof resulted in findings which may appear cursory and “pre-determined.”  

In the end, this prosecution was unsatisfactory. Considering the rise in regulation of our day to day activities, this case should be viewed as a caution that even in the realm of public safety, convictions must be based on sound principles and evidence.

Who Are the “Parents of the Nation”? Thoughts on the Stephan Case and Section 215 of the Criminal Code ( also published on the ABlawg.ca website)

Much has been written and said on the characteristics of a “good” parent. Such information is easily accessible by anyone with a library card and internet access. It can be found by a click of our mouse on various blog postings (click here for a list of parenting blogs, which share the “real truth” about parenting) and dedicated websites (click here for a list of “not-to-be-missed” websites). Even celebrity has something to say about parenting practices; cue self-styled “lifestyle” guru, Gwyneth Paltrow, who famously has her children on a controversial low-carb, sugar free diet. Social media is another fount of information, often in the form of criticism or apologies. All of these venues enforce a “normative” notion of parenting. But through all this data there seems to be a bright-line drawn between “good” and “bad” parenting. For example, “bad” parents administer cocaine to a child (R v TB, 2010 ONSC 1579), knowingly leave a child in a car for an extended period of time during a hot summer afternoon (R v Huang, 2015 ONCJ 46), or intentionally attacks a child with a knife (R v BJG, 2013 ABCA 260). In those instances, the egregious conduct is not merely “bad” parenting but criminal behavior deserving of state imposed sanctions and its concomitant stigma. Although we can recognize “criminal” parenting when we see it, the real difficulty lies in identifying behaviors that are not so evidently “bad.” The recent Stephan case has ignited a debate on where that line between “bad” and “criminal” should be drawn; or is the line already drawn perhaps not as bright as we might have previously believed?

David and Collet Stephan were convicted of failing to provide the necessities of life to their 19-month old child, Ezekiel, who died from bacterial meningitis after the couple rejected medical treatment for the child opting instead for naturopathic remedies. The seven-day trial attracted intense media and social media attention. For instance, a quick and crude Google search of “David Stephan” provided 91,400 results, while “Collet Stephan” produced 67,700 hits. Interestingly, a Google search for “David and Collet Stephan” netted 40,800 results, while the reverse search of “Collet and David Stephan” suggestively revealed only 912 web hits. This difference can probably be explained by David Stephan’s very public disappointment in the verdict and the “open letter” to the jury he posted on Facebook. In any event, the reaction to the verdict was not homogeneous, with many people supportive of the couple shocked at the guilty verdict, while others were distinctly unsurprised. The reason for this disconnect may lie in the actual offence charged, which is found under section 215 of the Criminal Code.

Section 215(1) creates legal duties on people based on the nature of the relationships between them, or based on undertakings to care for a person in need. Under subsection 2, it is the failure to perform that duty which lies at the crux of the offence. Traditionally, criminal law is disinclined to base criminal sanction on omissions or failures to act. This disinclination can be seen in the parameters of criminal omissions such as found in s. 219, criminal negligence, wherein an omission can be an element of the offence if it involves a “duty imposed by law.” Indeed, such a legal duty can be found under s. 215. Even though omissions sit uncomfortably within the criminal law, section 215 as a crime of neglect has been in the Criminal Code since its inception in 1892.

Section 215 has changed very little over the ensuing 134 years other than making the application of the section gender neutral and increasing the maximum penalty upon conviction. Since 2005, if the Crown elects to proceed by indictment, the maximum sentence is five years incarceration, increased from the previous maximum of two years. On summary conviction maximum has also increased to a period of eighteen months incarceration, up from six months and/or a $2,000 fine. Despite the longevity of this section, there appears to be a surprisingly small number of reported cases (Westlaw search produced 371 cases with 149 of those pertaining to the duty of a “parent” to a child). The historical reason for the parental legal duty was to account for the husband/father deserting a wife and child, which caused an endangerment of life and health (R v Middleton, 1997 CanLII 12350 (ON SC) LaForme J (as he then was) at para 10). Although in later amendments, the definition of “parent” included either spouse, the broader objective of criminalizing parental conduct remained the same.

Case law has distinguished the duty imposed as a result of a familial or familial-like relationship from the duty arising from an undertaking to care for a person in need. In the latter case, it is this “undertaking” to protect and provide for another person which controls the duty. This focus on an “undertaking” has its genesis in contract law as noted in Burbidge’s Digest of the Criminal Law published in 1890 before the Criminal Code was introduced. In Article 269 the duty to provide the necessaries of life arises “by contract or by law, or by the act of taking charge.” This concept of “taking charge” with a resultant undertaking to assist is consistent with common law omissions, which arises from a positive act of the accused. Once an accused acts by undertaking to care for another then the duty to continue those actions arise. Any failure or neglect of that undertaking or duty, which results in harm or a risk of harm, becomes the omission under the criminal law. Much of the legal controversy regarding this duty naturally focuses on the actual initial act or undertaking and in what circumstances the law should find such a duty to exist or not.

In the matter of a “parent, guardian or head of a family” who fails to provide the “necessaries of life” for a child under sixteen years, it is the ongoing nuclear relationship which binds them. Case law, as it relates to a parent’s duty to a child, does not focus on the creation of that relationship. Rather, the more pressing issue, in terms of the actus reus requirements, is whether or not the neglect constitutes the “necessaries of life” which endangers the life or health of the child. In the 1912 Sydney case (20 CCC 376 (SKCA)), the term “necessaries” included “food, clothing, shelter, and medical attendance.” That list was non-exhaustive and depended upon the circumstances of the case. The term also acquires its meaning from the Criminal Code as the heading under which s. 215 is found is entitled Duties Tending to Preservation of Life. By this “preamble,” necessaries must be those which “tend to preserve life” and are not necessaries “in their ordinary legal sense” (Rex v Brooks (1902), 5 CCC 372 (BCCA)).

This uncodified judicial definition of “necessaries of life” has broadened in scope over the years to reflect society’s changing values. Modernity lies at the core of these changes as technological advances, the humanistic approach, and as mentioned earlier, the advent of media has required more or even different parental obligations. The “necessaries of life” has become more than adequate subsistence as it reflects society’s concern to protect the most vulnerable in our society from harm. To that end, Justice G. A. Martin in the 1981 Ontario Court of Appeal case of Popen (60 C.C.C. (2d) 232) found the “necessaries of life” should not be confined to specific necessities such as food and shelter. Rather, it also includes a more general duty to provide “necessary protection of a child from harm” (Popen at para 20). This broader definition was applied in the 1999 Hariczuk case ([1999] OJ No. 1424 (ONCJ)), in which Justice Vaillancourt found a parental duty, under s. 215, to provide a safe environment for a child. Tragically, the accused, who was making great progress in his drug addiction treatment in order to be a “good” parent to his six-year old son, prepared his methadone treatment by mixing it with his son’s favourite beverage. Although Mr. Hariczuk cautioned his son not to drink it, the child did so when he awoke thirsty in the middle of the night. In that case, Hariczuk was convicted of manslaughter.

Although society shares the obligation to protect children as seen through the myriad of child protection legislation both federally and provincially, public policy requires that parents must meet the standard of conduct of a reasonably prudent parent. It is in those cases where the failure in the s. 215 duty is a “marked departure” from the norm, that the criminal law bright-line is drawn between a “bad” parent and a “criminal” one (R v Naglik, [1993] 3 SCR 122, 1993 CanLII 64 (SCC), Lamer CJ at paras 45 to 46). This marked or criminal departure from the accepted standard of care constitutes the mens rea or fault element of the offence under s. 215. It is an objective standard of liability, which does not depend on the awareness or intention of the accused but on the legal construction of a standard embodied by the “reasonably prudent parent.” Therefore, the determination of criminal responsibility depends on "a marked departure from the conduct of a reasonably prudent parent in circumstances where it was objectively foreseeable that the failure to provide the necessaries of life would lead to a risk of danger to the life, or a risk of permanent endangerment to the health, of the child"(Naglik at para 46; R v JF, [2008] 3 SCR 215, 2008 SCC 60 at para 8).

