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

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

Introduction

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

The Proposed Amendment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

simplify trial procedure, modernize the criminal justice system and enhance its efficiency through the increased use of technology, better protect victims and witnesses in criminal trials, and provide speedy trials in accordance with charter requirements. We are trying to bring criminal procedure into the 21st century. This phase reflects our efforts to modernize our procedure without in any way reducing the measure of justice provided by the system.[10]

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

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

Why the Amendment Needs Revision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations

 That the proposed amendments be revised to consider the following:

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[7]Supranote 4 at105.

[8][1991] 3 SCR 326.

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

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

[11][2009] 1 SCR 426.

[12]Ibid at para 23.

[13]Ibidat para 24.

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

[15]Ibid

[16]Supraat note 4.

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

[18]2015 SCC 15.

[19]Ibidat para 94.

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

[21]2016 SCC 27.

[22]2017 SCC 31.

Episode 50 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada: Criminal Code Reform and Section 55

Welcome to the fiftieth podcast on the Criminal Code of Canada. I started this project almost four years ago and although my output has slowed down, my commitment to providing you with some insight on every Code section has not changed. In this the fiftieth episode, I would like to generally reflect on the recent proposed changes to the Criminal Code and to specifically discuss the proposed revision to section 55 “Evidence of Overt Acts,” the subject of this podcast.

The new amendments contained in Bill C-51, which received first reading on June 6, 2017, will repeal some of the sections I have discussed in previous podcasts. These are sections which are archaic remnants of the initial 1892 Code and their deletion is welcome. In my opinion, however, repealing sections is not a substitute for badly needed reform of the Code into a readable, understandable and modern reflection of societal fundamental values. Piecemeal revision can lead to anomalous results. It can also lessen public confidence in the criminal justice system. Reform may take time but it is time well spent if the Code is one in which all citizens feel they have had an opportunity to create. I know what I am saying I have said before but, in my view, smart re-visioning of our criminal justice system is a position to be repeated.

Before we discuss section 55, I want to point out that Bill C-51, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Department of Justice Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act, also proposes to repeal section 49, Alarming the Queen. I discussed this section in podcast episode 44, which the text of this episode can be accessed here. Fortuitously, we recently used section 49 in a 1L criminal law final exam. A nice send off to an obsolete section, in which the prohibited behaviour could easily form the basis of other charges such as causing a disturbance under s. 175.

Section 55 “Evidence of Overt Acts” rounds out our discussion of the offences falling under the heading “Prohibited Acts” pursuant to Part II Offences Against Public Order. It is not a substantive section, meaning it does not create a criminal offence. Rather the section is, as the headline promises, related to evidentiary proof but in the context of a procedural rule. The section sets out the parameters of the process required to establish an essential element of the prohibited act or actus reus of any of the enumerated offences.

Section 55 presently reads as follows:

In proceedings for an offence against any provision in section 47 or sections 49 to 53, no evidence is admissible of an overt act unless that overt act is set out in the indictment or unless the evidence is otherwise relevant as tending to prove an overt act that is set out therein.

This section will be slightly revised if Bill C-51 passes as presented. The changes are very minimal, deleting the reference to s. 49, as it is repealed, and making slight wording adjustments to make the section more readable. The import of the section remains the same and it will read as follows:

55 In proceedings for an offence against any provision in section 47 or sections 50 to 53, evidence of an overt act is not admissible unless that overt act is set out in the indictment or unless the evidence is otherwise relevant as tending to prove an overt act that is set out in the indictment.

Essentially, the section requires an “overt act” to be specified in an Indictment for any of the offences enumerated in section 55 before the court before will admit evidence of such acts at trial. This requirement to specify an overt act in the Indictment is mirrored by section 581(4) of the Criminal Code, a section relating to the form of the counts in the Indictment and the sufficiency of such counts. Subsection (4) requires that where an accused person is charged with the offences, as enumerated under s. 55, “every overt act that is to be relied upon shall be stated in the indictment.”

Although the above explains why we have this procedural/evidentiary section amongst these criminal offences, questions still remain: what exactly is an “overt act” and why is there such a special procedural concern placed on this type of act for these particular offences? These offences are sections we have already encountered in previous podcast episodes and relate to Part II offences against the public order. Section 55, however, does not refer to all offences under the Part but specifically the punishment for treason, the offence of assisting an alien enemy to leave Canada or failing to prevent treason, the offence of intimidating Parliament or the legislature, and the offence of sabotage. These are offences which directly impact our national security interests and are also offences where the modus operandi might include a conspiracy. It is the offence of conspiracy from which the concept of overt acts is most applicable. In order to examine this connection, let’s try to define an “overt act.”

The phrase “overt act” does not appear in any of the enumerated sections found in section 55 but it is found in section 46, which describes the offence of treason, as opposed to section 47, which merely sets out the punishment. The phrase is also found in section 48, another section relating to the charging limitations for treason, requiring that if the charge is based on “an overt act of treason expressed or declared by open and considered speech” the charging document or Information must set out the overt act and the words and the Information must be laid “under oath before a justice” within 6 days of the time the words were spoken. In terms of the rest of the Criminal Code, the phrase is only used in the previously mentioned section 561. See Episode 43 of these podcasts, where I discuss “overt act” as it relates to sections 46, 47 and 48. As I mentioned earlier, treason and overt acts seem to go hand in hand with conspiracy as a treasonable “overt act” for purposes of the section. The crime of conspiracy, under section 46, is therefore a “manifestation” of the intention to commit high treason or treason as required for section 46(2)(d). As I explained in that previous episode, this treatment or really clarification of an overt act as conspiracy is consistent with the original description of treason under English common law and the 1892 Criminal Code.

Before we discuss the phrase itself, now that we wandered through the Criminal Code looking for an overt act, let’s wander a little bit off the path to find where else the phrase “overt act” appears in legislation. Interestingly, and importantly if you are an agriculturalist in the Maritimes, “overt acts” are referenced in the 1990 Newfoundland Poultry and Poultry Products Act, RSNL 1990, the repealed Prince Edward Island Poultry and Poultry Products Act and the repealed and re-enacted Agricultural Development Act of New Brunswick. In the Newfoundland statute, “overt act” is part of the definition of “ship”, “shipping”, “transport” and “transporting” which are defined as the “overt act of a person leading to the movement” of poultry and poultry products by certain specified means or conveyances. Certainly, not the kind of “overt act” contemplated under s. 55.

