Appeal

Court of Appeal to Judge How to Weigh Systemic Racism When Sentencing Black Offenders

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Later this month, the Ontario Court of Appeal is scheduled to hear a case where the Crown prosecutor is challenging the “lenient” 15-month sentence given to a black Toronto man for carrying a loaded firearm.  Many are expecting that the judgment in this appeal will provide guidance to trial judges on how systemic and background factors are to be applied during the sentencing of black offenders, and potentially all other minorities, in Canada.

WHAT HAPPENED?

In 2014, the police were called regarding a home invasion in Scarborough.  At the scene, the police came upon four black males walking in the parking lot.  When an officer stopped the young men, Kevin Morris (“Morris”) ran.  After a chase, Morris was apprehended by police and his jacket, which he left in a stairwell during the chase, contained a loaded handgun. 

A jury found Morris guilty last September of possession of an unauthorized firearm, possession of a prohibited firearm with ammunition, and carrying a concealed weapon. 

Superior Court Justice Shaun Nakatsuru sentenced Kevin Morris (“Morris”), a 26-year-old first-time offender, to 15 months in custody due to the disadvantages and systemic black racism he faced growing up in Toronto. 

Justice Nakatsuru described the sentence as “lenient” and reasoned that this type of sentence was to address “one small step at a time, the problem of the disproportionate incarceration of black offenders”. Morris’ sentence was reduced to 1 year for various Charter breaches.

According to court documents, Morris was raised by a single mother in a neighbourhood that experienced violence and criminal activity.  Morris never graduated from high school and admitted that he felt unsafe travelling to work as he had to enter rivaling neighbourhoods.  He was diagnosed with PTSD and paranoia in 2013 after being stabbed for a third time. 

The Crown prosecutor had requested a four to four and a half year sentence for Morris arguing that illegal gun possession results in the “often immeasurable” human cost of gun crimes.

Morris’ defence lawyers requested a 12-month sentence and submitted an expert report outlining the impact of crime and criminal justice on black Canadians.  The report detailed how black Canadians experience obstacles in pursing educationa nd employment, and explained about discrimination in social services.

Morris’ lawyer, Faisal Mirza, stated:

It’s clear to everyone in the Toronto area that there are disproportionate numbers of young black men that are prosecuted and sentenced by judges based on pretty rudimentary information on who they are, where they came from, and why they got to the point of committing the crime they are being sentenced for.

Justice Nakatsuru wrote in his decision:

In our system, a sentence is not just about the crime.  It must also be about the offender.

As the legal system runs today, the courts are required to take into account the backgrounds of Indigenous offenders when sentencing, paying specific attention to systemic or historical factors such as residential schools and systemic racism.  A victory for Morris at his appeal may lead to a similar requirement requiring the courts to take into account the impact of race and culture on black offenders in Canada. 

INTERVENERS IN MORRIS’ APPEAL

At the Court of Appeal, there are 14 interveners that have been granted permission to provide joint submissions to the court on the subject of systemic racism, including human and civil rights activists, ethnic organizations and legal clinics.  Several interveners are asking the court to allow culture assessments to apply to all minority groups, not only black offenders.

Interveners in criminal proceedings must receive permission to provide submissions to the court and are typically only granted permission sparingly.  Chief Justice George Strathy wrote in his decision to allow interveners to weigh in on the appeal in the Morris case:

But the issues that arise in this appeal transcend the interests of the parties and are of significance to the administration of criminal justice.  The proposed interveners are well-recognized organizations with experience and expertise in the issues raised in this appeal.  They can offer perspectives that are different from those provided by the Crown and the respondent.

The Black Legal Action Centre and the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers are entering a joint submission at the appeal and on their behalf Johnathan Shime states:

This case represents an opportunity for the Ontario Court of Appeal to consider what role race and, more particularly, anti-black racism should play in sentencing of offenders. 

The appeal is scheduled for September 24, 2019 in Toronto.  We will report the results of this potentially ground breaking appeal decision in this blog when it becomes available.

In the meantime, if you have been charged with a crime or have questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947.  We maintain a 24-hour call service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.

Appeal Court Upholds Dangerous Offender Designation for Man Who Withheld HIV Status

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

In the recent decision of R. v. Gracie, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s decision designating Daniel Gracie (“Gracie”) a dangerous offender for withholding his HIV status from women, despite making legal errors.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Gracie, of Indigenous ancestry, was adopted by non-Indigenous parents as an infant.  He moved out of their home at the age of 15, at which point he became involved with the criminal justice system.  He has 25 youth convictions and 10 adult convictions.

