R v Antic is a welcome decision from the Supreme Court of Canada. No one can argue with a re-affirmation of what is at the core of our criminal justice system – the presumption of innocence. Justice Wagner neatly reminds us of the key role that the principle of fundamental justice has in our adversarial system. Indeed, one can argue that the presumption of innocence is at the very heart of our system and reflects a cherished societal value. That value is not just a “legal” one but a moral one as well. To presume people are essentially “good” is a comforting thought and one we should promote and celebrate. But, as recognized in the Antic decision, we tend to forget the “good.” This type of “reminder” is needed in the courts of law where justice is meted out in often chaotic circumstances. “Justice” happens in times when the court list seems endless and in circumstances where the parade of in-custody accused make it difficult to separate them into individuals. The Antic decision should make for a pause that is welcome.
Antic not only assists in humanizing the system but also in ensuring the courts, when faced with a heavy case load, are mindful of the authority it wields. The “ladder of liberty” approach the judicial interim release section creates is not something to be side-stepped or even two-stepped. Each rung must be deliberately weighed before proceeding onward and if a rung of the ladder feels “right,” if the weight placed on it works, then pursuant to section 515, the journey stops. It stops because reasonable bail is constitutionally guaranteed. It stops because the presumption of innocence is weighing in on the side of justice. It stops because it should.
Bail is complicated. If you ask any Provincial Court Judge what exactly they do day in and day out, they will tell you two things: bail and sentencing. The beginning and end, so to speak. These two procedures are the book ends of our justice system and without the proper use of them, the whole structure can fall and fail. In the post-Jordan fall-out, we need to be aware of these bookends and what a culture of complacency means as it relates to the proper administration of justice. Are we missing something then when we point fingers at trial delays or is it merely part of the heavy weight the system feels as it climbs up the rungs of the ladder.
Antic should then be a call to action for everyone. A call to be ever mindful of the underlying core values that push our justice system along and that make it an integral part of our unique Canadian democracy. In a few weeks, we will be celebrating our 150th year as a nation. We should at that time also be re-committing ourselves to the Charter values that define us and bring us together as a nation. This includes respect for the proper administration of justice through our commitment to make the system better for all those who walk its halls. This can and should be done by all stakeholders working together for, as Justice Wagner described it, an “enlightened criminal justice system.” Let’s take direction from the highest court and instead of resisting change, let’s make it happen. This is my birthday wish for Canada. Let’s blow out a candle and see it done.