Section 17 – The Statutory Defence of Duress: Episode 19 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada

In previous podcasts we have discussed the category of legal defences called justifications and excuses. We know that despite codification our criminal law permits an accused person to raise at trial a common law defence, as long as it is not inconsistent with the Code. There are purely common law defences such as the excuse of necessity (which by the way is exemplified in the seminal case taught in every first-year law school criminal law course – Regina v Dudley and Stevenson – where the two accused charged with murder committed cannibalism when their ship floundered in the high seas and they were forced to drift on a lifeboat – think Life of Pi without the animals) but there are also common law defences, which are subject to codification and found in the Criminal Code. The excuse of duress is one such defence from the common law, which appears in the Code under the section we are contemplating today, section 17.

When we first look at this section, and it is a long one, we realize that the word “duress” is never used in section 17. We therefore immediately feel that what we are about to look at and think about is not the same as the common law defence of duress. This is a correct assumption, on the face of this section. When we look behind this section however and look at the case law, which has developed in conjunction with the advent of the Charter on the mechanics of this section, we will see that in reality this section entitled “Compulsion By Threats” is really very similar to the common law version and only differs in terms of what category of accused person can use this section and for which offences.

Section 17 reads as follows:

A person who commits an offence under compulsion by threats of immediate death or bodily harm from a person who is present when the offence is committed is excused for committing the offence if the person believes that the threats will be carried out and if the person is not a party to a conspiracy or association whereby the person is subject to compulsion, but this section does not apply where the offence that is committed is high treason or treason, murder, piracy, attempted murder, sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon, threats to a third party or causing bodily harm, aggravated sexual assault, forcible abduction, hostage taking, robbery, assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm, aggravated assault, unlawfully causing bodily harm, arson or an offence under sections 280 to 283 (abduction and detention of young persons).

Before we dissect this section to have a clearer understanding of it, I want to remind you of the key elements of the class of defences we call excuses.

Both the actus reus and the mens rea of the offence must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecution before a legal excuse or for that matter a legal justification can be used as a defence. This means that the case against the accused is made out and, but for this defence, the accused would be found guilty. In light of that prerequisite, the class of defences known as excuses acknowledge the wrongfulness of the conduct but as a result of the circumstances facing the accused person, the accused should not be held criminally responsible for his or her criminal actions. However, the circumstances facing the accused must be dire, in other words, the defence of excuse can only be used in emergency situations. It is therefore the accused’s reaction to these dire situations, which cause society to excuse or absolve their conduct.

Excuses are a concession to human frailty and therefore reflect our humanity in two ways. First, this defence realizes that as individuals, as part of our humanity, we may act inappropriately in order to preserve our life or others. Secondly, as humans we understand that we are not perfect and that our laws must bend to this truth in order to have a compassionate society.

Despite the above, the situations in which excuses can be used are very restrictive because we fear that permitting too broad an excuse for criminal conduct will result in cases where we as a society may not be so sympathetic. So, the rule of law draws a line between what is excused and what is not. The difficulty then becomes, where to draw this line in order to remain true to our humanity without losing it.

As I already mentioned, the section is a reflection, albeit as we will see an imperfect one, of the common law defence of duress and thus this section was in the 1892 Criminal Code under section 12. This original section, except for certain language changes, is virtually the same as the now section 17. Not much changed over the years to this section and yet, as I have already mentioned, the section has changed dramatically since 2001 when the Supreme Court of Canada gave this section a constitutional make-over in R v Ruzic.

The Court in Ruzic, under the auspices of section 7 of the Charter, found that the statutory duress defence was too restrictive, particularly in relation to its common law partner, which even with s.17, could be used by parties to an offence. In the Court’s view, the statutory defence, available only to principal offenders, should not be more restrictive than the common law. In order to re-balance s. 17, the Court took out those passages in the section, which did not accord with the common law equivalent. Even so, the Court did not remove the offences for which the defence was available, choosing to leave those changes, if desired, to the government.