In early 2010, Gracie was at the apartment of his friend C.C.  After an evening of drinking, he had asked her to have sex with him several times and she refused each time.  She then went to bed as she was feeling ill and tired.  He was planning on spending the night on the futon in her living room.  When C.C. woke up the next morning, her vagina was sore and semen was leaking out of it.  Gracie eventually admitted that he had sex with her while she was asleep.  Approximately, one year later C.C. found out that she had contracted HIV.

A second complainant, M.N., also accused Gracie of withholding his HIV status.  The two had an on-again off-again relationship between 2008 and 2011.  When the couple began dating again in 2011, they had unprotected sex after Gracie confirmed that he did not have any sexually transmitted diseases.  After watching a police media release naming Gracie as an HIV-infected individual charged with sexual assault, M.N. sought medical treatment and confirmed that she had contracted HIV from Gracie.

In the past, Gracie had been convicted of sexual assault causing bodily harm for the violent rape of a sex worker.  While he served his sentence for this crime, he was charged and convicted of counseling the murder of the police officer who was investigating the sexual assault incident.  He was also convicted of other crimes while he was on probation for these previous offences and committed the sexual assaults that were the substance of the appeal.

THE SENTENCING HEARING

Gracie pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated sexual assault.  At his sentencing hearing, there was evidence to prove that Gracie had been advised by doctors and his probation officer regarding the risks of having unprotected sex and his legal obligation to disclose his HIV status to all potential sexual partners.

The trial judge at his sentencing hearing designated Gracie as a dangerous offender.  This is a legal designation only reserved for those individuals who are repeatedly convicted of violent or sexual crimes.  Crown prosecutors can apply for this designation under section 753(1) of the Criminal Code during the sentencing hearing where it can be shown that there is a high risk that the offender will commit violent or sexual offences in the future.  This designation results in an automatic imprisonment for an indeterminate period, with no change of parole for seven years.

The sentencing judge ruled that Gracie was to remain incarcerated indefinitely.

THE APPEAL

Gracie appealed the lower court decision granting him the label of dangerous offender and his indeterminate jail sentence.  Gracie argued that the sentencing judge did not properly conduct a prospective risk assessment and failed to take his Indigenous background into account during sentencing.

The three judges on the bench for Gracie’s appeal unanimously agreed that while the sentencing judge did not conduct the risk assessment until the penalty stage, rather than completing it before declaring him a dangerous offender, the verdict would have remained the same.

The appeal court held that the evidence proved that Gracie could not be trusted in the community as he had been found on all assessments to pose a moderate to high risk of violent or sexual reoffending.

The court also found that given his diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder and psychopathic traits, he would be less responsive to treatment.  Furthermore, Gracie had never showed signs of a willingness to take part in corrective programming during his previous incarcerations.

Lastly, although the sentencing judge did not reference having reviewed a report regarding Gracie’s Indigenous background, the appeal court held that those factors would not have affected the sentencing decision.  The appeal court noted that Gracie’s biological mother was Indigenous, however, he was adopted as an infant by a non-Indigenous family and moved to Toronto.  The court stated:

His life of crime began in his teenage years and he did not meet members of his biological family until much later in life, after he committed the predicate offences. …

The risk of sexual and violent recidivism was the product of his serious personality disorder, his poor treatment and supervision history, and the dim prognosis for meaningful change.

If you are facing sexual offence charges or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact Durham region criminal defence lawyers Affleck & Barrison LLP.  We have a reputation for effective results in defending all types of criminal legal charges.  We offer a free initial consultation and a 24-hour phone service.  Contact our office online or at 905-404-1947 to speak with one of our experienced criminal defence lawyers today.

Appeal Court Convicts Violin Teacher Who Measured Girls’ Breasts

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

In an unusual decision, the Ontario Court of Appeal has convicted Claude Trachy (“Trachy”), a retired violin teacher, on numerous sexual and indecent assault charges for touching his young female students’ breasts and nipples during class. 

THE CHARGES LAID AGAINST TRACHY

Trachy was charged with the following four types of sexual offences:

  1. Sexual interference:  This offence is committed when a person indirectly or directly touches any part of the body of a person under the age of 16 for a sexual purpose. 
  2. Sexual exploitation:  This offence occurs when a person in a position of authority or trust towards a young person touches any part of the body of the young person for a sexual purpose or invites or incites a young person to touch anyone for a sexual purpose.
  3. Indecent assault:  This offence is an assault committed of an indecent nature such that the victim is violated and was superseded by the offence of sexual assault in 1983.
  4. Sexual assault:  This offence includes any unwanted sexual activity such that the sexual integrity of the victim is violated and does not require proof of sexual purpose or sexual gratification.  The Crown prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused intentionally touched the complainant without consent in circumstances of a sexual nature. 