Despite Lamer CJ’s great efforts in the late eighties and early nineties to imbue the objective standard with the personal characteristics of the accused as a concession to human frailties in order to ensure the morally innocent would not be captured by the criminal law, the “reasonably prudent parent” does not “look” like the accused. The “modification” to the objective standard, if it can even be called that, lies in the requirement that the trier of fact assess the standard in light of the circumstances of the case. Therefore, it is in the determination of the facts and how they connect to both the actus reus and mens rea requirements, which will result in a finding that certain parental conduct is or is not criminal.

Of course, this suggests a range of contextualized conduct that will attract penal sanctioning. In fact, many cases involving the death of a child result in charges of murder (s. 229) or manslaughter (s. 222(5)(a) or (b)) or criminal negligence causing death (s.221). The legal duty found under s.215 can provide the underlying unlawful act for all of these charges, even for the offence of murder, which requires a subjective fault element. For example, in R v Boittneau, (269 CCC (3d) 227, 2011 ONCA 194) the grandparents were convicted of second-degree murder for the neglect of their grandson. Another Alberta trial is soon to begin in which the parents are charged with first-degree murder as a result of the death of their son who died of a bacterial infection, allegedly contracted as a result neglect.  Some cases, not involving a fatality, may be a criminal negligence charge, under s. 219 of the Criminal Code, predicated on s. 215 as the legal duty required as part of the actus reus of the offence. In those cases, the prosecution must not only establish the required elements of s. 215 but must also prove that the conduct of the accused, objectively viewed, displayed a “wanton and reckless disregard for the lives and safety of others” and was a marked and substantial departure from the required standard. The higher degree of departure being both “marked” and “substantial” is consistent with the higher possible penalties upon conviction (see R v ADH, [2013] 2 SCR 269, 2013 SCC 28 Cromwell J at para 61).

Understanding the background and make-up of s. 215 does assist us in discussing the Stephan case and the resultant public interest in the file. In many ways, the circumstances fit easily within the legal duty as outlined in s. 215 and the judicial interpretation of the necessaries of life. There are many cases where a parent’s failure to provide a child with prompt and adequate medical attention has resulted in a conviction under s. 215 or for the more serious offences of criminal negligence or manslaughter. Some of these cases are in the context of the belief system of the parents, typically on religious grounds. In the seminal case of Tutton and Tutton ([1989] 1 SCR 1392), Arthur and Carol Tutton were convicted of manslaughter as a result of stopping their diabetic child’s insulin injections in favour of faith healing. The Supreme Court of Canada sent the matter back for retrial but on the basis of the inadequacy of the charge to the jury on the defence of mistake of fact. In that case too, public opinion was divided. According to a news article describing the conviction, “a number of supporters cried and embraced” the Tuttons.

Although factually, the Stephan case seems to “fit” the kind of conduct prosecuted under s. 215, the emphasis must not be on the tragic outcome but on whether or not the conduct was a “marked departure” from the reasonable parent standard. As with so many legal terms “marked” is not quantified but is to be read in the context of the criminal sanction. As with driving offences, to attract a criminal sanction, the conduct must involve more than mere imperfections. Thus, the question of what is “marked” is not based on “are these parents “bad” parents,” or even, “based on my own personal standards are these parents bad parents,” but rather the question is based on the societal standard in place in the context of the circumstances.  Therefore, it is not those who occasionally slip off that standard or even those who are continually slightly below that standard, who should be subject to society’s ultimate approbation through our criminal law. For instance, in the 2006 Brennan case (243 NSR (2d) 18 (NSPC)), Rhonda Brennan was acquitted of failing to provide the necessaries of life to her two-month old child. The child was born seven and a half months premature. Although the baby initially gained weight and seemed to thrive while in the hospital, once in the mother’s care, the baby’s weight declined. Rhonda generally followed medical instruction, took her baby to the public health nurse and pediatrician, and implemented a feeding regime. In acquitting Rhonda, Provincial Court Judge Tufts found that although she failed to adequately feed the baby, the risk of harm to the child would not have been apparent to a reasonably prudent parent. Another parent may have been more “attuned” to the situation and more “aggressive” in their approach but the accused’s conduct was not a marked departure from the standard.  In the Stephan case people will disagree on the verdict based on their own concept of parenting and strongly held beliefs but, accepting that the jury was properly instructed on the law, the finding of guilt would be based on a finding that in all of the circumstances, objectively viewed, the Stephans’ conduct was a marked departure from that of the reasonably prudent parent.

Still there is room for debate over the criminalization of parenting and the efficacy of permitting the law access into our most intimate relationships (in a different context I harken back to Prime Minister Pierre E. Trudeau’s oft quoted statement that “The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation”). We should, as a society, discuss where the line should be drawn and when we should “invite” the law into our homes or sanction its entrance through our Criminal Code in the guise of parens patriae (translates to “parents of the nation”). Perhaps we should also reconsider how we judge ourselves and our neighbours, particularly in social media.  In an age of opting out of vaccinations and home schooling, the boundaries of “good” and “bad” parenting seem to shift and waver with each Twitter re-tweet and every Facebook “like”: Was that lunch nutritious enough? Do my kids go to bed too late? Are my children too scheduled? And, finally, am I being judged for my parental decisions? Although all of these concerns are a far cry from the kind of conduct underlying s. 215, all of those criminal cases, including the Stephan case, raise the tension we all feel between private life and public expectations.

 

R v LSM and the “Sanctity” of the Joint Submission: A Case Commentary for ABlawg (http://ablawg.ca)

In R v LSM, 2016 ABQB 112, Associate Chief Justice Rooke of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta, sitting as a summary conviction appeal court, considers the “sanctity” of the joint submission and the circumstances in which the subsequent sentence will be varied on appeal. In his view “an appeal of a joint submission should rarely succeed” (at para 20). He supports this position by outlining three very narrow exceptions to this rule. After a thorough analysis of the principles, Associate Chief Justice Rooke reluctantly allows the appeal in part. He does so by finding only one ground of appeal, the ground presented on consent, falls within an exception. The decision, on its face, appears to be a straightforward application of the principles at hand. Yet, on further contemplation, this decision may not be about the “sanctity” of a joint submission but rather about ensuring that, in the end, justice is done.

Associate Chief Justice Rooke immediately frames the issue in sweeping terms in the opening paragraph of the decision: “This case concerns the sanctity of the ‘joint submission’ on a guilty plea and sentence in the administration of justice.” On a review of case law, the descriptor “sanctity” seems overdrawn. Although, joint submissions enjoy a “high level of deference” and must be given “serious consideration” by the sentencing judge (See R v GWC, 2000 ABCA 333, Berger, JA at para 20), they are not inviolable. A sentencing judge is not bound by the proposed sentence. Indeed, as explained by Mr. Justice Berger in GWC (at para 19), it is incumbent on the sentencing judge to undertake “a careful and diligent inquiry of counsel as to the circumstances underlying a joint sentencing submission” before exercising the discretion to accept it.  This is done to ensure the proposed sentence, in accordance with sentencing principles, is a fit one. Accordingly, sentencing judges should only reject a joint submission where the sentence proposed is unfit or unreasonable (See R v Gibson, 2015 ABCA 41 at paras 9 to 10).  Indeed, departing from a joint submission, which is fit, should not be done “even if he or she would impose a harsher sentence which would also be fit and reasonable” (See R v Bullock, 2013 ABCA 44, Berger, JA for the majority at para 18).

