Episode 41 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada: Section 43 - Correction Of A Child

 

Section 43, correction of a child by force, is another section of the Code, which protects those people who use force in certain limited circumstances. Indeed, the heading for this section and the next section 45 is entitled Protection of Persons In Authority. Section 43, and for that matter s. 45, are not sections protecting peace officers but are designed to protect people who may use force as a result of a relationship he or she may have with the recipient of the force. In the case of s. 43, the relationship is parental or quasi-parental as between a child and a parent or a child and a schoolteacher.

Let’s read the section in full:

Every schoolteacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using force by way of correction toward a pupil or child, as the case may be, who is under his care, if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances.

I am sure many of you reading this or listening to this podcast might be a little surprised that this type of protection is in the Code. The idea of hitting a child, be it a parent or worse a teacher, seems out of step with the fundamental values of our society and a throw-back to when age-based relationships were construed as hierarchal and power driven. As we will explore in this podcast, the Supreme Court of Canada acknowledged these concerns but in the final analysis the Court found there is a place for such a section in the Code, albeit in limited circumstances. In this podcast, I intend to explore some of these issues, which might give us pause for thought in assessing whether this section is a relic of the past or not.

Section 43 was thoroughly canvassed in the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada case Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law v. Canada (Attorney General), [2004] 1 SCR 76. The opening statement of the majority decision, authored by Chief Justice McLachlin, speaks volumes on the essence of the defence:

The issue in this case is the constitutionality of Parliament’s decision to carve out a sphere within which children’s parents and teachers may use minor corrective force in some circumstances without facing criminal sanction.

The phrase “minor corrective force” envisioned by the Chief Justice adds clarity to the Court’s characterization of the defence as permitting “reasonable physical correction.” Essentially, it is this formulation of the defence, equating “reasonable” with “minor” force, which saves the section and places the defence in a neat continuum of what is acceptable and was is not acceptable societal behaviour.

I will not go into the niceties of the s. 7 arguments in the case, although I highly recommend those listening to this podcast to read the full decision as the argument presented to the Court takes a fresh approach to the protections found under s. 7 through the perspective of the victims or recipients of the force, in this case children. It is highly illustrative of the unique and persuasive arguments, which are available under the Charter.

The case also highlights the emotive issues involved by viewing the constitutionality of the section through the lens of another legal phrase often conjured in cases involving children: the “best interests of a child.” In what manner this phrase applies in the criminal law context is an interesting discussion, which requires a full blog posting. In any event, as found by the majority, the concept may be a legal principle but at least in 2004, it was not a principle of fundamental justice as required for the application of s. 7.

Let’s turn to the essential requirements of s. 43, as interpreted by the Supreme Court of Canada. First, the section requires the force used to be for the purpose of correction/discipline. Such acts would be “sober, reasoned uses of force” that “restrain, control or express some symbolic disapproval” of the behavior. Although this element is understandable, the allowance for force to “express some symbolic disapproval” is a puzzling concept in the legal arena. Certainly the symbolic use of force is used in the broader context of military expression, such as retaliatory strikes. However, the symbolic nature of that force seems to be based on generating fear and domination over a populace. In the context of s. 43, it becomes difficult to envision force as a symbolic expression other than, as an example, an antiquated response to foul language – washing a child’s mouth out with soap or tugging on an ear to show disapproval. Whether or not this kind of symbolism can truly be viewed as “sober, reasoned uses of force” remains open to debate.

The second requirement, which takes the perspective of the recipient of the force, is the need for the child to benefit or learn from the forceful act. If a child is too young or developmentally challenged, use of force, even if for corrective purposes, is not appropriate and s.43 defence cannot be used.

Next, the Court must consider whether the force used is reasonable in the circumstances. The “reasonableness” of the force is delineated by reference to what is acceptable in society by looking at international standards and expert opinion. Again, corporeal punishment used on a child under 2 years of age is considered harmful, as may be such punishment on a teenager. The majority also considered force used to the head area as inappropriate. Additionally, using a belt or implement to apply force is unacceptable. In the end, reasonableness under the section is constrained by who is receiving the corrective punishment, the manner in which the punishment is being applied, and the target area of that force.