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE TRIAL?

The trial court found Trachy not guilty of 51 charges of sexual interference, sexual exploitation, sexual assault and indecent assault. 

The court heard from 21 former female violin students of Trachy in Chatham, Ontario.  The incidents took place between 1971 and 1993, at which time the victims were young girls.

The alleged charges resulted from Trachy measuring his female students’ bodies in order to fit them for shoulder rests. 

During the trial, Trachy admitted that he asked his female students to undo their blouse on the left side and remove their bra.  He would use a ruler to measure from the top of the collarbone to the nipple, from the jaw to the collarbone and the underside of the breast.  There were also times that he would ask his students to play the violin undressed to confirm that the shoulder rest was properly fitted. 

Trachy denied having any “sexual intent” in measuring or receiving any sexual gratification.  Trachy admitted that he did not measure his male students and only measured his female students.  He also admitted at trial that he did not measure his daughter, although he taught her as well.

At trial, Justice Thomas Carey accepted all of the female complainants’ testimony, however, believed that Trachy measured his female students’ breast area not for a “sexual purpose”, but to improve their playing ability by properly fitting them for shoulder rests on their instruments. 

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE APPEAL?

Justice Mary Lou Benotto, writing on behalf of the unanimous three-judge panel of the appeal court, found that the trial judge made an error of law and that the evidence established that the charges of sexual assault and indecent assault were proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  The trial judge erred by mistaking the issue of touching for a “sexual purpose” with the issue of touching in the circumstances of a “sexual nature”. 

Justice Benotto wrote:

A reasonable observer viewing the respondent’s admitted conduct in touching and manipulating the breasts and nipples of young girls and young women both over and under their clothes would perceive a sexual context to the conduct.  These were largely girls who were in the process of developing breasts, and who were alone with the respondent in a private room with the door closed.  Their sexual integrity was violated, regardless of the respondent’s purpose. 

The appeal court convicted Trachy on 28 charges in the case of 20 out of 21 student victims.  The appeal court stayed the proceedings for one student, who was 23 at the time of her lessons.  It was the appeal court judges’ opinion that given her age, in this case, additional legal questions would arise with respect to consent. 

The appeal court upheld Trachy’s acquittals on all charges of sexual exploitation and sexual interference.

Given that the appeal decision was made on a question of law, Trachy has an automatic right to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.  We will report on any updates regarding this case in this blog when they become available.

In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding charges that have been laid against you or your legal rights, please contact the knowledgeable criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1047.  Our skilled criminal lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting their client’s rights.  For your convenience, we offer a 24-hour telephone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice.

Conviction Changed from First to Second-Degree for Man Who Planned to Kill his Ex

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

The Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled that a Toronto man who planned to kill his estranged wife, but killed her uncle instead, should not be convicted of first-degree murder as the uncle was not the intended target.

At his trial, Willy Ching (“Ching”) was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder. The appeal court dismissed his conviction and substituted a conviction for second-degree murder. 

WHAT HAPPENED?

Ching has a history of mental illness and attempted suicide.  He had been on medication for depression, which was changed in October, 2009.  He was also prescribed sleeping pills and had attempted to overdose on them and had to be hospitalized for three days.

The marriage of Ching and Maria Ching dissolved on September 2, 2009 at which time Ms. Ching moved out of her home and went to live with her uncle Ernesto Agsaulio (“Agsaulio”).  Ching was unhappy with the end of his marriage and repeatedly tried to be in contact with Ms. Ching.

On October 25, 2009, Ching rented a car and drove to Agsaulio’s home to see Ms. Ching.  Ching’s daughters became aware that he was going to see Ms. Ching and called her to warn her.  She proceeded to call Ching and told him to go home.  He asked her to come outside so they could talk, and she refused.  She then advised Agsaulio that Ching was coming over. 

Ching rang the doorbell and Agsaulio opened the door, but refused to allow him to see Ms. Ching.  The two men spoke for a few minutes, then Ching pulled out a knife and hatchet that he had brought with him and began slashing at Agsaulio.  Agsaulio, his son and some neighbours managed to subdue Ching.

The police arrived and arrested Ching.  He gave a statement and stated that he only wanted to talk to his wife, he did not try to kill anyone, and repeatedly stated that the judge should give him the death sentence.