Some appellate jurisdictions have taken the position that a joint submission may also be rejected if the sentence is contrary to the public interest and would bring the administration of justice into disrepute. Currently, the efficacy of this additional more stringent ground for departing from a joint submission will be argued on March 31, 2016 before the Supreme Court of Canada in the Anthony-Cook case on appeal from the British Columbia Court of Appeal (R v Anthony-Cook, 2015 BCCA 22). In Alberta, this ground has not been consistently adopted. In the GWC decision, Mr. Justice Berger does refer to this position in paragraph 18 without endorsing it as a viable ground beyond fitness or unreasonableness. In the dissenting decision of Shular, (2014 ABCA 241) Madame Justice Hunt at paragraph 106 does rely on this ground as providing an additional basis for rejecting a joint submission. However, leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada was dismissed in this case (Robert Shular v Her Majesty the Queen, 2014 CanLII 76800 (SCC).

Additionally, the joint submission itself is not considered a binding undertaking between the defence and prosecution. In the 2011 Nixon case ([2011] 2 SCR 566), the Supreme Court of Canada agreed with the Alberta Court of Appeal’s decision that the repudiation of a plea agreement, on the basis it was contrary to the public interest, was not an abuse of process but a proper exercise of prosecutorial discretion. In that instance, the plea negotiation included a joint submission on sentence.  

Even though the original joint submission cannot be considered sacrosanct, is the sentence imposed on the basis of a joint submission essentially “appeal proof?” Associate Chief Justice Rooke finds it is, except in three very narrow circumstances. In his view, where a joint submission is proffered by competent counsel and accepted by a sentencing judge, the offender should not be permitted to “resile” later on appeal (para 2). Further, according to Associate Chief Justice Rooke, the the appeal court should “support” joint submissions by upholding them on appeal (para 21). As he explains, in paragraphs 21 and 25, a joint submission is an efficient and effective way to deal with criminal matters in the “busy docket courts.” It would therefore be counter intuitive to the realities of the practice of criminal law and the quest for finality to provide a further forum for change. The appellate arena is not, as described by Associate Chief Justice Rooke in paragraph 25, an opportunity to express “buyer’s remorse.” This last comment has some truth to it as there must be articulable grounds for appeal in accordance with sentencing principles and s. 687 of the Criminal Code. However, Associate Chief Justice Rooke further contends that a sentence resulting from a joint submission does not exist “until we allege there is an error in the sentencing judge accepting our representations or some other way.” This premise comes very close to suggesting an erroneous position: that even an error in principle should not be a ground for appellate intervention. As argued in this commentary, that is exactly when appellate intervention is not only permitted but also desired.

In any event, Associate Chief Justice Rooke cites three “very narrow” circumstances in which an offender can “resile” from a sentence imposed by way of joint submission (para 2). The first exception is where the sentence imposed is illegal as it is statutorily unavailable (para 3). The second instance is where the sentence, “for some unusual reason,” is demonstrably unfit (para 4). Third, which according to Associate Chief Justice Rooke is the situation in LSM, is where there is a “change in circumstances” after sentence is imposed (para 5).

The first exception, illegality of sentence, makes sense. Certainly, there is an obligation on the appellate court to correct an illegal sentence. Even in cases where an appeal has not been filed within the designated appeal period, the court has allowed extensions to file an appeal where an illegal sentence was imposed (see for example R v MJR, 2007 NSCA 35). In R v Hunter (2004 ABCA 230), the Alberta Court of Appeal vacated the illegal conditional sentence of 18 months imposed for a summary conviction offence, where the maximum sentence was six months incarceration, in favour of time served.

The second exception permits an appeal where, for “unusual” reasons, the sentence imposed is demonstrably unfit. As an example of this, Associate Chief Justice Rooke refers to in paragraph 4 the unusual situation in which competence of counsel is raised on appeal. Granted, competency of counsel as it relates to the efficacy of a joint submission is a valid ground and, due to the presumption of competency, may be viewed as rarely raised. Leaving that situation aside, there may be other situations, not as rare, where a sentence resulting from a joint submission is demonstrably unfit or unreasonable. Associate Chief Justice Rooke in paragraph 21 depicts the heightened circumstances in which a joint submission might occur as a “busy docket court” where counsel “deemed to be competent and knowledgeable in the law” proffer a joint submission thereby “impliedly certifying” the sentence is fit and requesting the sentencing judge to “endorse” it.  Indeed, as mentioned earlier, it is precisely in those heightened circumstances of “busy docket courts” where matters are dealt with summarily, which may provide the perfect environment for an unfit sentence. It is in those scenarios where an accused may too readily accede to a joint submission or where “competent and knowledgeable counsel” may accept a position that upon further reflection may require appellate scrutiny. In the end, it is the ultimate fitness of the sentence imposed by whatever means, which is at issue on appeal. As Mr. Justice Wagner explains in paragraph 3 of the Lacasse decision ([2015] 3 SCR 1089), it is the very credibility of the criminal justice system at risk when an unfit sentence, be it “too harsh or too lenient,” is imposed. An unfit sentence does not become fit merely because everyone agrees to it just as an illegal sentence, imposed on consent, does not then become legal. There are numerous appellate decisions upholding departures from joint submissions to further this contention. Surely, the same reasoning should hold in the converse situation of an offender appealing a sentence he or his counsel agreed to previously, particularly considering it is the offender’s liberty interest which is at risk.

It is the third exception, permitting a variation where there is a change in circumstance after imposition of the sentence, which seems an incongruous ground considering Associate Chief Justice Rooke’s position. Indeed, a change of circumstance (not even a material change of circumstance is required) is a generous ground for intervention. In paragraph 27 of the decision, Associate Chief Justice Rooke attempts to support this ground for intervention by reference to the 2012 decision of the Alberta Court of Appeal in R v Gangl (2012 ABCA 121). There, the majority of the court found the sentencing judge made no errors in imposing sentence yet reduced the sentence. In the majority’s view, the appellant’s circumstances were exceptional and the accused who had “serious health problems” was impacted by the “consequences” of the conviction. As a result, the majority converted the conviction to a conditional discharge. The dissenting justice disagreed as there was no “reviewable error.”

Although Associate Chief Justice Rooke characterizes the Gangl decision as authority for an exception to the general rule, this finding is questionable for two reasons. First, this was a case, according to the majority, for a conditional discharge. A discharge under s. 730 of the Criminal Code, is a sanction in which a finding of guilt is made but no conviction is entered. A discharge, per s. 730, is granted where it is “in the best interests of the accused and not contrary to the public interest.” A consideration in imposing a discharge is whether a conviction would have “serious repercussions” (See R v Sanchez-Pino, 1973 CanLII 794 (ON CA)) for the accused, such as employment difficulties or, as suggested by the court in Gangl, “a number of consequences flow from this conviction” (para 2). Admittedly, the court’s analysis in Gangl is brief and does not discuss the six factors to consider in granting a discharge as required by the MacFarlane decision (1976 ALTASCAD 6 (CanLII)), but, on the face of the record, one could argue that in Gangl there was a “reviewable” error.

Second, this exception for a change in circumstances post-sentence is not a ground for appellate intervention according to the newly released decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Lacasse and as quoted by Associate Chief Justice Rooke in paragraph 24. Associate Chief Justice Rooke makes further reference to the Ontario Court of Appeal case in Wood (1988, 131 C.C.C. (3d) 250). This is a 1988 case decided before the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Lacasse in which, as previously discussed, emphasizes the importance of deference to the sentencing judge. Further, Justice Lacourciere at paragraph 9, in rendering the Wood decision, states that “certainly the accused is given greater latitude than the Crown on an appeal of this kind in that he is generally not bound to the same extent by the submissions of his counsel as to sentence.” Wood was referred to approvingly in both the GWC decision at paragraph 19 and in the LRT decision (2010 ABCA 224 at para 11). As succinctly put by Justice Lacourciere in Wood (para 9), “the ultimate responsibility to determine the fitness of sentence is on the Court of Appeal.”

