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.