In light of this, let’s return to section 17 and this time, I will edit the section to accord with the Ruzic decision:

A person who commits an offence under compulsion by threats of immediate death or bodily harm from a person who is present when the offence is committed is excused for committing the offence if the person believes that the threats will be carried out and if the person is not a party to a conspiracy or association whereby the person is subject to compulsion, but this section does not apply where the offence that is committed is high treason or treason, murder, piracy, attempted murder, sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon, threats to a third party or causing bodily harm, aggravated sexual assault, forcible abduction, hostage taking, robbery, assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm, aggravated assault, unlawfully causing bodily harm, arson or an offence under sections 280 to 283 (abduction and detention of young persons).

Even with these changes the defence is a difficult one to employ. According to the newest Supreme Court of Canada case, in Ryan, the defence can only be used on the following bases:

  1. There must be a threat of death or bodily harm;
  2. The threat can be directed at the accused or a third party;
  3. The accused must reasonably believe that the threat will be carried out;
  4. There must be no safe avenue of escape, evaluated on a modified objective standard;
  5. There must be a close temporal connection between the threat and the harm threatened;
  6. There must be proportionality between the harm threatened and the harm inflicted by the accused, evaluated on a modified objective standard;
  7. The accused cannot be a party to a conspiracy or association whereby he or she is subject to compulsion as long as the accused actually knew that threats and coercion to commit an offence were a possible result of this criminal activity, conspiracy or association;
  8. The accused must be the principal offender and;
  9.  

In closing, there are a few items to note. First, the modified objective test is a creation of the Supreme Court of Canada in the series of cases on the meaning of criminal negligence. A discussion on this “test” and whether it is in fact a modifying one can be found in one of my previous blogs entitled The Subjective/Objective Debate Explained.

Second, the common law defence of duress in Canada is not restricted by type of offence, even though, in the UK the common law defence of duress cannot be used in a homicide charge, be the accused principal or a party.

Third, despite section 8(3) of the Code, which holds that common law defences continue unless they are altered or are inconsistent with the Code, section 17 changed to become more aligned to the common law as opposed to the common law defence changing to become more aligned to the Criminal Code iteration. This is because the common law defence of duress is for parties to an offence and the statutory defence is only for principal offenders. It is this distinction allows the common law defence to stand apart from the Code.

Fourth, even though Ruzic changed section 17, the Code does not reflect this change. One has to read the case law in order to know how the section should actually be implemented. This insistence by the federal government not to reflect court imposed Charter changes to sections is something that will come up again in the Code and in these podcasts. Indeed, there are whole sections, such as s.230 of the Code known as the constructive murder section, which have been struck down by the courts as constitutionally invalid and yet still appear in our Criminal Code. Why this is so is a matter of speculation but one wonders if the government believes that a differently composed court will take a different view or that the Charter may somehow change in the future. Either way, it is an oddity that these sections remain as they do as a vestige of the pre-Charter past.

Finally, there is much to be said about the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision in Ryan, which precluded the use of the duress defence in a situation where the accused was an abused woman who contracted an undercover police officer to kill her husband.  I will not, however, discuss those issues here in this podcast. Instead, I invite you to access my previous blog on the matter entitled Not To Make Excuses, But - The (Un)Responsiveness of the Supreme Court of Canada To Duress. I have also written on the application of the “air of reality test,” which is the threshold test used to determine if, in the circumstances of a case, a legal defence will be available to an accused in my blog entitled Poof! Into Thin Air – Where Have All The Defences Gone?: The Supreme Court of Canada And The Air Of Reality Test. I am currently writing a full article on this issue for publication.

