Recent Decisions

Two Convictions Overturned in Ontario Due to Rights Violations by Police

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

As we begin the new decade, in two separate Ontario court decisions, police violations of the accused’s rights resulted in quashing convictions for child pornography and weapons offences.  The Ontario Court of Appeal found that the breaches of the convicted individuals’ Charter rights by police brought the administration of justice into disrepute.

THE CASE OF PETER MCSWEENEY

Peter McSweeney (“McSweeney”) was convicted in October 2017 of child pornography offences partly based upon incriminating statements he made to police.

In May 2016, nine police officers arrived at McSweeney’s home with a search warrant.  Durham Regional Police Detective Jeff Lockwood spoke with McSweeney on his porch and began questioning him without reading him his rights.  McSweeney provided a self-incriminating statement and he was then arrested and taken to the police station.

McSweeney again incriminated himself after stating that he wished to remain silent after talking to a lawyer.

During the trial, Judge Mary Teresa Devlin allowed McSweeney’s statements to be entered as evidence despite the defence objecting.  Justice Devlin ruled that McSweeney was not detained when he gave a self-incriminating statement on the porch and therefore the officer was not obliged to advise him of the right to speak to a lawyer.

At the Court of Appeal, the judges found that a “reasonable observer” would have believed that McSweeney was detained at home and also found that the questioning at the police station was improper.

Justice Strathy, writing on behalf of the two other justices hearing the appeal, stated:

The state conduct was willful and in disregard of the appellant’s asserted Charter rights.  It had a serious impact on those rights and on his attempt to exercise them.

As a result of this decision, the appeal court allowed the appeal, quashed the convictions and ordered a new trial.

THE CASE OF BILAAL MOHAMMED

In May 2016, Bilaal Mohammed (“Mohammed”) was convicted of several firearm offences, possession of property obtained by crime, and possession of cannabis for the purpose of trafficking.  At the time of his appeal, he had already served his sentence.

During a routine traffic stop, Mohammed was pulled over by provincial police in a parking lot near Alfred, Ontario for a broken license-plate light.  The officer smelled marijuana and gave Mohammed a “soft caution” (an informal caution) and did not  advise him of his right to speak to a lawyer.

Mohammed was strip-searched in the parking lot, to the point of having his pants dropped to his ankle.  Police did not find a gun.  During the search of his car, police found some cash, a debt list, a grinder, a scale, several cellphones, some cannabis and ammunition.

Mohammed was asked if he had a gun and was told that if he turned it over he would be released.  He admitted that he had a loaded gun strapped to his pant leg.  He was arrested, advised of his rights and taken to the police station, at which point his cellphone was searched.

At his trial, Mohammed was convicted of various offences for which he appealed.  He challenged the trial judge’s ruling to admit evidence obtained during his roadside strip search, his interrogation without counsel, the search of his vehicle, and the search of his cellphone. 

At the appeal, the Crown agreed that failing to initially advise Mohammed of his rights, questioning him before he was able to talk to a lawyer, as well as the strip search and the search of Mohammed’s phone without a warrant were serious Charter breaches.

The judges that heard the appeal agreed with the Crown and stated “each of the breaches is serious.  Taken as a whole, the breaches are so egregious that the evidence must be excluded.”

The appeal court ruled that the first strip search was not authorized by law.  Furthermore, it was conducted in public in a highly invasive fashion.  Mohammed’s section 7 and 10(b) Charter rights were breached as he was questioned without being provided the right to counsel and he was persuaded to turn over the gun on false pretenses.  Finally, the warrantless search of Mohammed’s cellphone used as evidence of drug trafficking was in violation of section 8 of the Charter.

The three justices on the appeal court panel wrote:

This was a series of serious rights violations, committed in apparent ignorance of well-established law, arising out of the appellant’s arrest for smoking a marijuana joint.  These violations had a significant impact on the appellant’s Charter-protected interests.

The Court of Appeal excluded all of the evidence, allowed the appeal and set aside the convictions.

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.  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 phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times. 

Alberta Court of Appeal Sets Minimum Sentencing for Fentanyl Trafficking

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

As the country copes with the opioid crisis, the highest court in Alberta has now set a new sentencing starting point for those convicted of fentanyl trafficking.  The court recognized the peril that Alberta is in and stressed that it is up to the courts “to protect the public by imposing sentences that will alter the cost-benefit math performed by high-level fentanyl traffickers”.

