You Missed A Spot! Amendments to the Reverse Onus Sections in the Criminal Code

Tis the Season as they say when I do some Criminal Code housekeeping. This year it is more of a reno then a Spring cleaning as late 2018 brought in major revisions to the Criminal Code. Although I am not sorry to see the repealed sections go, I do feel wistfully nostalgic for them. Alarming the Queen for example (now repealed s. 49) and dueling (now repealed s. 71) were guaranteed to bring a smile to the 1Ls. But with all renos, there are bound to be oversights. The wall looks freshly painted but deep in the corner there’s a patch left undone. The Criminal Code revisions are no different.

Take for example the removal of the reverse onus phrases “proof of which lies” on the accused. The Backgrounder on Bill C-51, which brought in this change explains the reasoning behind the removal. This phrase, which reverses the burden of proof onto the accused, is constitutionally suspect. By reversing the burden, s.7 is engaged as the presumption of innocence, a principle of fundamental justice, is compromised. In the words of the Backgrounder such reversals of the onus onto the accused could “result in convictions where a reasonable doubt exists as to the accused’s guilt.” The removal of these reverse onus requirements is not only Charter consistent but necessary. Yet, a review of the Code reveals some such reversals are left intact.

Let’s look at which reverse onus phrases were removed. Including the Forms, there are 47 references to the onus, “proof of which lies” on the accused, deleted. The most notable large-scale removal was from s. 794, deleting subsection (2) placing the burden on the accused in summary conviction offences to prove an “exception, exemption, proviso, excuse or qualification prescribed by law operates” in favour of the accused. Many of the removals were in sections where the case law raises potential Charter unconstitutionality such as in the reverse onus in possession of housebreaking tools under s. 351.

What is not removed is more telling. Three of the sections retaining the reverse onus phrase appear in Part XXIII of the Codeon Sentencing. The phrase in sections 742.6(9) and 742.6(16) are still operative. These sections are engaged when an offender allegedly breaches a conditional sentence order (cso). Both subsections outline options given to the court upon finding, on a balance of probabilities, that the offender did “without reasonable excuse, the proof of which lies on the offender” breach a condition of the cso. These subsections were subject to a Charter challenge in the Ontario Court of Appeal decision in R v Casey with leave to the SCC refused. The Ontario Court of Appeal found the breach is not an offence within the meaning of s. 11 of the Charter. Any argument the subsections violated ss. 11(d) (reversal of burden of proof), s. 11(h) (rule against double jeopardy) and s. 7 (principles of fundamental justice) were dismissed. The decision hinged on the characterization of the cso regime and the consequences of a breach. In the OCA’s opinion a breach of a conditional sentence was not a separate offence as the sentencing judge, who reviews the breach, can only deal with the expired portion of the sentence. A sentence, which the Court was quick to remind, is a term of imprisonment being served in the community. Finding a breach cannot increase that sentence. Additionally, the sentencing judge is reviewing the alleged breach as the supervisor of the cso and not as a trial judge quatrial judge. 

 Even so, courts have added a caveat to this supervisory power under s. 742.6. In the 2005 decision of the then Justice Cromwell, in the New Brunswick Court of Appeal, R v LeBorgne, found the breach regime “engaged important interests of the offender” and “vital interests of the offender are in play and must be scrupulously protected” (at para 13) and “scrupulously fair” (at para 14). 

Another section, s. 734.5, which is similar to s. 55.1 Cannabis Act, also retains the reverse onus provision. Section 734.5 is also a sentencing provision relating to the default payment of a fine. This section provides for an additional “incentive” for the offender to pay a fine by permitting the provincial government to refuse to issue a licence or permit, such as a driver’s licence, to the offender until the fine is paid “proof of which lies on the offender.” Again, this is enforcement of a sentence imposed and is not to be viewed as additional punishment. This section was considered in the most recent Supreme Court decision on the unconstitutionality of the victim fine surcharge, R v Boudreault. That section had used the s. 734.5 enforcement regime for the fine surcharges. 

Leaving aside the special circumstances of the use of the reverse onus in these sentencing provisions, there are still two offences in the Criminal Code, sections 440and 383(2), where the reverse onus is retained. These sections create offences similar to the other sections from which the reverse onus phrase was removed. These two offences also happen to be the only offences in the Codedescribing the reverse onus as “the burden of proof” as opposed to the other now deleted phrases that introduce the reversal by stating “proof of which.” Was there perhaps a slip of the pen by not removing these sections too or is there some other reason for their retention?