Now to the definition. An “overt act” is outward behaviour, which consists of readily ascertainable actions. A good example would be the description of the overt act under section 48 as “expressed or declared by open and considered speech.” We can find other examples from three World War One treason cases. In the first case of R v Snyder (1915), 24 C.C.C. 101 (ONCA), the overt act of treason consisted of the acts of the accused in helping people leave Canada to fight with the “enemy” during World War One such as bringing the people to a farm for purposes of then sending them overseas. Rex v Bleiler, a 1917 decision from the then Alberta Supreme Court (Appellate Division), offers another example of overt acts consisting of attempting to sell a “certain device” to the German Emperor or his agents. The case, sadly, never explains exactly what this device is but the overt acts involved the accused writing letters, recommending the device and offering it for purchase, to the German Ambassador to the United States. In these letters, the accused professes his loyalty to Germany and requests the details of the purchase be done secretly. The final case in the trilogy, is from 1918 decision of the Quebec Court of Appeal in The King v Schaefer, a case I referred to previously in the episode 43 podcast on treason. Of interest is the dissenting decision. The facts of the case suggest the cruel effects of wartime prejudices and the use of treason as punishment for ethnic origin and community loyalties rather than for the protection of the public. The facts are best read as excerpted from the dissent of Mr. Justice Lavergne as follows:

1 Israel Schaefer is a Jew who came to reside in Canada some twenty years ago or more. In the first years of his residence here, he became a British subject being naturalized under the Canadian statutes. In October 1914, he had a family of numerous children brought up here. His principal business since many years was to sell transportation tickets, both steamship and railway tickets. He was known as an industrious and very respectable citizen.
2 In October 1914, he sold transportation tickets from Canada to a port in Bulgaria. Bulgaria, at that time, was not at war with any other part of the British Empire. The number of tickets sold is alleged to have been ten. In addition he is alleged to have provided these ten people with documents to further transportation to the boundary line between Roumania and Austria-Hungary. The ten tickets were not all sold on the same date, but at different dates, in October 1914. This was done by Schaefer in the course of his ordinary business...
4 These people or most of them had come from Bukovina, which country formed part of Roumania and part of Austria. Most of these people, if not all of them, spoke Roumanian Language.
5 Schaefer was only charged with assisting the public enemy, but was only charged with assisting ten persons to leave Canada by selling them steamship tickets to a country not at war with Great Britain.
6 He is also charged with counselling these people to speak the Roumanian language. Another charge of furnishing these people monies was not pressed, was virtually abandoned, no attempt whatever was made to establish that allegation. The persons to whom Schaefer sold tickets having been resident in Canada for a few years were in the position of alien amis, and presumed to have paid local allegiance to our Sovereign. The fact that they were not arrested shows that the authorities did not regard them as offenders.

It was the opinion of the dissenting justice in the case that as the overt acts alleged were not connected to “any hostile intention or action,” the charge of treason must fail. Further, the dissent noted that the Indictment set out the acts of the people who left the country as assisting the enemy, not Schaefer, and there was no allegation of conspiracy. Additionally, there was no evidence these people in any way assisted the enemy other than they spoke the language and wanted to go home. Thus, there could be no inference that the overt act outlined in the Indictment manifested an intention for assisting the enemy or any other such treasonable acts. The majority disagreed and upheld the conviction for treason. In their view the Indictment sufficiently described the overt acts of treason being a treasonable design to assist the enemy and the overt acts in furtherance of it. This case presents quite a differing view of the overt acts and highlights the impact of contextual societal events can have on decision-making.

There are several cases, more recent ones, on the sufficiency of counts in an Indictment and specifically, in the case of a conspiracy charge. Certainly, section 55 could engage a sufficiency argument in the appropriate case and therefore this section, although only related to a few offences against the public order, has a relationship to other procedural sections in the Code. We will get to those sections as we continue our journey through the Criminal Code.

 

 

 

 

Episode 45 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada: Section 50 Assisting the Enemy and Failing to Prevent Treason

Section 50 continues our discussion of prohibited acts under the Part relating to offences against the public order. Section 50 contains two separate offences: assisting an enemy of Canada to leave the country without consent of the Crown and knowingly failing to advise a peace officer or a justice of the peace of an imminent act of treason. The full section reads as follows:

50(1) Every one commits an offence who

            (a) incites or wilfully assists a subject of

                        (i) a state that is at war with Canada, or

(ii) a state against whose forces Canadian Forces are engaged in hostilities, whether or not a state of war exists between Canada and the state whose forces they are,

to leave Canada without the consent of the Crown, unless the accused establishes that assistance to the state referred to in subparagraph (i) or the forces of the state referred to in subparagraph (ii), as the case may be, was not intended thereby; or

(b) knowing that a person is about to commit high treason or treason does not, with all reasonable dispatch, inform a justice of the peace or other peace officer thereof or make other reasonable efforts to prevent that person from committing high treason or treason.

These offences are indictable and pursuant to subsection 2 of the section, the maximum punishment is fourteen years incarceration. As is evident from the wording of the section, these offences are closely aligned to treason and treasonable acts. Indeed, the offence of failing to inform on a person about to commit treason is essentially an offence of being an accessory or party to the treason, either before the fact or after. Originally, this section in the 1892 Criminal Code was worded to that effect. The change came in the 1915 amendments, most likely as a result of World War One, when the offence of assisting an “alien enemy” was added immediately after the offence of accessory section. In 1927, the two offences were combined under one section. Finally, in the 1953-54 amendments to the Code, the specific reference to accessory was deleted and the section was re-enacted as it stands today.

Needless to say, I have been unable to find any reported decisions on this section other than a reference to the duty to report under s. 50(1)(b). In the 1990 Dersch case, the BCCA considered the seizure of blood samples in a case of suspected impaired driving where the accused was unconscious when the samples were taken for medical purposes. The issue of confidentiality of medical information was considered with the acknowledgement that such confidentiality was subject to exceptional circumstances such as a statutory duty to report. Section 50(1)(b) was cited as an example of such an exceptional situation.

The mens rea requirements for this section is of interest. It could be argued that both offences under this section require a high level of mens rea. In s. 50(1)(a) the use of the word “wilfully” suggests the requirement for a high level of subjective liability, which does not include recklessness. However, the term “willfully,” does not necessarily denote a high level of subjective mens rea as per the 1979 Ontario Court of Appeal case of Buzzanga and Durocher. The contra-argument would rely on the context of this offence, including its connection to treason and the severe punishment attached to conviction, as support for a high level of mens rea. But, s. 50(1)(a) reverses the onus of proof onto the accused by requiring the defence to “establish” that the assistance rendered was not intended. This reverse onus would certainly be subject to a Charter argument under s. 7 and s. 11(d). The mens rea requirement for s. 50(1)(b) is easier to discern as it requires the accused to have knowledge of the expected treason, which clearly requires proof of a high level of subjective liability by the Crown.

Although this section has been historically underused, considering the rise in alleged acts of terrorism, there is a possibility the section could be used in the future. There could be an argument that members of certain terrorist groups are in fact “at war” with Canada and a further argument that these groups in some ways constitute a “state” for purposes of the section. In fact, some of these groups do identify as such. However, in light of new legislation, both within the Code and through other federal statutes, relating to this area, it is more likely the government will prefer to lay charges under this newer legislation, which provides a broader basis for conviction. Probably the best indication of the viability of this section is whether or not it remains in the Criminal Code, in its present form, after the much anticipated government review of the Criminal Code.

 

As Posted on ABlawg Website: Regina v Borowiec On Infanticide: Does the Crime Fit The Times?

The following blog also appears at the University of Calgary, Faculty of Law blog website at ABlawg.ca

In a few weeks the law school will be humming with activity as the newly admitted 1L students start learning the Law both in doctrine and in practice. One of the core first year courses is criminal law, which provides the future lawyer a realistic snapshot of the complexities of both areas. Here, in criminal law, they will not only gain knowledge of the prohibitions, rules, and procedures as found in the Criminal Code but also the interpretations and practices as found in Common Law. They will discover that criminal law is not about cut and dry legalese but is, at its core, about how we as a nation see ourselves and the kind of society we want to live in. It is also about ordinary people who are impacted by the decisions made by courts every day.

