Ideablawg’s Weekly Connections: The Olympics Edition

Of course, this week is all about the Olympics and when sport and law sometimes intersect.

1.   The Dispute: How does the IOC (International Olympic Committee) decide which sports should be included in the games? Although the Olympics have come a long way since the Ancient Greeks competed in a handful of events, there are a number of sports not included in the games and a few, which have been dropped over the years. Baseball and softball were not on the roster for the London Olympics but considering Tokyo will be hosting in 2020, this may change. Wrestling was off and then on again.  The Olympic rules require all sports to be reviewed after every Olympics with sports to be added or dropped by a two-thirds majority vote. There are, of course, those sports, which have been added to the Olympic lineup, such as golf, rugby (reappearing) and kitesurfing (new) in the 2016 Olympics.   At Sochi there were new events such as team figure skating and the snowboard and ski slopestyle.  Women’s ski jump was a new event this year but not without some controversy. The quest for gender equality in the ski jump event evolved over time, culminating in a legal challenge by high-ranking women ski jumpers before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and Paralympics. The British Columbia Court of Appeal, in dismissing the women’s case, found that the Charter could not apply to the selection of the 2010 events as and that even if the Charter did apply there was no breach of equality rights under s.15(1). Although, the question of whether VANOC or the Vancouver Olympic Committee was a government entity was easily answered in the negative, however the more difficult question was whether in organizing and staging the event VANOC was carrying out governmental activities. Even though there was governmental support for the Olympics, the Court found that this fact was not decisive on the issue of selection of Olympic events. In deed, neither VANOC nor the governmental agencies supporting the host City were involved in the selection of events. Thus, it could not be said that VANOC was the decision-maker and therefore the Charter could not apply.   Even so, the Court considered the reach of the equality s.15. In finding there was no breach the Court stated, “section 15(1) sets out constitutional guarantees of equality that are broad in scope, but it does not constitute a general guarantee of equality.  Rather, the section guarantees equality only in the way that the law affects individuals.  Where the law is not implicated in discrimination or inequality, is not engaged.” As the law or statutory authority was not engaged by the right or lack thereof to compete in the Olympics, s. 15 was not available and was not breached. A leave application to the Supreme Court of Canada was dismissed with costs. In the end, women’s ski jumping was approved for inclusion in Sochi. Unfortunately, none of the women who brought the court case won a medal in the sport, but what they did, in the end, win a victory for the sport.

2.   The Crime: Remember when Olympic scandals read like soap operas? If your memory needs refreshing, take a backward glance at the Tonya Harding – Nancy Kerrigan incident, when Kerrigan was attacked by a hammer to her knees, before the 1994 Olympics at the Women’s Championship and could not compete. That year Harding won and then lost as it was revealed that she was involved in the conspiracy to assault Kerrigan. But don’t worry, Nancy Kerrigan went on to perform in the Ice Capades while Tonya is now a professional boxer. Irony on ice?

3.   The Sabotage: What is it about skates? The Kerrigan/Harding incident did not stop some members of the American short track team from sabotaging Canadian Olympic gold medalist Oliver Jean’s skates in 2011. Despite this admission, the skater who did the deed accuses the coach for pressuring him to do it. The ISU or International Skating Union’s disciplinary commission considered the case last year and laid the blame for the incident squarely on the coach. This year at Sochi the Canadians were careful to check their skates before competing.

4.   The Dissent: Controversy swirled at the Olympics over the lack of gay rights in the host country and the lack of desire to meet with the Vancouver envoy supporting gay rights. But dissent escalated even further when Pussy Riot, the female punk rock activists, who were jailed last year after performing a “blasphemous” song in the Moscow Cathedral, were arrested but released in Sochi and then whipped by Cossacks – yes, there are still Cossacks. Read about their angry music video on the debacle entitled "Putin Will Teach You To Love Your Country" here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(a) of an offence at common law,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part One of the Supreme Court of Canada’s Decisions In The Sniffer Dog Cases: Don’t Throw Out The Principle With The Bath Water!

Question: When is a legal principle clarified by unanimous court but when the principle must subsequently be applied, unanimity goes out the window? Answer: When the Supreme Court of Canada delivers a much anticipated and needed decision on an issue, which, depending on the outcome, may change the face of police investigatory practice. That is the case, of course, in the two sniffer dog decisions in Chehil and MacKenzie, which were supposed to clarify the standard of “reasonable suspicion.” However, instead of the much-needed direction from the Court, the Supreme Court of Canada leaves us with a ruling that fails to clarify. As we all know, legal principles do not live in a vacuum and if they cannot be applied consistently and with some prediction, then the principle becomes a tool of the law and not the rule of law.

Still, the cases do tell us something, about which I have consistently written: that a seemingly objective standard is a fallacy as it is applied through the subjective sensibilities of the assessor, the judge, and in the context of facts, which themselves are founded on a subjective view of the receiver. Chehil and MacKenzie are cases in point: Chehil sets out the principle, to which everyone on the Court agrees, while MacKenzie applies it through the judicial lens. Unfortunately, the judicial lens is of varying strengths and degrees: not everyone on the Court sees matters the same way. The decision is therefore a fractious one. If our Supreme Court of Canada cannot agree then how can the majority, written by Justice Moldaver as I predicted, find the trial judge, who heard the evidence, is wrong. Can one even be wrong when applying an objective reasonable person standard? Are there two reasonable people? Do we even know how a reasonable person thinks? Ah, there’s the rub and there is the tautology: objective standards are only as good as the facts behind them.

If the above seems like a rant, well I suppose it is: the decisions, when read together are puzzling. Moldaver’s MacKenzie decision is even more so when read against the trial judge’s reasons. Unfortunately, one cannot get beyond the admonition of the trial judge when he found it possible “that the observations of the accused claimed to have been noticed by Cst. Sperle were enhanced after the drugs were located.” This kind of after the fact decision-making seems to permeate the SCC decision too but understandably so as in fact there were drugs found and the accused was a drug courier. But what we must all keep in mind is the purpose of the Charter is not to exonerate criminals but to provide oversight when the awesome powers of the state are used,  in whatever circumstances. Just as innocent people may come under scrutiny in a criminal investigation, as pointed out by Madame Justice Karakatsanis in Chehil, so too seemingly guilty people will benefit from inappropriate state intrusion. This is what safeguards our fundamental principles in a free and democratic society.

It is in this context that we must review and analyze these cases. In part two of my case comment, I will do just that.

 

 

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

Terrorism And Exceptional Circumstances: Is There A Public Interest In the Right To Counsel?

The recent tragedy in Boston and the terrorist related charges in Toronto and Montreal have left North Americans reeling: the concept of domestic terrorism and our society’s ability to, not only respond but to also intercept such events has become an issue. In the case of Boston, the investigators have invoked the public interest exception to the giving of Miranda rights or, in Canadian terms, the right to remain silent and the right to counsel under the Charter. Coincidently (or not), Harper’s government introduced the reinstitution of the extraordinary powers in the Anti-terrorism Act on the day the Canadian terrorist plot was uncovered. These powers were subject to a “sunset clause” whereby their viability is to be reviewed and re-enacted every three years. Not surprisingly, the powers were re-enacted by Parliament within days of the Toronto/Montreal terrorism arrests.

There is no question these powers are extraordinary, permitting “investigative detention” on the basis of suspicion alone, not just for the brief period approved by our Supreme Court of Canada but also for an extended period of time, up to three days. This power is, on the surface, completely contrary to the long list of legal rights an individual has when suspected of a criminal offence as found in sections 7 to 14 of the Charter. In order to understand how this piece of legislation can survive a Charter challenge, we must look to the concept of “public interest.”

As early as 1985, in the earliest days of Charter jurisprudence, the Supreme Court of Canada, even while creating a Charter vision, was also envisioning a world without a Charter. In the Re B.C. Motor Vehicle Act case, Mr. Justice Lamer, speaking for the majority, tackled the still troubling issue of the need for criminal intention for a criminal offence as opposed to the no-fault concept found in absolute liability offences. In the Courts opinion, section 7 of the Charter through the “principles of fundamental justice” required mens rea or criminal intention for crimes. However, the same principles did not require full criminal intention for a public welfare or regulatory offence. For those quasi-criminal offences, where jail was a possible sanction, the SCC found the minimum intention required was a less fulsome type of intention akin to negligence. However, if a public welfare offence, where jail was a possible sanction, required no fault element as in an absolute liability offence, this violated s. 7 of the Charter and was deemed unconstitutional. No fault was only available for regulatory offences where jail was not a penalty. Justice Lamer, in coming to this conclusion, made two very interesting, and now very relevant, remarks on the “public interest” dimension found in Charter analysis and on the possibility of the inapplicability of the Charter in certain circumstances.

One of the arguments in support of absolute liability or no-fault offences urged that the “public interest” necessitated such offences in certain public welfare situations where the public good was at issue and the risk of public harm was engaged. Justice Lamer agreed but underlined the limited application the “public interest” aspect would have in Charter analysis. In his view, the public interest was not relevant to whether or not absolute liability violated the principles of fundamental justice under s.7 as a loss of liberty where no intention was required would always be contrary to s. 7. However, it was relevant to the s.1 analysis, section 1 permitting the reasonable limitation of a Charter right, which the government could establish was “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” Thus, the government in establishing this justification could refer to and rely upon the “public interest” as a justification.

Another argument supports no-fault offences on the basis they are easier to prove and therefore more efficient or the “administrative expediency” argument. In the case of regulatory breaches, such efficiency would permit timely responses to scenarios of possible public harm. Justice Lamer soundly rejected the sacrifice of Charter values to administrative efficiency but with an important caveat: such a s.1 justification could only work “in cases arising out of exceptional conditions, such as natural disasters, the outbreak of war, epidemics, and the like.” 

It is this seemingly innocuous throwaway line (or obiter dicta), which I suggest will become the permission to suppress Charter rights in the name of terrorism.  In this way, an individual’s rights are not giving way to societal rights, in the sense that societal concerns trump individual protection. Instead, an individual rights actually become imbued with a “public interest” dimension. Thus, no longer can we speak of categories of rights created to protect the individual as the lines between rights become blurred. Indeed, we must now recognize that the individual is subsumed into the collective through the ever-present spectre of the “public interest.” Continuing on this line of reasoning, it is easy to see how even the jealously guarded right to counsel becomes expendable when “exceptional conditions,” like terrorism, rears its ugly head. Time may also show that this dimension will be carried further and become part of the right itself, not just a tool for justification by the state under s.1 but I will leave that analysis for a future posting!

 

 

The SCC’s Whatcott Decision Explores The Meaning Of “Hatred’ While Continuing The Subjective/Objective Debate

As discussed in previous blog postings, the Supreme Court of Canada appears to be moving towards the objective standard in criminal law – a standard in antithesis to the subjective standard which requires the trier of fact to determine the accused’s perception of the facts in deciding upon guilt or innocence. The objective standard found in objective mens rea offences and used as a standard of assessment in many defences, relies upon the seemingly objective perception of the reasonable person – a legal construct endowed with the standard of a standard citizen from a standard community.

Now, with the release of Whatcott, this objective/subjective debate has moved into the human rights arena. In this case, the Court struggles with the meaning of the emotion – hatred – and whether or not the concept or emotion of hatred can properly form the basis of a rule of law. Interestingly, the Court has had less difficulty with other emotive and therefore subjective words used in the Charter context, such as “life” and “liberty” in section 7. Even the term “freedom,” which is found throughout the Charter and is the defining word, perhaps even the objective (of course with the due limitations) of the legislation, is applied with ease by the Court.