Associate Chief Justice Rooke, applying his rule, ultimately finds only one ground of appeal as a matter properly coming under the third exception. Earlier, in outlining this exception in paragraph 5, he offered s. 161 as an example of when such a change in circumstances may occur. This section provides for a variance of conditions in a prohibition order imposed on an offender convicted of any number of sexual offences involving children. As he notes and as contained in the wording of s. 161(3), an application to vary the sentence is heard before the sentencing judge or “where the court is for any reason unable to act, another court of equivalent jurisdiction.” In other words, the proper forum for the change is not on appeal but on application to the originating court.  Yet, Associate Chief Justice Rooke despite the matter of jurisdiction, varies sentence on this ground, not because of s. 161 but because the change in circumstance is a new joint submission proffered on appeal by two competent counsel. One can infer, as equally competent as sentencing counsel. Here, Associate Chief Justice Rooke finds himself between the proverbial “rock and a hard place”: on one hand, he outlined the difficulties of appealing a joint submission, the rarity of success, the limited circumstances it should be done, the sound policy reasons for not permitting such an appeal. On the other, he accedes to the new joint submission, not based on any principles of sentencing, but rather on a procedural availability not even within his purview on a strict reading of the section.

Perhaps, in the end, this pragmatic and experienced trial judge, sitting as a summary conviction appeal court, recognized that principles and rules do not always produce a just outcome. Perhaps, he agrees with the majority of the Alberta Court of Appeal in Gangl that the appellate court “is the last stop on the road to mercy” (see Gangl, Watson JA at para 21). Or perhaps, as initially suggested by Associate Chief Justice Rooke, the LSM decision may indeed be all about the “sanctity” of the joint submission, in whichever forum it is offered and in whatever circumstances it arises.

 

Bail Pending Appeal And The Public Interest: The Effect of the Alberta Court of Appeal Decision In Rhyason

A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to address the students from Professor Glen Luther and criminal lawyer Brian Pfefferle’s Intensive Criminal Law Program at the University of Saskatchewan College of Law. It is always a pleasure to speak to a group of dedicated and eager students who have chosen the rewarding, yet often, difficult task of criminal work, be it prosecution or defence. The topic on which I chose to speak was on criminal appellate advocacy including practical considerations, the process and the written advocacy required. I also discussed the bail pending appeal process on conviction appeals to the provincial court of appeal and the criteria for release as outlined under s. 679(3) of the Criminal Code. This is an area rarely touched upon in law school and yet is an important step in the appellate process. Although s. 679(3) sets out articulable grounds for release, the judicial interpretation of the public interest ground has been unclear and often inconsistently applied. Yet, it tends to be the public interest ground relied upon by the Court to dismiss the bail pending appeal application.

Bail pending appeal significantly differs from judicial interim release at first instance, as the offender no longer has the advantage of the presumption of innocence. It is therefore the offender who has the burden to persuade the single Justice hearing the application to release the applicant pending the hearing of the appeal. If an offender is released on bail pending the appeal, he or she will be required to surrender into custody before the matter will be heard. Typically, this is manifested through a bail condition for the Appellant to surrender the evening before the hearing date. The custodian of the jail will transmit a confirmation this has been done. If the Appellant fails to surrender, the bail may be estreated, if applicable, and the appeal will be deemed abandoned.  

Considering the onus is on the Appellant, The Court of Appeal Justice, in determining the bail pending for a conviction appeal, must be satisfied, as per s.679(3) that the Appellant will:

 (a) the appeal or application for leave to appeal is not frivolous;

 (b) he will surrender himself into custody in accordance with the      terms of the order; and

            (c) his detention is not necessary in the public interest.

These three factors for release, as will be discussed, are not treated by all appellate courts as mutually exclusive and are interconnected. The requirement, for instance, that the Appellant will surrender himself into custody is related to the other factor that detention is not necessary in the public interest as an Appellant who does not establish that he will obey the court terms would also have difficulty establishing that the detention is not necessary in the public interest. Those Appellants who fail to fulfill the surrender requirement would be offenders who have failed to comply with recognizances in the past and/or have fail to appears on their criminal record. This kind of evidence goes to the concern, applicable to this ground,that the Appellant is a flight risk and will therefore evade serving the sentence. This concern is connected to both aspects of the public interest ground as a failure to surrender would bring the administration of justice into disrepute and would put the public safety at risk. Usually, however, the Appellant can satisfy the requirement to surrender with appropriate conditions and sureties and this factor is not the factor, which causes the Court the most concern.

The next requirement that the appeal is not frivolous has been traditionally a matter of the Appellant establishing that the appeal is arguable or that the appeal would not necessarily fail. This requires some argument on the grounds of appeal as proposed in the Notice of Appeal and as evidenced by the trial record. Usually, this ground too is fairly simple to establish, although obviously dependent on the ground being advanced. Certainly an appeal based on a question of fact or mixed law and fact would be more difficult to argue than a question of law due to the principle of deference to the trial judge in those factual findings. But this is not where the real difficulty appears. The real difficulty for the Appellant is in the public interest ground where some courts take into account the strength of the appeal in the assessment. An Appellant may, therefore, be able to establish that the appeal is arguable but if the appeal is arguable but weak this finding may impact release under the public interest ground. This is certainly the case in Alberta but not the case in Newfoundland. I will now discuss this a schism on this issue and the implications for an Appellant in arguing a bail pending where the Court prefers the Alberta position. In my view, this is an inconsistency, which requires direction from the Supreme Court of Canada.

First, we must be mindful of the legal interpretation of the phrase “not necessary in the public interest.” The classic definition or legal interpretation comes from the 1993 Farinacci case. In that decision, Justice Arbour finds there are two aspects to the term “public interest” as it involves both protection of the public and public respect for the administration of justice. This dual nature of public interest, she further explained, in the context of a bail pending appeal balances enforceability with reviewability. There is a public interest in having judgments of the court obeyed and therefore enforced. However, there is an equally cogent reviewability interest, which requires that judgments be error-free. In criminal law, therefore, there is an important interest in ensuring the law is applied but applied in a fair and just manner. A judgment, which perpetuates a miscarriage of justice, is in law, no judgment at all.

So far, the meaning of public interest appears to apply legal common sense and the kind of balancing we are so familiar with in Canada. But, it is the extension of this interpretation in the Alberta Court of Appeal Rhyason case, written by Justice Berger, which causes an imbalance to the Farinacci structure by placing undue emphasis on the strength of the Appellant’s appeal. I would argue that this emphasis is misplaced as it elevates the s. 679 requirement that the appeal not be frivolous to a higher standard depending on the public safety aspect of the public interest ground.

In Rhyason, the Appellant was convicted of impaired causing death in 2006. He had a prior conviction for impaired driving and was sentenced to eighteen months incarceration. He was gainfully employed at the time of incarceration and enjoyed the support of his family. At the time of the bail pending, he had been ticketed for speeding on three occasions and was convicted of failing to comply with the reporting condition of his pre trial bail as he had failed to telephone in as required.

On appeal, the defence advanced a number of errors entered into by the trial judge including an error in the finding that the officer had reasonable and probable grounds for the breath demand. Justice Berger in dismissing the bail application found there could be a close connection between both the requirement that the appeal not be frivolous and the requirement that the Appellant surrender with the public interest ground. As already discussed, there is a rational connection with the requirement to surrender but a connection that can be addressed by proper bail terms. However, by relating the strength of the appeal to the public interest ground, Justice Berger was not merely making a reasonable and valid connection but imbued the public interest with a further requirement that the Appellant must establish a certain a level of “argueability” to the appeal, which is simply not required under the rubric that the appeal simply not be considered frivolous.

