SPEAKING NOTES TO THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON JUSTICE AND HUMAN RIGHTS: Concerning C-75 and the Amendments to the Preliminary Inquiry

Mr. Chair and honourable members of the Standing Committee, thank you for giving me this opportunity to comment on the proposed amendments to the preliminary inquiry sections of the Criminal Code. It is a privilege to be here to speak on an issue which carries the weight of historical discourse and has engaged far greater minds than myself. The question of abolishing the preliminary inquiry has echoed through these halls and the courts of our nation and has engaged the public’s interest as well.

How do I come to speak to this matter? I am by trade a criminal defence lawyer and have been so from my early days of law school in the mid1980s. I have conducted preliminary inquiries, I have argued about them as appellate counsel, and I have written about them as a now law professor. Indeed, I have been rather vocal about the preliminary inquiry and these proposed changes. I hope my Brief and this opening statement will shed some light on why I believe the preliminary inquiry, albeit in a different structural format, is worth saving. 

But first, I will open with a personal story. A story I often repeat to my students when asked which case most significantly impacted me in my early career. The day after being called to the Bar in 1989, I received a case from one of the lawyers sharing space with the law firm for which I was employed. 

The preliminary inquiry was only 2 days away. The client, who was detained in custody, was charged with an attempt break and enter with the intent to commit an indictable offence. The maximum punishment for the full offence, as it involved a dwelling house, would have been life imprisonment but as an attempt it was punishable by fourteen years. Still a significant term. As an aside under the new proposed amendments such a preliminary inquiry would not be possible. 

 It was rather a pathetic and all too familiar story. The client was found loitering in front of a home on the sidewalks of Rosedale holding a pointy and frayed stick. He appeared to be intoxicated. The police were called. Upon investigation of the nearby home, it appeared that the front door lock was freshly scratched with bits of paint that appeared to be derived from the client’s pointed stick. Appearances, however, may be deceiving, Upon review of the file, I recommended to the client we argue against committal at the preliminary inquiry. Needless to say, Judge George Carter agreed. The client was discharged and immediately released. This preliminary inquiry changed his life. He had a lengthy record and was an alcoholic, but this change in his fortunes gave him hope. He straightened out, went back to school and became a youth worker in a young offender facility. Ultimately, he attached himself to the UN peacekeeping tour of Bosnia and he never looked back. 

 I know I was asked here based on my academic credentials and writing in the area but to me there is no clearer evidence of the importance of the preliminary inquiry as a tool for good than this story and I did want to share it with you.

So on to the less emotional side of the equation.

I am certain you have already heard last week many good reasons for why the preliminary inquiry in its present format must be retained. My Brief also outlines the historical significance of the preliminary inquiry as an essential protective shield against the power of the state. It is more than procedural. It lies at the heart of the criminal justice system as it is linked with the presumption of innocence and fair trial concepts. The preliminary inquiry calibrates the scales of justice in accordance with those fundamental principles of justice and provides meaningful judicial oversight. 

The power of the preliminary inquiry, as I have already alluded to, cannot be taken for granted, nor underestimated. But preliminary inquiries take time, precious court resources that are finite. We are, in many ways, facing a crisis in our court system as evidenced by the Jordan andCody decisions on trial delay. In fact, one of the suggestions arising from the Senate Committee Report on that crisis recommended the termination or limitation of the preliminary inquiry. The recommendation before us today in Bill C-75 is the more tempered vision of this Senate recommendation but, in my submission, it still goes too far. The amendments do not provide the protection promised by the full operation of preliminary inquiries and, as outlined in my Brief, does not account for the many other ways the preliminary inquiry assists the proper functioning of the criminal justice system.

Keeping in mind all of these competing concerns, we must create a solution to the problem that still remains consistent with our desire to provide a fair trial in accordance with our long-held principles. Such a solution will require another recalibration, yet one which will maintain the scales of justice as writ large in our common law and Charter. In my respectful submission the solution recommended in the amendments do not do this. Instead, this honourable committee should consider a more practical solution. A solution that lies within easy reach can be found in our civil system of justice in its procedures for civil questioning or discovery. This discovery system, for the most part, lies outside of the courts. It provides useful evidence for trial and can encourage resolution. It is also predicated on full disclosure.