Section 440 is an odd offence creating an indictable offence for removing, wilfully and without the permission of the Minister of Transport, a natural bar such as a stone or earth from a public harbour. The reverse onus attaches to the proof of the written permission from the Minister. It may be argued that this permission is specifically an element of the offence and therefore should be disproved by the prosecution. Yet, the section contemplates otherwise by using the reverse onus. Some case law suggests the lawful excuse, consisting in s. 440 of the Minister’s permission, is not an element of the offence (see R v Gladue2014 ABPC 45, Rosborough, PCJ). It appears this authority has been questioned on summary conviction appeal (see R v Neufeld, 2014 ABPC 66, Rosborough, PCJ at paras 28-30). Considering the uncertainty in the law on this issue, this phrase “the burden of proof of which lies on the accused,” should have been removed from s. 440.

Notably, s. 440 does have a public welfare flavour to it. In the regulatory world, the defendant has the burden on a balance of probabilities to establish they acted with all due diligence. In this case, that the defendant had the necessary permits to make changes to a public harbour. But this offence is not of the regulatory world but the criminal one. It appears in the Criminal Code and it is punishable by Indictment for a maximum period of imprisonment of 2 years in the penitentiary. In any event, the regulatory argument that the accused is in the best position to produce this information fails in this instance as it is Minister permission, which one would assume is readily available to the government prosecuting such an offence.    

The other offence retaining the reverse onus phrase, section 383, creates fraud-related offences in purchasing stocks or merchandise for the purpose of making a profit in the rise or fall of the price of those items. This activity does rather sound like what people regularly do when playing the stock market. It even sounds like what people also regularly do, when purchasing real estate, not for the purpose of inhabiting the property but for the purpose of flipping it in order to make money in the short term rise in price. What this section is directed to is a form of wash trading wherein an “investor simultaneously sells and purchases the same financial instruments to create misleading, artificial activity in the marketplace.” Of course, such conduct benefits the wash trader but to the detriment of legitimate people in the marketplace. Section 383(1) defines the offence of the making, signing or authorization for the sale of shares or goods with the intention of making a gain or profit by the rise or fall of the price. Subsection (2) where the onus resides finds that when it is established that the accused made, signed or authorized the sale or purchase of those goods, the onus is then on the accused to prove a bona fideintention to acquire or sell the shares or goods in question. Although this subsection appears to create an evidential burden and not a legal one, considering this section is merely a specific form of fraud under s. 380, the use of a reverse onus seems out of place and heavy-handed. Further, there is another specific offence relating to wash trading under the Code in s. 382, which is creating a false appearance of active trading of stocks does not use any such presumption. Additionally, a search of case authorities suggest that these situations are usually dealt with under securities regulation instead of the criminal law. 

The reason the onus remains may be historical. In Burbidge’s Digest of the Criminal Law of Canada, the progenitor of the 1892 Code and upon which the Code was formulated, outlined a similar offence under Article 236. There the offence did not have a reverse onus phrase. However, in the 1892 codification of the offence, section 704, which is similar to 383(2) was added as an evidentiary presumption. Although evidentiary presumptions to ease the admission of documents and certificates signed by an official are present in the Codewe now use, there is no other such section that presumes an essential element of an offence upon proof of the accused’s acquiescence. For instance, the reverse onus in s. 197(3) of proving a place is not a common gaming house but is an “incorporated genuine social club” is intact. Or the requirement placed on the accused under s. 117.11 for the accused to prove someone else is the holder of a firearm or weapons authorization or licence for weapon offences listed. These burdens, as opposed to the onus under s. 383(2), do not require the accused to testify or provide evidence emanating from themselves. The s. 383(2) presumption would require a response from the accused to establish “good” intentions without which the accused could be found guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for 5 years. Surely, this subsection (2) should have caught the notice of the government in amending the Code and should have been removed with the other reverse onus phrases. Even if the government wanted to retain an evidential burden, replacing the offending phrase with the less constitutionally challenged phrase of “in absence of evidence to the contrary,” would have been more consistent with the law. 