No doubt, these terms are reflective of our society’s fundamental values. By describing them as value-based terms, we are already suggesting the subjective and emotional nature of these terms. It is these words, with such a depth of personal meaning, which are difficult to articulate and describe. An individual’s understanding of the term becomes personal and the use of the word is imbued with this personal meaning when utilized in any concrete context.

For example, I know what liberty means – it means the ability to be free from restraint and constraints imposed by others. However, “liberty” also has a visual meaning to me taken from my knowledge and world experience, which creates a more robust version of the words I have just written down. Therefore, “liberty” is the Statue of, “liberty” is also the poem by Tupac entitled “Liberty Needs Glasses,” as well as the Delacroix painting “Liberty Leading The People” hanging in the Louvre. “Liberty” is the panoply of past, present, and future human struggles, which we have studied and to which we are still bearing witness. Finally, “liberty” has the legal meaning as circumscribed by case law as not “mere freedom from physical restraint” but

In a free and democratic society, the individual must be left room for personal autonomy to live his or her own life and to make decisions that are of fundamental personal importance.

So too in Whatcott the Court imbues the word “hatred” with the legislative objective of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code. Thus, an emotion becomes a standard to be applied by the tribunal. “Hatred,” therefore, is to mean something beyond dislike and must reflect a standard of behaviour beyond the norm or, as Justice Rothstein explains, be an “expression of an unusual and extreme nature.” The standard of assessment, in order to minimize the emotive perception of “hatred” must be based on an objective standard evoking the perception of the reasonable person. The question to be asked by the tribunal becomes a seemingly simple and standardized approach: “when considered objectively by a reasonable person aware of the relevant context and circumstances, the speech in question would be understood as exposing or tending to expose members of the target group to hatred”.

Even so, Justice Rothstein seems to be crafting a definition of “hatred” that is very personal: “hatred” is not “calumny” but includes “contempt” and may dehumanize an individual or a group of individuals. This concept of “dehumanization” is consistent with universal human rights principles, which evolved out of the atrocities of World War II and is related to the Nazi Germany objective, as evidenced by their laws and actions, to strip Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals, and other minority groups of their humanity. The converse of this is the well-entrenched Charter value of “human dignity.” This definition of hatred, according to Justice Rothstein, taken from case law principles, provides an objective, clear, and identifiable standard to be imposed, which “excludes merely offensive or hurtful expression” but includes “extreme and egregious examples of delegitimizing expression as hate speech.”

In the end, the SCC by carving out a definition of hate speech consistent with the approved authorities and by excising meanings which were not consistent with the standard of hatred, created an “emotionless” template for tribunals and courts. As discussed in my previous blog on the SCC’s recent decision on duress, which approved of the objectification of the test for duress despite cogent arguments by legal theorist George Fletcher to embrace individualization, this “shoe-horning” of value-laden terms into the objective category may not be a true reflection of society’s values and may, in the end, diminish the deeply personal meaning of such values in favour of the rule of law.

 

What Are Human Rights Anyway?

Today is International Human Rights Day, the day to commemorate the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948 (see my previous blog on the issue). This event has changed the world in many ways as we struggle to understand what it means to have human rights and as our governments struggle to implement that societal vision.

To understand the concepts involved and the values at stake, we need to start from the essentials: what does it mean to be human? As simple as this question might sound, it is so very complicated and so difficult to answer. It is like describing the colour green without reference to something that is green. Also, such a description depends on the author’s perspective: a scientist may describe being human physiologically or even evolutionary, a psychologist may describe a human emotionally, an anthropologist may describe a human collectively, and so on. Therefore, to come up with an encompassing universal concept of being human is challenging. So, instead of defining humanity, we have concentrated on defining what humanity universally enjoys and expects or has a right to enjoy and expect. Hence, the idea of human rights is born.

But what does having “human rights” mean? Let’s start with the conception of a “right.” One meaning of “right” is an act, which is morally or socially correct or just, such as right vs. wrong. But in the realm of human rights this definition is weak: is it “right” to open a door for someone who has his or her hands full? Yes it is, but the person has no special right or claim on you to open the door. In order to ensure our “rights” will be respected consistently and in order to give “human rights” the special weight it deserves, a right in the human rights context must involve a justified claim or a special entitlement for something, which can be enforced against a person or institution.

Rights however differ from a privilege or a gift: often for a privilege, like a driver’s license, one must apply and show themselves worthy of receiving the privilege. Therefore, having a privilege is discretionary and not given out to all. In contrast, human rights are universal and should not be dependent on any given scenario.

Furthermore, when one possesses a human “right,” one is specially entitled to do or to have or to be free from something, but also entitled to enforce claims against others to act or refrain from acting in certain ways. Thus, the claiming of a right involves, by necessity, someone from whom to claim the right. In other words, we need a society in order to give human rights meaning. Robinson Crusoe, for instance, while alone on the Island has “human rights” but they are irrelevant until Friday shows up.

This “two-way street” therefore requires a “right holder,” the person claiming the right and a “duty-bearer,” who has an obligation to respect those claimed rights. An example can be found under our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is a human rights document outlining an individual’s rights, which then can be claimed or enforced against the State. According to s.10(b) of the Charter, I have a right to counsel upon arrest or detention. This is a special claim I possess or have but I need another actor to fulfill my right. Therefore, it is the State who must act to fulfill my claim; called a positive right. Oftentimes, in the realm of human rights, the State must refrain from acting as in the freedoms found in the Charter such as a person’s freedom of expression under s.2(b); known as a negative right.

It should be noted that our rights under the Charter are not absolute. Rights compete with one another and, at times, contradict with other just as viable rights. Thus, it is this balancing of rights, not the existence of rights, which forms the biggest part of our human rights discourse.

Now, we understand what “rights” mean but from where do human rights come? Human rights arise out of our humanity or human nature: I am human therefore I have human rights. Human rights may consist of the basics to keep us alive but they are much more than that: human rights are not needed for life but for living a life of dignity. What a life worth living looks like comes from a particular vision of what that life should look like. This moral vision then becomes integrated into the political and legal institutions of a society in order to give those human rights the special claim or force needed to make them meaningful. 

Human rights therefore are described as inalienable rights, which everyone equally enjoys. Rights are called inalienable, not because one cannot be denied access or enjoyment of human rights, but because losing these rights is morally impossible. Human rights cannot be given or taken away even though historically institutions have tried such as in Nazi Germany and in slave-holding countries.

There are however difficulties in the application of human rights. It is almost impossible to come up with a list of human rights with which all humanity would agree. Most people can agree on the essentials such as food and shelter but it is when the concepts become less concrete that disagreements arise. Even if we can agree on the right to life, liberty and security of the person (s. 7 of the Charter), we would all have a different conception of what those grand words mean. Does that include universal healthcare? Does that include the life of a fetus? And so on, and, quite frankly, on to the courts to figure these nuances out.

Now we understand human rights better (or maybe for worse?), we can enjoy International Human Rights Day. In the end, it is a celebration of who we are, of who we want to be, recognizing that we are “all in this together” merely because we are human. 

Touching On The Biographical Core of Personal Information: The Supreme Court of Canada’s Decision in Cole

As soon as the Supreme Court of Canada issued the Cole case, I went to the website to read it. Initially, I was drawn to the case hoping to find further clarification and the “filling in,” so to speak, of the legal principle of “reasonable expectation of privacy.” As with so many phrases used in law, legal interpretation is required to give the terms a more robust character and to solidify the meaning so that the mere hearing of the term conjures up the correct legal principle or the proper connections to be made between case law and precedents. The term of “reasonable expectation of privacy” is one of those terms which requires this incremental corporeality in order to make the law more certain. This is particularly needed in the Charter universe where heady terms like “Liberty” and “Freedom”, which by the way are not synonymous according to Chief Justice Dickson in the Edwards Books and Arts case, delineate the parameters of our Charter rights.

Certainly, the Supreme Court of Canada did not disappoint in the Cole decision, as they “filled in” the term in relation to the work place. In doing so, the court answered the question of whether or not there is a line drawn between personal and work and if so, where that line can and should be drawn. Of course, the judgment is not so practical as to suggest the exact place in which the line rests, but it does serve as a guideline for the employer-employee relationship. This posting, however, will not be a critical legal analysis of the judgment in relation to the answer provided by the court. Instead, this posting focuses on one paragraph, indeed the second paragraph of the majority judgment written by Justice Fish.

The second paragraph reads as follows:

Computers that are reasonably used for personal purposes — whether found in the workplace or the home — contain information that is meaningful, intimate, and touching on the user’s biographical core. Vis-a-vis the state, everyone in Canada is constitutionally entitled to expect privacy in personal information of this kind.

Two concepts found in this paragraph hold my interest. The first is the striking way in which the court defined the personal information found on a computer as “meaningful, intimate, and touching on the user’s biographical core.” Interestingly, this description, which does not refer to any previous case law, does, on a close reading, come from two earlier Supreme Court of Canada cases, which although are related to reasonable expectation of privacy in a search and seizure context, are not related to information found on a computer.

The first is the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada case, R v Tessling. This case is familiar to most criminal lawyers faced with an unreasonable search and seizure or section 8 challenge. Tessling involved the use by the RCMP of FLIR or forward looking infra-red technology. In this instance, the RCMP employed a FLIR camera on an overflight of property, which revealed infra-red images of the emission of heat radiating from the suspect property. The abnormally large amount of heat radiating from the observed property, together with informant information, resulted in the issuance of a search warrant. Police found on the property a large quantity of marijuana and weapons. Counsel at trial argued the overflight using the FLIR camera was an unreasonable search and seizure. The trial judge disagreed and the accused was convicted. However, the Court of Appeal for Ontario reversed the decision, finding there was a violation of s.8 and the evidence was excluded under s.24(2) of the Charter.

The Supreme Court of Canada, through the unanimous decision written by Justice Binnie (an Ontario appointment), did not agree with the provincial appellate court. They did agree that the ability to be free from state action while at our home (as in "the house of everyone is to him as his castle and fortress": Semayne's Case, [1558-1774] All E.R. Rep. 62 (1604)), unless there was prior judicial authorization to do so, was of paramount importance. Justice Binnie discussed how this concept of territorial privacy of the home has expanded to the protection of the bodily integrity of the person through the protection of the privacy of being at home. Thus, being at home suggests, “being the place where our most intimate and private activities are most likely to take place.” It is these activities, which the Charter must zealously safeguard.

In the end, the FLIR camera, revealing only heat images, did not step into the private refuge of the home. Equally, the camera did not step into the “intimate and private” activities, which are core to personal integrity and self-identity of a person as a human being.

Another issue discussed by Justice Binnie in Tessling, brings us to the second Supreme Court of Canada case to characterize personal information as “meaningful, intimate, and touching on the user’s biographical core.” According to Justice Binnie, the difficult decision was where to draw the line: at what point does the state over step their authority and wander improperly and, more importantly, unreasonably into the private lives of an individual. This too was the issue with which the Court struggled to understand in Cole.