By using that civil system, judicial resources, and therefore court resources, can be used in a focussed manner that stays true to the primary committal function of the preliminary inquiry, yet would permit the advancement of those vital ancillary purposes, be it preservation of evidence, building an evidential threshold case for a defence, or engaging in resolution discussions. Where there is a realistic committal issue, a preliminary will be heard by a judge. Where the matter involves one of the other viable purposes for a pre-trial questioning, the matter can be heard in a less costly forum, outside of court, in a conference room where the matter can be recorded for future use at trial. This solution provides a viable alternative to the amendments, it balances competing rights, it is mindful of court resources and it is already in use.

I thank the Chair and the other members of this honourable committee for inviting me to make submissions on an integral part of our criminal justice system.

Brief Submitted to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights Concerning Bill C-75

On September 24, I will be appearing before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to present my recommendations on revision of the amendments to the Criminal Code in Bill C-75 relating to preliminary inquiries. Here is an excerpt of that Brief:

Introduction

Bill C-75 introduces a number of proposed changes to the Criminal Code. There are 300 pages of amendments covering a broad range of procedural, evidential, and substantive issues. Some of the amendments will significantly change the criminal justice system. None more than the proposed changes to the preliminary inquiry. This Brief will outline the weaknesses inherent in such change and a recommendation for a better, more robust and balanced approach. 

The Proposed Amendment

Bill C-75, in accordance with the summary attached to the Bill, proposes to “restrict the availability of a preliminary inquiry to offences punishable by imprisonment for life and strengthen the justice’s powers to limit the issues explored and witnesses to be heard at the inquiry.” The amendments will abolish the preliminary inquiry for all but those offences attracting a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. Those offences range from murder to criminal negligence causing death. 

For example, a preliminary inquiry may be heard on a break and enter into a dwelling house[1]but not for a break and enter into commercial premises.[2]A preliminary inquiry will also not be permitted for an attempt break and enter into a dwelling house as the maximum punishment is 14 years imprisonment.[3]

Although prior to the proposed amendments, a preliminary inquiry was upon request of the accused or prosecutor, with the new amendments, the judge hearing the inquiry will have broad discretion to regulate the inquiry. Under the proposed changes to s. 537(1)(i), the hearing judge may do so “in any way that appears to the justice to be desirable, including to promote a fair and expeditious inquiry.” Specifically, under s. 537(1.01), the inquiry judge may “limit the scope of the preliminary inquiry to specific issues and limit the witnesses to be heard on these issues.” Through application of the new amendment to s. 540(1)(a), the inquiry judge may also restrict the defence’s cross examination of a witness called to testify by the prosecution. 

Background to the Role of the Preliminary Inquiry in Our Criminal Justice System

For years the efficacy of the preliminary inquiry has been questioned, studied and discussed by lawyers, government officials, and the courts. Despite debate and amendments, the preliminary inquiry, at its core, exists as the legislative “shield” between the accused and the Crown, protecting, as Justice Estey explains in the 1984 majority decision of Skogman v The Queen,[4]“the accused from a needless, and indeed, improper, exposure to public trial where the enforcement agency is not in possession of evidence to warrant the continuation of the process.” Despite this sentiment, both levels of government and the courts have questioned the efficacy of the preliminary inquiry seeing little value in the procedure and only costs to the efficient and effective administration of justice. 

The preliminary inquiry discussion started benignly with the call for the abolition of the grand jury system; an English common law procedure requiring a panel of 24 jurors to evaluate the charges to determine if the case should proceed to an Indictment.[5]Eventually, the grand jury system was abolished by attrition as individual provinces simply stopped using the practice. Ironically, the principle argument advanced in favour of eliminating the grand jury inquiry was the existence of the preliminary inquiry as the true procedural safeguard against the power of the state. 

The main purpose of the preliminary inquiry is the committal function. To determine this, a preliminary inquiry justice considers whether or not there is sufficient evidence to commit the accused to trial pursuant to s. 548 of the Criminal Code.If the evidence is insufficient for committal, the accused will be discharged. 