In the case of teachers, any type of corporeal punishment used - what comes to mind is the application of a ruler to the hand - is not reasonable force. Teachers, however, may need to remove a child or restrain one but any other force, even I would suggest “symbolic force,” is not acceptable.

In the end, the Chief Justice viewed the section as a necessity in the realities of family relationships when she stated at paragraph 62:

The reality is that without s. 43, Canada’s broad assault law would criminalize force falling far short of what we think of as corporal punishment, like placing an unwilling child in a chair for a five-minute “time-out”.  The decision not to criminalize such conduct is not grounded in devaluation of the child, but in a concern that to do so risks ruining lives and breaking up families — a burden that in large part would be borne by children and outweigh any benefit derived from applying the criminal process.

This above recognition of the limits of the criminal law, limits which we as a society desire and need in order to maintain our fundamental social constructs, really does define this section as it is presently applied. In fact, I represented a client who was charged with assault as a result of restraining a teen, who was acting violently and was under the accused’s care. It was this section, which provided the litmus test and ultimately resulted in his acquittal.

More controversial, however, is the use of the section where punishment is meted out on the basis of cultural or religious norms, which differ from “Canadian” norms. In those instances, what may be acceptable punishment in the accused’s social circle may not be acceptable in the broader Canadian view. In the dissenting decision of the Canadian Foundation for Children case, Justice Arbour raised this possible dichotomy in support of the position that the concept of “reasonableness” under the section is more of a moving target and less of an articulable standard. She commented in paragraph 185 that:

Corporal punishment is a controversial social issue.  Conceptions of what is “reasonable” in terms of the discipline of children, whether physical or otherwise, vary widely, and often engage cultural and religious beliefs as well as political and ethical ones.  Such conceptions are intertwined with how other controversial issues are understood, including the relationship between the state and the family and the relationship between the rights of the parent and the rights of the child.  Whether a person considers an instance of child corporal punishment “reasonable” may depend in large part on his or her own parenting style and experiences.  While it may work well in other contexts, in this one the term “reasonable force” has proven not to be a workable standard. 

Finally, I leave this podcast with a more esoteric or philosophical view. As touched on by the Chief Justice, the truth behind this section, and all of the sections, which justify the use of force, may not reflect the kind of society we truly want: we want a society free of violence and the threat of violence. However, the reality is that even our rule of law carries with it an aspect of violence. As Walter Benjamin opined in his “Critique of Violence,” not only is violence the means to preserving the Rule of Law, “Law-making is power-making, assumption of power, and to that extent an immediate manifestation of violence.”

This concept is further explored in Robert Cover’s electrifying article entitled “Violence and the Word,” which reminds us that whenever the justice system metes out punishment or even pronounces a judgment, a person is coerced to do something they do not want to do. In some instances the force is minimal, in others it involves a total loss of liberty. It is this use of force, which we try to contain, hoping its use will be based on reason and equity. Yet this “force” still remains part of what we would all consider a well-run society and fundamental to the justice system.

Section 43, albeit a seemingly simple defence is in reality a section, which causes one to re-think the meaning of force and its place in today’s society. It has been more than a decade since the Court has expounded on this section. As a result, it will be interesting to see how this section holds up to the ever-evolving societal conceptions of law’s function in our private relationships and law’s responsibility to protect vulnerable members of our society.

For more on Robert Cover, read my previous blog discussing his work here.