 

The key to understanding and appreciating criminal law is in the deeper discussion of the purpose of criminal law and why we as a society prohibit certain behaviors and not others. Sometimes this discussion of “why” is easy: we can agree that certain types of conduct such as stealing, murder, and assault are worthy of sanction. But we have a more difficult time in agreeing on what this prohibited conduct looks like and, therefore, what we should do about it. To answer these questions, criminal law jurisprudence considers all of these weighty issues in the context of the rule of law. It is this intersection of law and societal values, which makes criminal law so legally interesting and yet so socially conflicting. The recent decision in Regina v Borowiec, 2015 ABCA 232, from the Alberta Court of Appeal on infanticide is an excellent example of these tensions and the difficulty the courts have in harmonizing these issues.  It is also a stark example of the reality that in some respects our criminal law is clinging to the past and in desperate need of reform.

Although homicide has been “on the books” so to speak since the inception of our Criminal Code in 1892, infanticide came to us through a 1948 amendment, which mirrored earlier changes made to English law. The then s. 262(2), deemed a woman, who willfully caused the death of her newly-born child, not guilty of murder or manslaughter but of the newly created offence of infanticide if at the time of the act or omission “she had not fully recovered from the effect of giving birth” resulting in the “balance of her mind” being “disturbed.” Later, in a 1954 amendment, the offence was broadened by offering another reason for the “mind being disturbed” by conceding infanticide could also occur when the “female person” was not fully recovered from “the effect of lactation consequent on the birth of the child.” Additionally, the word “balance” in the phrase “balance of her mind” was deleted.

The 1954 amendments also added the now s. 663 of the Criminal Code, which was not found in the English legislation. This section ensures that if a woman was charged with infanticide but was not suffering from a mental disturbance and yet intentionally killed her child, she could still be convicted. This section is not in issue in the Borowiec case, however, as mentioned by Justice Doherty in Regina v L. B., 2011 ONCA 153 (at paras 84 to 87), the constitutional implications of this section are troubling and worth noting. What is of import is the wording of s. 663, which still retains the English legislative nomenclature requiring a disturbance of the “balance” of the mind. This slight but significant difference will be explored later as it impacts the Borowiec decision.

Infanticide is now one of the three ways homicide is culpable or blameworthy. Homicide or the killing of a human being is culpable when the conduct amounts to murder, manslaughter or infanticide as per the Criminal Code sections. Unsurprisingly, all three categories of homicide have similarities and differences in terms of: a) the conduct or actus reus required, b) the fault element or mens rea required, and c) the punishment imposed upon conviction. But, as with all related areas, it is difficult to parse the differences between them when the conduct is on the boundaries.

To assist in this discussion, lawyers and the courts look to the rule of law as established by precedent and informed by statutory interpretation. However, in the field of criminal law, this time-honoured legalistic approach must be further informed by the purpose or reason for using the criminal law in the context of the offence. In the case of infanticide, the conduct and fault element is difficult to ascertain and the section outlining the crime is mired in archaic language based on out of date policy and dated science. For instance, the concept of “lactational insanity,” which drove the English legislation as mirrored in our 1954 amendments, is straight out of the Victorian Age  and is no longer considered medically valid. When the crime does not fit the times it becomes hard to determine whether or not the crime reflects current societal interests and values.

These conflicting issues are clearly seen in the Borowiec case. According to the evidence, between 2008 and 2010, Meredith Borowiec was pregnant three times and each time she hid her true condition from her boyfriend, family and work colleagues. She gave birth, on her own, and subsequently abandoned each child in a garbage dumpster. Her actions came to the notice of the authorities when the last child was rescued from the dumpster. She was ultimately charged with two counts of second-degree murder and one count of attempted murder, to which she later entered a plea of guilty to the lesser offence of aggravated assault. At her murder trial, defence counsel raised infanticide as an alternative to murder, calling psychiatric evidence in support. The prosecutor also called psychiatric evidence to establish that the conduct did not amount to infanticide and was in fact murder. The trial judge reviewed the conflicting evidence in light of the Code provisions and case law and found Meredith Borowiec not guilty of murder but guilt of infanticide.

The case was followed closely in the media and attracted much attention. Upon her conviction for infanticide and the imposition of the total sentence before credit for time served of four and a half years, there was a public outcry with one journalist opining that it was “open season” on unwanted infants. Still other views showed sympathy for the accused, citing her mental health issues and lack of support while pregnant as mitigating factors.  In fact, infanticide, according to the literature in the area (see for example, Chapter 7 of the 2013 book entitled History of Infanticide in Britain, C. 1600 to the Present by Professor Anne-Marie Kilday), does provoke very stark conflicting public emotions and has done so for hundreds of years. In this context, the Borowiec decision provides a glimpse into the legal response to a very provocative social issue.

The Crown appealed the infanticide convictions and in a split decision, the Alberta Court of Appeal upheld the decision. On appeal, the court considered three grounds of appeal. Remember, this was a Crown appeal and according to s. 676 of the Criminal Code a Crown appeal can be based only upon issues of law. The first issue asked whether or not the trial judge erred in law in his application of the law of infanticide. The second somewhat related issue asked whether the trial judge erred in his assessment of the conflicting expert evidence. The third issue, which will not be discussed in this commentary, is whether or not the reasons of the trial judge were sufficient. Justice Cote and Justice MacDonald for the majority found that the trial judge did not err in his application of the law of infanticide pursuant to the requirements of the section. Although they found some problems with the assessment of the conflicting evidence of the expert witnesses, in their view the error was not a question of law but of fact and therefore could not form the basis of a Crown appeal. The dissent, authored by Justice Wakeling, disagreed with the majority on the first issue finding that in law the trial judge did err in his appreciation and application of the infanticide requirements as required by section 233.

The majority reviewed the history of section 233 and the roots of the offence in English law. In their view, Parliament enacted the section as a legal and social compromise. Prior to legislating the offence, a mother charged with the death of her newly born child would be charged with murder and faced a possible death sentence. As a result, specious acquittals occurred as the members of the jury were not prepared to send a mother to death for the crime, particularly if there were extenuating circumstances. However, these circumstances fell short of a disease of the mind and therefore could not amount in law to a valid s. 16 or insanity defence. In response, England initially enacted the Infanticide Act, 1922 and then after subsequent amendments, enacted the Infanticide Act, 1938, which carved out a singular offence within the homicide spectrum. For an excellent and erudite discussion of infanticide’s historical beginnings, see Justice Doherty’s opus in R v L.B. (at paras 64 to 104). In this historical survey Justice Doherty explains the intricate Canadian infanticide experience by tracking the various amendments made to the now s. 233 and the other complimentary sections such as s. 663.

Upon review of the historical purpose and changes to the section, the majority listed the applicable elements of the offence or as in the Borowiec case, what was raised by the defence as a possible lesser verdict predicated on the evidence. The court described the requirements of the section that the accused a) be “not fully recovered,” b) that “her mind was then disturbed,” and c) that the disturbance be from the “effects” of childbirth or by the reason of “lactation” as “extremely woolly” (at para 31) and not representing “established” medical terminology.