To answer this, Justice Binnie turned to Justice Sopinka’s words in R v Plant (1993), another unreasonable search and seizure case involving a warrantless perimeter search of a dwelling house. Justice Sopinka, in starting from the underlying values of the Charter of “dignity, integrity, and autonomy,” found it an intellectually easy journey that

s. 8 of the Charter should seek to protect a biographical core of personal information which individuals in a free and democratic society would wish to maintain and control from dissemination to the state. This would include information which tends to reveal intimate details of the lifestyle and personal choices of the individual. (Emphasis in bold added)

Thus, it is out of a nuanced discussion on the privacy of the home, which expanded the concept of the “home as our castle” metaphor to another metaphor found in the idiom “home is where the heart is,” suggesting that it is not the structure that reflects who we are but what is inside – the people and the thoughts we leave behind.

As an aside, the 2011 Saskatchewan Court of Appeal in R v Trapp, which is also a child pornography matter considering the “reasonable expectation of privacy”, utilized these cases in determining the legality of the seizure of information from the accused’s internet service provider. In fact, Justice Cameron, speaking for the court, reviewed this seizure

to identify the import or quality of this information, having regard for the principle that section 8 protects a biographical core of personal information, including information tending to reveal intimate details of the lifestyle and personal choices of the individual.(Emphasis added)

Such an analysis lead the court to conclude that the seizure of the information was not contrary to the Charter.

This brings me to the second point arising from this short second paragraph written by Justice Fish. The finding in Cole not only “fills in” the term “reasonable expectation of privacy” but also “fills in” or further defines the Supreme Court of Canada’s interpretation of the Charter; the concept that the Charter reflects the underlying fundamental values of our society. The Cole decision merely continues the line of cases, which embrace the idea that Charter values, not necessarily concrete or corporeal Charter terms, lend meaning to Charter rights. Thus, it is the concept of “meaningful, intimate, and touching on the user’s biographical core,” coming from Charter values, which delineates the line of reasonableness.

Now back to the Cole case and the further expansion of personal information, as protected by Charter values, to personal information contained on a computer hard drive. Now, the private world of an individual’s has shrunk from the home as the container of our most intimate and meaningful thoughts to the nano-world of computers. Like a diary, the computer captures a timeline of who we are and who we want to be: our desires, our dreams, and our inner most thoughts. Recognizing this decision is truly a further “filling in” of Charter values helps us understand this decision more thoroughly and causes us to consider what will be next. Perhaps the intimacy of details on Facebook and other such sites will prove to attract more protection than initially thought. In any event, it is clear that the sanctity of the home has become the sanctity of the hard drive.

Taxi! The New Alberta "Drink But Don't Drive" Reality

As of July 1, 2012, Alberta became a safer place, or at least that is the impetus behind Premier Redford's new amendments to the Alberta Traffic Safety Act. As a reminder of the many pitfalls of the legislation and the impact the new regime will have on Albertans, I am republishing excerpts of my previous postings on the issue. It is worthwhile to be conversant with these changes now that Stampede and the never ending wash of "Beer and Beans" are upon us. 

Here is the list of blogs on the issue and the blogs follow:

October 27, 2011, A Lesson On How To Get Tough With Impaired Driving

October 28 Impaired Driving: A Little Diversion

November 24 The Optics of Tougher Impaired Driving Laws

November 27 The Social Costs of The New Alberta Regime

November 28 The Charter and The New Alberta Impaired Driving Laws

November 29 Administrative Tribunals and Duties of Fairness

December 1& 2 Alberta's Response To The Partial Unconstitutionality of the BC Impaired Driving Regime 

 

From October 27, 2011A Lesson On How To Get Tough With Impaired Driving:

"Two weeks ago, I invited a guest lecturer to speak to my criminal procedure and evidence class about defending impaired/over 80 offences. The lecturer, a lawyer, did an exceptional job of walking the students pictorially through a typical impaired/over 80 case by using photographs of the Alert or roadside screening device, of the "Breath Bus" or Checkstop bus, and of the breathalyzer machine (actually, the experts insist on referring to them as"instruments" per the Criminal Code).

It became very clear to the class that impaired/over 80 cases are complex, highly technical cases involving difficult evidentiary and legal issues such as expert evidence from the breathalyzer technicianCharter challenges, and the use of the legal presumptions under s. 258 of the Criminal Code

Another message was equally clear: do not drink and drive. Although drinking and driving cases are technical in nature and open to a myriad of legal arguments, if the Crown and police have all the legal requirements properly in place, a conviction will result. This was "scared straight" in legalese.

Now two weeks later there is much political talk of making the impaired driving laws tougher in Alberta. How tough? Well, BC tough. In tomorrow's blog, I will expand on what "getting BC tough" really means and the possible repercussions. But, in the end, will "getting tough" deter impaired drivers? Will the carnage on the highways, which we sadly read about on a weekly basis, lessen? Will these new laws make our roads safer?

It is difficult to determine if tougher laws do, in fact, deter and change behavior, despite Premier Clark's insistence that statistics prove her tougher laws work. I, for one, prefer the old fashioned route - education. My son and, recently, my daughter attended the P.A.R.T.Y or Prevent Alcohol and Risk-Related Trauma in Youth Program offered across Canada through the local health services. At this workshop, the 14 to 15 year olds meet people who have made the wrong choice to drink and drive. Although some are in wheel-chairs and some are not, they all are scarred, either physically or emotionally, by their actions. The students listen to their stories, they hear the terrible consequences of poor choices, and they decide not to make the same decision. To me, this is the best form of prevention."

From October 28 Impaired Driving: A Little Diversion:

"Yesterday, I blogged about the importance of education as the ultimate deterrence of impaired drivers. Today, as foreshadowed by yesterday's editorial cartoon in the Calgary Herald, I will comment on Premier Redford's interest in changing the Alberta Traffic Safety Act to impose tougher consequences on impaired drivers.

These changes are to reflect the recent amendments of Part 4 of the British Columbia Motor Vehicle Actwhich imposes, at the roadside, automatic driving prohibitions from 24 hours up to 90 days, depending on your BAC (blood alcohol concentration) as shown on an approved roadside screening device. But the repercussions do not stop there: the car may be impounded at the roadside, if the police officer feels it is "necessary" to prevent the offender from driving. Of course, why it would be deemed necessary, considering the police officer just took the offender's licence, is a different matter. Additionally, a monetary penalty will be assessed at the roadside and must be paid within thirty days.

In other words, a lot of quasi-judicial punishment is being meted out at the roadside on the basis of a police officer's opinion. The repercussions are even tougher should the driver receive a warn on the roadside screening device and even tougher still should the driver fail. All done at the roadside, without judicial intervention, without due process, and all mandated by provincial legislation

So what if it lacks due process, as long as it works and deters people from drinking and driving? Well, let's look at the actual affect this kind of legislation has on impaired driving.According to BC Premier Clark, the new legislation cut in half deaths caused by impaired drivers. Indeed, the legislation was first introduced by the BC Solicitor-General in April of 2010 on the basis that tougher measures were needed to combat the increasing numbers of impaired drivers. Although, I was unable to find any statistics or reports supporting Clark's bravado, I did find recent statistics debunking the Solicitor-General's comments. In the crime statistics released by Statistics Canada on July 21, 2011, the rate of impaired driving in Canada dropped 6% in 2010, consistent with a general decline of the offence since 1981. Furthermore, the rate decreased, from 2009 to 2010, by 8% in British Columbia and by a whopping 14% in Alberta.

The reality may be that tougher sanctions will not deter people and certainly will not stop innocent teenagers from dying in horrific circumstances. Instead, other ways, which have a proven track record at reducing the offence, such as the use of the ignition interlock program, should be considered. Additionally, enhanced funding and expansion of educational programs targeting the youthful driver should be employed.

Education does work to change attitudes. In the end, roadside justice is a mere diversion from the real issue and the real problem."

From November 24 The Optics of Tougher Impaired Driving Laws

"With the dual announcement this week from Alberta, where new legislation mirroring B.C.'s efforts in the area has been tabled in the Legislature, and from British Columbia, where impaired driving fatalities have decreased by 40% since the new legislation has been in force, a review is in order. I will discuss some of the legal difficulties with the legislation and some of the social difficulties of connecting the effects of the new legislation with an absolute decrease in impaired drivers.

Many of the legal criticisms focus on the lack of due process afforded individuals when they are stopped by police enforcing the new law. Sanctions may be imposed without recourse to the criminal justice system and the determination of penalty is not administered by a judicial authority but by the police. By giving the police the decision making power usually confined to judges, the procedure not only circumvents the justice system but circumvents the legal rights protections we all enjoy under the Charter, particularly the s. 11(d) right "to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal." As discussed in a previous blog, There Is No Road To Redemption, this type of crime prevention adheres more closely to the arcane "crime-control model" of Herbert Packer.

Another area of concern involves legal issues with the breathalyzer devices themselves and the inaccuracies connected to the machines. Thus, the lack of due process is compounded by the unreliability of the basis for the out-of-court sanction.

Still other legal critics accuse the police in British Columbia of selective enforcement: police are not enforcing the impaired driving sections found in the Criminal Code, opting instead to enforce the provincial legislation only. The result of such policy not only diverts from the justice system those offenders who would not normally be before the Court, as their blood alcohol concentration or BAC is below the legal limit, but also diverts those offenders who have a BAC above the legal limit and should face a criminal charge. In those circumstances, the criminal law, as properly wielded by the Federal Government under the Constitution Actand under the Federally enacted Criminal Code, is not being enforced.

On the other hand, there are benefits to the accused by this diversion from the criminal justice system. The offender is not subject to the risk of a criminal record if convicted. A criminal record not only carries substantial societal stigma but can result in a loss of employment and difficulties travelling across borders. 

Effectively then, the new legislation "decriminalizes" impaired driving without federal government input and without public input. 

How did this happen? The persuasive, yet misleading, use of statistical evidence may provide the answer as to why this legislation has been so readily accepted by the public and by the government. Returning to the B.C. experience, that law was first introduced in April 2010 as, according to the government, tougher measures were needed to combat the increase in impaired driving cases. This reasoning was, in fact, at odds with Statistics Canada's July 2011 report, which found an overall decrease of the rate of impaired driving throughout Canada with an 8% decrease in the rate of impaired driving in B.C. from 2009 to 2010. In Alberta the 2009 to 2010 rate decrease was 14%.

Despite these seemingly contradictory statistics, the recent announcement from B.C. suggests that alcohol related fatalities have decreased by 40%. In absolute terms, the statistic is astounding and very persuasive. In reality, however, this kind of statistical "evidence" of success must be approached with caution. As Mark Twain purportedly stated "There are three ways not to tell the truth: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

Although such a blanket dismissal of statistics is not warranted, it does give one pause for thought: statistics, as numbers, do not lie, but it is the interpretation of statistics, as offering support or dismissal of a claim or cause, which can be manipulated. Certainly, in the criminal justice arena, such statistical evidence is admitted with caution, particularly in the area of DNA evidence. As stated by Justice Finlayson in the 1998 Ontario Court of Appeal case inTerceira:

At the conclusion of the evidence, the trial judge in his instruction should advise the jury in the normal way as to the limits of the expert evidence and the use to which it can be put. Additionally, in the case of DNA evidence, he or she would be well advised to instruct the jury not to be overwhelmed by the aura of scientific infallibility associated with scientific evidence. The trial judge should tell them to use their common sense in their assessment of the all of the evidence on the DNA issue and determine if it is reliable and valid as a piece of circumstantial evidence.