We will of course come to further sections in the Criminal Code codifying common law defences where we will continue to peek back at the common law to frame the statutory doppelganger in the Code

Episode 19 of the Ideablawg Podcast on the Criminal Code of Canada: Section 17 - The Statutory Defence of Duress

Section 14 – Consenting To Death: Episode 16 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada

Although we have not traversed very far into the Criminal Code, we have already discussed some fundamental principles of English common law, including common law defences. Codification, as we have seen, does not usually change these traditional concepts but crystallizes the customary into the written rule. Even with codification, common law has informed the interpretation and implementation of the Code sections through the application of case law. Later, we will see how codification can and has radically changed common law, but the section we are now discussing, section 14 of the Criminal Code, is a reiteration of the common law rule – that a person cannot consent to their own death. The corollary to that presumption is that even if a victim does consent, an accused person cannot use this consent as a defence and is still legally liable for his or her actions. The section reads as follows:

No person is entitled to consent to have death inflicted on him, and such consent does not affect the criminal responsibility of any person by whom death may be inflicted on the person by whom consent is given.

Let’s take a deeper look at what this section is saying and what it is not saying. First, the section is actually speaking to us all – not just to an accused person – and acts as a warning: “no person is entitled to consent to have death inflicted.” But why this wording? Why doesn’t the section simply say, “no person shall consent to death?” By putting in the word “entitled,” I submit that not only can we not consent to our own death but we also have no right to do so. This of course opens up a much larger debate on who has ownership over an individual’s life – is it the person or is it the state as the Code seems to suggest? Or is it a combination of the two?

This debate continues, as the Supreme Court of Canada will reopen the issue of the right of a person to die when they consider the constitutionality of the assisted suicide section 241 of the Code in the British Columbia Carter case. I have written previous blogs on the issue: Whose Life Is This Anyway? The Canadian “Right To Die” Debate Part One – Definitions and A Story and Whose Life Is This Anyway? Sue Rodriguez and the Supreme Court of Canada. We will further discuss this when we come to the relevant section in the Code but the issue of whether or not society has an interest in the continuance of our individual lives is a weighty one. The difficulty is we do want society to take responsibility for ensuring the necessities of life such as food, clothing and education – all of which by the way have been subject to great constitutional debate. But we do not want society directing the manner in which we live our lives such as our sexual orientation and our decisions around childbirth. Of course, all of these issues are predicated on the decision to live, not on the decision to die. The question “whose life is this anyway?” does not generate an easy or static answer.

The other part of section 14 is a warning to the offender - the victim’s consent cannot be used to relieve the accused of the criminal responsibility for causing the victim’s death. Again, this argument may be raised in an assisted suicide situation but it could also arise in other scenarios such as sporting events. Although we no longer live in a world where a fight to the death is an acceptable spectacle (do we?) this does not mean the issue is dead – excuse my pun. Although dueling under section 71 is a Criminal Code offence, there are contests where death may not be the object but serious bodily harm certainly is and death may be probable if you engage in the “sport” enough times – prize fighting comes to mind. Certainly, in Canada, “blood” sports are either prohibited or highly regulated as in section 83 of the Criminal Code. Recently, the Canadian government changed the meaning of a “prize fight” under this section to permit mixed martial arts events such as the Ultimate Fighting Championships, a highly popular form of entertainment.

Still when death does occur during the course of a sporting event there may be criminal code repercussions. An infamous example is the Todd Bertuzzi – Steve Moore case, when well –known defence man Todd Bertuzzi punched Moore from behind during a hockey game in Vancouver. Moore suffered serious injuries and Bertuzzi was not charged with the more serious criminal negligence, but with the lesser offence of assault causing bodily harm, which is an infliction of bodily harm without consent. Bertuzzi entered a plea of guilty and received a conditional discharge, a lesser punishment available under the Code.  

This brings us to the related consideration of whether one can consent to bodily harm. A much more difficult issue considering many contact sports involve serious injury. It also brings to mind the fistfight or the let’s-take-this outside kind of attitude that is not unknown in bars across the country. Interestingly, this is where common law and codified law intersects. Although we know from section 8(3) that common law defences are available, this seemingly straightforward exception becomes complicated when consent, as in an assault, form an essential element of an offence.