Although the test requires a fairly low evidential threshold, there are cogent illustrations of the impact of this discharge power. An example is found in the case of Susan Nelles, who was the pediatric nurse on duty when a number of babies died in the cardiac ward of the Hospital for Sick Kids in the early 1980s. She was ultimately charged with first-degree murder of four children by allegedly injecting them with lethal doses of the drug digoxin. The subsequent preliminary inquiry revealed a complete lack of evidence for the charge, resulting not only in her discharge but also in an inquiry into the deaths.[6]In this way, a preliminary inquiry protects an accused from the pernicious power of the state and can also provide a forum safe from the vagaries of public opinion.

Nevertheless, according to Mr. Justice Estey in Skogman, the preliminary inquiry serves an additional purpose, derived through usage, of “a forum where the accused is afforded an opportunity to discover and to appreciate the case to be made against him at trial where the requisite evidence is found to be present.”[7]It is this ancillary purpose, grounded in the right of an accused to make full answer and defence, which garners the most criticism and provides support for abolition. This argument suggests that with the advent of the Charterand the stringent disclosure requirements of Stinchcombe,[8]the preliminary inquiry is no longer a necessary discovery tool.[9]This reassessment did indeed happen. In October of 2001, the then Liberal government proposed, as part of a miscellany of criminal law amendments, significant changes to the preliminary inquiry process in the omnibus Bill C-15. The then Justice Minister Anne McLellan, in her presentation to the House upon second reading of the Bill, described the revisions as criminal procedure reform, spearheaded by the provinces, in an effort 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.[10]

Madame Justice Deschamps, in her majority decision in Regina vS.J.L.,[11]considered these amendments. According to Justice Deschamps, the ancillary function of the preliminary as a discovery tool “has lost much of its relevance”[12]due to enhanced disclosure requirements. Justice Deschamps pointed to the new procedures as clearly illustrating the trend “toward the adoption of mechanisms that are better adapted to the needs of the parties, not the imposition of more inflexible procedures.”[13]

At the same time as this movement away from the preliminary inquiry as a disclosure mechanism, we see a rise of legal rules requiring the accused person to provide an evidential foundation for certain applications and defences before they can advance these issues at trial.[14]

Why the Amendment Needs Revision

It is this last phrase - “better adapted to the needs of the parties, not the imposition of more inflexible procedures” – that requires further attention. Added to this sentiment is the need to ensure procedures do not impede full answer and defence to the detriment of the presumption of innocence, fair trial concerns, and the overall integrity of the justice system. Without fair and just procedures in place, the potential for miscarriages of justice increase. 

The proposed amendments go further than the previous changes to create an inflexible process, which fails to account for the original reason for the preliminary inquiry as a protective mechanism and fails to respond to the new realities of courtroom evidentiary requirements. This double concern results in amendments that detract from the integrity of the justice system instead of promoting it. 

For instance, the preliminary inquiry can be an indispensable tool to establish the required evidential foundation for threshold issues, such as admissibility of evidence, providing the basis for a legal defence or setting the stage for a Charterapplication.[15]Thus, the notion that the preliminary inquiry lacks utility and interferes with the administration of justice fails to recognize the access to justice issues resulting from the inquiry’s demise. In order for the counsel to “appreciate the case made against” the accused, counsel has to have an opportunity to see it.[16]

The concept that the preliminary inquiry weighs down the system and interferes with trial court efficiency is a misnomer. In fact, statistically, the preliminary inquiry works. In a timely 2013 article entitled Why Re-open the Debate on the Preliminary Inquiry? Some Preliminary Empirical Observations,[17]University of Ottawa criminologist Cheryl Webster, who has done extensive researchon court reform for the federal government, and retired Department of Justice counsel Howard Bebbington, found value in the preliminary inquiry process as, based on an empirical study, it did positively impact scarce court resources. As referenced in the article, a preliminary inquiry can identify weakness in a case, which may assist in resolution of the file or identify and delineate trial issues thereby shortening the process. In the same way, a preliminary inquiry can also assist in the release of an in custody accused as a weaker case can result in a successful bail application. Additionally, the preliminary hearing can assist either the prosecution or the defence in preserving evidence for admission at trial. 