Ultimately, statistics cannot provide a definite or absolute connection between the new legislation and the decrease in alcohol-related fatalities. The decrease can be explained in many ways such as educational programs deterring people from drinking, increased law enforcement by police, a general declining trend as observed by Statistics Canada, or increased awareness/deterrence through those very government media announcements we have heard touting the new law and its benefits. A quick internet search reveals a long list of B.C. town news sites, big or small, and even a few MLA websites as well, reporting on the B.C. government's recent statistical news.

In the end, we need to be aware that what we see and hear may not be what we are actually getting. In this, as with so much public policy, perhaps only time will tell."

From November 27 The Social Costs of The New Alberta Regime:

"Premier Redford, as promised, tabled Bill 26 the Traffic Safety Amendment Act, 2011 as the legislative response to government concerns with impaired driving in the Province. The Bill has already passed first and second readings in the legislature. No doubt, with the truncated legislative proceedings, the Bill will be passed into law before the end of the year. I have already, in previous blogs, discussed some issues with this new legislation and the concerns over the foundational reasons for the new amendments, particularly the statistical evidence used to support the new measures. Previous blogs have also mentioned the lack of due process and criminal law protections connected with the new law as it diverts offenders from the justice system in favour of an administratively expedient process controlled by the police and by the transportation ministry.

Another concern, is the immediate and mandatory suspension automatically imposed on the offender who is charged with an impaired/over 80 criminal code offence. Those individuals, by virtue of being charged criminally, are thereafter disqualified from driving a motor vehicle until their criminal case has been disposed in the criminal courts. This administrative driver's licence suspension therefore can continue for an undefined period and is dependent upon the timeliness of the matter being heard in the criminal courts. 

This is a concerning element as it places an unquantifiable burden upon the allocation of public resources in the criminal justice system. Not unlike the Askov case on Charter trial delay, the impact of this suspension, which is wholly dependent on the ability of the court system to hear impaired cases quickly, can potentially generate an impossible burden on the court system. Charter delay cases will once again rule the courts and be the ultimate adjudicator on who will be prosecuted and who will not. Stay applications will be the norm.

Quite possibly, due to the punitive dimensions of such an automatic disqualification, impaired driving trials will need to be heard within 30 days, thereby re-prioritizing cases in the system. The priorities will not be based on the seriousness of the issue but will be controlled by provincial administrative suspensions.

Whether or not this is an appropriate allocation of public resources will add an interesting twist to this new legislation. Whether or not the public will cheer this prioritizing of such cases over more serious cases, such as violent crimes, will be seen. It is clear however that this new amendment will have heavy social costs for all Albertan citizens."

From November 28 The Charter and The New Alberta Impaired Driving Laws:

"Our discussion of the tabled Alberta impaired driving rules continues with a look at the legal arguments which may be available under the Charter. At first glance, it appears the case law shuts down any Charter argument based on a review of a myriad of cases, across the provinces, upholding similar legislation.

Even the Alberta Court of Appeal, in the 2003 Thomson case, comes down strongly in favour of this kind of provincial legislation. Thomson upholds the legislation, despite division of powers arguments and claims of Charter violations under s.7, s. 11(d), and s.13, on the basis the legislation is valid provincial legislation, which is purely administrative in nature and therefore imposes a civil sanction as opposed to a criminal penalty. Furthermore, driving, as a licensed regime, not essential to a person's liberty interest, is a privilege and not a right under s.7. Finally, there is great public interest in preventing "carnage on the highways" from drinking and driving.

Despite the above authorities, I would suggest there are still valid Charter claims, which can be brought before a Court depending on the facts of a particular case. As touched upon in yesterday's blog, the automatic, immediate, and indefinite suspension of a driver's license of an offender charged with impaired driving under the Criminal Code as a result of the new scheme, could result in heavy burdens on the administration of justice to have impaired/over 80 cases heard in a speedy manner.

Other provincial legislations place a time limit on these roadside provincial suspensions: typically the maximum suspension is 90 days. The Alberta legislation suspends the licence until the criminal matters are disposed, a time period dependent on the timeliness of the trial. Thus, an unreasonable delay argument under s.11(b) of the Charter may result in those cases where the criminal justice system is unable to provide a timely trial. It may be safely argued that considering the escalating time limited suspensions elsewhere, depending on if the matter is a first offence, a trial may be unreasonably delayed if not heard within 7 days, thirty days, sixty days, and in the most serious scenarios, ninety days. 

There are many factors a court must consider in deciding whether a trial has been unreasonably delayed due to the Charter. Certainly, pursuant to the Askov case, systemic delay is a primary consideration. Other factors include Crown delay in preparing the matter ready for trial and prejudice to the accused. A lengthy licence suspension, can be highly prejudicial to an accused who may require the licence for employment or who lives in a rural area, where public transit is unavailable. In certain circumstances, albeit fact dependent, aCharter delay claim may be successful. As suggested in the previous blog, such a claim could cause the government to prioritize impaired driving cases over more serious crimes, resulting in inappropriate allocation of public resources.

Another Charter argument, more difficult to argue, but again, depending on an appropriate fact situation, should be argued, is a violation of s. 7 rights. Although, the weight of the authorities appears to be against rearguing the issue, the Supreme Court of Canada, in recent cases such as in PHS CommunityGosselin, and Khadr, have expanded the definition of right to liberty under s.7.

Indeed, starting as early as a decade ago, in the 2000 Blencoe case, the SCC has, cautiously and incrementally, moved toward a much more expansive definition by not restricting the definition of liberty to "mere freedom from physical restraint." Liberty may be restricted when the government interferes in an individual's right to make "profoundly personal choices" which impact their independence, self-worth, and self-identity as a person.

As stated in Gosselin, such liberty interests are triggered by an individuals' interaction with the justice system in the broadest way, such as any "adjudicative context." This would include the administrative scheme under whose authority the licence is suspended.

It can, therefore, be argued that a driver's licence for an adult in today's world is a rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood and is integral to an individual's identity and self-worth. The independence a licence bestows upon an individual is not about mere movement from place to place, but includes highly personal choices of where one can move and at what time. Consider the great impact a loss of license has upon the cognitive disabled and the elderly and the argument becomes even more cogent.

The legislation is therefore vulnerable to Charter rights."

November 29 Administrative Tribunals and Duties of Fairness:

"Another aspect of the new legislation is the ability to appeal the automatic and immediate licence suspension to the Alberta Transportation Safety Board. However, the only consideration on appeal is whether or not the appellant drove as alleged either impaired or with a BAC over 50 or 80. There is no discretion in the Board to quash the suspension or disqualification to drive other than proof the appellant did not drive impaired or over 50 or over 80. 

The Board is, of course, an administrative tribunal and not a criminal court.Therefore the same evidentiary and exclusionary rules do not apply per se. Furthermore, the Board, not being a court of competent jurisdiction cannot provide Charter remedies under s. 24(1) or s.24(2). However, the Board is subject to the rules of natural justice and is therefore bound by duties of fairness. As Madame Justice Paperny stated in the 2003 Thomson case:

In summary to comply with its duties of fairness, the Board must:

a) inform the appellant of the case against him or her,

b) permit the appellant a meaningful opportunity to answer the case against him or her,

c) give full and fair consideration to the issues,

d) consider the source of the evidence or information including whether it was gathered in a manner contrary to the Charter and Charter values,

e) consider relevant evidence and information, and as a corollary

f) not consider irrelevant or unreliable evidence or information, 

g) not act arbitrarily, for an improper purpose or with malice.

Where the Board fails to meet these duties, the decision will be subject to judicial review. 

Despite these duties, Justice Paperny acknowledges that it is possible for a Board to confirm a licence suspension after being satisfied the offence is made out and for a criminal court, at a later date, to acquit the accused of the crime. This result, according to Justice Paperny "is not incongruous, unreasonable or a legitimate basis for avoiding the Board...the loss of a driver's licence...is a civil consequence" distinct from criminal penalty.

The realities of the proscribed licence appeals mechanism may not be "incongruous" but will certainly add another dimension to an impaired driving case. Now an offender may be faced with two hearings on the same issue but because one hearing is in the civil context, there is no double jeopardy and no inconsistency.

There may be duties abounding in this regulatory scheme but no matter how presented, because the stakes are high, the duties will have to be fulfilled scrupulously and dutifully. If not, another hearing, in the form of a judicial review will add yet another dimension to what is already a dual procedure. The increased public cost of such a scheme may prove to be an additional burden on an already burdened justice system."

From December 1 Alberta's Response To The Partial Unconstitutionality of the BC Impaired Driving Regime and from the December 2 Follow Up Post:

"Yesterday, in Sivia v. British Columbia (Superintendent of Motor Vehicles)the British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Sigurdson struck down portions of the amendments to the B.C. Motor Vehicle Act. The amendments in question related to the "automatic roadside prohibition" or ARP, imposed when a B.C. driver was stopped by police under the suspicion of drinking and driving.

The legislation permitted ARP based on the "warn" or "fail" of a roadside testing device. A "warn," equivalent to a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of between .05 and .08, would result in immediate suspension of the driver's licence, impoundment of the motor vehicle, and a fine. A "fail" would attract similar sanctions but also the criminal law regime under s.254 of the Criminal Code. 

Appeals of the ARP went to an administrative tribunal, under the auspices of the Ministry of Transportation. According to the legislation, the appeal process was limited to considering whether or not the appellant was the driver and whether or not he/she received a "warn" or "fail" on the roadside device. There was no ability to argue against the suspension outside of those very limited factual parameters.

Justice Sigurdson concluded that the legislation was not contrary to s.11(d), the presumption of innocence protection in the Charter, nor was it contrary to s.(10)b, right to counsel.Similarly, s. 7, right to liberty, arguments were dismissed in a very summarily fashion. However, Justice Sigurdson did find the ARP, as it related to roadside device "fails," to be an unreasonable search and seizure under s.8 of the Charter as the scheme authorizes a warrantless search without procedural legal safeguards, most notably, the lack of a meaningful appeal process at the administrative level. Justice Sigurdson acknowledged that the ARP was civil in nature and not criminal but even so required some level of due process when determining if an ARP was appropriate under the regime.

How does this case impact Alberta's proposed amendments to the Traffic Safety Act?  If youread the media articles, certainly the Alberta government is touting this decision as the "mother of all decisions," which effectively gives the Alberta regime the "seal of approval." Why the boast? Simply put, the Alberta amendments differ in the administrative appeal process and does have those safeguards which created the Charter difficulties in British Columbia. Do you think maybe the Alberta government was aware of this case before they created their amendments? 

Certainly, if the same arguments as in Sivia were brought in Alberta, there would, most likely, be no finding of unconstitutionality. However, that does not mean there are no arguments to be made. I refer to my previous posts on the issue, which suggest other arguments, not argued in Sivia, and which can be found here.

Indeed, Sivia may provide further support for some of the issues raised in previous posts. Although Justice Sigurdson found the ARP regime was regulatory and not criminal in prospect, such differences do not foreclose Charter scrutiny and possible unconstitutionality.

Further, as discussed in the Administrative Tribunals and Duties of Fairness posting, the transportation tribunals hearing the ARP appeals will be under the "fairness" microscope and will need to give each appeal full and fair consideration or be subject to judicial review. Such considerations would include whether or not the licence was suspended contrary to theCharter and/or Charter values, even though the tribunal itself has no true remedial powers under the Charter. This is a heavy burden indeed. Particularly as the members of the tribunal do not necessarily have any legal training. 