Renovations are needed when a place is well-used, run down and no longer relevant but the new fabrication should not be a mere façade or a simple paint job that will brighten up the space but not make any substantive changes. The government has made good on its promise to delete some of the old sections in light of the ones more useful and meaningful, but they needed to step back from the finished product to ensure, after the paint dried, the entire building would still hold up. When it comes to the reverse onus sections, the government still needs to re-do that re-do to ensure all constitutionally suspect phrases become a memory of the past. 

 

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.

Leaving A Paper Trail: A Comment on Bill C-75 (also posted on www.ablawg.ca)

Receiving the newest Bill tabled in the House on proposed changes to the criminal justice system brings to mind the image of opening gifts at a birthday party. Each gift is scrupulously wrapped in an array of cheerful paper with shiny ribbons. As each bundle is displayed, there is a jostling amongst the party goers – each eager to see the gift unwrapped to reveal the prize inside. The image goes only so far when it comes to the government’s proposed amendments to the Criminal Codetabled last week under the auspices of Bill C-75. Underneath the wrapping, over 300 pages of paper, is no prize but a maze of amendments and changes – a patchwork of pieces – some of which significantly change the criminal justice system. Although some of these amendments are welcome, others signal a significant shift in our criminal justice system. 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. Unfortunately, this omnibus Bill in many respects fails to be visionary. Rather, short-term administrative efficiency seems to be the prize under the mountain of paper.

To be sure, there are changes we can all agree upon such as the repealing of some decidedly dead offences disabled by the application of the Charter. The best Albertan example of the danger in leaving things unchanged that have been changed is found in the original decision of R v Vader,2016 ABQB 505 (CanLII). In that decision, s 230, unconstitutional since 1987 as a result of the seminal decision of Justice Lamer, as he then was, in R v Vaillancourt, [1987] 2 SCR 636, 1987 CanLII 2 (SCC), was resurrected to convict the accused of murder. That error was easily and quickly undone as, in Pandora Box fashion, the lid was slammed shut with the s 230 conviction adroitly converted into the constitutional manslaughter conviction (see R v Vader2016 ABQB 625 (CanLII)). Bill C-75 explicitly repeals s 230, and that is a good change.

In C-75, there are also some expected changes, such as the abolishment of peremptory challenges to jury members under s 634 to be replaced by the more meaningful challenge for cause procedure. Although these changes are for good public policy reasons (see my earlier post on the Stanley / Boushie case here), such changes, which turn an automatic process into a discretionary one, still require thoughtful and mindful decisions by all those involved, counsel included. Changes can provide better and more equitable outcomes, but changes do not, in and of themselves, guarantee there will be change, they only make change possible. 

There are also some unexpected changes or at least changes some of us feared but doubted would occur. For further comment on the efficacy, purpose and reason for retaining, in some form, the preliminary inquiry, see my previous post on the issue as part of a case commentary written in April of 2015, “Does the StinertDecision Signal the End of the Preliminary Inquiry?”. The abolishment of the preliminary inquiry, except for the most serious offences, is one change we feared for years and are still probably in a state of denial about as our fears have become a reality. I suppose we should be relieved that the process was not entirely eradicated but perhaps that was the plan; to lull us with a sense of false security. 

Another, smaller change, yet completely unexpected and unwanted is an important evidentiary change under the soon to be added s 657.01, permitting the admission of the “routine” evidence of a police officer at trial in affidavit format, without the hearing of that evidence. This evidence is not given in real time. It is not even given orally. It is proffered as affidavit evidence. In other words, it is tendered on paper. This effects a precarious step, a paper-thin one, toward the potential future of trials by paper in the criminal court. 

As mentioned earlier, part of the difficulty with this government’s approach to Criminal Coderevision is the lack of long-term strategic vision. Reading these amendments, there is a sense that some of these changes were made without thinking them through to their ultimate end and without mentally testing them in a real trial scenario to determine how they will ultimately play out in court. For these changes to be meaningful and workable, yet still upholding the principles of fundamental justice, we rely on our government, before they change the law, to ask themselves why they are in fact changing it. We want the government to think before acting and ask whether the contemplated change is for the better.  Finally, we rely on the government to make these changes in an effort to enhance the criminal justice system while preserving the protections of those whose liberty is at risk. I emphasize to enhance, not to make the system more efficient. Efficiency cannot be and has never been the only reason for reform. Efficiency is not what we want from our justice system. That is not what the Jordan (2016 SCC 27) and Cody(2017 SCC 31) decisions are all about. Cultural change involves a bundle of values not a bundle of paper being efficiently pushed about.