Further, theview that the preliminary inquiry, as a committal and disclosure forum, can be adequately substituted by prosecutorial discretion and full disclosure fails to appreciate the importance of the inquiry as a forum providing the oversight of a fair and impartial member of the judiciary. Such judicial oversight is a cornerstone of our justice system. Moreover, in Regina v Nur,[18]the then Chief Justice McLachlin cautions against substituting prosecutorial discretion for judicial decision making, particularly in the adversarial context. This would, in the words of the Chief Justice in Nur, “create a situation where the exercise of the prosecutor’s discretion is effectively immune from meaningful review.”[19]Additionally, although Stinchcombehas set high disclosure expectations, disclosure is not a static concept but continues throughout the case. Disclosure requests are often informed by the preliminary inquiry process, which can actually result in trial efficiencies. 

Finally, to delineate between offences based on punishment fails to acknowledge the deeply personal impact an indictable charge can have on the dignity and self-worth of an individual, particularly where there may be insufficient evidence for that matter to go to trial. The prosecution office does not have the resources to comb through the many files to determine whether evidential sufficiency nor do they have the appropriate oversight function to do so. 

A more meaningful approach would include a real assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of the inquiry process. We must be open to looking at other ways to retain the safeguards presently built into the preliminary inquiry process. For instance, where committal is not in issue, we may find a useful court alternative in the civil discovery procedures, which permits a less formal and less costly forum for the questioning of parties after full disclosure of documents. With an informed and thoughtful discourse on the issue, a more flexible approach could, and should, be found to save the preliminary inquiry from this premature legislative demise. 

Recommendations

 That the proposed amendments be revised to consider the following:

 1. To retain the preliminary inquiry process for those offences where committal is in issue;

 2. For those cases where committal is not in issue, to utilize a modified civil form of discovery procedures, which would permit questioning to occur outside of the court process in a less costly and more efficient atmosphere.[20]

This proposal will take less judicial resources, less time and relieve courts yet still provide the protection envisioned by the original committal process.

Conclusion

Change can be good and can improve our concept of justice. However, even the smallest change must be calibrated toward a goal we all share: maintaining the fine balance between protection of the public and protection of the individual within that system who is faced with a potential loss of liberty. We must not sacrifice one for the other. Change must be viewed not as a piece of a maze but as a part of a whole through long-term strategic vision. 

Specifically, change within the criminal justice system cannot be done in the name of efficiency only. Efficiency is not what we want from our justice system. That is not what the Jordan[21]and Cody[22]decisions are all about. Cultural change involves a bundle of values not a bundle of paper being efficiently pushed about. The goal should be to enhance the criminal justice system while preserving the protections of those whose liberty is at risk.

[1]See section 348(1)(d) of the Criminal Code.

[2]See section 348(1)(e) of the Criminal Code.

[3]See section 463(a) of the Criminal Code.

[4][1984] 2 SCR 93 at 105 [Skogman].

[5]See Parliament of the Dominion of Canada, Sessional Papers, No 66 (1891)Volume17at 7-69.

[6]See Ontario, Ministry of the Attorney General, Royal Commission of Inquiry into Certain Deaths at the Hospital for Sick Children and Related Matters, Report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry Into Certain Deaths at the Hospital for Sick Children and Related Matters, by the Honourable Mr. Justice Grange, (Toronto, 1983. 

[7]Supranote 4 at105.

[8][1991] 3 SCR 326.

[9]See Re Regina and Arviv(1985), 19 CCC (3d) 395 (ONCA), G A Martin JA at para 31; R v O’Connor, [1995] 4 SCR 411,L'Heureux-Dubé J at paras 170 – 171.

[10]“Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2001”, 2ndreading, House of Commons Debates, 37-1, No 54 (May 3, 2001) at 1620 (Hon Anne McLellan).

[11][2009] 1 SCR 426.

[12]Ibid at para 23.

[13]Ibidat para 24.