For further clarification, the proposed Alberta regime requires the administrative tribunal sitting on an appeal of an automatic roadside suspension, resulting from a "warn," to consider the certificate of annual maintenance of the approved screening device and the records of the last calibration of the device. On the basis of those documents, the police report, and any other relevant evidence, either sworn or unsworn, the tribunal must be satisfied that the driver consumed alcohol with a blood alcohol concentration equal to or over .05 at any time within 3 hours after having driven a motor vehicle, before confirming the licence suspension.

In the case of a "fail," where the BAC would be at or over .08, and would therefore trigger the Criminal Code process as well, the administrative appeal board would also consider any certificate of analysis pursuant to s.258 of the Criminal Code and any other relevant evidence. In other words, the appeal hearing would not be unlike trying the matter before the criminal courts except that the process is civil and the standard of proof is not beyond a reasonable doubt but a lower standard of balance of probabilities.

The B.C. regime differs significantly and there is no ability to argue that the approved roadside screening device is faulty. In B.C., there has been significant issues with the roadside devices used.

 In the end, the Alberta government's response appears to be slightly premature and overly confident. What is clear is this: the B.C. case will not end the legal concerns with this legislation."

In Defence of Civil Disobedience: Part Two

In my previous posting, I outlined the historical significance of civil disobedience, tracing the creation of the phrase from Thoreau, who turned an innocuous poll tax into a deeply personal articulation of one’s beliefs, to the present iteration of collective disobedience against government policy. Today’s posting will take these concepts a step further into the legal realm.

The definition of “civil disobedience’ as found in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, suggests the act is a “non-violent” form of group protest. This definition conjures up a vision of peaceful sign-bearing protesters, shouting slogans, and holding hands in solidarity before dispersing for a musical interlude and barbecue. This peaceful concept of civil disobedience no longer seems to fit the bill as today’s more complicated issues require a much higher shock quotient to get the attention of the media and then ultimately the government. Hand in hand with this more virulent form of disobedience is the more intransigent reaction by the government: as crowds shout “hell no, we wont go,” the government lawyers are busily drafting court applications for injunctive relief.

Injunctions, as I thoroughly discussed in my previous posting on the Occupy Movement, are a favoured response by the government as, if successful, results in a court imposed order for the disobedience to stop and then turns the protest into legally recognized unlawful conduct. This can have enormous repercussions as an injunction can not only effectively shut down any future protests, but can also provide legal precedent on the ultimate issue at stake: the fundamental freedoms protected under s. 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms involving s.2 (b) freedom of expression rights, s. 2(c) freedom of peaceful assembly, and s. 2(d) freedom of association. As discussed in previous postings, the Charter is not absolute and the Courts try to balance societal rights with the individual freedoms found under section 2. As a result, although the Courts may find a violation of s. 2 rights by the government seeking an injunction, where societal harm or violence is caused, the Courts tend to find such injunctions a reasonable limit in a free and democratic society under s.1.

The government may also respond to civil disobedience through the criminal justice system. Typically, such response is reserved for the clearest examples of law breaking such as the destructive effects of a rioting crowd. In those cases, the law is most severe, imposing harsh sentences on those who destroy property and harm others under the flimsy disguise of a "cause".

Criminal contempt charges may also be laid when injunctions are not obeyed. This scenario is subtler as it does not involve harmful action but involves inaction: a failure to obey a law, which has been declared valid by the courts. The justice system deals with this form of disobedience slightly differently. Here again Charter violations may not provide a valid defence, but may be taken into account as a mitigating factor on sentence.

To raise a valid defence on a criminal charge arising out of civil disobedience is a challenge as any moral or ethical arguments for committing the prohibited acts do not change the essence of the crime committed. The best way to explain this is through the Robin Hood scenario. Robin Hood and his Merry Men stole from the rich to give to the poor. When we hear this story we usually give Robin the “thumbs up” for fighting against tyranny and greed. We also cheer as he takes the gold from evil King John, knowing that the good King Richard will absolve Robin of any guilt. But, in terms of criminal law, a bandit is a bandit no matter how you slice it. Although Robin Hood may have a valid moral argument for his actions and therefore an excellent motive for breaking the law, the law is clear: the guilt act and the guilty mind are present and therefore Robin Hood is guilty of highway robbery. He may receive a suspended sentence from a sympathetic court but he is still a convicted felon.

There is, however, a possible defence available. In Perka v. the Queen, the Supreme Court of Canada, when considering the common law defence of necessity, suggested such a defence may be a valid defence to acts of civil disobedience. In the necessity defence both the prohibited act or actus reus and the fault requirement or mens rea is complete. Therefore, all essential elements of the crime have been fulfilled and the defence merely excuses the blameworthy conduct.

Essentially, the accused acknowledges the wrongfulness of the action but in the circumstances the accused should not be punished for the crime. Excuses are typically limited to emergency situations wherein the accused had no choice but to break the law. As our criminal law punishes only those who choose to act criminally, an excuse can exonerate an accused of a crime. In the necessity scenario, the accused must choose between two evils.

However, such exoneration comes with a price: the defence of necessity is only accepted in certain, very limited circumstances. There are three elements to the necessity defence. Firstly, the accused must be facing imminent peril or danger. Secondly, there must be no reasonable legal alternative but for the accused to break the law. Thirdly, the harm inflicted by committing the crime must be proportional to the harm, which would have been caused if the accused followed the law and not committed the crime. As a result, necessity is rarely advanced and even rarely accepted as a valid defence. When it is accepted, the Court views the behaviour as a form of moral involuntariness.

How does the necessity defence work in practice where there are acts of civil disobedience? The best case examples are not from usually staid Canada, but in the protest fuelled United States. In the 1969 case of United States v. Moylan, the appellants were charged with the destruction of government records, records they seized from a government office and burned with napalm in protest of the Vietnam War. Counsel for the defence, the “radical lawyer” and activist William Kunstler, argued that the jury should have been instructed that they “had the power to acquit even if appellants were clearly guilty of the charged offenses.” This “right’ was based in moral arguments as the appellants were protesting a war “outrageous to their individual standards of humanity.” Furthermore, the war itself was illegal and therefore citizens had an obligation, in the name of justice, to break the law in order to enforce the law.

The United States Court of Appeals Fourth Circuit Judge Sobeloff, took a page from the Robin Hood myth and found no matter how sincere the appellants were in their actions, and no matter how strong their moral arguments were, they still committed crimes for which they must be accountable. In upholding the law Justice Sobeloff remarked:

To encourage individuals to make their own determinations as to which laws they will obey and which they will permit themselves as a matter of conscience to disobey is to invite chaos. No legal system could long survive if it gave every individual the option of disregarding with impunity any law, which by his personal standard was judged morally untenable. Toleration of such conduct would not be democratic, as appellants claim, but inevitably anarchic.

The best known case of a jury being invited by defence to eschew the law and decide a case on their own moral conscious, was in R. v. Morgentaler, when Morris Manning, Q.C. invited the jury to acquit Dr. Morgentaler of violating the "bad" abortion law. The Supreme Court of Canada chastised Manning for his emotional appeal, finding that such an invitation would “undermine and place at risk” the jury system. In support of this position, Chief Justice Dickson referred to the British 1784 criminal libel case of R. v. Shipley and quoted Lord Mansfield as follows:

So the jury who usurp the judicature of law, though they happen to be right, are themselves wrong, because they are right by chance only, and have not taken the constitutional way of deciding the question. It is the duty of the Judge, in all cases of general justice, to tell the jury how to do right, though they have it in their power to do wrong, which is a matter entirely between God and their own consciences.

To be free is to live under a government by law . . . . Miserable is the condition of individuals, dangerous is the condition of the State, if there is no certain law, or, which is the same thing, no certain administration of law, to protect individuals, or to guard the State.  ...

In opposition to this, what is contended for? -- That the law shall be, in every particular cause, what any twelve men, who shall happen to be the jury, shall be inclined to think; liable to no review, and subject to no control, under all the prejudices of the popular cry of the day, and under all the bias of interest in this town, where thousands, more or less, are concerned in the publication of newspapers, paragraphs, and pamphlets. Under such an administration of law, no man could tell, no counsel could advise, whether a paper was or was not punishable.

Certainly, it is valid to be fearful of a capricious jury who are guided by their own prejudices and sensibilities but there is an attraction to the ability of a jury to “do the right thing” and acquit in circumstances where the law is unjust, not just unfavourable, but unjust. When I was a student at Osgoode Law School in 1983, Morris Manning came to the school and reenacted his Morgnetaler jury address, an address which did result in an acquittal for the doctor. It was a moving piece of advocacy, which did stir the moral conscious. In the end, I was questioning the moral and legal basis for a law, which could send Dr. Morgentaler to jail. Ultimately the court system did work for Dr. Morgentaler, due to our Charter, the best defence against tyranny and injustice.

What does all of this mean for the ongoing student protests in Quebec? It is unclear where the Quebec government will go. Certainly the new laws they have introduced to stop further protest has only fueled more acts of civil disobedience. As with the occupy movement, these acts have gone viral and the issue has become one of students’ rights and the moral obligation to speak out against seemingly “bad” laws. However, to speak out against laws is much different than acting out criminally. It will ultimately be up to the Courts to draw the line between the two.

 

 

The Pridgen Case: An University Is Not A Charter-free Zone

As predicted, the Alberta Court of Appeal unanimously upheld the lower Court’s decision in the Pridgen case, agreeing the University’s Academic Council was unreasonable when they disciplined the Pridgen brothers for the less than polite remarks made about their University professor on their Facebook page. For details of the Alberta Queens Bench decision see my earlier posting of the issue here.

Although the result is not surprising, what is a disappointment is the lack of unanimity on the issue of the application of the Charter. Only Madame Justice Paperny tackled the issue of the Charter, the other two concurring Justices preferred to decide the issue on administrative law alone. Even so, Justice Paperny’s excellent analysis, should give the University some pause for thought as she emphasized the absurdity of the University’s position, which would make the University, a bastion of learning and free thought, a “Charter-free zone.” Clearly, the University’s reluctance to allow the Charter into the hallowed halls of learning irked Madame Paperny and so it should us all: a place that teaches the precepts of the Charter should be ruled by it.

In any event, the question of the Charter applying involves an argument over the breadth of the authority of the Charter. Under section 32 of the Charter, the statute governs the relationship between the government and the individual only and does not cover private relationships. Thus, the University, tried to distance itself from Charter requirements by characterizing the student/University relationship as a contractual one between two private parties. Of course, as pointed out by Justice Paperny, the University’s relationship with students is not a mere contractual one. Additionally, the University is far from a private institution as it receives government funds and fulfills government policy. Indeed, there would be no need for the Minister of Advanced Education if the government were not truly a partner in post-secondary education.

Once a determination is made that the Charter does apply, it then becomes difficult to suggest the Pridgen twins did not have a right to express themselves under s. 2(b) on the issue of professor performance or, shall we say, the lack of performance. Granted their comments were not “nice” but they fell well short of defamation and were in the realm of fair comment and fair complaint.