In determining whether or not consent exists as per the Code, how far can a court rely on and apply the common law principles? This was the issue in the Supreme Court of Canada Jobidon case, wherein the accused stepped out of a bar with the victim and engaged in a seemingly consensual fistfight, which left the victim dead and the accused facing a manslaughter charge. Jobidon was acquitted at trial on the basis of the consent but the Ontario Court of Appeal reversed the decision. The majority judgment in the Supreme Court of Canada, written by Mr. Justice Gonthier, found that the common law conception of consent was relevant to whether or not the victim’s consent was applicable in the circumstances. To that end, Justice Gonthier stated at page 738:

If s. 8(3) and its interaction with the common law can be used to develop entirely new defences not inconsistent with the Code, it surely authorizes the courts to look to preexisting common law rules and principles to give meaning to, and explain the outlines and boundaries of an existing defence or justification, indicating where they will not be recognized as legally effective -- provided of course that there is no clear language in the Code which indicates that the Code has displaced the common law.  That sort of language cannot be found in the Code.  As such, the common law legitimately serves in this appeal as an archive in which one may locate situations or forms of conduct to which the law will not allow a person to consent.

In accordance with these comments, the SCC took an expansive view of section 8(3) and did not feel encumbered by the argument that consent forms part of the actus reus or prohibited conduct of an offence. In this instance, the common law restricted consent in fistfights, where there was bodily harm, for reasons of public policy – to ensure good order and appropriate behaviors. The Court however was very clear to restrict this decision to circumstances, which “vitiates consent between adults intentionally to apply force causing serious hurt or non-trivial bodily harm to each other in the course of a fist fight or brawl.”  This was an important caveat for the court as:

Stated in this way, the policy of the common law will not affect the validity or effectiveness of freely given consent to participate in rough sporting activities, so long as the intentional applications of force to which one consents are within the customary norms and rules of the game.  Unlike fistfights, sporting activities and games usually have a significant social value; they are worthwhile. 

Indeed, this comment is puzzling. Although sports such as hockey and football are for some worthwhile pursuits, the issue does not lie in the sports themselves but in the injuries occasioned in these sports. Are these injuries equally worthwhile should be the question. The answer lies in the rules of the sport and certainly Bertuzzi’s criminal responsibility depended upon going outside the rules or norms of the sport.  Although only a certain level and type of harm will be tolerated, this tolerance, as it bends and flows, will have an impact on the future of acceptable violence in Canadian society and in Canadian sport.

Episode 16 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada; Section 14 - Consenting To Death

Age As A Defence – Section 13: Episode 15 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada

In previous podcasts I have spoken of defences, a legal construct which an accused person can use in answer to the charge. There are two essential elements of a crime: the actus reus or prohibited act, which is the illegal behaviour and the mens rea or the guilty mind, which is the fault requirement. Some defences, negate the actus reus or prohibited act requirement of a crime, meaning that the accused cannot be convicted of the crime as the prohibited act was not committed by the accused voluntarily. This would occur, for example, in the following scenario: a person was driving his car with the window partially open and a wasp flew into the car, attacking the driver, and causing him to drive erratically. In that instance, a charge of dangerous driving under s.249 of the Code would fail as the prohibited act or bad driving was involuntary. The accused did not choose to drive in such as manner but external circumstances, beyond the accused person’s control, caused him to do so.

Another category of defences, known as justifications and excuses, are available even though the accused could be found guilty of the crime. If such a defence is successful, the accused is acquitted of the crime as he or she may be justified in committing the crime or may be excused from responsibility. In Episode 11, I explain these defences more thoroughly and I discuss the defence of duress, an example of the defence of excuse, in my previous blog here. Although these defences, if accepted, typically result in a full acquittal, the exception is the defence of provocation, a form of justification, which is only a partial defence, reducing murder to manslaughter, per s.232 of the Criminal Code. See my previous blog on the issue.

There are also defences, which negate the mens rea or the criminal intention required for a crime. Mistake of fact is such a defence where the accused believes in a set of facts, which, if true, would exonerate the accused. In those circumstances, the accused would not have the intention required to commit the offence.