A special five-justice panel of the Alberta Court of Appeal heard two appeals by the Crown prosecutor regarding fentanyl trafficking and unanimously ruled that convictions for wholesale fentanyl trafficking should receive a minimum sentence of nine years.

THE APPEAL DECISION REGARDING CAMERON PARRANTO

Last year, Cameron O’Lynn Parranto (“Parranto”), who pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for trafficking in fentanyl in Edmonton.  Police seized the equivalent of a half-million doses of fentanyl.

Parranto pleaded guilty to possession for the purpose of trafficking in fentanyl and other drugs for two sets of offences. 

After a search warrant was executed at Parranto’s home, police recovered 27.8 grams of fentayl, 182.5 grams of methamphetamine, 82.6 grams of cocaine, 396 morphine pills and 168 oxycodone pills.  They also found $55,575 in cash, a loaded handgun, ammunition, police and sheriff badges, body armour, a dozen cell phones, scales and a cash counter.

Following Parranto’s release for his first set of offences, he was arrested three months later when greater quantities of fentanyl, methamphetamines, cocaine, heroin, oxycodone and the date rape drug GHB were uncovered. 

Parranto pleaded guilty to both sets of offences and was handed an 11-year sentence for eight offences, five years for the March 2016 offences and 6 years for the October 2016 offences. 

The court of appeal increased Parranto’s sentence to 14 years, minus credit of 3 ½ years for pre-sentence custody.

THE APPEAL DECISION REGARDING PATRICK FELIX

Earlier this year, Patrick Felix (“Felix”), a wholesale drug trafficker in Fort McMurray, was sentenced to 7 years in prison for his role in trafficking fentanyl after pleading guilty.  Investigators seized approximately $1 million worth of drugs and 3,000 fentanyl pills.

Felix obtained drugs and stored them at a “stash” location.  He employed “runners” to take orders, retrieve the drugs from the stash location and complete the deals.  “Food bosses” were also used to manage the runners, collect money from the sales and then provide Felix with the proceeds.

In 2015, Felix sold drugs to an undercover police officer on six separate occasions.  Felix provided 2,388 fentanyl pills and 2.5 kilograms of cocaine for a total price of $173,400. 

At trial, Felix pleaded guilty to four counts of trafficking in fentanyl and cocaine.  He was sentenced to seven years for each count of fentanyl trafficking and four years for each count of cocaine trafficking to be served concurrently.  A concurrent sentence occurs when all sentences are served at the same time, with the longest sentence period controlling the length of time in jail. 

The Crown prosecutor appealed the sentence and requested that the appeal court establish a minimum sentence for those convicted of wholesale trafficking in opioids.  On appeal, the Crown also argued that the trial judge made “case-specific errors that affected the fitness of the sentence imposed”. 

At the appeal, Justice Antonio wrote that the sentence imposed by the trial judge was “demonstrably unfit” in part due to the judge’s failure to distinguish between commercial trafficking and wholesale trafficking and failing to take into account Felix’s role in the organization.

Justice Antonio, writing on behalf of all the judges on the bench, stated:

Mr. Felix’s role was at the top of his organization, which is a weighty aggravating factor.  He energetically ran a business that was structured to maximize profit while minimizing the chance of criminal consequences to himself.  He was responsible for pouring poison into his own community and potentially others, jeopardizing the health and lives of untold numbers of end users.

Trafficking in cocaine has a four-and-a-half year starting point for sentencing.  A starting point for sentencing of a low-level commercial dealer of heroin is typically five years. 

The court will take into account the dangerousness of the drug and the scale of the offender’s involvement in the drug operation when establishing a minimum sentence for those convicted.  The court of appeal found that wholesale trafficking is more morally blameworthy than commercial trafficking as it presents a grave danger to individuals, communities and the greater public interest.  The appeal court defined wholesale trafficking as one that traffics large amounts of one or more drugs or distributes drugs on a large scale, possibly for resale.

Given the appeal court’s comments, the Crown was successful on appeal and set a starting point for those found guilty of commercial trafficking at nine years.  Felix’s overall sentence was increased by the court to 10 years.