One wonders how the Pridgen scenario differs from the kind of student evaluations done under the auspices of the University. Feedback forms include an area for comments on the teacher. The only difference is the ability for the comments to be viewed by others who have access to the Facebook page. However, can that factor alone attract such harsh consequences? Thankfully, the Court of Appeal said “no” but unfortunately, the full court did not go the extra step and embrace the Charter, and the values for which the Charter stands, by finding the University is not a Charter-free zone.

The Cabbie and the Glider: A Tale of Two Bail Hearings

Two stories surfaced in Canadian legal news this week: the Montreal cab driver, charged after running down a man after he attacked his cab and the British Columbia hang glider operator charged after a woman he was flying with fell to her death.

The Montreal story went viral after a video was posted showing part of the altercation. It is shocking to see the cab driver bombarded by the mob but equally shocking to see his cab turn into the crowd and run down the victim. As heated as the incident was, the bail hearing appearance on May 2 was more so as an outraged group of cab drivers descended on the Montreal courthouse to lend support for the driver. The media picked up story after story from the crowd of cabbies, many of whom were immigrants, of humiliating and violent incidences of passenger misconduct involving racially motivated comments.

According to media reports, the 47 year-old cab driver of Haitian origins, Guercy Edmond, was released on a “promissory note”, with conditions, in the amount of $3,000.00. He was released on bail after a tongue lashing by Quebec Judge Jean-Pierre Boyer over the length of time the cabbie sat in custody (four days) and the crown attorney’s failure to review the video-tape, posted on YouTube of the altercation. He faces charges of aggravated assault under section 266 of the Criminal Code, assault with a weapon (presumably the cab) under s. 267, failing to stop at the scene of an accident under section 252, and dangerous driving causing bodily harm pursuant to s. 249(3).

By way of explanation, our criminal law system, based upon the English common law tradition, presumes an accused will be released from custody without conditions. This bail presumption is very much connected to our cherished presumption of innocence: upon arrest, the accused is presumed innocent until proven otherwise by the crown prosecutor in a court of law before an impartial and independent judiciary. The bail presumption is also consistent with our Charter rights: section 11(d), which constitutionally protects the presumption of innocence, section 11(e), which gives the accused the right not to be denied reasonable bail without just cause, and particularly the s. 7 right to liberty, which cannot be deprived except in accordance with our principles of fundamental justice. On this basis, the bail procedures in the Criminal Code require unconditional release. For example, section 515(1) of the Criminal Code states that:

Subject to this section, where an accused who is charged with an offence other than an offence listed in section 469 is taken before a justice, the justice shall, unless a plea of guilty by the accused is accepted, order, in respect of that offence, that the accused be released on his giving an undertaking without conditions

Any decision contrary to this fundamental principle of release can only be done in very restrictive circumstances. However, there are exceptions to the general rule, where the presumption is not for release (also known as a “reverse onus” situation where the accused must “show cause” why detention in not required), for more serious offences such as murder (section 469 offences) or for those accused already on a prior form of release.

Consistent with our desire to protect the innocent, section 503 of the Criminal Code requires an accused, who is not released upon arrest, to be brought before a justice of the peace or provincial court judge for a bail hearing within 24 hours of arrest without unreasonable delay or as soon as practicable. In Alberta, due to a “promise” made by Ralph Klein when he was Premier, there are 24-hour bail hearings available. In any event, once brought before a judge, the Code does permit a bail hearing to be adjourned for a maximum of three days without the consent of the accused. Thus, Mr. Edmond, who was arrested on Sunday, April 29, appeared before a judge, within twenty-four hours of his arrest, on Monday, April 30. At that time, the hearing was adjourned within the three-day time limit, without requiring consent of the accused, to Wednesday, May 2.

In Mr. Edmond’s case, the crown was objecting to his release from custody. Our criminal law requires an accused to be released from custody unless there are cogent reasons not to release the accused. If, as in the case of Mr. Edmond, the Crown objects to release, the Crown must “show cause” or justify why the accused should not be released. In fact, even if the accused is released, the crown must also “show cause” why conditions to that release would be required.

There are three grounds for detention under s. 515 (10) of the Criminal Code. Section 515(10)(a) requires the justice to order detention where it is necessary in order to ensure the accused’s attendance in court. Section 5151(10)(b) requires a detention order where it is necessary for the “protection or safety of the public” including a substantial likelihood the accused would commit further offences or interfere with the administration of justice. The last ground deems detention is necessary to “maintain confidence in the administration of justice.” This last ground requires the justice to consider evidence relating to the strength of the crown’s case, the seriousness of the offence, the circumstances surrounding the offence, and the potential sentence to be imposed upon conviction.

On this basis, clearly, Mr. Edmond, who had no prior criminal record, enjoyed the support of his family and peers, was the financial support for his wife and two teenagers, and who allegedly committed the offences in extreme circumstances, would be an excellent candidate for release. In other words, the crown would be hard pressed to justify his detention. This is the reason why the judge was less than impressed with the prosecutor at the time of the bail hearing: there was no justifiable legal reason why the crown should not have consented to the release of Mr. Edmond. Although the police, in certain circumstances, also have the authority to release an accused from the police station, the charges laid against Mr. Edmond were serious enough to require his attendance before a judge. Mr. Edmond is to appear in court, to set a date for trial, on June 20.

Just a note here on the form of Mr. Edmond’s release. According to the media reports, Mr. Edmond was released on a “promissory note,” which is not one of the authorized forms of release under the Criminal Code. Again, due to the presumption in favour of release without conditions, the forms of release available run from the least restrictive to the most restrictive. The least restrictive form of release is known as an “undertaking,” with or without conditions. This release, also known as a Form 12 release, is a document signed by the accused wherein the accused “undertakes” to attend court on a particular date and time. If there are conditions, such as reporting to a police officer or remaining in a particular jurisdiction, they are listed on the signed form as well. The next form of release, more restrictive than an undertaking, is a recognizance. A recognizance requires the accused to acknowledge a debt to the Crown, which is forfeited if the accused fails to appear in court. The amount is specified in the document and may or may not require the amount to actually be deposited with the court. A recognizance may also require a surety, who is a third party willing to ensure the accused appears in court and follows any release conditions. A surety may also be required to acknowledge a debt to the crown, which may be forfeited if the accused breaches bail. Considering Mr. Edmond was released with a monetary amount ($3000) attached, most likely the form of release was a recognizance with no sureties and no deposit.

One of the conditions of Mr. Edmond’s release requires him to not pick up fares on St. Laurent Blvd. between Sherbrooke and St. Joseph Sts. between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., which is within the same area in which the incident occurred. According to the evidence read into court, before the events before the video recorded the altercation, started in the cab after Edmond picked up “very drunk” passengers, one of who was the victim, Benoit Kapelli. While in the cab, Edmond was subjected to racially motivated comments and was assaulted by Kapelli, who ultimately left the cab while kicking at the vehicle. Edmond confronted Kapelli, but the other passengers joined in the attack of the cab. Edmond was able to drive away but was still tracking the passengers as they walked. At this point, the explanation for the events become vague as Edmond’s cab either deliberately or accidently swerved into a lamppost close to Kapelli, resulting in the cab’s front fender falling off. Later, as seen in the video, a pedestrian throws the bumper at the cab. Again, watch the video here to see the final moments of the incident.

The hang glider’s fate was not so certain as the Judge adjourned his bail hearing to Friday, May 4 in anticipation of gathering more evidence. The evidence, of course, is actually inside the accused, William Jonathon Orders, who swallowed the crucial memory card capturing a video of the fatal flight. As they say “this too will pass” and with the passing it is likely Mr. Orders will then be released on bail. Mr. Orders is charged with willfully attempting to obstruct the course of justice pursuant to s. 139 of the Code for his attempt to hide the evidence from police investigation. No doubt further charges, such as criminal negligence or even manslaughter, will ultimately be laid, when the physical swallowed evidence is finally retrieved.

 

 

Let’s Talk About: Property Rights & The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Alberta election is heating up and is soon to be decided as Albertans go to the polls on Monday, April 23, 2012. One of the many controversial issues raised by the Wildrose leader, Danielle Smith, is on property rights and the absence of such rights guaranteed in the Charter. Smith, on her Wildrose website, suggests the “fundamental role” of government is the “protection and preservation of property rights.” As part of her platform on this “fundamental” issue is the promise her government would “entrench property rights.” She would do this by implementing an Alberta Property Rights Preservation Act, entrenching “basic property rights in the Alberta Bill of Rights” and spearheading “a national initiative to add property rights to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” 

Really? Are we really to believe that this “pressing” issue of property rights should be shoulder to shoulder in our Charter along with our fundamental freedoms such as freedom of expression, freedom of conscious, and equality rights. Should our preoccupation with individual, political, and democratic rights take a back seat to issues of ownership and possession? What will this mean for our criminal law and the ability of the government to reasonably search and seize property for a criminal investigation? Does the corporeal trump the spirit? Is property, which not everyone has the ability to own, require the special attention and protection of our most Supreme laws? Why should property rights, which were specifically and deliberately left out of the Charter, now be placed back in?

Not that we would ever see the unanimous agreement to do so that is required before the Charter could be amended. Do we need the kind of property rights litigation, which occurs in the United States, where property rights were specifically enshrined in their Constitution and viewed as sacred as life itself? And if we feel we do want this protection, are we prepared for the result. For a good discussion on the history of American Constitution property rights, read the SCC decision in Reference re ss. 193 and 195.1(1)(C) of the criminal code (Man.).

Danielle Smith may have taken a page from her namesake, Adam Smith’s, Wealth of Nations, with a call to protect life, liberty and property but fails to recognize the positive obligation protecting property would place on the government. Thus, we would need a robust and interventionist government, willing to step into the property rights fray. Entrenching property rights would mean not less government but more government, as the Courts would be busy reviewing the government’s ability to regulate and protect the national interest in the name of the economy. Take for instance the issue of natural resources and the role ownership of such resources would play under a property Charter rights scenario.

Canada does in fact have some experience with protection of property rights as section 1(a) of the Canadian Bill of Rights, 1960, the statutory, quasi-constitutional precursor to the Charter, protects “the right of the individual to life, liberty, security of the person and enjoyment of property, and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law.” While this still enacted statute can still be used to “protect” property rights, the legal interpretation of this right has not provided the protection the Wildrose maintains they can provide if elected. 

But would such entrenchment of property rights really “protect and preserve” an individual’s right to their property as touted by the Wildrose? It is instructive perhaps to look at the case law on property rights in the Bill of Rights. This passage of the Bill of Rights was considered by the Supreme Court of Canada rather recently in the 2003 Authorson case, in which disabled veterans attempted to require the federal government to pay past interest on pension funds despite legislation minimizing Crown liability. The end result of the decision, dismissing the veterans’ claim, was to uphold Parliament’s right to expropriate property without compensation.

Legally, an “entrenchment” of property rights does not in and of itself suggest an individual’s right to property would be absolutely guaranteed. Indeed, considering all of our rights under the Charter are not absolutely protected, any “new” Charter rights would be treated similarly. According to s. 1, all of the Charter rights are subject to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.  In addition, both Parliament and each provincial legislature, including Alberta, have the authority to enact legislation contrary to the rights guaranteed in the Charter through the Charter notwithstanding provision contained in s. 33.

