Section 21- Modes of Participation By Being A Party To An Offence Part One: Episode 23 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada

In the next few sections, we are leaving behind the housekeeping/general sections of the Code and moving into modes of participation or the various ways an accused can participate in a crime. The general section heading is called “Parties To Offences,” although it is section 21, which deals with the specific concept of parties to an offence. Yet, the general heading is apt as “party” means to participate in an event, while s. 21 specifies, in legal terms, what is required to be a party under that section.

Before we go to that section, we must step back and consider the concept of “secondary liability.” Secondary liability is where one party (participant in an event) is not directly involved but assumes or is deemed responsible for the actions of another party who is directly involved. This type of liability, in the civil arena, has long been recognized at common law. Examples of such liability are vicarious liability and corporate liability, particularly in the area of copyright and patents.

In the criminal law, however, secondary liability has limited application, partly due to the Charter, which prohibits criminal liability and punishment on those individuals who are deemed responsible for the actions of others on the basis the individual has no mens rea for the crime or often no actus reus as well. Traditionally, in criminal law, as stated by Justice Estey in the 1985 Canadian Dredge & Dock Co case, “a natural person is responsible only for those crimes in which he is the primary actor either actually or by express or implied authorization.” This was reinforced through the application of section 7 of the Charter, when the SCC, in the 1985 Re B.C. Motor Vehicle Act, emphasized the minimum mens rea requirement for a crime required some form of mens rea, which could be found in objective liability. Thus, secondary liability, which required no mens rea on the part of the person deemed responsible, was contrary to the fundamental principles of criminal law and, therefore, contrary to the Charter.

An example of permissible vicarious liability can be found in the quasi-criminal or regulatory field such as speeding offences based on photo radar. A license plate of a speeding vehicle is caught on camera but the speeding ticket is sent to the owner of the vehicle, whether or not the owner was the actual perpetrator. Thus the owner has neither the mens rea (which in the regulatory field, depending on the punishment, is considered Charter appropriate) or the actus reus for the offence yet is still deemed guilty for purposes of the highway traffic regulation. Such a deeming of liability would be unacceptable in the criminal law as the components of a crime (criminal intention and prohibited act) would be absent and as the Charter requires some form of mens rea be present where an accused person may be subject to incarceration upon conviction. However, in the regulatory field, where public safety is at a premium and the stigma of a criminal conviction is absent, as long as the possibility of jail is not an option upon conviction, vicarious liability is acceptable.

Although this form of secondary liability is not found in the criminal law the traditional common law concepts of parties is acceptable as the accused person, in the party scenario, is criminally liable based on his or her participation in the crime albeit not as the principal or main offender. Parties may have lesser roles in the crime but their participation, in terms of criminal intention and action, is directly connected to them and to the commission of the crime, making them personally criminally responsible.

The parties sections in the Code therefore anticipate two situations of persons deemed parties: one situation as found in the following section 22 of the Code embrace those accused who induce others to commit crimes, with or without that accused person’s direct involvement in the criminal act and the other situation, as in s. 21 involve those accused persons who help others commit crimes.

Now let’s turn to section 21. There are four types of parties to an offence as outlined in this section.

The first type of party is found under section 21(1)(a) and is as follows:

s. 21. (1) Every one is a party to an offence who

         (a) actually commits it;

This may seem contrary to the party principles I just outlined but in fact it is a prosecutorial aide. This subsection, by making a principal or main offender (in other words the accused person who actually commits the offence) a party to an offence, relieves the Crown from specifying in the Information or at trial whether an accused person is the principal offender or a party. Thus, the Crown need not prove at trial that any specific accused was the principal offender as long as the Crown proves each accused knowingly assisted or abetted the other. This means multiple accused can be convicted as parties without anyone being convicted as a principal.

The second type of party is as follows:

s. 21. (1) Every one is a party to an offence who

(b) does or omits to do anything for the purpose of aiding any person to commit it;

Here, the person becomes a party by “aiding” another person, be that person a party or principal, in the commission of the offence. Here, the word “aid” means providing assistance. The party may “aid” by doing something or by failing to do something. The Crown must prove the accused aided as the actus reus or prohibited act of being a party. Remember that the Crown must not only prove an accused is a party but must also prove the elements of the offence to which the accused is a party.

The third way of becoming a party is under s. 21(1)(c):

s. 21. (1) Every one is a party to an offence who

(b) abets any person in committing it.

The actus reus here is abetting, which, according to the SCC in R v Greyeyes, includes "encouraging, instigating, promoting, and procuring" the crime.

To “aid” or “abet” are distinct forms of liability but what is the difference? The best way to explain the difference is through the following example: a person who distracts a security guard in a store so another person can steal an item, is acting as a party to the offence of theft by “aiding” the principal who took the item. Conversely, a sales clerk who encourages and allows another person to take an item is “abetting.”

However, in both of these forms of liability, the mere presence of the accused at the scene of the crime is not enough to convict the accused as a party nor is the mere inaction or passive acquiescence of the accused enough to convict. In the seminal Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) case on the issue, Dunlop and Sylvester v The Queen from 1979, the two accused were charged, with others, for a “gang” rape but were acquitted by the majority of the SCC as, according to the evidence, the two saw the rape but they did not encourage or assist in the act. Neither did they try to stop it, they simply left. Morally wrong - yes -but not legally responsible.

Mere presence and passive acquiescence may be enough if accompanied by other factors such as prior knowledge of the principal’s intention or if the presence of the accused prevents the victim from escaping or receiving assistance. Also, a failure to render assistance may be enough to make an accused person a party if that person was under a legal duty to act. For example, merely watching a crime being committed does not make someone a party unless the person is a police officer (let’s make this easy and say on duty and in the execution of that duty) and is therefore under a legal duty to stop the crime.

The Crown must also prove the mens rea requirement for s. 21(1) by showing the accused intended to assist or encourage the principal accused. However, the Crown need not prove that the accused knew the exact details of the crime to be committed. The accused need only be aware of the type of crime to be committed and must be aware of the circumstances necessary to constitute the offence. A final caution: motive is not intention. The accused need not desire the end result for the mens rea requirement.

If the accused is charged as a party to a murder, the mens rea requirements for murder are applicable. Therefore, the Crown must prove that the accused party intended death or was reckless whether or not death ensued. This requirement is Charter based and requires the Crown prove the accused person had subjective foresight of death. Due to this high level of liability, an accused party may be acquitted of being a party to the murder, even if the principal offender is convicted of murder, but convicted as a party to a manslaughter, which requires a much lower level of mens rea found in the objective foresight of bodily harm. (Click on the hyperlinks for the case authority)

The fourth type of liability as a party under section 21(2), common intention, will be the subject of our next podcast!



Episode 23 of the Ideablawg Podcast on the Criminal Code of Canada: Section 21(10 - Parties - Modes of Participation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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