It is in the legal application of the section, specifically the requirement the accused’s mind be “disturbed,” which the Court of Appeal focused on in addressing the first issue. In other words, does this term “disturbed” reflect an articulable standard and if it does, what does that standard look like as a legal principle? Put another way, what is the extent to which the accused must be “disturbed” in order to fulfill the prerequisites of the section? This problem – where to draw the line in criminalizing conduct – is a familiar one in criminal law. For instance, in the case of negligence based crimes, the courts spent decades trying to determine the appropriate level to which an accused must be negligent, finally coming to the “substantial and marked departure” from the norm as the test for the offence of criminal negligence under s. 219 but preferring a lesser standard of “marked departure” for other negligent based offences. But where does infanticide reside in the continuum of murder, manslaughter, criminal negligence and accident? More specifically, how does the “disturbed mind” requirement impact this discussion?

Added to the difficulties of delineating boundaries between differing conduct is the argument made by the Crown on appeal that what infanticide requires is not just evidence that the accused mind is disturbed but rather evidence that the “balance” of her mind was disturbed, which, in the submission of the Crown, suggests a higher standard than a mere disturbance. This argument is based on a rather puzzling aspect of the infanticide related sections. Although the infanticide section itself, pursuant to s. 233, refers to “disturbed” only, other related sections such as s. 663, the assessment order section 672.11(c), under the “Mental Disorder” Part XX.1, and s. 672.21(3)(d), also under Part XX.1, refer to the “balance of the mind” in relation to infanticide. Although the Part XX.1 sections are fairly recent, in the Criminal Code sense, having been enacted in 1991, s. 663 was added to the Criminal Code in the 1954 amendments, which also deleted the reference to “balance of her mind” in the infanticide section s. 233.

The majority deftly rejected this argument, finding, in paragraph 50, it was “unlikely that Parliament intended any significant difference” between the two phrases. In the Court’s opinion, it would make no sense to require a different standard for these sections and as Parliament has had ample opportunity to fix the difference in language, it must mean there is no difference.

Although the Court does not delve into the niceties of the difference in language found in the various sections, still a more robust application of the principles of statutory interpretation would have been in order. For example, the word “balance” does connote an ability to remain in control or have “mental and emotional steadiness” as per the Merriam-Webster definition and as understood by the related term of being “off-balanced.” Additionally, the UK legislation retains the phrase “balance of her mind.” The Court did not discuss the significance of this or the impact of this phrase in the English context.

Of course, besides the possible different legal meaning the addition of the word “balance” could have, it is likely the Crown had another reason to pursue the importance of the word. The Crown’s forensic psychiatrist at trial relied upon the term, “balance of her mind,” and the trial judge pointedly corrected the nomenclature as not consistent with s. 233. No doubt the psychiatrist was more comfortable with the usage of the phrase as it related to the assessment sections of the Criminal Code rather than the offence section and does illustrate the confusion the different wording invokes.

In any event, the majority preferred to defer to Parliament to lend any further guidance on the issue. The best the majority could do was recognize the “need for some standard” (at para 53) and quote approvingly from a 2003 Alberta Queen’s Bench decision in R v Coombs, 2003 ABQB 818 at para 37, wherein the trial judge found that Parliament set “a very low threshold, certainly far below … not criminally responsible.”

Although the Court recognized the imperfections of the offence/defence of infanticide, in the majority’s view it was Parliament’s responsibility to create criminal law and not the courts’ purview even where the law in the area was “woolly.” In fact, the Court suggests the use of “vague language” in the section assists the trier of fact in coming to a “just” decision as the ambiguity gives the trier and the Crown “elbow room and several hints.” Indeed, the majority opined at paragraph 88 that:

The only way to find an error which “involves a question of law alone” would be to make new law and interpret one or more of the woolly words or phrases in section 233 more narrowly, injecting a good deal of the Court of Appeal’s own analysis and philosophy. In view of the history, that would override Parliament’s decision to do the opposite.

Clearly, the Court was unable (or unwilling) to reconcile the social, political, and policy issues with the rule of law.

Justice Wakeling’s dissent, on the other hand, does attempt to articulate a judiciable standard. He set the standard, using child welfare nomenclature, requiring (at para 98) the disturbance to be at a point where the woman’s “ability to make rational decisions which promote the best interests of her newly born child is substantially impaired.” He came to this “benchmark” by also recognizing that a “disturbed” mind provided an unclear marker for infanticide. In his view, (at para 140), as infanticide was a form of homicide and therefore a serious offence, “Parliament intended infanticide to assist only mothers who have a substantial psychological problem.” He too recognized that this degree of mental disturbance must be less than the level required for a finding of not criminally responsible, yet more than a mother who is merely facing “problems which most mothers of newborns face.” (at para 140).

In coming to the standard as earlier stated, Justice Wakeling “considered a number of possible solutions” (at para 148) and found, based on his review of the Code, two controlling “traits” of women “with a disturbed mind.” (para. 149) First, commensurate with the classification of the offence as a homicide, the “mental health” of the woman must be “substantially compromised.” (at para 150) Applying this, Justice Wakeling came to the decision, in paragraphs 151 to 152, that therefore “baby blues” or “postpartum blues syndrome” as a transient and “mild” form of depression would not fulfill this first trait.  At the other end of the spectrum, a woman suffering from postpartum psychosis would fulfill this requirement. Within this range, would be postpartum depression. According to Justice Wakeling, (at para 155), “Some women with the more severe presentation of this mental health condition may meet the first test.”

Second, Justice Wakeling, (at para 157), requires the “substantial” mental health condition to “substantially impair the mother’s ability to make rational decisions which promote the best interests of her infant.” As previously mentioned, this part of the “test” seems to be based upon a common consideration in the child welfare or family law arenas (see Young v Young, [1993] 4 SCR 3). Whether such a concept or test is appropriate in the criminal law context highlights the difficulty in crafting a rule based on impermissibly vague legislation. In any event, Justice Wakeling gave no indication as to the genesis of this part of the test.

Although Justice Wakeling does attempt to create an articulable test, he does so by changing the legal test into a medical one. In fact, he relied heavily upon the DSMR or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which attracts much controversy and criticism within the medical and psychological professions. (For example – see Chapter 7 of Clinical Psychology by Andrew M. Pomerantz). As a result, this test as fashioned necessitates a trial by experts and puts too much faith in the infallibility of science. As a stark reminder of the fallacy of this belief, we need only look to the Goudge Report (Inquiry Into Pediatric Forensic Pathology In Ontario Report authored by Justice Goudge and released October 1, 2008) and the miscarriage of justice occasioned by the courts accepting an expert’s evidence on the ultimate issue of guilt or innocence.

Further, this medically driven test seems contrary to the development of the law in the area of not criminally responsible, where the courts, starting with R v Stone, [1999] 2 SCR 290, so carefully crafted a holistic test based on legal principle and factual findings and not on a closed compendium of “established” medical disorders. Finally, Justice Wakeling’s test imposes a much too stringent standard. By using the qualifier “substantial,” the test does not reflect the mens rea required for the offence, which according to Justice Doherty’s well-reasoned comments in L.B. (at para 121), must include an objective foreseeability of bodily harm. In Doherty, J.A.’s view, it is the “unique actus reus” which distinguished infanticide from murder or manslaughter.  To imbue the actus reus with such a high threshold would be inconsistent with Justice Doherty’s conclusion.