If you have been charged with a drug related charge or have questions regarding 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. 

Drug Conviction Overturned on Appeal as Police Delayed Access to Lawyer

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

The Ontario Court of Appeal has overturned Daniel Marlon Noel’s conviction for drug offences.  The court found that Durham Regional Police breached his Charter rights by not allowing him to promptly speak to a lawyer on the night of his arrest.

WHAT HAPPENED?

On December 21, 2015 at 10:28 p.m., Durham Regional Police entered a residence where Daniel Marlon Noel (“Noel”), his partner and his brother were living pursuant to a search warrant.  All three individuals were suspected of operating a small-scale cocaine trafficking operation, which was under investigation by Durham Regional Police.  That evening, Noel was arrested at gunpoint by Officer Aiello in a bedroom containing his belongings and identification.  Officer Aiello did not advise Noel of his right to counsel.

Noel was taken to a central location in the house and within five minutes of the police’s entry into the residence Officer Gill read him his rights to counsel.  Noel asked to speak to a lawyer, however, no efforts were made to allow for his right to counsel.

The police search of Noel’s bedroom recovered $5,670 Canadian, $71 U.S., 73 grams of cocaine, 55 grams of marijuana and a digital scale.

Noel was transported to the police station at 11:04 p.m. and arrived at the station at 11:10 p.m.  Officer Gill testified that, while being led to the transport vehicle, Noel admitted ownership of the drugs and claimed that his brother was not involved. 

At 12:48 p.m., Officer Capener placed two calls to duty counsel for Noel and his partner, Stacey Long, and left messages requesting a return phone call. 

At 1:25 a.m., Noel learned that his brother had received a call from duty counsel.  Officer Westcott left another message for duty counsel to call Noel.

At his trial, Noel alleged the following Charter breaches:

  • That the entry to his home violated section 8 (right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure);
  • That his arrest violated section 9 (right not to be arbitrarily detained); and
  • That his right to counsel was breached which violated section 10(b) (right to retain counsel without delay).

The trial judge rejected all arguments regarding Charter violations, except that Noel’s right to counsel without delay was violated.  However, Noel was denied the exclusionary remedy that he sought under the Charter, the evidence was admitted and Noel was convicted of the drug offences.

THE APPEAL

Noel appealed his conviction and argued on appeal that the trial judge erred in failing to find breaches of his Charter rights. 

The appeal court concluded that there was a violation of section 10(b) of the Charter and found that the police had a “cavalier attitude about a fundamental, important, and long-settled Charter right to consult counsel without delay”.  Furthermore, the police could not provide a reasonable explanation for the delay. 

The appeal court wrote:

Mr. Noel remained in custody without the benefit of counsel for at least three hours, unable to receive the direction, reassurance, and advice that counsel could provide.  … [Noel] asked to speak to counsel promptly but that right was denied. … We conclude that it would damage the long-term interests of the administration of justice to admit the evidence and thus be seen to condone the carelessness and disorganization exhibited by the police with respect to Mr. Noel’s right to counsel without delay.

The appeal court allowed Noel’s appeal, set aside his convictions and substituted a verdict of acquittal. 

RIGHT TO COUNSEL

The right to counsel is one of the most important and recognized rights provided by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Section 10(b) of the Charter provides:

10.       Everyone has the right on arrest or detention: 

b.         to retain and instruct counsel without delay and to be informed of that right.

The rights afforded under this section are designed to inform a detained individual of the scope of their situation and to ensure that legal advice is available. 

The right to counsel consists of an informational and an implementational component.  Thus, a detained individual must be informed of the right to counsel and this right must be understood by the individual (i.e. an interpreter may be required).  The implementational component involves the obligations and restrictions upon the police in conducting their investigation once the right to counsel has been asserted. 

The right to counsel must be provided without delay.  This is often interpreted to mean immediately in order to protect the detainee from the risk of self-incrimination 

Police must advise the detainee of his/her right to counsel and explain the existence and availability of legal aid and duty counsel if one cannot afford or cannot reach a lawyer.  Thus, the right to counsel also has a corresponding right to retain counsel of one’s choice. 