As is typical with omnibus Bills, instead of stopping at what needs to be done, the government went above and beyond by also adding under the proposed s 644(3), an ability to convert a jury trial in mid-trial into a trial by judge alone, in the event the number of jurors fall below the number required to continue the trial. Although this can only be done by consent of both parties and therefore appears innocuous and not worth commenting on, my question is – why? A decision to have a jury trial is an accused’s Charterprotected right. Why would the loss of that right as a result of the inability of the jury to continue logically mean that the accused is good to go without one? Why incentivize a change which should not occur for that reason? Why not, instead, permit a jury trial to continue with less jurors than presently permitted? It seems that this change as with the admission of routine police evidence, sworn but not tested through viva voceevidence, is for one reason only – expediency. 

I harken back to Justice Lamer’s comments on the role of expediency in criminal law in Re B.C. Motor Vehicle Act, [1985] 2 SCR 486, 1985 CanLII 81 (SCC)(at para 85). This decision is an early Chartercase on the unconstitutionality of an absolute liability regulatory offence where there is a potential loss of liberty through a term of imprisonment or probation. An absolute liability offence requires no proof of a mental element and is therefore, where there is a potential loss of liberty, contrary to the principle of fundamental justice, “from time immemorial”, that an innocent person not be punished (para 85). Justice Lamer recognized that administrative efficiency is the driving force behind such regulatory offences, as the regulatory regime could be enforced quickly and efficiently through proof of the prohibited act only. To climb into the mind of the regulatory defendant, often a corporate one, would prove to be too difficult and contrary to the overarching objective of regulation, which is protection of the public from unsafe regulatory practices. However, where a criminal law sanction is used, Justice Lamer opined that only in exceptional circumstances, such as “natural disasters, the outbreak of war, epidemics,” would such administrative efficiency “successfully come to the rescue” of such a breach of s 7 (at para 85). Otherwise, life, liberty and security of the person should not be “sacrificed to administrative efficiency” (at para 85). These sage words written thirty-three years ago still have meaning. The principles underlying the Charterand indeed “from time immemorial” cannot be thrust aside in circumstances where the government has alternatives or simply, in a rush to please, has not given careful consideration to those changes. The justice system may be bending under its own weight, but the answer is not to shore it up with a quick and easy fix.

The admission of “routine police evidence” in paper format, as mentioned earlier in this post, serves as another prime example of the government giving all due consideration to administration without considering the rationale or “end game”. Presently, through our rules of evidence, we can make judicial or formal admissions at a criminal trial pursuant to s 655 of theCriminal Code. The section reads very broadly and confers a discretionary right on the defence to “admit any fact ... for the purpose of dispensing with proof”. Typically, such admissions are made in a written and signed agreed statement of fact or agreed admissions, depending on the nature of such admissions. They are often used to admit continuity of an exhibit which a police officer has seized in order to relieve the Crown and the officer from minute descriptive recitation of exactly where the exhibit was located at every point in time of the investigation. Such admissions can save court time and are efficient. They are to be used as indicated – to dispense with proof. This signals to all parties that if a fact is not admitted, the Crown must prove it. Easy and simple to use. Fair and efficient. Enter, the proposed s 657.01, permitting police evidence be admitted at trial in affidavit format. The first question to be asked is why? Why do we need such a paper heavy process when the accused already has the use of s 655?