Later, the police informed Ching that Agsaulio had died and he would be charged with first-degree murder.  Ching went to use the washroom, began running toward the stairwell and attempted to fling himself headfirst over the railing.  A police officer grabbed his waistband and pulled him back.

Ching gave a second statement to the police the next day stating that he brought the weapons with him not to hurt anyone, only to threaten to hurt himself so that his wife would come back to him. 

THE APPEAL

Ching appealed his conviction to the Ontario Court of Appeal arguing that several errors were made in the trial judge’s instructions to the jury. 

The trial judge instructed the jury that if it concluded that Ching had planned and deliberated the murder of his estranged wife, this could change the murder of Agsaulio from second to first-degree murder as it was committed in the course of carrying out his plan to murder Ms. Ching.

A murder is considered first-degree murder when it is planned and deliberate.  The issue, in this case, is whether Ching could be found guilty of first-degree murder when the jury found that he had planned to kill his wife, but ended up taking the life of another person.

The Court of Appeal concluded that the trial judge’s instruction to the jury regarding the charge of first-degree murder was incorrect.  The appeal court wrote:

A finding that the appellant had planned and deliberated the murder of Ms. Ching and that Mr. Agsaulio’s murder was committed while carrying out that plan does not satisfy the statutory requirement for the first-degree murder. ..

There is a sound policy reason for concluding that an accused who intentionally kills person B when in the course of carrying out the planned and deliberate murder of person A will be guilty of second-degree murder, whereas an accused who accidentally or mistakenly kills person B when person A was the target will be convicted of first-degree murder. … This result reflects the fact that in the first case the actual killing may well have been impulsive while in the second, it was the result of a planned and deliberate act.

The appeal court rejected Ching’s arguments that the trial judge erred in his instructions to the jury regarding Ching’s attempt to jump over a staircase upon hearing about Agsaulio’s death, and instructions regarding conflicting statements made by Ching in his testimony and police interviews.

The appeal court dismissed Ching’s conviction for first-degree murder and substituted a conviction for second-degree murder. 

The offence of second-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence, with no chance of parole for 10 to 25 years.

If you have any questions regarding charges laid against you or your legal rights, please contact the knowledgeable criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947.  Our skilled criminal lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting our client’s rights.  For your convenience, we offer a 24-hour telephone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice.

SCC Orders New Trial in “Friends with Benefits” Case

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

The Supreme Court of Canada has ordered a new trial for Patrick Goldfinch (“Goldfinch”), and in doing so sent out a warning to judges in Canada when allowing evidence of past sexual history in the case of sex assault trials.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Goldfinch was charged in 2014 with sexually assaulting a woman he had previously dated and had once lived with.  The two had broken up, but remained friends.  The woman would occasionally visit Goldfinch’s home and stay the night. 

On the evening of May 28, 2014, the complainant contacted Goldfinch, who proceeded to pick her up at her house and bring her back to his residence.  Goldfinch testified that this was a “typical evening” in that the complainant “would call in the middle of the night, want to come over, and we’d end up going to bed together”. The two shared a consensual kiss and Goldfinch suggested that they go to bed.

According to Goldfinch, they went into his bedroom and each removed their own clothing, engaged in consensual foreplay and brief intercourse.  Goldfinch testified that he fell asleep and was later woken by the complainant who stated that he had struck her on the head in his sleep.  He got annoyed and called her a taxi using her phone.

The complainant testified that she told Goldfinch she did not want to have sex and he proceeded to grab her arm and drag her by her hair into the bedroom.  She testified that she became scared and removed her clothes at his direction.  He proceeded to push her onto the bed, hit her in the face and had sexual intercourse with her without her consent.  She got dressed and called a taxi from her cell phone, and then contacted the police shortly after returning home.  Two officers who met the complainant at the hospital confirmed swelling on her left cheek and elbow.

During the trial, the judge allowed evidence to be admitted regarding a “friends with benefits” type of relationship between the complainant and Goldfinch.  The judge regarded this evidence as “relatively benign” and reasoned that keeping it from the jury would harm the accused’s right to make full answer and defence.

At trial, Goldfinch was acquitted by a jury. 

The trial decision was appealed and the majority of the Alberta Court of Appeal allowed the Crown’s appeal and ordered a new trial for Goldfinch in finding that the trial judge had erred in admitting the “friends with benefits” evidence.

THE DECISION BY THE SUPREME COURT OF CANADA

In a 6-1 decision, the highest court in Canada ruled that evidence regarding the sexual relationship between Goldfinch and the alleged victim should not have been heard by the jury.  This evidence was found to be a “reversible error of law” as allowing the evidence showed no other purpose than to “support the inference that because the complainant had consented in the past, she was more likely to have consented on the night in question”. 