Therefore, the Wildrose is promising, in a very heated election, something they cannot themselves guarantee. Undoubtedly these are the best promises to make: no one can take them to task for merely promising to try. Interestingly, the Authorson case was written by the then Alberta appointment to the SCC, Justice Major, who is now trying to sort out the MLA compensation debacle. Of course, the proponents of property rights would suggest it is the poor wording of the Bill of Rights, offering property protection in accordance with due process, which is the problem and which can be easily fixed.

But even if the Charter was amended and property rights were absolutely protected as desired by the Wildrose, the question still remains whether or not protecting property rights is in the best interests of Canadians. If we say “yes” to property rights, then we must be prepared for all kinds of litigation overrunning our justice system such as: litigation on the right of the government to tax individuals; litigation on the government’s right to make decisions on natural resources; litigation on intellectual property rights including copyright and access to information; and litigation regarding criminal law and search warrants as discussed in the SCC case of Quebec (Attorney General) v. Laroche. We could even see spill-over litigation in the area of economic rights, which traditionally has been unprotected by the Charter as discussed in the SCC Gosselin case, which could put Canada’s economic health at risk by promoting the financial sovereignty of the individual at the expense of a strong economy and healthy society.

Thus, in the end, we must decide if property rights are worth protecting in our country knowing the possible legal pitfalls, which may ensue. Let’s ensure the next thirty years of Charter litigation promotes our fundamental freedoms as individuals of choice and free will, entitled to respect and dignity, instead of a document weighed down by possessory rights and self-interest.

Blog Update: The Spy and the Pamphleteer

In previous postings, I have discussed two very different cases now before Canadian courts. The first case concerns William Whatcott, a persistent anti-gay pamphleteer, who is before two different courts connected to his pamphleteering activities. The second case is of Jeffery Delisle, the first person charged with spying under the newly enacted Security of Information Act. Although the two cases are completely unrelated, court decisions in both of these cases were handed down on March 30, 2012.

The first Whatcott case, which is still on reserve before the Supreme Court of Canada, involves the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal’s finding that Whatcott’s anti-gay pamphlets amounted to hate speech. The other Whatcott case, decided on March 30, 2012, is an appeal of the quashing of Whatcott’s trespass charge when he was on University of Calgary lands to hand out his anti-gay literature. The original decision to quash the charge by Provincial Court Judge Bascom can be accessed here.

Just as a refresher, the Supreme Court of Canada Whatcott case is a vitally important decision for the ability of human rights tribunals to uphold the tenants of human rights legislation. It also raises the difficult issue of conflicting Charter rights: in this case the freedom of expression under s.2(b) and freedom of religion under s.2(a) in the context of competing Charter values as found under s.15, which promote respect and tolerance of others in our community.

Although the SCC Whatcott case concerns the constitutionality of the hate speech provision in the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, the ultimate issue in the case will decide whether or not provincial laws on hate speech must conform with the more stringent hate speech section in the Criminal Code. If so, provincial human rights codes could be essentially redundant, leaving the more difficult to prove Criminal Code sections to safeguard society from the harmful effects of hate speech. Some of the factums filed in support of the SCC argument can be found here.

This SCC decision is of particular interest in Alberta, where provincial election campaigning has touched on the controversy surrounding the Alberta Human Rights Commission and its enforcement of provincial hate speech legislation. The Boisson v. Lund case, also discussed in a previous posting, shares similar issues with the SCC Whatcott. The Alberta Court of Appeal has not as yet released a decision on this case. The controversy in Alberta over this case and the high profile Alberta Human Rights case against journalist Ezra Levant for re-publishing the infamous Dutch “Muslim Cartoon,” has brought repeated calls for abolishing the Alberta Human Rights Commission. The Wildrose Party is campaigning on a platform, which includes abolishing the Commission, instead creating a new Human Rights Division in the Provincial Court of Alberta.

In the other Whatcott case of trespassing on University lands, the case has been so far decided in favour of protecting freedom of expression. In a previous posting, I discussed Alberta Provincial Court Judge Bascom’s stay of trespassing charges against Whatcott on the basis of s.2(b) expression rights under the Charter. On March 30, 2012, the appeal of the decision was heard before Alberta Queen’s Bench Justice Paul Jeffery, who summarily dismissed the Crown appeal and upheld Judge Bascom’s decision. The written reasons for the decision have not, as yet, been released.

Unlike Mr. Whatcott, Jeffery Delisle did not receive a favourable decision on March 30, 2012. Mr. Delisle was refused bail by Nova Scotia Provincial Court Judge Beach and ordered to stay in custody pending his trial. A ban on publication was imposed at the bail hearing and therefore the reasons for dismissing the bail application is unknown. Although Mr. Delisle’s lawyer stated he was “disappointed” albeit not surprised with the decision, there is no word whether or not he will be reviewing the decision in superior court. In the meantime, Mr. Delisle will return to court on May 8, presumably to set a date for trial. Delisle’s lawyer has commented on the case, indicating Delisle is not accused of endangering military troops as a result of his alleged espionage. There is some suggestion Delisle, at the time of the commission of the offence, was heavily into online gaming and had a “computer addiction,” which may have lead to monetary difficulties. For further discussion, read my Spy vs. Spy blog and my blog entitled Let’s Talk About: Diplomatic Immunity. For further reading on the Whatcott cases, read my blogs Law, Literature, and Inherit The Wind, The Road Taken By The Supreme Court of Canada, A Message of Tolerance, Limits of Expression, and Whatcott in The Courts Again.

 

 

Don't Pre-Judge! Jury Vetting and the Supreme Court of Canada

Next Wednesday and Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada will be hearing the appeals of Tung Chi Duong, Vinicio Cardoso, and Ibrahim Yumnu, which raise the issue of jury vetting: a process where the prosecution does a pre-court check of potential jurors. The three Ontario co-accused were convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder involving a contract killing. The Crown’s office, upon receipt of the jury panel lists containing the names of potential jurors, requested police enforcement authorities to do criminal record checks of the listed individuals and to make any comments “concerning any disreputable persons we would not want as a juror.” The Crown did not disclose the information received through this pre-vetting process to the defence, although there was some evidence trial counsel was aware of this practice. The information was used by the trial Crown in selecting the jury for the trial.

In terms of the legislative authority to perform such a check, neither the Criminal Code rules relating to the jury selection process in court nor the pre-trial rules found in the provincial Juries Act, as enacted at the time of the trial, permitted the procedure. It should be noted that the Ontario Juries Act has since been amended, under s.18.2, to provide a procedure for police to pre-check a potential juror for the presence or absence of a criminal record. Such a check is required under s. 4(b) to determine if a potential juror is ineligible to serve as a juror due to a prior conviction for “an offence that may be prosecuted on indictment.” The phrase “may be prosecuted on indictment” refers to the mode of trying the accused’s case in the criminal courts.  An indictable offence is considered to be a more serious crime and carries a higher penalty than a less serious summary conviction offence. Certain indictable offences give the accused the right to have the trial in the Superior Court as opposed to Provincial Court. Some indictable offences, such as murder, also give the accused the right to a jury trial.

Generally, pre-vetting of jurors is not an acceptable practice in Canada. Such a pre-trial process is contrary to the fundamental principles of justice, which require the offender to be tried before an independent and impartial jury. Since the advent of the Charter, this fundamental principle has been constitutionally protected under s. 11 (d) and is inexorably bound up with another core criminal law principle: the presumption of innocence. I have written at length on the historical significance of the presumption in earlier postings. More generally, this procedural right to a fair trial is also protected under section 7 of the Charter as the principle lies at the very heart of the administration of justice.

The issue is one of impartiality under the Charter. Section 11(d) protects an offender’s right to a fair trial before an independent and impartial jury. Permitting pre-vetting of jurors has the potential effect of selecting biased juries, which are neither independent nor impartial, but based on selected criterion. The resultant effect is a pre-packaged or pre-determined jury, which would therefore favour the party using the pre-selection process. In other words such a jury would “pre-judge” the issues.

Even the potential for bias is contrary to our concept of trial fairness. As discussed by Justice Cory in the Bain case, apprehension of jury bias is to be avoided as the mere appearance of impartiality would be contrary to Charter principles. Although the concept holds the administration of justice to a high standard of impartiality, the apprehension of bias must be reasonably held. Thus, the question to be determined on the issue of bias is as follows: would reasonable and right-minded persons find there a reasonable apprehension of bias in the circumstances.

This question brings us back to the Duong, Cardoso, and Yumnu case. On appeal to the Court of Appeal for Ontario, appellate counsel did not refer to the arguments as outlined above but focused instead upon the Crown’s lack of disclosure of the vetting process. In the appellant’s view, this lack or delay of disclosure compromised the defence’s ability to make full answer and defence under s. 7 of the Charter. This position was easily dismissed by Justice Watt, speaking on behalf of the Court, as there was no evidence of any actual or perceived unfairness of the selection of the jury based on this non-disclosure. Unfortunately it appears the defence will be making the same arguments before the Supreme Court of Canada as revealed by a perusal of the appellant Yumnu’s factum.

However, a large number of Intervenors have filed material and will be making submissions on the issue such as the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, the Ontario Crown Attorneys’ Association, David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights, Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. It remains to be seen what arguments will be finally presented on this issue and it will be of great interest to see how the Supreme Court of Canada ultimately deals with the issue of pre-vetting a jury.

In the next posting, I will continue the discussion through the international perspective on the efficacy and issues surrounding jury vetting.

Whatcott In The Courts Again

Last Fall, I discussed the cases of William Whatcott in previous blog postings. I say cases, as William Whatcott is before the Courts in two different, yet related matters.

On October 12, 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada reserved decision on the Whatcott case, which raised the issue of the constitutionality of the hate speech section of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code. Whatcott, a prolific pamphleteer, was found in violation of the Saskatchewan provisions for delivering his pamphlets at various homes in Regina and Saskatchewan. People complained about the pamphlets some of which were entitled “Keep Homosexuality out of Saskatoon’s Public Schools!” and "Sodomites In Our Public Schools." As a result, Whatcott was fined for violating s. 14(1)(b) of the Code on the basis the pamphlets “promotes hatred against individuals because of their sexual orientation.”

The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal overturned the Tribunal finding, but not on the basis of Whatcott's Charter claim. Justice Hunter, after analyzing the pamphlets and the freedom of expression protections found within the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, namely s. 5 and s. 14(2), found the pamphlets were not hate speech under the Code. Although Justice Smith agreed with the analysis, she but did so mainly on the basis of the relationship between the hate speech provisions and the constitutional values of freedom of expression as entrenched in the Charter. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The other case, presently in the news, relates to Whatcott's pamphleteering efforts in Alberta on the University of Calgary campus in 2008. At the time, Whatcott was banned from the property and was served with a trespass notice for being in violation. Alberta Provincial Court Judge Bascom stayed the proceedings on the rationale the notice violated s.2(b) of the CharterThe Crown has now appealed this decision, which will be heard on March 30, 2012 at the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench. 

Read my previous postings on the issue here:

The Road Taken By The Supreme Court of Canada

A Message of Tolerance

Blog Update: The Limits Of Expression

Law, Literature, And Inherit The Wind

 

 

Shakespeare's Courts And The Promise To Marry

Today let's travel back some three hundred years from Dickens to Shakespeare. Shakespeare would undoubtedly be familiar with the Prerogative Court and the Consistory Court of the 1500s. Prerogative Court was a Church Court in which the powers and privileges of the sovereign were exercised. The Prerogative Court of Canterbury handled the probate of Wills for the south of England and Wales. This court was eventually subsumed into the Court of Probate in 1858. You can find some of these Wills at the National Archive website such as Jane Austen’s Will from 1817.