Essentially, Justice Berger created a “sliding scale” whereby the more compellable the public interest is in further detaining the Appellant, the stronger the appeal must be for the Appellant to be released on bail. In the case of Rhyason, Justice Berger found compelling public interest reasons for detention although the appeal was “clearly arguable”, and therefore was “clearly” not frivolous, however, in Justice Berger’s opinion, the grounds for appeal did not have a “strong prospect of success,” which required the Appellant be ordered to remain in custody. For the Appellant to be released, according to Justice Berger, Rhyason would have to have an appeal that was more than clearly arguable to “trump” the public safety concerns in the case.

Ironically, the Rhyason case was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada on the basis of a dissent in the Alberta Court of Appeal. Although the Supreme Court of Canada ultimately dismissed the Appellant’s appeal, it was a split 5:4 decision – a far cry from an appeal, which Justice Berger characterized as not having a strong prospect of success.

The Rhyason analysis was recently tested in the Alberta Court of Appeal case from 2015 in the Awer decision. Justice Berger was again faced with a bail pending application in which the Crown, opposing the release, urged the court to enter into a Rhyason analysis tying the strength of the appeal to the public interest issue. In releasing the Appellant on bail, Justice Berger attempted to limit the broad test he enunciated in Rhyason. Thus, in Awer, he found that the Rhyason analysis was only engaged when there was a “moderate” to “compelling’ public interest in detention, which was not the case in Awer. It should be noted that in Awer the accused was convicted of a serious sexual assault but there was conflicting expert evidence which, according to Justice Berger, “was a critical component” to the finding of guilt or innocence. Awer was released as his appeal was not frivolous and the terms of the bail could ensure public safety.  

The Newfoundland Court of Appeal has taken a position strongly opposed to Rhyason in a number of cases (see Parsons, Allen, and Newman) and will not take into account the strength of the appeal under the public interest ground.  The British Columbia Court of Appeal in Ali and in Al-Maliki cases appears to be firmly on side with Alberta.

There are many concerns with the Rhyason analysis. As earlier discussed the threshold requirement that the appeal not be frivolous is not only elevated but also fluctuates depending on how compelling the public interest is in a particular case. This uneven application of bail requirements allows for inequities between various Appellants, such as evinced in the Awer and Rhyason cases. As demonstrated in Rhyason, a case, which was not just “clearly” arguable but “strongly” arguable, the Rhyason analysis invites a single Justice to dispose of an arguable appeal without the benefit of a full transcript, a full argument and a full court. Further, this approach fails to properly consider the other important aspect of the public interest – reviewability – and the public confidence resulting from the need to provide a meaningful opportunity for an individual to appeal to protect society from miscarriages of justice. Without a clear and articulable standard, reviewability and our concept of justice will be hampered by an Appellant who abandons an appeal as a result of serving his or her sentence. Such a result is clearly not in the public interest.

 

 

Section 4(3) Possession – An Example of Judge-Made Law: Episode Six of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada

I ended last episode with a bit of a teaser: I said in this episode we would explore the old adage: possession is nine-tenths of the law. Well, sorry to say, this is not the law, particularly in the criminal law meaning of “possession.” What we will explore in this podcast is what section 4(3) tells us about the meaning of “possession” and what it does not.

Once again, we will encounter the difficulty of using the Criminal Code as an inclusive repository of criminal offences. According to section 9 of the Code, which we will be discussing on these podcasts very soon, all crimes in Canada are in the Code, except for the common law crime of contempt of court. However, although all crimes are found under a particular section of the Code, on the plain reading of a particular section one cannot be certain of the requisite elements. Sometimes, we need to look elsewhere in the Code for further illumination, such as s. 2 definitions or the definitions found under the relevant Part.

More often, we need to look at case law for the answer. This reality suggests the concept in s.19 of the Code, that ignorance of the law is no excuse, is a bit of a joke, as certainly the average reasonable person, who has no legal training, could not access with certainty the requirements for each crime. This is even more evident when case law does not just define certain words used in a section but actually reads into the section additional words.

This is the case with the s.4 (3) meaning of “possession.” This section is a perfect example of how the Courts have restricted or narrowed the prohibited act of a crime, as originally conceived by Parliament, through legal interpretation. Of course the courts do not do this whimsically. There is a method to their madness and the modifications ensure the integrity of the criminal law as a whole. In the case of possession the added requirements ensure the law is not overly broad and does not capture those whom we would consider legally and perhaps, although not necessarily, even morally innocent. The big puzzle is why Parliament doesn’t take the hint and, in the next round of omnibus Criminal Code changes, amend the section accordingly. To not do this smacks of “ostrich-in-the-sand” kind of mentality. Or better yet, is to liken the attitude to the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal from the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy– what you can’t see isn’t there.

In any event, with this lengthy introductory rant, let’s look at section 4 (3), which reads as follows:

For the purposes of this Act,(a) a person has anything in possession when he has it in his personal possession or knowingly(i) has it in the actual possession or custody of another person, or(ii) has it in any place, whether or not that place belongs to or is occupied by him, for the use or benefit of himself or of another person; and(b) where one of two or more persons, with the knowledge and consent of the rest, has anything in his custody or possession, it shall be deemed to be in the custody and possession of each and all of them.

What we really want to focus on is the concept of joint or constructive possession under s. 4 (3)(b), which requires “knowledge and consent.” The difficulty with this definition started with the Alberta case, from the sixties, Marshall.  The teenager, Daniel Marshall hitched a ride with some friends from B.C. intending to make his way home to Alberta. During the ride, the other teens smoked a hookah pipe filled with marijuana, which Marshall passed along but did not partake. When the Alberta police stopped the car for a broken headlamp, billows of marijuana smoke drifted out of the open windows. Everyone was charged with joint possession of marijuana on the basis of s. 4(3). Marshall was convicted at trial on the basis there was knowledge and consent per the wording of the section. The Alberta Supreme Court, Appellate Division, as it then was, disagreed, finding that consent required more than the mere presence of Marshall in the car and that although he consented to be in the car, that did not mean he consented to the presence of the drugs. Furthermore, the court, in discussing whether or not Marshall was a party to the possession, noted that Marshall had no power to control the people with the drugs nor was he the driver of the car.

This control aspect was applied directly to the meaning of possession in the 1983 Supreme Court of Canada Terrence case. In this case, the issue was possession of a stolen vehicle and Terrence’s presence in the vehicle as a mere passenger. In referring to and approving of the lower Court of Appeal for Ontario decision in the case, the SCC agreed that an element of control was required for proof of possession. In their view, if control was required for proof of being a party to an offence, then, similarly, control was required for joint possession, which was also a mechanism for deeming multiple parties legally responsible for a crime.

This case law restricting the meaning of joint or constructive possession under s. 4(3) does make sense and does ensure that responsibility is properly meted out. However, the concept can be a bit of a stretch. Take for example the 2001 Mraz case from the Saskatchewan Provincial Court wherein the accused was acquitted of possession of marijuana. There the judge found there was no control, even though the accused shared a “joint,” one of the many euphemisms for a rolled marijuana cigarette and apropos here as we are talking about joint possession, with his co-accused. There was no control because the co-accused had full control of the bagful of marijuana from which the previously smoked “joint” came. There was some dispute as to where the bag was found, as the accused believed his co-accused kept it on his person, while the bag was actually found in the car under the seat.

As a quick aside, this leads me to consider the origin of the slang “joint” used to describe a rolled marijuana cigarette. Although I am loath to use Wikipedia, the webpage on the etymology of the slang “joint” seems credible. “Joint,” which is derived from the French word “joined” was used in the 1800s to refer to an annex to a main room. The term picked up an unsavoury flavour when in the late 1800s it was then used in reference to a run-down bar or even an opium den. In the thirties the slang was used in reference to a heroin hypodermic needle because the needle was often shared. The same reasoning is applied to the use of the word “joint” for a marijuana cigarette, as it too, as seen in the cases of Marshall and Mraz, is usually shared.