The court found that the evidence in question suggested that the alleged victim was likely to have consented to sex because she had done so in the past.  This is the type of evidence that the “rape shield” law found in the Criminal Code is intended to prevent.

Justice Michael Moldaver wrote:

This case serves as a powerful illustration of how a trial can go off the rails where sexual activity evidence is admitted without being anchored to a specific, legitimate purpose.

Justice Andromache Karakatsanis, writing for the largest number of judges, concluded that evidence of past sexual relationships must be handled with care, “even relatively benign relationship evidence” during a sexual assault trial.  If such evidence is allowed, the jury must be instructed by the trial judge that details regarding previous sexual interactions are not relevant in determining whether the complainant had consented to the sexual intercourse that formed the basis of the trial.  She wrote:

No means no, and only yes means yes:  even in the context of an established relationship, even part way through a sexual encounter, and even if the act is one the complainant has routinely consented to in the past.

Joanne Dartana, Alberta Crown prosecutor, stated that the Supreme Court decision “reaffirms the principle that stereotypical reasoning regarding sexual assault victims has no place in a criminal trial and this principle is no less important where the accused and the complainant had a pre-existing relationship”.

The one dissenting judge, Justice Russell Brown, concluded that the evidence was admissible and that the trial judge had made correct evidentiary rulings and had properly instructed the jury.

If you have been charged with a sexual offence or a related charge or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947.  We have a 24-hour phone service for your convenience.  We are available when you need us most.

Re-Trial Underway for Couple Charged in Son’s Death

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP


The re-trial for David and Collet Stephan has begun in Lethbridge Provincial Court, in Alberta.  The couple are each facing one count for failing to provide the necessaries of life to their 18-month-old son Ezekiel, who died of bacterial meningitis in 2012.

WHAT HAPPENED?

The Stephans were found guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their son at trial in 2016.  David Stephan was sentenced to four months in jail.  His wife, Collet, was sentenced to three months of house arrest.  She was only to be allowed to leave her home for medical appointments and to attend church.  They were also to be on probation for two years, and were ordered to complete 240 hours of community service.

The couple had used natural remedies to treat their son rather than take him to a doctor when he had become severely ill.  They made smoothies out of hot pepper, ginger root, horseradish and onion.  The Stephans finally called for medical assistance once their son stopped breathing.  Ezekiel was rushed to a local hospital, but died after being transported by air ambulance to a Children’s Hospital in Calgary. 

We have previously blogged about the outcome of the Stephan’s appeal to the Alberta Court of Appeal.  On appeal, the Stephans argued that their convictions should be overturned because the trial judge erred by allowing too many Crown experts to testify, the medical jargon used during the trial confused the jurors, and the defence expert’s testimony was restricted.

At that time, the majority of the Appeal Court dismissed all grounds of appeal, including the position that the Stephans’ Charter rights had been violated because of the unreasonable delay between the time they were charged and the date they were convicted.

However, Justice Brian O’Ferrall did not agree with the majority of the Appeal Court and wrote a dissenting opinion in favour of a new trial for the Stephans.  It was Justice O’Ferrall’s opinion that the trial judge’s charge to the jury was confusing and misleading. 

The Stephans were granted an automatic right to have the Supreme Court of Canada hear their appeal as one of the three judges on the appeal panel dissented. 

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE SUPREME COURT OF CANADA?

In an unusual practice, the Supreme Court of Canada, after hearing all arguments on appeal, provided an immediate ruling from the bench.  On behalf of the highest court in Canada, Justice Michael Moldaver ruled that the trial judge did not properly instruct the jurors and therefore allowed the appeal, quashed the convictions and ordered a new trial.

PRE-TRIAL PROCEEDINGS

Prior to the commencement of their new trial, the Stephans filed an application requesting $1 million to cover their past legal expenses and $3 million to be placed in trust for any future defence fees.  The Stephans claimed that they had liquidated their assets, owed money to their previous lawyer, and did not have the funds necessary to receive a fair re-trial. 

The couple also filed applications to have certain statements withheld from the re-trial.  All of these applications have been denied. 

During the couple’s pre-trial hearing, they attempted to have statements exempted that they made to police, hospital staff and child welfare workers at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.  They argued that they were tired, stressed and felt pressured by the presence of the police when they made those statements.  Justice J.D. Rooke denied these applications as well as he could not find any breaches of the Stephans’ rights.