In the final analysis, what is clear from this case is that it is an example of a law which needs to be clarified by the Supreme Court of Canada, not because the ultimate decision of the majority in the Court of Appeal was in error and not because the reasons in dissent were correct, but because “woolly” laws, whatever the underlying social issues may be, are not legally valid. Although, in this case, the accused was acquitted of murder at first instance, which went a long way in ensuring the appeal would be dismissed, imagine a different scenario, where a woman is convicted of infanticide on the basis of an ambiguous law, clearly contrary to the crucial principle of legality so finely defined and generously applied by the Supreme Court of Canada, not to mention the Charter values at risk. This risk is most palpably seen in the majority’s final statement on the issue at paragraph 89 when they state the ultimate reason for leaving the offence “as is” was because to do otherwise might “simply produce more outright acquittals, either directly or via fewer charges of infanticides. That result would be as paradoxical as the pre-1948 situations and following much the same route.” Never mind this position reflects a state of the law and the state of science and social policy long since gone, but by failing to address the real legal issues arising from infanticide on this basis, the court is not simply deferring to Parliament but deferring to the status quo. On the other end of the spectrum, the dissent offers an alternate reading, which is too categorical to meet the “unique” needs of the section.

As Justice Fish stated in the Levkovic decision, [2013] 2 SCR 204, a case considering the related offence of concealing a body of a child, (at para 32):

“The doctrine against vagueness is founded on two rationales: a law must provide fair notice to citizens and it must limit enforcement discretion.  Understood in light of its theoretical foundations, the doctrine against vagueness is a critical component of a society grounded in the rule of law.” 

The Borowiec decision is unsatisfactory precisely for this reason: uncertainty and arbitrariness, for whatever reason, should not be the basis of a criminal conviction. Although criminal law provides a glimpse into society’s concerns, it also highlights the enormous burden the law may shoulder in order to ensure a fair and just community. Difficult questions such as what kind of society we want may not be easily or fully answered by the rule of law but at the very least it can provide a safe place, a fair forum, in which we can test the boundaries.

True, the original rationale for legislating infanticide was based on spurious decisions driven by the harsh realities of the death penalty. The courts must step away from the past and take a hard look at the viability of the offence given the present state of the law and the societal values we share. A lesson may be drawn from England, where there have been a number of court-driven law reform initiatives on the subject from both the legal (see the 1975 Butler report on Mentally Abnormal Offenders from 1975 and the more recent Law Commission report on Murder, Manslaughter and Infanticide from 2006) and medical perspective (see the Royal College of Psychiatrists Working Party on Infanticide from 1978). Other Commonwealth countries have joined this movement towards change in this area, such as Australia (see the 1997 Report on Partial Defences to Murder: Provocation and Infanticide). Indeed, new research suggests there is not one category of infanticide but many subcategories such as neonaticide, typically committed by sexually inexperienced teenagers. Furthermore, the gender specificity of the offence, unique in the Criminal Code, lends more voices to the discussion as some critics of the law pan the offence as criminalizing motherhood while other critics suggest the offence fails to adequately address those unique gender issues. Throughout this discourse, one thing is clear, we need the courts and our lawmakers to take a hard look at infanticide and provide legal and social guidance. Who knows, this may even be an opportunity to look deeper into the “why” of our Criminal Code with a critical eye to reform. Nevertheless, infanticide is just one example of the need to reform our laws to align with our present and act as a model for our future. Indeed, society expects the crime to reflect the times.

 

 

 

 

Section 33.1 & How Intoxication Became A Form of Mens Rea: Episode 38 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada – A Long Read (Or Listen)

In this episode we will explore the “defence” of intoxication and how this common law concept became a form of statutory mens rea in s. 33.1 of the Criminal Code.

Intoxication, as a defence, is a difficult concept involving a clash of perspectives. One perspective finds fault with the defence as it absolves a morally blameworthy accused who, in committing an offence, willingly places himself in an uncontrollable state. The other perspective aligns with traditional criminal law precepts by permitting the defence on the basis that only those accused who have the required fault element of the crime should be punished. Both perspectives have informed this defence through legal interpretation and legislative response. In the end, intoxication as a defence is cumbersome, artificial, and in many respects unsatisfactory. The law and legislature has simply been unable to reconcile these differing, yet valid, perspectives and the defence remains a legal anomaly.   

It is in this background, we must view the present iteration of the defence as found partly in s. 33.1 of the Criminal Code. I say “partly” as the judicial interpretation of the defence still applies in some respects. Indeed, we can for ease of discussion refer to s. 33.1 as representing the first perspective I previously outlined - the concept of moral blameworthiness. Conversely, the judicial perspective, as ultimately represented in the Daviault case through the application of the Charter, represents the traditional criminal law principle of ensuring those without criminal intent, the morally innocent, are not punished.

Historically, these two perspectives on intoxication were not separated and the courts fashioned an awkward alliance between these two visions of responsibility:  the morally responsible accused who choses to become intoxicated and the morally innocent accused who was acting without mens rea and therefore not criminally responsible. To fulfill these two visions the common law limited the defence to certain types of offences. The case, which reflects this common law principle, is the 1920 House of Lords decision in DPP v Beard. The principle in Beard’s Case, as it became to be known, holds that intoxication is not a defence to a general intent offence but is a defence to a specific intent offence.

To understand this split, let’s review the difference between general and specific intent offences: Crimes of specific intent are offences with a special mental element required above and beyond the general mental element of the offence. Thus, a crime such as theft, which requires the taking of something with the intent to steal, is a specific intent offence. So too is murder with the specific intent to kill. Conversely, general intent offences involve no ulterior goal and only require an intention to act to achieve an immediate goal. Assault is an example of a general intent offence. Applying the principle in Beard’s Case, intoxication is a defence for a murder charge but not for an assault. Although the Supreme Court of Canada consistently disapproves of this specific/general distinction as artificial and confusing, it still remains an integral part of the intoxication nomenclature.

In the 1977 Leary decision, the SCC considered the Canadian position on intoxication creating a rule similar to Beard’s Case. This rule was reconsidered after the advent of the Charter in the 1988 Bernard decision. Bernard produced a fractured court with three separate concurring decisions and a strong dissent from the then Chief Justice Dickson and Justice Lamer, who also dissented in Leary.

Justice McIntyre’s majority decision upholds the Leary rule that intoxication is not a defence to a general intent offence. Both Leary and Bernard involved the general intent offences of rape and sexual assault, respectively. There were strong public policy reasons for eliminating intoxication as a defence to sexual offences. Even so, Justice McIntyre conceded that intoxication might apply to specific intent offences as in those circumstances intoxication could negate the formation of the specific intent required. This was also a “safe” position to hold as typically a specific intent offence involved proof of an underlying general intent offence. Therefore an acquittal for a specific intent offence on the basis of intoxication still permitted a conviction on the lesser and included general intent offence. An acquittal for murder, for instance, could result in a finding of guilt for manslaughter. The “morally” responsible accused would still be convicted.

In terms of the Charter, Justice McIntyre found sections 7 and 11(d) were not violated by the Leary rule, as the morally innocent would not be convicted on the basis that the voluntary consumption of an intoxicant would be criminally blameworthy. Further, the Crown must still prove mens rea, which could be inferred from the prohibited act by assuming a person intends the natural and probable consequences of his or her actions. If, however, voluntariness was an issue, meaning the accused was so intoxicated that his actions were not voluntary and therefore the so called “willing mind” aspect of the actus reus could not be proved, then the Crown could prove the acts were of a willing mind based on the proof of the accused self-induced intoxication.  