Thank you for joining me. In the next podcast we will complete our discussion of section 4 when we look at the three “esses;” subjects, sexual intercourse, and service.

Episode Six Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada Section 4(3) Possession as an Example of Judge-Made Law

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

Let’s Talk About The Canadian Criminal Code PodCast: Episode One, Section One

 

The following is the text of my first podcast including the actual downloadable podcast found at the end of the text. I am working on adding the podcast to iTunes and will announce this next step when it is completed!

Welcome to the “Let’s Talk About The Canadian Criminal Code” podcast. This podcast is a companion to my blog found at www.ideablawg.ca where ideas and law connect. In this podcast I hope to go through the Criminal Code section by section and discuss some interesting issues arising from each one. Be warned, although the Code ends at s.849, there are so many sections between sections that this podcast will continue for quite some time. Indeed the length of the Code will form part of one of my podcasts. After a few sections, I will do a “brain break” podcast where we will discuss a fact or issue related to the Criminal Code or criminal law in general but not arising directly out of a particular section.

Today we are going to do the obvious and start at the beginning – section 1. On the face of it, Section 1, as with many statutes does not seem to be very important or overly interesting. Typically, the first section of a Federal statute is called the “short title.” The “short title” names the statute in a user-friendly manner. Often when the government brings forward a statute as a Bill, the working title is lengthy and cumbersome. Thus, the short title is a welcome first section.

Note, however, I said this is typical of the first section of a Federal statute. Provinces, who also produce legislation, do not have the same typical format for their legislation. For example, in Alberta many statutes start with a “preamble.”  This preamble sets out the government’s purpose for enacting the legislation as a kind of mission statement indicating why the government desires this legislation and what the legislation aims to do. It also acts as a “forshpeis” or “bouche teaser” and gives us, the reader, a taste of what’s to come in the Act. It fills in the statute with emotive content as it speaks to the societal values ultimately expressed by the legislation. Some cynics might say the preamble is the political posturing or propaganda piece of the law. A good example is the preamble to the Alberta Human Rights Act, which reads as follows:

Preamble

WHEREAS recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all persons is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world;

WHEREAS it is recognized in Alberta as a fundamental principle and as a matter of public policy that all persons are equal in: dignity, rights and responsibilities without regard to race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status or sexual orientation;

WHEREAS multiculturalism describes the diverse racial and cultural composition of Alberta society and its importance is recognized in Alberta as a fundamental principle and a matter of public policy;

WHEREAS it is recognized in Alberta as a fundamental principle and as a matter of public policy that all Albertans should share in an awareness and appreciation of the diverse racial and cultural composition of society and that the richness of life in Alberta is enhanced by sharing that diversity; and

WHEREAS it is fitting that these principles be affirmed by the Legislature of Alberta in an enactment whereby those equality rights and that diversity may be protected:

 

You get the idea.

 

So the question is: why doesn’t the federal government do this? First, the federal government through Parliament does present their reasons for bringing forward legislation. They write background papers and other such reports posted to their website to bring home to the nation why they consider their laws to be important and essential for living the “good life” in Canada. So they don’t usually need to express it in a preamble. What they will do is have a section in the Act, often near the beginning, where they state the purpose of the legislation such as in The Competition Act and The Contraventions Act. Usually this kind of statement is terser than the preamble I just read to you and form part of the actual legislation. Of course, there is an important

exception: the Constitution Act, 1867 founding our Dominion of Canada comes with a preamble and so does Part 1 of that Act being the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter’s “preamble” is short and to the point and reads: “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law:” I will pause here as I am sure many of you are a little surprised to hear that God has been invoked as a preamble to our Charter. Hmm. I wonder if the Charter breaches s.2(a) of the Charter – the fundamental freedom conscience and religion – in which we protect a person’s right to not believe in a supreme being.

Well, on that note, I leave you to consider the short title section of the Criminal Code. Next week we will consider section 2 – the unwieldy interpretation section.

Thank you for listening to the Ideablawg Podcast – where ideas and law connect!

 

EpisodeOneLetsTalkAboutSectionOneoftheCriminalCode

The Ideablawg Criminal Law Trend for 2013-2014: On Sentencing and On Podcasting

I start my criminal lectures at MRU with a current events “sweep” of criminal cases to ground the principles and the legal “speak,” learned throughout the course, with what is really going on out there in the real world of crime. This connects concept to context, which is so important in law, in order to teach the student to apply principles to a real life fact situation. This acquired aptitude requires the student to be comfortable outside of the academic rigour of law books, a much-needed skill in the lawyering world, which promotes creativity as the context forces the student to visualize alternate solutions for the legal problem.

As I teach in Alberta, I tend to look locally when I scout out the criminal law news of the week. This past week was so full of connections that we spent a good half hour discussing three of these current cases. Interestingly, the cases themselves were connected as they all referred to the sentence imposed in each particular case.

Of course, sentencing is the last act in a criminal case where there is a conviction. Most of the “legal business” of criminal law is concerned with pre-sentence matters such as the elements of a criminal offence and the application of criminal procedure, particularly in the Charter era. Sentencing is not even taught in the mandatory first year criminal law courses and some law schools do not even offer a sentencing law course. And yet, it is the sentence, the punishment to be imposed, which garners the most public attention and hence catches the most media attention as well.

The reason for this preference is varied. My theory on the popularity of sentencing cases in the media is that sentencing tends to be easily understandable to the average citizen. Everyone appreciates the significance of time in jail. No one needs the Criminal Code to explain that. Furthermore, sentencing is the only piece of the case in which the human aspect is so “front and centre,” no longer taking a backseat to the incident itself.

The victim, at a sentencing hearing, has the right to “speak” through the “victim impact statement” and is not merely a piece of evidence required by the prosecution to fulfill the legal requirements. Instead, the victim becomes a true stakeholder in the outcome as the Judge listens to the victim, not as a witness to the events, but as a participant, whose life was irretrievably changed.

The role of the convicted accused is also transformed from the defensive position wherein a legal “wall” is built around the accused to protect but also to minimize intrusion. It is only at the sentencing hearing that the accused steps out of a caricature of an accused and becomes filled in with the life stories all too familiar in the criminal courts of childhood troubles, conditions of abuse, and social failures. No wonder, it is the sentencing arena to which the public can so readily relate and which brings home, literally, the real life angst of the criminal law. 

On that note, it was unsurprising that the class started our current events journey with the Baumgartner case from Edmonton in which twenty-two year old Travis Baumgartner became the first Canadian to be sentenced for consecutive parole ineligibility terms for multiple murders under amendments to the Criminal Code from 2011. Section 745.51 of the Criminal Code permits such a sentence may be imposed by the trial Judge. Note the permissive “may” as the trial Judge is not mandated to impose such a sentence. Indeed, the section also includes the factors to consider in making the decision such as the character of the accused, the nature of the offence, and the circumstances of the incident. If the sentencing arises from a jury trial, the Judge must also consider the jury’s recommendation on whether or not the parole ineligibility should be consecutive under s. 745.21.

Baumgartner, a security guard shot four of his colleagues as they took ATM monies from the busy University of Alberta student HUB Mall.  Three of the guards died and the fourth survived. Baumgartner, as part of a plea negotiation, entered a plea of guilty to one count of first degree murder under s.231(2), two counts of second degree murder, and one count of attempt murder. As indicated by Associate Chief Justice Rooke in his reasons "these assassinations and executions were carried out by a cold-blooded killer, all with the simple motive of robbery." In sentencing Baumgartner to the agreed upon total sentence of life imprisonment with no chance for parole for forty years, Justice Rooke found the offence was “some of the most horrendous crimes that anyone can imagine.” However, it was not a case for the maximum parole ineligibility of seventy-five years, as Baumgartner was not the worst offender, being a young man with no prior criminal record and in recognition of the guilty plea, which showed remorse for his actions.