Still another category of defences, which also relates to the mens rea of an offence, is where the accused is incapable of forming the intent required. Incapacity is difficult to use as a defence and tends to require expert medical evidence to establish the incapacity such as in the defence of intoxication (a common law defence, which has been severely limited by the Code under section 33.1) and mental disorder under s. 16 (or insanity as it was originally called). Another form of incapacity, which does not require medical evidence, is incapacity based on age. This is where section 13 comes into play – in fact, child’s play – as the section reads:

No person shall be convicted of an offence in respect of an act or omission on his part while that person was under the age of twelve years.

Interestingly, the word “child” is not used in the actual section, although it is used in the descriptive heading for the section, Child Under Twelve. As there is no statute of limitation on criminal offences, meaning that a person is still liable for a crime committed years previously, not using the descriptive word “child” in the actual section does make sense. Also note that although the section states a person under twelve years of age cannot be convicted of an offence, he or she may be charged with an offence. Again, if you have been listening/reading my previous podcasts, the Code seems to be focused on the “end game” of conviction and punishment.

Furthermore, this type of incapacity differs from intoxication and mental disorder as the simple proof of age, which is easily done, bars conviction. Intoxication and mental disorder as a defence, not only may require medical evidence but are complex defences, and in the case of mental disorder, has a complex procedure in the Criminal Code.  Certainly, in the case of mental disorder, an alternate mental health system is available to take over when the criminal law cannot.

So why is there such a limitation and why is it set at under twelve? Perhaps it is time we do a little historical review to find some answers.

In the 1892 Criminal Code, section 9 prohibited conviction of a person under seven years of age. Traditionally, English common law did not attach responsibility to young children for crimes, as children, like the mentally challenged, could not understand the consequences of their actions and therefore could not be held responsible in criminal court. This was the norm until the advent of the 1980 Young Offenders Act, which replaced the Juvenile Delinquents Act, when the present day age of twelve was substituted for the age of seven. This change in age was supported by psychological and medical research, which showed that the neurological development of a young person was not fully advanced until well into the teens. Thus developed the concept that a person under twelve years of age was incapable of forming the criminal intent. The research on this issue is certainly more complex as I have summarized and I invite you to do your own research on this topic. Needless to say, some academics presently question whether the child is truly incapable of forming an evil intent, although most agree that a child, due to developmental factors, should not be treated the same as an adult. Certainly Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act is based on that premise.

Politics has also come into the issue as the Conservative Party in 1999, through a private member’s Bill, attempted to change the age of incapacity to a child under ten years of age. This Bill did not survive but this concept has survived and may be raised yet again by the government particularly as the now Justice Minister, Peter McKay, was the sponsor of that 1999 amendment.

Additional pressure to change the age of incapacity comes from media reports of children under the age of 12 committing crimes, usually murder, both here and in the UK. It should however be noted that in terms of statistical evidence, 61% of the offences committed by young offenders are committed by the oldest offenders between the ages of 16 and 17. I know all of this fails to explain why the age barrier is under twelve as opposed to under eleven or under thirteen. I believe much of this is connected to societal perceptions and expectations, which do change over time.

To be sure, even though the criminal justice system is not engaged when a child under twelve commits a crime, the social service system can and will deem such a child in need of protection and he or she will be taken into the child welfare system. The focus is then on the reason why the child acted inappropriately and focuses on treatment and not punishment. However, the difference between these two concepts tends to become blurred in the eyes of a young person. An example of this in Alberta is the Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Act wherein a child using drugs or alcohol may be taken into a protective “safe house.”

Although the child welfare system may seem to be a kinder and gentler way of dealing with a troubled child, the system is rife with problems such as the power of the state to take children from their biological families and the difficulty of treatment without the fair trial procedures as would be required in the criminal courts. On the other hand, the stigma of a criminal charge and the use of the process-oriented criminal justice system, even if it is supposed to look towards rehabilitation of a young person, tend to provide band-aid solutions, where there are consequences, a bit of treatment, but no long-term solutions.

In the end, the criminal justice system is probably not the answer for a troubled child but the child welfare system may not be either. Perhaps, it is time for us to start thinking of alternative ways, proactive ways, to ensure that all children have the opportunity to engage in play and not crime.

 

 

 

Episode 15 - Section 13 Age As A Defence: The Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada

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?