Justice McIntyre’s decision is difficult to reconcile. Proving mens rea on the incongruous premise that an intoxicated person intends the natural and probable consequences of their actions is debatable.  Although, as an aside, this concept has enjoyed recent SCC approval in the Walle case. See my blog on that case here.  Further, Justice McIntyre’s response to the voluntariness issue is a tautology: by filling in the proverbial fault “hole” with proof of intoxication, intoxication is no longer a “defence” or even a state of mind but is evidence of the state of mind, which is the key element of the an offence.

Justice Wilson, concurring in Bernard, offers a more “flexible” approach to the Leary rule permitting evidence of extreme intoxication “involving an absence of awareness akin to a state of insanity or automatism” to be left with the trier of fact in general intent offences. On the issue of mens rea, Justice Wilson does not approve of the substitution of self-induced intoxication for proof of the mental element component. In her view, the Crown is still required, even in general intent offences, to prove the minimal intent needed for conviction.

In the dissent, Chief Justice Dickson and Justice Lamer found the Leary rule violated the Charter and could not be saved under s.1. The rule, according to the minority, imposed a form of absolute liability, requiring no proof of mens rea for those general intent offences where intoxication could negate the mental element of the offence. They also firmly disapproved of the “artificial” distinction between specific and general offences. Intoxication, in their view, was relevant to mens rea and should be left to the “fair and responsible” trier of fact, who was able to sift through the evidence and determine if in fact intoxication was to such an extent that mens rea was absent.

Unsurprisingly, the Bernard decision attracted many critics, particularly Justice McIntyre’s position that self induced intoxication could substitute for the mental element of an offence.  There was the concern that the legally innocent, those accused whose level of intoxication was sufficient to raise a reasonable doubt on the mental element, were being convicted as a result of the Leary rule. Other commonwealth countries, such as Australia in the O’Connor case and New Zealand in the Kamipeli case, which previously supported the rule in Beard’s case, ultimately resiled from that ruling.  Eventually, Britain too modified the Beard’s Case ruling. Critics also lambasted the specific/general distinction as irrelevant and, as suggested by the dissent in Bernard, creating artificial barriers to valid defences.

In this climate, the SCC heard the Daviault case in 1994, also a sexual assault conviction, where the issue concerned the application of extreme intoxication as a defence to a general intent offence as considered by Justice Wilson in her decision in Bernard.  This time, the majority of the court found the Leary rule unconstitutional and agreed with Justice Wilson’s approach in Bernard that extreme intoxication was a defence to a general intent offence. In order to raise this defence, the accused, similar to a s.16 or automatism defence, must prove the defence on a balance of probability and is required to produce expert evidence in support.  The majority disagreed with Justice McIntyre that self-induced intoxication could provide the mens rea for the offence. The dissent, written by Justice Sopinka, found that the Leary rule was based on sound public policy reasons even though the specific and general intention distinction could lead to “illogical” results. The majority allowed the appeal and remitted the case for a new trial wherein the defence of intoxication could be raised.

The response to Daviault was swift. The government quickly legislated a response to the case and within a year a new amendment to the Code under s. 33.1 received Royal Assent.  Section 33.1, as suggested by the summary preceding the text of the Bill, amended the Criminal Codeby legislating a basis of criminal fault in relation to extreme self-induced intoxication and violence.”

The section, entitled “ self-induced intoxication,” reads as follows:

(1) It is not a defence to an offence referred to in subsection (3) that the accused, by reason of self-induced intoxication, lacked the general intent or the voluntariness required to commit the offence, where the accused departed markedly from the standard of care as described in subsection (2).

Criminal fault by reason of intoxication

 (2) For the purposes of this section, a person departs markedly from the standard of reasonable care       generally recognized in Canadian society and is thereby criminally at fault where the person, while in a state of self-induced intoxication that renders the person unaware of, or incapable of consciously controlling, their behaviour, voluntarily or involuntarily interferes or threatens to interfere with the bodily integrity of another person.

  Application

 (3) This section applies in respect of an offence under this Act or any other Act of Parliament that includes as an element an assault or any other interference or threat of interference by a person with the bodily integrity of another person.

The section is a difficult read.  Subsection 1, which confusingly refers to (2) and (3), essentially eliminates the Daviault exception to the Leary rule by legislating that extreme intoxication is not a defence for general intent offences, which interfere with or threaten to interfere with the ”bodily integrity” of another person.  The concept of interference with “bodily integrity” is broad and includes, as per the SCC Tessling case, the right not to be touched.

However, the subsection also substitutes the self-induced intoxication for the mens rea of the offence. In subsection 1, this substitution arises from the connection between the elimination of the defence and the accused’s conduct as “departed markedly from the standard of care as described in (2).”  Subsection (2), entitled Criminal fault by reason of intoxication, describes a marked departure from the norm, typical language used to explain criminal negligence from the SCC Tutton case, as occurring when the accused commits the offence “while in a state of self-induced intoxication that renders the person unaware of, or incapable of consciously controlling, their behaviour, voluntarily or involuntarily.” Therefore, the deficient state of the accused, both physically and mentally, fulfills the mental requirement of a criminal act. Needless to say, this artificial mens rea is contrary to traditional criminal law precepts and in violation of the Charter as articulated by Chief Justice Dickson and Justice Lamer in the Leary and Bernard dissents and as found by the majority in Daviault.

Even so, the legacy of Daviault still has precedential value. The courts never overruled the decision and s. 33.1 has not eliminated the defence for those general intent offences which do not involve the interference with the bodily integrity of another person nor has it eliminated the defence for specific intent offences. The 2007 SCC Daley case nicely outlines the application of the defence of intoxication in light of this.  Further, some courts in Ontario, such as in R v Cedeno, have found s. 33.1 unconstitutional, although oddly enough the constitutionality of the section has not be considered by appellate level courts.  The closest an appellate court has come to discussing the constitutionality of the section is in the 2001 North West Territories Court of Appeal case in R v Brenton where the court reversed a lower court decision finding the section unconstitutional on the basis that the lower court did not have a sufficient “factual foundation at trial upon which to mount a constitutional challenge to s. 33.1. In our respectful view, this was not a proper case in which to engage this important constitutional issue.”

There is a pressing need for the higher level courts to pronounce on this issue. Certainly, there is societal repugnance for the defence particularly where the crime committed involves sexual assault. However, there is now societal recognition that alcoholism and drug addiction can be a disease and may leave the affected person helpless to control their substance abuse problem. The concept of “self-induced” intoxication is brought into question in those situations and the subsequent warehousing of these offenders becomes part of the problem instead of the solution. There is, of course, still the doctrinal concern that the law, by not taking into account intoxication, is creating an artificial mental state where the accused does not actually have the blameworthy intent and yet is punished as if he or she did. In a very real sense, therefore, we are punishing the intoxication rather than the crime.