 

Section 23.1: The "Limitless" Criminal Law - Episode 28 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada

One of the interesting learning moments for me, resulting from this Criminal Code podcast, is the realization that the criminal law has changed in the past three decades, which, in common law time, is a fairly short period of time. Certainly, this section, which we will consider today, s. 23.1 of the Criminal Code, is an example of how the Code can and does change the practice of criminal law. To give perspective, s. 23.1 was added to the Code in the 1985 amendments, while I was in law school. I recall those amendments mostly because I had to “re-learn” the section numbers of the Criminal Code. I particularly recall how the assault section, s. 244, was changed to the section number we use today – s. 265 - and my fear that I would never be able to remember the new section numbers. Considering I needed to look up what the old section number was to write this blog, I wonder how I could have been so worried. What I was not too concerned with at the time was the change caused by s. 23.1, which in hindsight was certainly a much bigger deal than the mere section number changes.

Section 23.1 reads as follows:

For greater certainty, sections 21 to 23 apply in respect of an accused notwithstanding the fact that the person whom the accused aids or abets, counsels or procures or receives, comforts or assists cannot be convicted of the offence.

Therefore, it is possible for an accused to be convicted of counseling a crime even if the person actually committing the crime is not guilty or cannot be tried and/or convicted. For example, an adult who involves children under twelve in the drug trade can still be convicted as a party even though the children, who are actually committing the crime, cannot be convicted, according to s. 13 Code, as they are statutorily debarred on the basis of age. For more on section 13 of the Code, read or listen to my previous podcast. Additionally, even though an accused who commits a counseled crime while under duress would have a valid legal defence, the person who counseled such an offence under s. 22, may still be convicted. It is also possible for an accused to be convicted as an accessory after the fact even if the fugitive offender is ultimately acquitted of the crime from which he or she was escaping. I will return to accessory in a moment as this particular mode of crime has been viewed as different than the other modes and has caused more legal controversy despite s. 23.1.

Based on the above, particularly the “Oliver Twist” example, it does make sense that the Crown be able to prosecute secondary participants on a separate basis than the main offenders. However, prior to 1985 this was not the case. This did not mean that a person involved in a crime, in circumstances where they might be a party or a counselor or an accessory, could not be charged. Indeed, prior to these amendments the charge of conspiracy was usually laid against the secondary accused. However, as we will see when we finally do arrive at the conspiracy section 465, to found a conviction under the conspiracy section is quite complicated. Certainly, more complicated than basing the offender’s participation through the party section.

Although this concept or ability to prosecute was easily accepted after 1985 for participating as a party or as a counselor to a crime, the issue of being tried as an accessory after the fact, where the fugitive offender was not convicted, was not. To understand the special status of being an accessory after the fact, we must consider the Supreme Court of Canada Vinette case from 1975. In the Vinette case, the accused Vinette was charged as an accessory after the fact to a murder committed by Vincent by assisting Vincent to dispose of the victim’s body. Vincent entered a plea of guilty to manslaughter and at Vinette’s trial, Vincent’s plea, as a “confession,” was admitted against Vinette. Vinette was convicted by the jury but the conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal on the basis that Vincent’s plea was not admissible against the co-accused Vinette. Mr. Justice Pigeon, writing on behalf of the majority, allowed the Crown’s appeal and upheld the conviction. In Justice Pigeon’s view, the elements of being an accessory after the fact differs from the main offence and therefore is a separate charge. Thus, the usual evidentiary rules pertaining to admissions made by co-accused do not apply and Vincent’s statements are admissible. According to Justice Pigeon, not only was a charge of accessory separate from the main offence but also by its very nature must be committed after the main offence. This chronological requirement also suggested that the main offender must be tried and convicted before the accessory could be found guilty. However, after a line of cases which tried to decipher Justice Pigeon’s suggestion, it was determined that as the Vinette decision made no mention of the now s. 592, which permitted an accessory to be indicted before the main offender, the chronological argument carried no validity. We will eventually come to s.592 and revisit this conundrum.