[14]See e.g. R v Downey, [1992] 2 SCR 10 as it relates to the evidential burden on the accused to rebut presumptions; R v O’Connor, [1995] 4 SCR 411 as it relates to s. 276 applications; R v Davis, [1999] 3 SCR 759 as it relates to the air of reality test in raising honest but mistaken belief in consent; R v Ruzic, [2001] 1 SCR 68 as it relates to duress; Rv Cinous, [2002] 2 SCR 3 as it relates to self-defence; R v Pappas, [2013] 3 SCR 452 as it relates to provocation; R v Fontaine, [2004] 1 SCR 702 as it relates to mental disorder.

[15]Ibid

[16]Supraat note 4.

[17]Cheryl Marie Webster & Howard H. Bebbington, "Why Re-open the Debate on the Preliminary Inquiry? Some Preliminary Empirical Observations" (2013) 4:55 Can J Corrat 513-532.

[18]2015 SCC 15.

[19]Ibidat para 94.

[20]See e.g. Rule 31 of the Ontario Rules of Civil ProcedureRRO, 1990, Reg 194 and Part 5 of the Alberta Rules of Court, AR 124/2010.

[21]2016 SCC 27.

[22]2017 SCC 31.

Leaving A Paper Trail: A Comment on Bill C-75 (also posted on www.ablawg.ca)

Receiving the newest Bill tabled in the House on proposed changes to the criminal justice system brings to mind the image of opening gifts at a birthday party. Each gift is scrupulously wrapped in an array of cheerful paper with shiny ribbons. As each bundle is displayed, there is a jostling amongst the party goers – each eager to see the gift unwrapped to reveal the prize inside. The image goes only so far when it comes to the government’s proposed amendments to the Criminal Codetabled last week under the auspices of Bill C-75. Underneath the wrapping, over 300 pages of paper, is no prize but a maze of amendments and changes – a patchwork of pieces – some of which significantly change the criminal justice system. Although some of these amendments are welcome, others signal a significant shift in our criminal justice system. Change can be good and can improve our concept of justice. However, even the smallest change must be calibrated toward a goal we all share: maintaining the fine balance between protection of the public and protection of the individual within that system who is faced with a potential loss of liberty. We must not sacrifice one for the other. Change must be viewed not as a piece of a maze but as a part of a whole through long-term strategic vision. Unfortunately, this omnibus Bill in many respects fails to be visionary. Rather, short-term administrative efficiency seems to be the prize under the mountain of paper.

To be sure, there are changes we can all agree upon such as the repealing of some decidedly dead offences disabled by the application of the Charter. The best Albertan example of the danger in leaving things unchanged that have been changed is found in the original decision of R v Vader,2016 ABQB 505 (CanLII). In that decision, s 230, unconstitutional since 1987 as a result of the seminal decision of Justice Lamer, as he then was, in R v Vaillancourt, [1987] 2 SCR 636, 1987 CanLII 2 (SCC), was resurrected to convict the accused of murder. That error was easily and quickly undone as, in Pandora Box fashion, the lid was slammed shut with the s 230 conviction adroitly converted into the constitutional manslaughter conviction (see R v Vader2016 ABQB 625 (CanLII)). Bill C-75 explicitly repeals s 230, and that is a good change.

In C-75, there are also some expected changes, such as the abolishment of peremptory challenges to jury members under s 634 to be replaced by the more meaningful challenge for cause procedure. Although these changes are for good public policy reasons (see my earlier post on the Stanley / Boushie case here), such changes, which turn an automatic process into a discretionary one, still require thoughtful and mindful decisions by all those involved, counsel included. Changes can provide better and more equitable outcomes, but changes do not, in and of themselves, guarantee there will be change, they only make change possible. 

There are also some unexpected changes or at least changes some of us feared but doubted would occur. For further comment on the efficacy, purpose and reason for retaining, in some form, the preliminary inquiry, see my previous post on the issue as part of a case commentary written in April of 2015, “Does the StinertDecision Signal the End of the Preliminary Inquiry?”. The abolishment of the preliminary inquiry, except for the most serious offences, is one change we feared for years and are still probably in a state of denial about as our fears have become a reality. I suppose we should be relieved that the process was not entirely eradicated but perhaps that was the plan; to lull us with a sense of false security. 