 

The Canadian Spy, Bail Reviews, and Preliminary Inquiries

Jeffrey Delisle, the naval intelligence officer charges both under the Security of Information Act and the Criminal Code, will have a preliminary hearing on those charges starting on October 10, 2012. For a full review of his charges, a discussion of other infamous Canadian spies, as well as a primer on the Official Secrets Act and the legislation now enacted to replace that Act, the Security of Information Act, read my previous posting on the issue Spy vs. Spy. For a discussion of Mr. Delisle’s bail hearing see my posting Blog Update: The Spy and the Pamphleteer.

This date seems rather late considering Delisle was denied bail and has been in custody since his arrest in mid-January, 2012. By the time Delisle has his preliminary hearing, he would have been in pre-trial custody, which is much harder time than serving a sentence, for nine months. Considering this, it would not be surprising if Mr. Delisle’s counsel will launch a bail review under s. 520 of the Criminal Code.

Such a review is heard by a Superior Court Judge. In this instance as the matter is in Nova Scotia, a bail review would be before a Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice. In such a bail review, the Judge considers any relevant evidence, both written and oral, the transcript of the previous bail hearing, any exhibits filled at the previous bail hearing, and such additional evidence as either the Crown or the defence may offer.

On a bail review, counsel may argue that the previous order denying bail was based on a legal/factual error. Such argument would be based on transcript evidence and legal argument. Or the defence might argue a material change in circumstance has occurred since the previous hearing. This argument would include affidavit evidence or even vive voce evidence, which would involve calling witnesses at the review hearings. When this occurs, the bail review becomes essentially a new bail hearing. The onus of proof on a bail review is on the party who brings the application; in this case it would be the defence. It is therefore the defence who must satisfy the reviewing Judge that judicial interim release is appropriate.

There is also a provision in the Criminal Code, under s.525 for an automatic bail review if an accused has been in custody, in Delisle’s case, for more than ninety days. Considering the length of time he has already been in custody, six months, one can assume such automatic reviews have occurred. Although, these reviews are automatic, in order to ensure an accused does not languish in jail unnecessarily and in order to preserve the presumption of innocence, defence counsel can waive or pass on the right to an automatic review. This would be done if the prospect of bail seems slim. However, in such an automatic review, the reviewing judge does consider the delay in the matter coming to trial and the reasons for the delay. The longer the accused sits in pre-trial custody, the more likely the accused will eventually be released. However, in those complicated cases, which require much effort to get ready for trial, the courts will tolerate longer delays.

In Delisle’s case, because of the severity of the allegations, a trial date was not set but a preliminary hearing date. Additionally, Delisle elected to be tried by judge and jury once the matter goes to trial. Such an election is typical as the defence can change that election to a Judge alone trial after the preliminary hearing. It is far simpler to elect down to a judge alone trial than it is to elect up to a judge and jury, hence the election is usually for judge and jury.

It is important to understand that a preliminary hearing is not a trial where guilt and innocence is at issue. Traditionally, the sole purpose of the preliminary hearing is to ensure there is enough evidence to put the accused to trial. It is another safeguard to ensure the accused is fairly tried. If there is insufficient evidence, the defence will ask for a discharge of the accused at the preliminary hearing. If this is granted, the charges are dismissed and the accused is released from custody and no longer is charged with a criminal offence. If there is sufficient evidence, the judge will order the accused to stand trial in the superior court.

A preliminary hearing is heard in the lower level or provincial court. In order for the judge to make a determination of sufficiency of evidence, the Crown, who has the burden to show why the charges should proceed, calls witnesses to give evidence. The defence then has a right to cross examine the witnesses, which brings us to the ulterior reason for a preliminary hearing: to act as a discovery of information on the case, which will assist in preparation for evidence and to “pin down” witnesses on their evidence. This “pinning down” or defining clearly under oath and the record a witness’s evidence is important for trial. If a witness later changes his evidence, the fact at on an earlier occasion, when the matters were more fresh in the witness’s mind, the witness gave different evidence, will go to the credibility or believability of the witness at trial. Also, should the witness abscond or disappear, the earlier evidence given under oath at the preliminary hearing may be read into evidence at trial.

Despite the importance of the preliminary hearing to the full answer and defence of an accused, there have been calls to abolish the practice both in Canada and in other Commonwealth jurisdictions such as Australia. Some Caribbean Commonwealth countries, such as Trinidad and Tobago, have abolished the hearings. Indeed, in the UK, where the concept originated, as of April 2012, preliminary hearings or, as the English call them, committal hearings have been abolished. The changes are being phased in, with some jurisdictions still following the old system. Instead, the Crown is obliged to ensure full disclosure of the case is given to the accused in a timely fashion. Obviously, this safeguard cannot possibly take the place of a cross examination at a preliminary inquiry. In the United States, which does not follow the English common law tradition, under certain circumstances, there are preliminary hearings.

What will this mean for Mr. Delisle? In October, Mr. Delisle should be able to test the government’s case and determine the sufficiency of the evidence against him. The public however will not be privy to that information. Typically, the court on a preliminary hearing will order a ban on publication of the evidence heard, in order to ensure that no potential jurors are pre-disposed by the committal evidence. Additionally, the Crown may shut down the preliminary hearing at anytime during the course of it or even not hold the hearing at all, choosing to directly indict the accused to superior court. This tactic is helpful if the case is complicated to present or if the investigation is ongoing. There is, therefore, a possibility that Mr. Delisle will not get his “day in court” until trial. Until October, the story of the Canadian Spy will continue. 

The Charter And The New Alberta Impaired Drivings Laws: Going Beyond Driving Is Privilege

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, a Charter 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. Tomorrow, I will discuss other areas of legal concern, outside of the pure Charter arena.

 

Thirty Day Review

Under s. 525 of the Criminal Code, there is provision for an automatic bail review for those accused who have been detained in custody pending trial. If the matter is a more serious indictable offence, the review occurs within ninety days. If it is a less serious summary conviction matter, the review is within thirty days.

This review acts as a procedural safeguard by keeping track of those in custody. It is also an important aspect of the presumption of innocence as the judge determines whether the further restriction of liberty of those merely accused of a crime is justified. Additionally, the review reinforces the Charter right to reasonable bail.

Borrowing the nomenclature of the Criminal Code, but not the analogy, this is ideablawg's thirty day review. Ideablawg has been in operation since October 10 and the weekend postings will offer updates on the issues discussed. As part of this thirty day review, I invite you to send me an email with your favourite post or even with ideas for future posts. As the creative thinker Steven Johnson said:

We are often better served by connecting ideas than we are by protecting them... Environments that build walls around good ideas tend to be less innovative in the long run than more open-ended environments. Good ideas may not want to be free, but they want to connect, fuse, and recombine... They want to complete each other as much as they want to compete.

What's in A Word? From Treason To Celebration

Today is Guy Fawkes Day in the UK and, although recognized increasingly less, also in Newfoundland. Guy Fawkes was a radicalized Catholic, who attempted to blow up King and Parliament in the 1605 Gunpowder Plot. His treasonous actions resulted in his execution. It is celebrated tonight through the burning of bonfires, the lighting of fireworks, and the burning of the miscreant's effigy.

There is also a more modern connection as the Occupy movement have taken Guy Fawkes as a symbol of revolution. On a gentler note, the event imbues deeper meaning to the name of Professor Dumbledore's Phoenix; Fawkes

Treason itself is an oddity. Defined as an act of betrayal against one's government, it is an ancient crime still found in our Criminal Code, yet rarely used. Indeed, until repealed in 1995, high treason was considered in equal seriousness as first degree-murder, attracting similar penalties including the death penalty. 