The Stephans also submitted additional applications to delay their re-trial.  These requests were denied by the judge and the re-trial was ordered to proceed as scheduled on June 3, 2019. 

Prior to the commencement of the pre-trial, David Stephan posted a video on his Facebook page stating:

The deck is stacked against us huge.  … I don’t have high hopes.  I anticipate that we may just find ourselves again before the Supreme Court of Canada and hopefully find some justice there like we did the last time.

COUPLE SENTENCED IN A SIMILAR DECISION

Last fall, a jury found Jeromie and Jennifer Clark guilty of criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessaries of life to their 14-month-old son, John.  They failed to seek medical attention until the day before he died from an infection in November 2013.

The boy was found to be malnourished and died from a staph infection. 

The Crown requested a sentence of four to five years for the couple, while their lawyers recommended a more lenient sentence in the range of probation to eight months in jail.

Earlier this month, the couple were each sentenced to 32 months in prison.  Justice Paul Jeffrey stated:

A period of incarceration is necessary to deter other parents who may similarly recklessly forgo proper and timely medical care for their child.

We will continue to follow the developments in the Stephans’ court case and will provide updates in this blog as they become available.

In the meantime, if you are facing charges or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947.  For your convenience, we offer 24-hour phone services.  We are available when you need us most.

Supreme Court Overturns Convictions in Favour of Racialized Man

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP


A recent decision by the Supreme Court of Canada is sending a strong message  regarding the harm of over-policing racial minorities in inner-city neighbourhoods.

In a 3-2 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada held that the police had no reasonable cause to enter a backyard and question an Asian-Canadian man and therefore set aside his convictions for possessing a gun, drugs and illicit cash.

WHAT HAPPENED?

In the evening of May 25, 2012, twenty year old Tom Le (“Le”) was speaking with four young black men in the backyard of a Toronto housing complex.

Police officers were tipped off by security guards who patrolled the complex that there were concerns of drug trafficking in the backyard of this address and that a suspect had been observed there.

Two police officers entered the backyard without consent or a judicial warrant and began to question and request identification from the young men.  A third officer patrolling the perimeter of the property stepped over a low fence and told one of the men to keep his hands where he could see them.

One officer demanded that Le provide his ID and he was asked about the contents of a bag that was slung across his body.  Le then attempted to flee the scene and was quickly tackled and apprehended.  His bag was found to contain a loaded handgun and a considerable amount of cash.  At the police station, Le turned over 13 grams of cocaine to police.

At his trial, Le argued that the evidence should be excluded under section 24(2) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as police violated his constitutional rights to be free from arbitrary detention and unreasonable search (contrary to sections 8 and 9 of the Charter).

At trial, the judge rejected Le’s position that police violated his rights under the Charter and found that police had legally detained Le.  He was found guilty of several gun and drug offences and was also unsuccessful in challenging his convictions at the Ontario Court of Appeal.  Le proceeded to commence an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

SUPREME COURT OF CANADA’S DECISION AND REASONS

Contrary to the lower court decisions, the majority of the highest level of court in Canada threw out the convictions as a result of serious violations of Le’s rights under the Charter.  The court ruled that the police actions amounted to an arbitrary detention and serious violation of Le’s rights and therefore the evidence must be excluded.

The purpose of section 9 of the Charter, prohibiting arbitrary detention, is to protect Canadians against unjustified state interference.  A detention may not necessarily involve physical restraint, but may exist in a situation where “a reasonable person in the accused’s shoes would feel obligated to comply with a police direction or demand and that they are not free to leave”.

The Supreme Court found that in this case the detention was arbitrary as the police were trespassers and had no legal authority to detain the accused.  Furthermore, their intimidating behaviour made Le feel as though he was unable to leave, even though he had the right to do so.

Although the incident occurred in a high-crime neighbourhood, the court found that the police did not have the authority to enter a private yard.  The court stated:

Indeed, that a neighbourhood is policed more heavily imparts a responsibility on police officers to be vigilant in respecting the privacy, dignity and equality of its residents who already feel the presence and scrutiny of the state more keenly than their more affluent counterparts in other areas of the city.

The majority judges also found that the police had engaged in “carding” (a topic that we have previously blogged about), which is the police practice of randomly stopping and questioning individuals who are not suspected of any crime.  This is a practice that unjustifiably affects racialized individuals. 

The court found that the incident of the police entry into the backyard was another example of the experience of racialized young men who are targeted, stopped and questioned. 

The court stated:

The impact of the over-policing of racial minorities and the carding of individuals within those communities without any reasonable suspicion of criminal activity is more than an inconvenience.  Carding takes a toll on a person’s physical and mental health.  It impacts their ability to pursue employment and education opportunities.