In any event, the idea that being an accessory after the fact was a unique charge, which was intimately tied to the main offence resulted in a line of cases questioning s. 23.1 in relation to s. 23. In fact, in the delightful decision of the Honourable Justice Woods, on behalf of the British Columbia Court of Appeal in the 1993 Camponi case, the historical common law significance of being charged as an accessory after the fact was traced in light of s. 592 and s. 23.1. Again, I want to keep back some discussion of this for the much, much later s. 592 podcast but needless to say Justice Woods found no problem with trying an accessory after the fact before the main offender and no problem finding an accessory guilty even if the main offender was acquitted. To that end, and in reference to s.23.1, Justice Woods remarked at paragraph 25 of the decision that:

This section was enacted in 1986, c. 32, s. 46. with what must be regarded as an unusually confident legislative tone, it announces an intention to bring greater certainty to the law relating to ss. 21-23 of the Code. Whether it has achieved that lofty goal will be for history to decide. Suffice it to say that in the context of the present discussion its intent seems to have been to put the quietus to any lingering notion that s. 592 preserved, or was intended to preserve, the essence of the common law rule relating to accessories after the fact.

Finally the matter appeared to be truly put to rest when the 1997 Nova Scotia Court of Appeal FJS (also known as Shalaan) case came to the same conclusion as Camponi and this decision was affirmed with brief reasons by the Supreme Court of Canada. Interestingly, the controversy continued, not in the law courts per se but between the lines in the annotated Criminal Codes. In the commentary under s. 23.1, Martin’s Annual Criminal Code references the Supreme Court of Canada FJS case in support of the position that an accessory after the fact could be convicted even if the main offender was acquitted, while in Allan Gold’s The Practitioner’s Criminal Code, as least as of the 2008 version, the commentary dismissed the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision as decided per incuriam.

But we are not finished with this section and the myriad of case law this section has garnered. Recently, on April 3, 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the leave application in the Huard case, which raised the constitutionality of the well-established principle, as really encapsulated by s. 23.1, that a party may be convicted of a more serious offence than that of the main offender. In that case, Mr. Huard was convicted as a party to a first-degree murder even though the principal offender was only convicted of second-degree murder. Counsel argued that the principles of fundamental justice, as guaranteed under s. 7 of the Charter, requires that those less morally culpable should not be punished more severely than those more morally culpable. Mr. Justice Watt, on behalf of the Ontario Court of Appeal, dismissed the argument as he found the “mere common law rule” relied upon was not a principle of fundamental justice and s. 23.1 “makes it clear” that a party can be convicted even if the main offender is acquitted or not even tried. As an aside, the Appellant in the Camponi case relied upon an article written by Justice Watt, which he wrote prior to his appointment to the Bench, on accessory after the fact and the ambiguities found in s. 592. This shows that the connections in the Canadian criminal law are indeed endless and it appears that they may be unlimited too!

 

 

Episode 28 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code - Section 23.1

The Subjective/Objective Debate Explained

Over the past year, I have detected a theme in the criminal cases decided by the Supreme Court of Canada: is the criminal law objectively or subjectively based? This is a crucial yet traditional argument touching upon almost every aspect of a criminal charge, including the mental element or mens rea for a crime and criminal law defences. In other words, this issue or debate, impacts all areas of substantive criminal law and therefore is seminal to our understanding of the law and the appropriate and fair application of the law.

As punishment is the ultimate outcome of a finding of guilt in a criminal case, the standard of assessing the accused’s behaviour is of vital importance. Indeed, it is at the core of the presumption of innocence as it provides the tools by which a trier of fact, be it judge or jury, decides whether the prosecutor has proven the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

As discussed in a previous posting, the standard of assessment can make all the difference between a finding of guilt and a finding of innocence. The subjective standard requires the prosecutor to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that this accused intended his or her actions while the objective standard requires the prosecutor to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a reasonable person would have not acted as the accused did in the circumstances of the case. By using a standard of reasonableness as opposed to the particular accused’s awareness, the objective liability is a lower standard and therefore easier for the prosecutor to prove. Yet, objective liability crimes, such as manslaughter, carry the maximum sentence of punishment of life imprisonment. The objective standard is harsh and can result in a conviction of a person, who due to personal frailties and inabilities, could never come up to the standard of a reasonable person. These individuals may be viewed as morally innocent as they do not have an intention to commit the prohibited act. In criminal law we justify this conviction by applying the principle of the utilitarian concept of the “greater good,” which emphasizes the “commonweal” and the importance of preventing societal harm. However by doing so, we ignore the societal interest in preventing the punishment of the morally innocent or those who are, to put it bluntly, “substandard” individuals.