Let’s go through a faux question and answer period to illuminate the point. The response to those “why” questions may be as follows: admissions under s 655 are formal and therefore binding and conclusive. The new proposed section permits admissions of fact informally, permitting the accused to lead evidence contrary to those affidavit facts, leaving the trier of fact to make the final determination of the issue. I see. Good point. However, so the response may be, if this form of evidence is to be treated like all evidence, in that it is subject to the assessment of the trier of fact, then what exactly is the point? Aha. Clever. But, the responder responds, the point is to relieve the police officer from attending court. A police officer’s attendance, if not required, costs the government time and money. Oho, is the response to that salvo. So, the reason for this is administrative efficiency. Not quite, is the response. An accused can also request an officer attend. Really? So, says the responder. So now the burden is on the accused to speak up and ask for an officer to attend court, to give evidence as is his or her duty, and to present themselves for cross-examination only upon request despite the principles engaged in full answer and defence. When once the status quowas the Crown shouldering the responsibility to present in court testable evidence as part of their obligation to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, now the accused must request it. What was a given is now a discretion. Another point in time for the possible exercise of judicial discretion. Another addition to the now enhanced gatekeeper function of the trial judge. Another point in time where a self-represented accused might be overcome by an overly cumbersome process. Hmm. This seems awfully familiar. Isn’t this what happened to the preliminary inquiry? Once it was a default position to have one unless the accused waived it. Then, it became a request. Now, it will be virtually gone, but for exceptional penalty circumstances. But this is mere process – relax, is the final word from the government. The final response may be – look at what happened with expert evidence – complacency in its admission and a failure to test the evidence resulted in miscarriages of justice until courts were forced to recalibrate the focus. 

Finally, we have the Charter statements on these new amendments so crucial to the governmental approach. These statements, according to the government website on the issue, “are intended to provide legal information to the public” on “some of the key considerations that inform the review of a proposed bill for consistency with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” In this instance, the government provides justifications for the amendments, couched in Charter speak, relying on a broad range of rights, such as s 7 in its various forms, the s 11(b) right to a trial within a reasonable time, the s 11(d) presumption of innocence, and the right to equality under s 15. However, when viewing the admission of “routine police evidence,” for instance, this concern for the Charter feels ingenuine. Despite the government’s Charter statementsto the contrary, a sacrifice of one Charterright, such as limiting s. 7 full answer and defence, for another Charterright, such as using administrative expediency to temper s. 11(b) unreasonable trial delay, is not consistent with the spirit and vision of the Charter. Balancing may be needed but balancing requires a proper weighing of these rights in light of our case law. As Justice Iacobucci remarked in the majority decision in R v Oickle, [2000] 2 SCR 3, 2000 SCC 38 (CanLII), the Charterrepresents the “bare minimum below which our law must not fall” (at para 31). Indeed, “the Charter is not an exhaustive catalogue of rights” (para 31). From “time immemorial” we have assiduously protected due process rights as a reflection of our rule of law. Our government may want us to accept the bare minimum but we in Canada deserve more. We see the government’s attitude in those carefully crafted Charterstatements, which on the surface advance transparency but are so carefully polished, they reflect rather than reveal. Self-serving in nature, these statements publicly maintain the proposed changes are consistent with or advance Charter rights, but it is more by the saying that these changes do this than by the fact they truly do. In other words, by saying so, the changes become so. So, it is written, so it is or must be. Whether written in stone or merely on paper, those statements should not be the outward public face of these changes. Again, Canadians deserve better – we deserve to hear the rationales and the potential outcomes. Hear it, not find it in the trail of papers.

(with thanks to the ABlawg team for editing this piece)

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.

 

 

 

 

On First Looking At the New Code Amendments (with thanks to Keats for the title)

In March of 2017, the federal government renewed its commitment to modernize the Criminal Code by tabling legislation to repeal the so-called “Zombie” laws – a term coined by Professor Peter Sankoff to denote those criminal laws that are the “walking dead” of the Criminal Code – still on the books but deemed unconstitutional. Although a step in the right direction, this announcement seemed like a “no brainer.” It also just happens to be consistent with the mandate letter, sent by the Prime Minister to the Minster of Justice, admonishing the Minister to uphold the Constitution and respect the Charter.

Besides repealing the unconstitutional sections, the list of problems with the Criminal Code remains. This list is, well, longer than the Code should you desire to place each page side by side. With well over 849 sections (considering the “accordion” sections whereby the government folded in between sections, other sections, such as the 33 sections residing between s. 487 and s. 488: for further information read my blog entitled The Infinite Lists of The Law), the Code is a statutory behemoth, a virtual cornucopia of delights including archaic laws such as the rarely used forcible detainer at s. 72(2)) jumbled with brand new crimes, once considered regulatory offences, such as the new offence (circa 2014) of selling unpackaged stamp-less tobacco products under s. 121.1.