The Consistory Court of London was another Church Court involved in marital issues including disagreements over estates. In "The Lodger Shakespeare" by Charles Nicholl, Shakespeare's life is illuminated not through his plays but through his personal relationships while he lived in London. Nicholl examines those around Shakespeare: his landlord and landlady as well as those he interacted with on a daily basis. Nicholl describes Shakespeare witnessing or actually presiding over his landlady's daughter's plight ceremony or betrothing. According to Nicholl, such a ceremony was a recognized form of marriage occurring before the religious ceremony. This betrothing had the force and effect of a signed contract and an aggrieved party could sue on the basis of a breach of this plight troth.

These contracts were the precursor to the common law marriages recognized by the courts even today. Nicholl discussed the difference between the de futuro marriage (a future agreement) contract and the de praesenti (a present marriage contract). The de futuro contract is only binding upon consummation of the marriage, while the de praesenti is binding immediately. Indeed, Shakespeare’s play Measure for Measure revolves around such a ceremony and contract with a delightful “play” on the sexual requirements to make such a contract enforceable.

In Canada there is no right to sue on a breach of a promise to marry. However, there may be an action to return an engagement ring if an engagement is broken. In D’Andrea v. Schmidt, a 2005 Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench case, the defendant Kim Schmidt, who was the wearer of the ring, argued that such a lawsuit was based on an “anachronistic law” which discriminated against women and perpetuated stereotypes contrary to s.15 of the Charter. Such a cause of action, she argued, treated women like chattels and was not within the spirit of societal values. Needless to say, this argument did not have the “ring” of truth as the Court found a lawsuit for the return of gifts given in promise of marriage could be brought by either sex.

In McManus v. McCarthy there was a valid marriage but the husband wanted the return of the engagement ring after the marital breakdown. Madame Justice Kenny ordered the return of the ring as it was found to be a conditional gift only. No surprise as this marriage lasted 9 days and occurred after 4 prior engagements!

Betrothals do matter, however, when it comes to immigration. Refugee applications in Canada can be based upon the coercive effects of arranged marriages in foreign countries such as Ghana. See this link for a case on point. Such “marriages” can start at a very early age with a betrothal and thus an expectation of marriage at a much later date. This situation is a contract de futuro where the woman, when old enough to appreciate the situation, does not consent. It appears these claimants are not typically granted refugee status.

Shakespeare was therefore very much aware of the necessity for the rule of law as in his famous line from Henry VI suggests:"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." This line was not written to incite against the law or rail against lawyers, but was written to underscore the need society has for the rule of law, without which, anarchy reigns.

Testifying Behind The Veil: The Facts In The N.S. Case

On September 10, 2008, M---D.S. and M.---L. S. appeared before His Honour Judge Weisman for their preliminary hearing on charges arising out of historical sexual assault allegations. The victim, N. S., was a child at the time, when, according to her allegation, her uncle and her cousin sexually assaulted her. Although she complained of the assaults at the time, her father did not want the matter to be further investigated.

It was only as a mature adult, married and with children of her own, did N. S. reinstate the allegation and charges were subsequently laid. The allegations were such that the primary evidence against the two accused was from the alleged victim, making credibility the main determining factor in the case.

Unfortunately, this kind of situation, involving historical sexual assault allegations involving family members, is not unusual. What did make this case unusual was the manner in which the witness N. S. was dressed when she attended court to give evidence. As a practicing Moslem, N. S. was wearing a full body covering, known as an hijab, with a face covering veil, called a niqab, which showed only her eyes.

Defence counsel objected to her garb and requested the judge order the removal of the veil in order to conduct face-to-face cross examination. Judge Weisman, in open court, without conducting a formal hearing in which N.S. would have testified under oath and be subject to cross examination, questioned N. S. on her reason for wearing the veil. N. S. confirmed wearing the veil for religious reasons of modesty and only disrobing for family members. Another reason she did not wish to unveil herself was that:

--- the accuseds in this case are from the same community, they all go to the same place of worship as my husband as well and I have had this veil on for about five years now and it is --my face does not make any special, you know, like I know that--you know, there's body language, there's eye contact. I mean, I can look directly at the defence counsel, that is not a problem...it is a part of me and showing my face to--and it is also about--the religious reason is not to show your face to men that you are able to marry. It is to conceal the beauty of a woman, and you know, we are in a courtroom full of men and one of the accused is not a direct family member. The other accused is a direct family member and I, you know, I would feel a lot more comfortable if I didn't have to, you know, reveal my face. You know, just considering the nature of the case and the nature of the allegations and I think, you know, my face is not going to show any signs of--it is not going to help, it really won't.

N. S. was, however, unveiled for a driver's licence photograph, but a female photographer took the image while N. S. was behind a screen.

Judge Weisman ordered N. S. to remove her veil for her testimony. The decision was quashed upon judicial review by Justice Morrocco, but an application to permit N. S. to wear her veil during testimony was refused. This decision was appealed to the Ontario Court of Appeal, where, in a well written and reasoned decision, Justice Doherty, speaking for the panel, upheld Justice Morrocco's decision and remitted the matter to the preliminary hearing Judge to make the final determination on whether or not N. S. could testify behind the veil.

In another posting, I will discuss the reasoning for these decisions, but today I would like to point out the significance of the information given by N. S. at the time she was questioned by the Court, albeit in a less than procedurally satisfactory situation.

It appears, there are, in actuality, two issues to determine: the wearing of the veil for religious reasons and the wearing of the veil in order to provide comfort and privacy.

One issue, the wearing of the veil in accordance with Moslem modesty laws and tradition, is an issue of religious freedom under s.2(a) of the Charter. In this instance, this right comes into direct conflict with the accused's right to face his or her accuser for full answer and defence of the charges and is a protected principle of fundamental justice under s.7 of the Charter

The other issue, of comfort and privacy, engages N.S.'s right to protect her personal integrity and self-identity during the criminal process. Thus, society's interest in protecting trial fairness and in encouraging reporting by victim's of abuse is engaged as well. 

This delineation of the two issues is important as the final determination must take both concerns into account. Indeed, there are already provisions in our laws, specifically in the Criminal Code, to provide a more comfortable experience for a witness. One way this can be done is by permitting the witness to testify behind a privacy screen according to s.486.2(2), if "necessary to obtain a full and candid account from the witness." If so ordered, only the Judge and the lawyer conducting the examination can view the witness. Such an order strikes the right balance: as witness privacy rights are preserved and the trier of fact is able to assess demeanour and credibility. The constitutionality of this procedure was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Levogiannis case.

The other issue at stake, involving the freedom of religion and the competing interest of an accused's fair trial rights, must be assessed on a different basis. It is this clash of ideals which is at the heart of the N. S. appeal recently heard before the Supreme Court of Canada, and which will be further discussed in another posting. But here too, I suggest, there is an opportunity to strike a balance and come to an accommodation which preserves the rights of all.

 

 

 

Testifying Behind The Veil: A Study In Conflicting Charter Rights

Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) reserved judgment after hearing argument on the N.S. case involving a witness's religious right to wear a naqib or a face covering veil while testifying. This Charter right comes into direct conflict with the right of an accused, under s. 7 of the Charter, to full answer and defence, a principle of fundamental justice and "one of the pillars of criminal justice on which we heavily depend to ensure the innocent are not convicted." 

As discussed in previous blogs, Charter rights are not absolute and may be restricted by the government if justified in a free and democratic society. Charter rights may also be limited when rights conflict. In those instances, the Court is required to determine the parameters of the competing claims in a just and appropriate manner consistent with Charter values. Just how the Court must approach this decision is the subject of this blog as a primer to the specific rights at issue in the N.S. case, which I will fully discuss in a future posting.

How to balance competing Charter rights? In the Dagenais case, Chief Justice Lamer considered the competing rights where a publication ban is ordered in a criminal trial. According to Lamer, "a hierarchical approach to rights, which places some over others, must be avoided" in favour of a balanced decision which "fully respects the importance of both sets of rights." As a result, the publication ban prohibiting CBC from showing the fictional account of abuse in The Boys of St. Vincent was overturned, despite the fair trial interests of the accused Christian Brothers, but on the basis the ban was overly broad and too protective.

The correct approach is, therefore, to balance the conflicting interests instead of choosing one right as more important, and thereby, more worthy of protection. This balancing must take into account all interests at stake, including the societal interest in promoting and protecting both sets of rights.

In the N.S. case, freedom of religion and the right of an individual to privacy conflicts with the principles of fundamental justice, which lay at the core of our criminal justice system. Add to that, the societal interest in promoting multiculturalism and tolerance and in protecting the presumption of innocence and fair trials, and the issues become even more complicated. 

It is these hard cases, where all interests are valid and Charter worthy, which make for interesting law. And it is the Court's subsequent response, which can change society.

Connecting With International Human Rights Day

Today is International Human Rights Day, a celebration of the establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The document was the natural progression of the newly formed United Nations in 1945, which was created in response to the atrocities of World War II. Below is a photograph of then Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Louis St. Laurent, signing the UN Charter in San Francisco:

This act in 1945, appeared to solidify Canada's presence at the UN as a peacekeeping nation and stolid protector of human rights.

In actuality, although John Peters Humphrey, a Canadian law professor, was the original drafter of the Declaration, Canada was not initially supportive of its implementation. William Schabas, presently a professor of international law and Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights, in his excellent journal article entitled Canada and the Adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, explains Canada's initial refusal to support the Declaration when Lester Pearson, the then External Affairs Minister to the UN, abstained in an earlier vote.  It was only after pressure from Canada's allies, the UK and the USA, that Canada's final vote was changed in favour of implementation.

Schabas, through a detailed review of archival documents uncovered the real reason for this reluctance, bordering on "hostility," shown by the Canadian delegation. Pearson and others in the Canadian Government were concerned with the entrenchment of the broad human rights, which would become available under the Declaration, and could be used by "suspect" groups in Canada. In particular, the government feared the rights of freedom of religion and freedom of association would protect the Communists and Jehovah Witnesses, two groups identified by the government as "subversive" groups. Indeed at the time, the infamous Padlock Laws, enacted by then Quebec Premier Duplessis, which empowered authorities to "padlock" any building which held any "communist" literature or permitted the gathering of anyone associated with communism, was still in force.

It is, therefore, important to recall this dark side to Canada's history when rejoicing in our global commitment to freedom and choice through protections of human rights. Our successes in the area seem to be that much more impressive when we embrace the missteps of the past and move toward a more inclusive tomorrow.

This cannot be more so when we recall Canada's recent contribution to international human rights through Louise Arbour, an exceptional legal jurist who served as the High Commissioner for Human Rights and as Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Admittedly, her tenure did not go without controversy, however, she is a prime example of the dedication Canadians have shown to our international covenants.

More importantly, what makes today a cause for Canadian celebration and pride, is our commitment to human rights nationally. Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms has changed the fabric of Canadian society and has given life and meaning to fundamental freedoms and protections. It is this duality of commitment, which is epitomized by Louise Arbour as a former Supreme Court of Canada Justice, who wrote strongly in favour of the protection of rights, and, as the author of the Arbour Report, uncovered abuses at the Prison for Women at Kingston Penitentiary.

This truly is the legacy of the Declaration.