The issue of subjective/objective mens rea came to the foreground after the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was implemented. Section 7 of the Charter requires that no one is to face a loss of liberty except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice. Harkening back to the presumption of innocence, section 7 seemed to require a conviction based on subjective mens rea or individual awareness of the risk of his or her conduct. In a series of cases in the late 1980s and the 1990s, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed, yet disagreed. The Court agreed certain traditional crimes, such as murder and theft, which attracted great social stigma upon conviction (one is branded as a murderer or a thief), required subjective liability. However, other crimes, particularly those requiring a duty of care such as in the licensed activities of driving, need only require objective liability.

Although, the court arrived at a “modified” objective standard in a split decision in Hundal, the end result was far from a true modification. Unlike Justice Lamer’s dissent position, which called for an allowance for personal characteristics in the objective assessment, the majority preferred to “soften” the harshness of the objective standard by requiring the trier of fact to determine liability “contextually” in the circumstances of the particular facts of the case. Instead of taking heed to the specifics of the individual, the person whose liberty interests were at issue, the court preferred to focus on a construct of reality as revealed by the facts of the case. Justice Lamer’s stance, interestingly and importantly for my analysis, was supported by the now Chief Justice McLachlin.   At the end of the 1990s, it was clear that not only was the objective standard here to stay, it had reached constitutional status. Thus, the standardization of crime came into being.

This penchant for objectiveness also began to permeate the defences available to the accused. Certainly, the assessment of defences on a reasonable or objective standard was not new as seen in the assessment of the common law defences of justifications (self-defence) and excuses (duress and necessity). However, the objective assessment was always tempered with a subjective inquiry to ensure that this accused’s actions in face of a subjectively perceived threat were taken into account. However, I would argue that with the passing of the new defence of the person section in the Criminal Code, the objective requirement is forefront and again, the subjective assessment is left to a factual analysis, devoid of any personal viewpoints. See a previous blog I have done on this very issue. As argued by George Fletcher in an essay on the defences, The Individualization of Excusing Conditions, by turning the focus away from the accused, we are imposing an artificiality into the criminal law process wherein we sacrifice the individual in favour of the rule of law. Thus, we forget that defences, such as excuses, are “an expression of compassion for one of our kind caught in a maelstrom of circumstance.”

In the next posting, I will review the past year of SCC cases on the objective/subjective debate to determine if the Supreme Court of Canada has gone too far into the objective territory.

 

Whose Life Is This Anyway? Sue Rodriguez and the Supreme Court of Canada

Last posting, I gave some elementary definitions underpinning the controversy surrounding the right to die issue. I started and ended the posting with a reminder: that these issues might be political, philosophical, religious, and socio-economic, but they are also very personal issues as well. Sue Rodriguez is a reminder of this important factor in our discussions. She is also the moniker for the seminal right to die case heard in 1993 by the Supreme Court of Canada: Rodriguez v. British Columbia (Attorney General).

As most of us well know, the Supreme Court of Canada denied Sue the right to doctor-assisted suicide. Returning to the definitions given in my last posting, Sue’s case was not one of euthanasia, whereby a third party takes another’s life in order to ostensibly relieve the ill person’s suffering, but rather the right to legally take her own life, suicide, with the help of a physician. Recall that under section 241 of the Criminal Code of Canada, anyone who assists another person to commit suicide is guilty of an offence. Thus, Sue was seeking protection for the person, the doctor, who would be assisting her in ending her life at the time she appointed. She explained very poignantly why she so desperately wanted her case to be successful: She wanted her son, who was then nine years of age, to “respect the law and did not want her last act on earth to be illegal.” In her book, Uncommon Will, she explained further, "But if I can't obey the law in the end, I'll know at least I did all I could to change it. So will he [her son]." To Sue Rodriguez, her physicality was an integral part of her identity: "If I cannot move my own body I have no life."