Another, smaller change, yet completely unexpected and unwanted is an important evidentiary change under the soon to be added s 657.01, permitting the admission of the “routine” evidence of a police officer at trial in affidavit format, without the hearing of that evidence. This evidence is not given in real time. It is not even given orally. It is proffered as affidavit evidence. In other words, it is tendered on paper. This effects a precarious step, a paper-thin one, toward the potential future of trials by paper in the criminal court. 

As mentioned earlier, part of the difficulty with this government’s approach to Criminal Coderevision is the lack of long-term strategic vision. Reading these amendments, there is a sense that some of these changes were made without thinking them through to their ultimate end and without mentally testing them in a real trial scenario to determine how they will ultimately play out in court. For these changes to be meaningful and workable, yet still upholding the principles of fundamental justice, we rely on our government, before they change the law, to ask themselves why they are in fact changing it. We want the government to think before acting and ask whether the contemplated change is for the better.  Finally, we rely on the government to make these changes in an effort to enhance the criminal justice system while preserving the protections of those whose liberty is at risk. I emphasize to enhance, not to make the system more efficient. Efficiency cannot be and has never been the only reason for reform. Efficiency is not what we want from our justice system. That is not what the Jordan (2016 SCC 27) and Cody(2017 SCC 31) decisions are all about. Cultural change involves a bundle of values not a bundle of paper being efficiently pushed about.

As is typical with omnibus Bills, instead of stopping at what needs to be done, the government went above and beyond by also adding under the proposed s 644(3), an ability to convert a jury trial in mid-trial into a trial by judge alone, in the event the number of jurors fall below the number required to continue the trial. Although this can only be done by consent of both parties and therefore appears innocuous and not worth commenting on, my question is – why? A decision to have a jury trial is an accused’s Charterprotected right. Why would the loss of that right as a result of the inability of the jury to continue logically mean that the accused is good to go without one? Why incentivize a change which should not occur for that reason? Why not, instead, permit a jury trial to continue with less jurors than presently permitted? It seems that this change as with the admission of routine police evidence, sworn but not tested through viva voceevidence, is for one reason only – expediency. 

I harken back to Justice Lamer’s comments on the role of expediency in criminal law in Re B.C. Motor Vehicle Act, [1985] 2 SCR 486, 1985 CanLII 81 (SCC)(at para 85). This decision is an early Chartercase on the unconstitutionality of an absolute liability regulatory offence where there is a potential loss of liberty through a term of imprisonment or probation. An absolute liability offence requires no proof of a mental element and is therefore, where there is a potential loss of liberty, contrary to the principle of fundamental justice, “from time immemorial”, that an innocent person not be punished (para 85). Justice Lamer recognized that administrative efficiency is the driving force behind such regulatory offences, as the regulatory regime could be enforced quickly and efficiently through proof of the prohibited act only. To climb into the mind of the regulatory defendant, often a corporate one, would prove to be too difficult and contrary to the overarching objective of regulation, which is protection of the public from unsafe regulatory practices. However, where a criminal law sanction is used, Justice Lamer opined that only in exceptional circumstances, such as “natural disasters, the outbreak of war, epidemics,” would such administrative efficiency “successfully come to the rescue” of such a breach of s 7 (at para 85). Otherwise, life, liberty and security of the person should not be “sacrificed to administrative efficiency” (at para 85). These sage words written thirty-three years ago still have meaning. The principles underlying the Charterand indeed “from time immemorial” cannot be thrust aside in circumstances where the government has alternatives or simply, in a rush to please, has not given careful consideration to those changes. The justice system may be bending under its own weight, but the answer is not to shore it up with a quick and easy fix.

The admission of “routine police evidence” in paper format, as mentioned earlier in this post, serves as another prime example of the government giving all due consideration to administration without considering the rationale or “end game”. Presently, through our rules of evidence, we can make judicial or formal admissions at a criminal trial pursuant to s 655 of theCriminal Code. The section reads very broadly and confers a discretionary right on the defence to “admit any fact ... for the purpose of dispensing with proof”. Typically, such admissions are made in a written and signed agreed statement of fact or agreed admissions, depending on the nature of such admissions. They are often used to admit continuity of an exhibit which a police officer has seized in order to relieve the Crown and the officer from minute descriptive recitation of exactly where the exhibit was located at every point in time of the investigation. Such admissions can save court time and are efficient. They are to be used as indicated – to dispense with proof. This signals to all parties that if a fact is not admitted, the Crown must prove it. Easy and simple to use. Fair and efficient. Enter, the proposed s 657.01, permitting police evidence be admitted at trial in affidavit format. The first question to be asked is why? Why do we need such a paper heavy process when the accused already has the use of s 655?