These amendments to the Criminal Code, part of the tough on crime agenda of Harper’s government, did attract much controversy. Critics voiced concerns over the political motivation of the change, suggesting it was merely a “political stunt” done to assuage the public fear of crime without any hard evidence such a change would in fact change crime statistics. In a word, the changes appeared to be more about “retribution bordering on vengeance” as characterized by D’Arcy Depoe of the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association and less about the sentencing principles of rehabilitation and deterrence.

On the other hand, sentencing is a punishment and does have an aspect of retribution for retributions sake. Certainly, the public outrage over concurrent sentences for multiple murders is understandable on a gut-level whereby a murder of one is equated with the murder of many. The controversy over this and the other numerous sentencing changes to the Criminal Code, such as the mandatory minimum sentences, is far from over, hence my suggestion that the hot button criminal law issue for 2013-2014 will focus on sentencing and these new amendments.

The other case we considered in class, another robbery case, was closer to the academic home as we discussed the 18 month jail sentence imposed on the ex MRU President Meghan Melnyk. Unlike Baumgartner, there was no joint agreement on sentence. As an aside, it must be pointed out that a sentencing Judge is not bound by a joint submission on sentence. In any event, considering the maximum sentence for robbery is life imprisonment, the sentence, in the eyes of the class seemed light. However, considering the position of counsel on sentence: defence asked for a conditional sentence or in the alternative ninety days, while the Crown asked for four years imprisonment being the typical “starting point” for such offences, the 18 month sentence appears to be within the range.  The eyebrow raising part of the matter was Melnyk’s concept of community work. Prior to sentencing she appeared at local High Schools discussing her situation and her gambling problem. Judge Brown, in sentencing Melnyk observed that she was paid for each appearance. This will definitely not be case when Melnyk fulfills the other part of her sentence when she is released from prison - 240 hours of community service.

The final case discussed was a sentence appeal argued before the Court of Appeal for Alberta. The Crown appealed the sentence imposed on ex-Stampeder running back, Joffery Reynolds, who was convicted by former Assistant Chief Judge Stevenson (of the provincial court and is now supernumery or a relief judge) of assaulting (actual convictions were for assault causing bodily harm under s. 267, assault under s. 266, and being unlawfully in a dwelling house under s.349) his ex-girlfriend for which he received a ninety-day sentence to be served intermittedly on weekends and two years probation as well as an apology letter and a five thousand dollar donation. The Crown’s position on sentence at trial and at appeal was for a two to three year sentence, an odd range considering a two year sentence is served in a provincial reformatory and a three year sentence is served in the much harsher federal system.

At trial, the defence recommended a non-custodial, particularly as Reynold’s celebrity status caused a media flurry and a diminishment of his public status. The Crown on appeal pointed to the sentencing Judge’s failure to consider the domestic nature of the offence. In discussion, the class clearly agreed with the Crown on that note, believing their relationship to be something more than just “buddies” as submitted by the defence.

This decision will be interesting as it may tackle the difficulty in sentencing the celebrity and it may also clarify the meaning of “domestic assault.” As an aside, the provincial government recently brought forward legislation to end intermittent sentences, which were used to allviate the burden of imprisonment where an offender had gainful employment. This may not be an issue raised on appeal but I believe this will cause a clash in the courts when the jail refuses to fufill a Judge's order to do so. Keep posted on this issue as well.

The other cases I had but were not discussed I will repeat here but I will not elaborate on today. Another sentencing case – the Paxton dangerous offender application is ongoing before Justice Martin. The Court of Appeal also heard an appeal against the conviction of the young offender in the Cavanagh murder case, which involved a “Mr. Big investigation.” Finally, a little off the crime path but still in the public welfare arena is the concern over work-related deaths in Alberta and the need to tighten regulatory laws in the area. The province recently went to the administrative efficiency of ticketing offenders, both employees and employers, in real-time for real-time breaches. However, the call is for more prosecutions, better outcomes, and a more serious consideration of criminal code charges for work-related incidents.

These cases, in my view, also signal some Canadian criminal law trends as the use of dangerous offender applications increase, as the courts struggle with unique investigation techniques in a Charter world, and as the public demands more and better action in the regulatory field. Keep an eye on my future blogs as we trend through the year.

On a final note is a new upcoming addition to this blog as I enter the world of podcasting. I intend to offer a short podcast on sections of the Criminal Code.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calgary's Rough Ride Through The Emergency Laws

It has been a rough ride in Southern Alberta as the floodwaters subside and the damage becomes visible. The shock of seeing beautiful inner city neighbourhoods in Calgary left looking like war zones as a result of the sludge and mud is indelible. This surreal vision is mirrored by the unusual emergency laws in place during the flood and only recently lifted in Calgary.

Indeed Calgary's municipal bylaw requires the state of emergency to expire no later than 14 days after proclamation, unless the emergency is a pandemic, which expires at the end of 90 days.  Of note is Toronto’s emergency response to the SARS epidemic. The critical review of the response has shown endemic weaknesses in the system, particularly the health care system, which has become a lesson learned for other municipalities.  

As in a time of war, the emergency measures grants the province, municipalities (see Calgary’s emergency management bylaw here), and even the Federal government extraordinary powers. Even though the state of emergency has ended in Calgary, the municipal emergency management plan or MEP is still in place to ensure a smooth transition from immediate emergency to rebuilding. For example, the emergency management plan has been used by the City to bypass the usual red tape of municipal development rules to re-zone swaths of land for possible areas for temporary neighbourhoods for those without shelter and housing alternatives.

Calgary's plan also permits enhanced coordination between agencies through an implementation of three phases: response phase, local authority recovery phase, and community restoration and rehabilitation phase. The response phase, activated during the initial event, is for immediate response and mitigation. This would cover the first two weeks of the state of emergency. The second phase overlaps with the response phase as it ensures critical needs are met and bridges the immediate with short-term needs. Again this phase would have started during the two-week period that Calgary was in a state of emergency. The last phase, for rehabilitation and restoration, focuses on the long-term. The operations also transform during this phase shifting as they turn from an emergency operations centre (EOC) to a recovery operations centre (ROC). Clearly, Calgary is presently in the second phase of recovery and preparing for the rehabilitation phase.

In addition to the coordinated efforts through CEMA (Calgary Emergency Management Agency), there are emergency rules in place for businesses and other organizations, which handle sensitive documents. For example, the Law Society of Alberta sent out a newsletter during the flood to advise lawyers on disaster recovery including information on what to do if client and accounting files are water damaged to managing practice interruptions. The CBA (Canadian Bar Association) also has similar information.

Although, the local media has focused on information about the municipal emergency powers, and to a certain extent, the provincial powers, there has been scant discussion of the federal government’s role in disaster rebuilding. The federal government too has many laws, which they can utilize, when an emergency or a disaster strikes. These laws add support to the Ministry of Public Safety, now headed by The Honourable Vic Toews. The difficulty with this umbrella approach to disasters, such as in the Alberta flood, is the lack of focus on natural disasters in favour of a scheme, which can apply to all disasters including a terrorist threat. Of course the other difficulty with the Federal response is the slowness: funds pledged to support the disaster areas are often slow to come and as a result may be too little too late.

The main response tool is the Federal Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements or DFAA. New guidelines were revised in 2008 to provide disaster relief to provinces and territories. Although, the principles of the program suggest the primary organization responsible for relief is the provincial government, the federal program is available for “support” or enhancement of the provincial efforts. The program does not, except in certain circumstances, apply to the fighting of forest or grass fires. There is a threshold monetary amount, which when exceeded triggers the federal “cost sharing” program. The program is announced in accordance with the Emergency Management Act and usually requires either a provincial request or a federal determination that assistance is needed through an Order-In-Council.