As soon as Sue launched her legal battle, lines were drawn. Many right to life groups opposed her claim, likening her position to state approved euthanasia as practiced by the Nazi Germany regime. She also had her supporters, some who were with her until the very end and others who she could no longer trust. John Hofsess, an initial supporter, who was the organizer of the Right To Die Society, quickly became an insider and was heavily involved in Rodriguez’s bid until she learned he had, without her permission, penned a letter to the editor of the Vancouver Sun, under her signature, criticizing the ALS Society. In the end, it was Sue’s lawyer, Vancouver based human rights lawyer Chris Considine, and then NDP MP, Sven Robinson, who stayed the course. Indeed, Sven and an unnamed doctor were with Sue Rodriguez on February 12, 1994 when she passed away after she self-administered a fatal concoction through a straw.

Legally, the Rodriguez decision not permitting assisted suicides and finding section 241 constitutional, split the nine-member court with five justices upholding the section and four justices finding the section constitutionally flawed. The argument was primarily based on section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, what is known as the right to life section, although the cruel and unusual punishment section pursuant to s. 12 of the Charter and equality section 15 were also invoked. In the end, the majority judgment, preferred the sanctity of life over the right to die and collective societal rights over an individual’s right to control his or her own life.

The four dissenting justices who sided with Rodriguez, which included then Chief Justice Antonio Lamer and present Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, wrote in the minority judgment that "the right to die with dignity should be well protected as is any other aspect of the right to life." In their view the Criminal Code prevents people like Rodriguez from exercising autonomy over their bodies available to other people.

What does this case bode for the future? Presently, as I will discuss more thoroughly in a future posting, the British Columbia Supreme Court has recently once again considered the right to die issue through three very different plaintiffs: Lee Carter, Hollis Johnson, and Gloria Taylor. Lee Carter, together with her husband Hollis Johnson, raised the issue on behalf of Lee’s mother, who was forced to end her life overseas instead in her home in Vancouver due to the ban on assisted suicide. Gloria Taylor, like Sue Rodriguez, suffers from ALS and wishes, like Sue, to end her life legally. On June 15, 2012, Madam Justice Lynn Smith found for the plaintiffs and struck down section 241, giving the Federal government a year to amend the Criminal Code accordingly. In the meantime, Justice Smith allowed Gloria Taylor, through a constitutional exemption, the conditional right to commit suicide with a physician’s assistance. A constitutional exemption is a rare power under s. 24(1) of the Charter, used by the court to exempt individuals from the effects of legislation on the basis that the legislation, for this particular individual, is constitutionally oppressive.

Considering the justices who compose the majority are no longer sitting on the Court and Chief Justice McLachlan, a member of the minority in favour of striking down the legislation, is still sitting with a much different court composition, I might add, the arguments raised and accepted in the Carter case may survive Supreme Court of Canada scrutiny. There have also been many more cases of assisted suicide since the Rodriguez case; cases in which the courts have been extremely reluctant to find guilt under s. 241.

In the next posting on this issue, I will discuss some of those cases and the impact they might have on a future Supreme Court of Canada decision. Whether or not there will be such a future SCC decision is dependent on the federal government, particularly Rob Nicholson, the Minister of Justice, who must decide whether or not to appeal the Carter case to the BC Court of Appeal. Such decision must be made within thirty days of the decision, making the deadline the end of next week. In anticipation of this decision, there are a number of websites with petitions asking the Minister to appeal such as the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. Yet, some opinion polls suggest Canadians are in favour of some form of doctor-assisted suicide. The issue therefore remains unresolved.