Two stories surfaced in Canadian legal news this week: the Montreal cab driver, charged after running down a man after he attacked his cab and the British Columbia hang glider operator charged after a woman he was flying with fell to her death.
The Montreal story went viral after a video was posted showing part of the altercation. It is shocking to see the cab driver bombarded by the mob but equally shocking to see his cab turn into the crowd and run down the victim. As heated as the incident was, the bail hearing appearance on May 2 was more so as an outraged group of cab drivers descended on the Montreal courthouse to lend support for the driver. The media picked up story after story from the crowd of cabbies, many of whom were immigrants, of humiliating and violent incidences of passenger misconduct involving racially motivated comments.
According to media reports, the 47 year-old cab driver of Haitian origins, Guercy Edmond, was released on a “promissory note”, with conditions, in the amount of $3,000.00. He was released on bail after a tongue lashing by Quebec Judge Jean-Pierre Boyer over the length of time the cabbie sat in custody (four days) and the crown attorney’s failure to review the video-tape, posted on YouTube of the altercation. He faces charges of aggravated assault under section 266 of the Criminal Code, assault with a weapon (presumably the cab) under s. 267, failing to stop at the scene of an accident under section 252, and dangerous driving causing bodily harm pursuant to s. 249(3).
By way of explanation, our criminal law system, based upon the English common law tradition, presumes an accused will be released from custody without conditions. This bail presumption is very much connected to our cherished presumption of innocence: upon arrest, the accused is presumed innocent until proven otherwise by the crown prosecutor in a court of law before an impartial and independent judiciary. The bail presumption is also consistent with our Charter rights: section 11(d), which constitutionally protects the presumption of innocence, section 11(e), which gives the accused the right not to be denied reasonable bail without just cause, and particularly the s. 7 right to liberty, which cannot be deprived except in accordance with our principles of fundamental justice. On this basis, the bail procedures in the Criminal Code require unconditional release. For example, section 515(1) of the Criminal Code states that:
Subject to this section, where an accused who is charged with an offence other than an offence listed in section 469 is taken before a justice, the justice shall, unless a plea of guilty by the accused is accepted, order, in respect of that offence, that the accused be released on his giving an undertaking without conditions…
Any decision contrary to this fundamental principle of release can only be done in very restrictive circumstances. However, there are exceptions to the general rule, where the presumption is not for release (also known as a “reverse onus” situation where the accused must “show cause” why detention in not required), for more serious offences such as murder (section 469 offences) or for those accused already on a prior form of release.
Consistent with our desire to protect the innocent, section 503 of the Criminal Code requires an accused, who is not released upon arrest, to be brought before a justice of the peace or provincial court judge for a bail hearing within 24 hours of arrest without unreasonable delay or as soon as practicable. In Alberta, due to a “promise” made by Ralph Klein when he was Premier, there are 24-hour bail hearings available. In any event, once brought before a judge, the Code does permit a bail hearing to be adjourned for a maximum of three days without the consent of the accused. Thus, Mr. Edmond, who was arrested on Sunday, April 29, appeared before a judge, within twenty-four hours of his arrest, on Monday, April 30. At that time, the hearing was adjourned within the three-day time limit, without requiring consent of the accused, to Wednesday, May 2.
In Mr. Edmond’s case, the crown was objecting to his release from custody. Our criminal law requires an accused to be released from custody unless there are cogent reasons not to release the accused. If, as in the case of Mr. Edmond, the Crown objects to release, the Crown must “show cause” or justify why the accused should not be released. In fact, even if the accused is released, the crown must also “show cause” why conditions to that release would be required.
There are three grounds for detention under s. 515 (10) of the Criminal Code. Section 515(10)(a) requires the justice to order detention where it is necessary in order to ensure the accused’s attendance in court. Section 5151(10)(b) requires a detention order where it is necessary for the “protection or safety of the public” including a substantial likelihood the accused would commit further offences or interfere with the administration of justice. The last ground deems detention is necessary to “maintain confidence in the administration of justice.” This last ground requires the justice to consider evidence relating to the strength of the crown’s case, the seriousness of the offence, the circumstances surrounding the offence, and the potential sentence to be imposed upon conviction.
On this basis, clearly, Mr. Edmond, who had no prior criminal record, enjoyed the support of his family and peers, was the financial support for his wife and two teenagers, and who allegedly committed the offences in extreme circumstances, would be an excellent candidate for release. In other words, the crown would be hard pressed to justify his detention. This is the reason why the judge was less than impressed with the prosecutor at the time of the bail hearing: there was no justifiable legal reason why the crown should not have consented to the release of Mr. Edmond. Although the police, in certain circumstances, also have the authority to release an accused from the police station, the charges laid against Mr. Edmond were serious enough to require his attendance before a judge. Mr. Edmond is to appear in court, to set a date for trial, on June 20.
Just a note here on the form of Mr. Edmond’s release. According to the media reports, Mr. Edmond was released on a “promissory note,” which is not one of the authorized forms of release under the Criminal Code. Again, due to the presumption in favour of release without conditions, the forms of release available run from the least restrictive to the most restrictive. The least restrictive form of release is known as an “undertaking,” with or without conditions. This release, also known as a Form 12 release, is a document signed by the accused wherein the accused “undertakes” to attend court on a particular date and time. If there are conditions, such as reporting to a police officer or remaining in a particular jurisdiction, they are listed on the signed form as well. The next form of release, more restrictive than an undertaking, is a recognizance. A recognizance requires the accused to acknowledge a debt to the Crown, which is forfeited if the accused fails to appear in court. The amount is specified in the document and may or may not require the amount to actually be deposited with the court. A recognizance may also require a surety, who is a third party willing to ensure the accused appears in court and follows any release conditions. A surety may also be required to acknowledge a debt to the crown, which may be forfeited if the accused breaches bail. Considering Mr. Edmond was released with a monetary amount ($3000) attached, most likely the form of release was a recognizance with no sureties and no deposit.
One of the conditions of Mr. Edmond’s release requires him to not pick up fares on St. Laurent Blvd. between Sherbrooke and St. Joseph Sts. between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., which is within the same area in which the incident occurred. According to the evidence read into court, before the events before the video recorded the altercation, started in the cab after Edmond picked up “very drunk” passengers, one of who was the victim, Benoit Kapelli. While in the cab, Edmond was subjected to racially motivated comments and was assaulted by Kapelli, who ultimately left the cab while kicking at the vehicle. Edmond confronted Kapelli, but the other passengers joined in the attack of the cab. Edmond was able to drive away but was still tracking the passengers as they walked. At this point, the explanation for the events become vague as Edmond’s cab either deliberately or accidently swerved into a lamppost close to Kapelli, resulting in the cab’s front fender falling off. Later, as seen in the video, a pedestrian throws the bumper at the cab. Again, watch the video here to see the final moments of the incident.
The hang glider’s fate was not so certain as the Judge adjourned his bail hearing to Friday, May 4 in anticipation of gathering more evidence. The evidence, of course, is actually inside the accused, William Jonathon Orders, who swallowed the crucial memory card capturing a video of the fatal flight. As they say “this too will pass” and with the passing it is likely Mr. Orders will then be released on bail. Mr. Orders is charged with willfully attempting to obstruct the course of justice pursuant to s. 139 of the Code for his attempt to hide the evidence from police investigation. No doubt further charges, such as criminal negligence or even manslaughter, will ultimately be laid, when the physical swallowed evidence is finally retrieved.