The Act was implemented in 2007 to “strengthen emergency management in Canada.” Despite this, past disasters in Canada have shown that the federal government’s response, unlike the municipal response, is slow. Of special concern is the lack of a federal mitigation strategy, which may result in funding for the infrastructure for disaster prevention as opposed to disaster relief. This is in stark contrast to the federal government’s response to international disasters, which have been touted as a global model. On the other hand, the provincial response many critics say has been excellent during this flood mostly due to the Premier’s stance on relief. Unfortunately, the quick provincial response this time has much to do with the provincial lack of response with the Slave Lake fire last year. Fortunately, the province reviewed the response and the nineteen recommendations implemented as a result of the review enhanced the provincial reaction and made it possible for flood weary Albertans to move forward.

Today, as the Stampede festivities go on and the City rebounds, there is much to still do. A recent torrential downpour re-flooded some flooded out areas reminding us of the fragility of our successes. A look to our neighbours – High River and the Siksika Nation, remind us that we are still not out of the water yet. Hopefully, all communities will receive the governmental support they need in the days and months to come.

The Peter Goldring Case and the Mens Rea For Drinking And Driving Offences

Today, I am continuing the blog conversation on the subjective/objective mens rea debate in criminal law. This continues that discourse but with a twist as we discuss the mental element of the drinking and driving offences. The recent acquittal of Peter Goldring MP on refusing to comply with a demand of a police officer to provide a breath sample raises the issue of the criminal liability of these offences and leaves one wondering if the trial judge, in that case, applied the appropriate standard of assessment.

Last posting, I introduced the debate in criminal law on the standard of liability or mens rearequired to commit a criminal offence in Canada. The debate focuses on the two liabilities or fault elements: subjective mens rea, where the trier of fact will assess the accused’s liability on the basis of what was in this particular accused’s mind when he or she committed the offence or objective liability, which removes the focus from the accused in favour of an assessment based on what the reasonable person, in the circumstances of the accused, ought to have known.

There is another form of liability, according to the Supreme Court of Canada, which should never be found in the criminal law: absolute liability.  This form of liability, commonly found in the regulatory enforcement arena, requires no fault for a conviction. Once the prosecutor establishes the defendant committed the prohibited act, a conviction follows. The mens rea or intention of the defendant is irrelevant. As the intention, be it on a subjective basis or an objective basis, is a required element of a crime, absolute liability is not an option and not constitutionally permissible. However, an argument can be made that in fact, there are offences in the Criminal Code, which are essentially absolute liability offences: drinking and driving offences.

This argument, involves a two-pronged approach to the fault requirements of drinking and driving offences. The first prong harkens back to the Supreme Court of Canada and Mr. Justice Cory’s decision in Hundal. In this case, the majority of the court held that licensed activities, like driving, require the driver to meet a standard of care as delineated by the licensing provisions. This standard applies to all individuals holding the license and is not dependent on the personal characteristics of the individual person driving. This denotes a standard based on the reasonable person and therefore, driving offences, like dangerous driving, require objective liability. This decision was applied to all driving offences.

The second prong focuses on the consumption of alcohol as opposed to the driving aspect. In Bernard, the Supreme Court of Canada found the act of drinking an alcoholic beverage as a voluntary act. This reasoning was extended further to the mental requirement, as the accused, in making the choice to become inebriated, was therefore also accepting the risks of such behaviour. This case lead to the change in the intoxication defence and the amendment of theCriminal Code under s. 33.1 to exclude the use of the defence for certain offences, such as manslaughter and sexual assault.  Thus, the act of voluntarily consuming intoxicants took the place of the mental element of a crime.

When viewing the decisions on intoxication and the decisions on driving offences, the objective standard appears to give way to an even lower standard of liability, which approaches absolute liability. If the fault element can be found in an act, or even an intention to drink alcohol, and not in an intention to commit the offence or even requiring a reasonable person to be aware of the risks of doing so, there is no fault element needed for conviction, merely the accused’s voluntary consumption of alcohol.

Certainly the SCC in Penno agreed, albeit in a split decision. The case centered on the application of the intoxication defence for an impaired driving charge. Although the use of the defence, as mentioned earlier, was restricted through new Code amendments, at the time of the Penno case there was no case law restricting its use for drinking and driving offences. The majority decision written by Justice McLachlin, as she then was, discussed the absurdity of impairment being both an “offence” and a “defence” if the intoxication defence applied. She stated “in enacting s. 234(1) of the Code, Parliament has made impairment itself an element of the offence notwithstanding the possible absence of criminal intent, thus giving paramountcy to the public interest.” Clearly, as in public welfare offences, the mens rea required for drinking and driving offences is greatly reduced in order to protect the public of the risks attached to drinking and driving. As Justice Cory will say later in the Hundal case, driving offences extract a huge social cost and “there is therefore a compelling need for effective legislation which strives to regulate the manner of driving vehicles and thereby lessen the carnage on our highways.” Importantly, Hundal was not a case of dangerous driving involving alcohol and yet the SCC found the application of an objective standard of liability for driving offences was “not only appropriate but essential.” I would argue that driving offences as inherently dangerous licensed activities, compounded with the voluntary use of intoxicants, requires the strictest form of mens rea, approaching the absolute liability found in public welfare cases.

Similarly, I would argue that the related charge of failing to provide a breath sample under s. 254(5) has a diminished fault element. Firstly, the words of the offence, requiring a failure in a duty, strongly suggests an objective standard as found in the SCC Naglik case on the mens reafor the offence of failing to provide the necessities of life. However, of note, is the most recent SCC case of A.D.H. wherein the court found subjective mens rea is required for an offence under s.218 of abandoning a child, even though the offence is found under the part on “duties tending to preservation of life.” This decision seems to contradict this previous SCC authority, but whether this is so and what the case means generally for the subjective/objective debate will be the essence of my next blog on the issue.

Secondly, s. 254(5) specifically sets out a defence of “reasonable excuse.” The “reasonable” tag immediately suggests a reasonable person or an objective standard of assessment.  In Therens,Justice Le Dain explained the unique character of the section, which requires one to comply with a police officer’s statutory demand. Therefore a person investigated for drinking and driving is not “free” to choose not to provide a sample but must provide one, short of a “reasonable excuse.” Case law has filled in the definition by providing examples of what a “reasonable excuse” can be or cannot be for purposes of the section. Typically, the reason must be one in which the accused had no choice but to refuse, such as in a medical condition. In this respect, I would argue that such a reasonable excuse actually goes to the voluntariness of the act of refusing as opposed to the intention to refuse. Again this would suggest a no-fault approach to drinking and driving offences, including the charge of refuse to blow.

In the Goldring case, Provincial Court Assistant Chief Judge Anderson cited as a primary issue at trial whether the accused had “the necessary intent to make his failure to provide a sample of breath criminal.” Even by framing the issue thusly, the trial judge elevates the level of intent required by suggesting the assessment is a personal one to the accused and therefore subjective.  Further in his discussion, the trial judge did not rely on the series of cases I referred to in this blog, preferring to emphasize the criminal nature of the charge, which, in his view, required subjective mens rea. In acquitting the accused, Chief Judge Anderson stated he was not satisfied that Goldring’s refusal was “a conscious decision or willful act.” The high level of intention required by Judge Anderson is a far cry from the wording of the offence and the weight of the SCC case law where “reasonableness” is at issue and “willfulness” is irrelevant.  Certainly, the finding is contrary to the court’s emphasis on the public interest as opposed to the private interest. It remains to be seen if the Crown will appeal this decision considering Goldring has already been welcomed back into the government’s fold. What will be even more interesting is to see if anyone else will be acquitted of this offence following the same reasoning. In a government where tough on crime issues and public safety is supreme, the incongruity of this decision is palpable.