Let’s go through a faux question and answer period to illuminate the point. The response to those “why” questions may be as follows: admissions under s 655 are formal and therefore binding and conclusive. The new proposed section permits admissions of fact informally, permitting the accused to lead evidence contrary to those affidavit facts, leaving the trier of fact to make the final determination of the issue. I see. Good point. However, so the response may be, if this form of evidence is to be treated like all evidence, in that it is subject to the assessment of the trier of fact, then what exactly is the point? Aha. Clever. But, the responder responds, the point is to relieve the police officer from attending court. A police officer’s attendance, if not required, costs the government time and money. Oho, is the response to that salvo. So, the reason for this is administrative efficiency. Not quite, is the response. An accused can also request an officer attend. Really? So, says the responder. So now the burden is on the accused to speak up and ask for an officer to attend court, to give evidence as is his or her duty, and to present themselves for cross-examination only upon request despite the principles engaged in full answer and defence. When once the status quowas the Crown shouldering the responsibility to present in court testable evidence as part of their obligation to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, now the accused must request it. What was a given is now a discretion. Another point in time for the possible exercise of judicial discretion. Another addition to the now enhanced gatekeeper function of the trial judge. Another point in time where a self-represented accused might be overcome by an overly cumbersome process. Hmm. This seems awfully familiar. Isn’t this what happened to the preliminary inquiry? Once it was a default position to have one unless the accused waived it. Then, it became a request. Now, it will be virtually gone, but for exceptional penalty circumstances. But this is mere process – relax, is the final word from the government. The final response may be – look at what happened with expert evidence – complacency in its admission and a failure to test the evidence resulted in miscarriages of justice until courts were forced to recalibrate the focus. 

Finally, we have the Charter statements on these new amendments so crucial to the governmental approach. These statements, according to the government website on the issue, “are intended to provide legal information to the public” on “some of the key considerations that inform the review of a proposed bill for consistency with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” In this instance, the government provides justifications for the amendments, couched in Charter speak, relying on a broad range of rights, such as s 7 in its various forms, the s 11(b) right to a trial within a reasonable time, the s 11(d) presumption of innocence, and the right to equality under s 15. However, when viewing the admission of “routine police evidence,” for instance, this concern for the Charter feels ingenuine. Despite the government’s Charter statementsto the contrary, a sacrifice of one Charterright, such as limiting s. 7 full answer and defence, for another Charterright, such as using administrative expediency to temper s. 11(b) unreasonable trial delay, is not consistent with the spirit and vision of the Charter. Balancing may be needed but balancing requires a proper weighing of these rights in light of our case law. As Justice Iacobucci remarked in the majority decision in R v Oickle, [2000] 2 SCR 3, 2000 SCC 38 (CanLII), the Charterrepresents the “bare minimum below which our law must not fall” (at para 31). Indeed, “the Charter is not an exhaustive catalogue of rights” (para 31). From “time immemorial” we have assiduously protected due process rights as a reflection of our rule of law. Our government may want us to accept the bare minimum but we in Canada deserve more. We see the government’s attitude in those carefully crafted Charterstatements, which on the surface advance transparency but are so carefully polished, they reflect rather than reveal. Self-serving in nature, these statements publicly maintain the proposed changes are consistent with or advance Charter rights, but it is more by the saying that these changes do this than by the fact they truly do. In other words, by saying so, the changes become so. So, it is written, so it is or must be. Whether written in stone or merely on paper, those statements should not be the outward public face of these changes. Again, Canadians deserve better – we deserve to hear the rationales and the potential outcomes. Hear it, not find it in the trail of papers.

(with thanks to the ABlawg team for editing this piece)