Yet, how does such a terrifying event transform itself from terror to celebration, from revolution to praise, and from death to disuse? For an answer, we can turn to the Canadian experience and to an equally seminal historic event; Louis Riel and the Red River Resistance. At the time, Louis Riel was considered a radical, his provisional government was branded treasonous, and for his efforts he too was executed.

His actions have now been viewed quite differently as the founder of Manitoba and the protector of Metis rights. School-age children are not taught to expunge his memory but to embrace his vision and to appreciate the background story behind his revolutionary actions. Even the government has been asked to re-draw their perspective through Pat Martin's private member's bill, the Louis Riel Act, which, if passed, would commemorate Riel's actions and expunge his "crime."

History, therefore, is a fluid concept: as we navigate through time, differing perspectives colour the past, providing us with a richer present. As a result, you may never view a word or event the same again. Now that's something worth celebrating.

 

 

A Lesson On How To Get Tough On 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 technician, Charter 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.

For some foreshadowing of tomorrow's blog entitled, Impaired Driving Legislation: A Little Diversion, read today's Calgary Herald editorial cartoon.

There is No Road To Redemption?

Yesterday, I made a connection between fictionalized (or as in the example yesterday musicalized) revenge, redemption, and retribution and our real-life sentencing principles. These concepts of punishment are particularly relevant as the Canadian Criminal Code has gone through many changes in sentencing. We will, of course, be seeing even more changes when the Federal government passes, what we call the "omnibus crime bill" or  Bill C-10. I have discussed certain aspects of this Bill in a previous blog that can be found here.

To shed light on the issue, I referred to the UK's effort to reform sentencing in the consultation paper and in the Government's Response, which was tabled in June of 2011, with recommendations on sentencing reform. I ended the blog rather ominously, asking if redemption was, in fact, dead.

Why? The UK Government response is telling: most of the recommendations flow from the Government's first recommendation or promise to make punishment "demanding, robust, and credible." Indeed, the UK will accomplish this goal by transforming "prisons into places of hard work." Suddenly, we are transported to Dickensian England with penal work houses or even to the American dirty thirties with the ubiquitous chain gangs. 

But the road to no redemption does not end there. Another goal is to make offenders pay back to the victim. This is not a concept of restorative justice. No, this is retribution, as those same prisoners who will be put to "hard work" will have those earnings partially estreated in favour of victim services programs. This is much different than the victim surcharge program we have in our Criminal Code under s.737 or the restitution orders available under s.738.

There are more examples of how this reformation has gone retro; taking us back to the old theories of Herbert Packer's crime and control model and the notion of the "stick is better than the carrot" at deterring crime. Will this "reform" work? Only time will tell. In a country like the UK, where riots turn particularly nasty (although who are we to judge in light of Vancouver's riots), there is immense public pressure to "get tough on crime."

In the end, however, whichever road is taken will not provide the real answer to how a society can minimize crime without compromising the principles of fundamental justice. In the end, only time will tell.

The UK tabled, on June 22,2011, new sentencing legislation to reflect the proposed reforms. According, to a UK blog found here, the reforms are not as "ambitious" as first proposed.

Where the Wild Things Are

The escape of wild animals in Ohio is a story which has caught my attention. It is a sad story. The suicidal exotic zoo owner released some 50 wild animals, including tigers and lions, before shooting himself in the head. Tragically, the animals were shot and killed by authorities in an effort to protect the public. In the aftermath, animal rights activists push for legislative reform in a State, which, shockingly, has no regulation for the keeping of exotic animals. 

Here, in Alberta, we do have provincial legislation to regulate and protect wildlife, exotic animals, and domesticated animals as found in the Wildlife Act and the Animal Protection Act. We also have cruelty to animal sections in the Criminal Code, found in sections 444 to 445 and 446 to 447.  

Oddly enough all of these Criminal Code sections are found under Part XI of the Code entitled "Wilful and Forbidden Acts in respect of Certain Property." True, animals are owned but to conceive animals as property conveys the wrong message. The focus is off. Instead of protecting animals because they are living things, our society protects animals because, like a book, they are owned. It is, therefore, this ownership quality of an animal, the concept of damaged goods, which we have decided to protect through our criminal law. 

But the world is changing and our raison d'etre for protection of animals must change too. Peter Singer, a Professor of Bio-Ethics at Princeton, has been a long-time proponent of animal rights after the publication of his book Animal Liberation in the mid '80s.  Since then, animal rights has become a movement with increasing number of supporters. A recent Slaw blog on "Animal Law and Animal Welfare Groups" caught my eye. Additionally, the Supreme Court of Canada will be deciding on a leave application filed by Zoocheck Canada and others on the release of Lucy the Elephant from the Edmonton Zoo.

It is clear animal rights as an emerging issue will require a more thoughtful approach to the protection of animals and, perhaps, a much needed review of Criminal Code sections.

Is "Innocent Nudity" Expression?

When is a nude a nude and when is being nude, contrary to the Criminal Code? When you walk through a local park sans clothing or when you go through a Tim Horton's drive-through with nothing but your charms to recommend you.

Today, in my human rights class, we talked about just that. Is nudity expression? And if so, does s. 174 of the Criminal Code, which prohibits public nudity, violate s.2(b) of the Charter

It appears Ontarians, Mr. Coldin and Mr. Cropper, would answer yes to both. Both men are charged with public nudity under s.174  of the Criminal Code and their counsel have argued a Charter violation. According to these avowed naturists, their nudity is an expression of a oneness with nature, in other words going au natural for nature. This "innocent nudity," they argue has expressive content and should not attract criminal penalties. 

First, the class tackled the issue of expression: is nudity expression? Well, it turns out the answer is not so clear. What is the expressive content of nudity? Is wearing nothing able to express anything? Let's just ask the Emperor who thought he wore new clothes. Was he "expressing" something when he waltzed down main street in his natural born state? Perhaps. And Coldin and Cropper, are they saying something through their nudity? I say yes. An expression of "getting back to nature" and an expression of "let's get back to the basics in this overly material world." Could this be a call to arms (uncovered of course) for an Occupy Nature movement? 

Now we have determined expression. How about the restriction? See anything wrong with the Criminal Code section? The class did.

s.174(1) Every one who, without lawful excuse,

(a) is nude in a public place, or

(b) is nude and exposed to public view while on private property, whether or not the property is his own,

is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

As Arnold Horshack would say, hand raised, "Ooh-ooh-ooooh."  How about this. It harkens back to the basic principles of criminal law, which require a minimum mens rea requirement.This offence may not be a true crime and attract a subjective liability requirement but does this section even permit an objective liability standard? Section reads more like an absolute liability offence: you are nude, you are guilty.

Aha, you say. How about that lawful excuse? What kind of "lawful" excuse could there be for being nude? Okay, you sleep in the nude, fire alarm goes off in the middle of the night and you jump out of bed and run outside stark naked. So the lawful excuse seems to be: I did not intend to be publically nude. A lack of mens rea, which is a required element of an offence, as a lawful excuse?

I could go on, but I will stop here.

What kind of offence is this anyway? Is it Charter bad or Charter good? What do you think?