Le’s lawyers, were thankful for the Supreme Court decision in favour of their client and the message that is being distributed.  Emily Lam stated:

We’re grateful that the court heard us, that they heard the voices of marginalized and racialized communities, all of whom have been saying that they are police differently, and the court recognizing that their experience has been different.

Samara Secter stated:

I think this is a push from the Supreme Court to have police recognize that everyone’s rights deserve respect.

There has been no real response from Toronto Police Services other than its spokesperson stating that the ruling is being “reviewed and considered by the Toronto Police Service’s professional standards unit”.

If you have been charged with a criminal offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947.  We have a 24-hour phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.

Supreme Court Rules a Crucial Element of Child Luring Law is Unconstitutional

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Last month the highest court in Canada ruled that a provision in the law forbidding the luring of children over the internet is unconstitutional and ordered a new trial for alleged offender Douglas Morrison (“Morrison”).  This decision may result in a number of child luring convictions being overturned across Canada.

In this landmark decision regarding the validity of child luring laws in Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down two parts of the child luring laws found under section 172.1 of the Criminal Code.  The decision in R. v. Morrison will affect those cases where police officers pretend to be minors in an effort to apprehend suspected online predators.

WHAT IS THE CHILD LURING LAW IN CANADA?

The offence of child luring in Canada can be found in section 172.1 of the Criminal Code.  Child luring is defined as using the internet to communicate with an individual who is, or who the perpetrator believes to be, under the age of 18 for the purposes of committing the offence of sexual exploitation, incest, child pornography or sexual assault. 

You may also be charged with child luring if you communicate with an individual you know, or believe to be, under the age of 16 for the purposes of committing the offence of sexual exploitation, invitation to sexual touching, indecent exposure to a person under the age of 16 or abduction of a person under 16 years old.

If the Crown chooses to proceed by indictment (more serious offences) and you are found guilty of child luring, you will face a minimum of one year in prison, up to a maximum of 14 years in prison.  If the Crown chooses to proceed summarily (less serious offences), you will face a minimum of 6 months in jail, up to a maximum of 2 years less a day.

WHAT HAPPENED IN R. v. MORRISON?

Morrison was charged with child luring under section 172.1 of the Criminal Code.  He posted an online ad on Craigslist pursuing sexual conversations and stating he was interested in younger girls.  His ad was entitled “Daddy looking for his little girl”. 

Over the course of two months, police posed as a 14 year old girl named “Mia”.  Morrison began a sexual discussion with Mia, requested that she touch herself sexually, suggested she watch pornography, asked her for photographs, and arranged to pick Mia up after school (the encounter never occurred).  Consequently, Morrison was charged with child luring. 

During his trial, Morrison argued that he believed he was speaking to an adult online who was role playing as a character of a 14 year old girl.  He maintained that the rules on Craigslist require that users are to be 18 years old or older.  He was convicted at trial and the conviction was upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE SUPREME COURT OF CANADA?

On appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, Morrison brought three Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“Charter”) challenges pertaining to section 172.1 of the Criminal Code. The Charter arguments before the court were the following:

  • Section 172.1(3) violated his right to be presumed innocent under section 11(d) of the Charter;
  • Section 172.1(4) contains presumptions (requiring a person to take reasonable steps to ascertain the age of the individual they are contacting and to ensure he/she is not underage) that were not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice and violated section 7 of the Charter, which protects the right to life, liberty and security of a person; and
  • Section 172.1(2)(b) contains a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in prison which violated the guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment found in section 12 of the Charter.

The Supreme Court of Canada overturned Morrison’s conviction citing errors made by the trial judge.  The Court ruled unanimously that the government’s wording of the child luring law violates the presumption of innocence guaranteed by the Charter.  It is the role of the Crown to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an accused genuinely believed he/she was communicating with an individual who was underage.

Justice Michael Moldaver, writing for the majority of the Court, stated:

In short, there is but one pathway to conviction: proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused believed the other person was underage.  Nothing less will suffice.

The accused, in his/her defence, may prove that he/she took “reasonable” steps to determine if the alleged victim was underage.  If this cannot be shown, then the accused cannot argue that he/she believed the alleged victim was of legal age.

The Supreme Court was also asked to consider the appeal by the Crown that Morrison was not given the mandatory one-year minimum sentence.  The trial judge gave Morrison a four month sentence, and ruled that the one year mandatory minimum sentence found in the Criminal Code was unconstitutional as it violated the guarantees found in the Charter against cruel and unusual punishment. However, the majority of the justices did not rule on this issue.