Recently, however, the government appears to be taking another step toward the modern by unveiling their revisionist vision through some new amendments to Code sections. This came about serendipitously as the government needed to fulfill an election promise of decriminalizing the use of marijuana. To do this, the government realized they needed to not only remove laws but to fix them. So as part of the modernization of our drug laws, the government revised the Criminal Code sections on impaired driving (sections 253 to 259), and while they were in the area anyway, to freshen up the other driving offences, namely dangerous driving under s. 249, with a “new look.”

As soon as these legislative changes were tabled in Parliament, everyone brought out the magnifying glasses. Each word of the proposed legislation, newly delivered, has been scrutinized. Mainly, the focus is on the impaired driving amendments, which, quite frankly, look a little Charter unfriendly, despite the stern warning of that mandate letter to be respectful. But leaving the Charter aside, which it appears the government may be doing with these sections, let us not consider the minutiae of this Bill, rather let us consider the general efficacy of the government’s approach.

Putting away our magnifiers then, we should consider the “big picture,” and ask whether the federal government is truly modernizing the criminal law and bringing it kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. It would appear, in fact, at least with the impaired driving amendments, that this is not what is happening. It would appear the government is instead merely back filling; reacting to weaknesses in the old legislation by plugging up the holes, like the little Dutch boy, to ensure the dike doesn’t leak. The changes are therefore reactive, not proactive. They are backward looking, not forward facing. The drafting of these new sections does not assist us in walking toward the future. The sections are prolix and dense. Furthermore, the amendments do not send the message of a new Canada which is tolerant, diverse and progressive. The sections download onto the citizen the burden of ensuring that their conduct, even after they are no longer driving, wherever they may be, whatever their emotional or physical state may be, is reasonable. Whatever that means. At the same time, the new sections relieve the state of the burden of justifying the use of its authority to investigate. Even without glasses, it seems the revisions are not very 21st century.

Turning to the other changes, quietly placed in the Bill is the new Part VIII.1 (which by the way is still perpetuating the archaic use of Roman Numerals) entitled “Offences Relating To Conveyances”. At first blush, one has visions of property offences relating to land titles. On a closer look, the “recognition and declaration” (the only other legislation this kind of section is found is in the Alberta Bill of Rights, RSA, 2000) in section 320.12 advises us what we already were told by Justice Cory in Hundal that licensing, as in operating a “conveyance,” is a privilege and the rules of the road, so to speak, must be observed. Section 320.11 defines “conveyance” as a motor vehicle, vessel, aircraft or railway equipment. These conveyances were also subject of the now to be replaced dangerous operation section 249. Section 320.13, as the new dangerous operation section, creates an offence where a conveyance is operated, having regard to all of the circumstances, dangerous to the public. The soon-to-be-replaced s. 249 is similarly worded, although it gives a clearer description of what those circumstances could be, such as “the nature, condition and use of the place” of operation.

After this closer look, it becomes clear that this “new” Part is not really new at all but merely a short hand version of the old.  The new changes are not a change but a touch up, a change in nomenclature, maybe even a nod to the past case law. Again, what is the impetus of this change? The decriminalization of marijuana, which requires a change to the impaired driving laws, which requires the government to react to previous case law by filling in legislative gaps, which requires the government to change all of the driving offences, which causes the government to show they are modernizing the Code by simplifying the sections.

What needs to be done instead of modernization for the sake of modernizing is a thoughtful and deliberate consideration of the whole of the Code. What needs to be done is a rethinking of our criminal law not as a jumble of sections prohibited conduct but as a unified reflection of societal values. This includes all of what the criminal law stands for such as the integrity of the administration of justice itself.  This requires, as suggested by the Supreme Court of Canada in Jordan, a cultural change. Not just a “new look” but a different perspective. To do this, instead of taking a page from the Code, let’s learn from our case law and use the principled or contextual approach to change. Real change is only possible if we design laws holistically mindful of the law as a mere part of the larger social fabric. Laws can act as visual markers, creating and defining social space in a community. Successful laws will therefore integrate with society, be flexible to societal needs and frame societal space. The Criminal Code must therefore be considered as part of the social landscape and be created as a marker of who we are, not as a headstone marking the past. The federal government has an opportunity to do this, let’s hope that in the next step to rethinking the Criminal Code, they will fulfill their promise and do just that.