Given the potential ramifications resulting from the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in R. v. Morrison, we will continue to follow any developments in the news and the case law and will report any updates that become available in this blog.

In the meantime, if you are facing child luring charges or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the knowledgeable criminal defence lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947.  Our skilled criminal lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting our client’s rights.  For your convenience, we offer a 24-hour telephone service.  We are available when you need us most.

Court of Appeal Limits Solitary Confinement to 15 Days

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

As we continue to blog about the ever changing laws regarding solitary confinement in Canada, the Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled that placing inmates in solitary confinement for more than 15 days constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. This is the first time a Canadian court has imposed a specific time limit on solitary confinement.

WHAT HAPPENED?

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (“CCLA”) launched the challenge of solitary confinement four years ago.

A lower court in Ontario found that solitary confinement could cause serious psychological harm to inmates, but these impairments could be avoided if staff adhered to existing laws requiring close monitoring of prisoners’ health. Justice Marrocco of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice rejected the CCLA’s argument that solitary confinement constituted cruel and unusual punishment and was in violation of Section 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The CCLA appealed Justice Marrocco’s decision and the case was argued before the Ontario Court of Appeal. Justice Mary Lou Benotto, writing on behalf of the three-judge panel of the Ontario Court of Appeal, ruled that the Correctional Service’s use of prolonged administrative segregation could cause permanent harm that no level of medical monitoring could prevent.

Justice Benotto stated:

Legislative safeguards are inadequate to avoid the risk of harm. In my view, this outrages standards of decency and amounts to cruel and unusual treatment.

The Appeal Court did reject the CCLA’s position that solitary confinement should be banned entirely for inmates who are 18 to 21 years of age, those with mental illness, or those in segregation for their own protection.

THE IMPACT OF THE APPEAL COURT DECISION

Michael Rosenberg, co-counsel for the CCLA, stated:

With this decision, the Court of Appeal has brought to an end a sorry chapter in the administration of Canada’s prisons. This is a significant win for the CCLA and for the administration of justice more generally.

What is most unusual about this decision is that the Court of Appeal has applied a short timeline to institute action. The Appeal Court has ruled that the 15-day cap of solitary confinement is to take effect 15 days following the decision.

Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, equality director for the CCLA, stated:

Usually, courts give governments months or a year to fix problems before a declaration of invalidity becomes active. With this short timeline, the court is saying this is enough, this is intolerable, this cannot continue.

The Correctional Service of Canada is currently reviewing the Appeal Court’s ruling. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has not yet commented on the latest decision regarding solitary confinement. A spokesperson for Goodale has advised that his office is also reviewing this recent decision.

FEDERAL INMATES WIN CLASS-ACTION LAWSUIT

Last week, federal inmates were successful in their class-action lawsuit against the Correctional Service of Canada. A judge found that the practice of isolating approximately 2000 seriously mentally ill inmates breached Sections 7 and 12 of the Charter. These sections protect against arbitrary state actions and cruel and unusual punishment.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perrell has ordered the federal government to pay $20 million for placing mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement for more than 30 days involuntarily and for those who spent more than 60 days in administrative segregation voluntarily.

Justice Perrell stated:

The placement of a seriously mentally ill inmate in administrative segregation goes beyond what is necessary to achieve the genuine and legitimate aim of securing the safety of the institution. It does not accord with public standards of decency or propriety in the treatment of a mentally ill inmate.

 The funds are to remedy to the harm caused to society which has suffered from the correctional service’s failure to comply with the charter and also its failure to comply with the spirit of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and its purpose of rehabilitating mentally ill inmates to return to society rather than worsening their capacity to do so by the harm caused by prolonged solitary confinement.

It has not yet been determined how compensation will be distributed amongst individual members of the class. Submissions to the court regarding this issue will be heard by the court at a later date where individual members of the class can put forth personal medical and prison records to make a case for damages. Those inmates who spent less than 30 days in administrative segregation will also be able to put forward claims on an individual basis.

In the meantime, Justice Perrell has ordered that $20-million be put towards mental-health resources and other programming at federal prisons, less legal fees. Therefore, the total amount for damages will be more greater than $20-million.

We will continue to follow developments in the matter of solitary confinement in Canada and blog about updates as they become available.

The Oshawa criminal defence lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP and its predecessors have been protecting client rights since 1992. Our skilled team has extensive experience defending a wide range of criminal charges. Whatever the nature of your criminal offence, we can help. Please call us today at 905-404-1947 or contact us online for a free consultation.