When a detainee has exercised his/her right to counsel, police must refrain from trying to elicit further evidence and refrain from questioning the individual until he/she has had an opportunity to speak with counsel. 

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 that 18 Month Time Limits Also Apply to Youth Cases

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

The highest court in Canada has ruled that the 18-month time limit required to bring an accused individual to justice, set out in the decision of R. v. Jordan, also applies to cases involving youth. 

According to Statistics Canada, there were 2,767 criminal cases that took longer than 12 months to complete in youth court in 2017-2018 (approximately 10% of all cases).  However, these numbers do not account for whether any of the delays were the result of actions on behalf of the defence.

WHAT HAPPENED?

In the case of R. v. K.J.M, a 15-year-old Alberta teen was charged with various offences arising out of fight that occurred during a house party in 2015.  K.J.M. was accused of stabbing a teen with a box cutter while intoxicated.  At his trial, K.J.M.  was found guilty of aggravated assault and possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose almost 19 months after charges were first laid against him.  By the time his trial concluded in November 2016, K.J.M was nearly 17-years-old. 

Although the trial judge found that the total delay exceeded the 18-month ceiling, K.J.M.’s Charter application was dismissed as “it was not the clearest of cases where a stay should be granted”.  This decision was appealed to the Court of Appeal where it was again dismissed by the court and each of the three judges took a different approach in their reasons as to whether the 18-month ceiling applies to youth cases.

WHAT IS THE PRESUMPTIVE 18-MONTH CEILING?

We have previously blogged about the 2016 R. v. Jordan decision wherein the Supreme Court ruled that unreasonable delays in criminal cases violate an individual’s guaranteed rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Supreme Court specifically spelled out the rule that court proceedings could not exceed 18 months for provincial court cases and 30 months for more serious cases heard before the Superior Court.

However, the Jordan decision did not specifically address whether these timelines apply to individuals under the age of 18 who fall under the youth court system. 

THE SUPREME COURT RULING IN R. v. K.J.M.

In a 5-4 decision, the majority of the Supreme Court concluded that there is no evidence that the youth criminal justice system is suffering from the same delays as the adult system that would justify setting a lower ceiling for youth cases. 

Justice Michael Moldaver, on behalf of the majority, wrote:

Unless and until it can be shown that Jordan is failing to adequately serve Canada’s youth and society’s broader interest in seeing youth matters tried expeditiously, there is in my view no need to consider, much less implement, a lower constitutional ceiling for youth matters.

The majority of judges of the Supreme Court found that although K.J.M.’s trial exceeded the 18-month timeline, some of the delays were caused by the defence and therefore dismissed his appeal.

Three judges of the Supreme Court offered a dissenting opinion and concluded that a 15-month time limit would be appropriate for cases of young offenders.  Writing on behalf of the dissenting judges, Justice Rosie Abella and Justice Russell Brown wrote:

Doing so gives effect to Parliament’s intention in enacting a separate youth criminal justice system, to Canada’s international commitments, to the recognition in pre-Jordan case law that youth proceedings must be expeditious, and to the consideration that led to setting the presumptive ceilings for adults in Jordan.  … Just as the court in Jordan determined the appropriate ceiling for adult proceedings, a separate analysis is required for youth proceedings.

Graham Johnson, K.J.M.’s lawyer, is of the opinion that timely trials profoundly impact young people and delays can impact the prospect of rehabilitation. Johnson argued that a 12-month limitation for youth court proceedings would be more appropriate.  Mr. Johnson told CBC News:

In Canada, children as young as 12 can be charged with a criminal offence, and if it takes 18 months to get the case to court and there’s a guilty verdict, you’re then punishing a 14-year-old for what the 12-year-old did.  And there’s a certain, in my view, injustice in that, given how quickly children develop, mature and can change their behaviour.

Mary Birdsell, executive director of the organization Justice For Children and Youth, who was an intervenor in this case and advocated for lower time limits for youth court proceedings was disappointed with the Supreme Court ruling.  Ms. Birdsell stated:

Speedy justice is really important for young people because their sense of time is different, because their development is ongoing, and because you want to capture the moments for addressing underlying consequences in meaningful ways.

If you are a youth that has been charged with a crime, or are the parent of a young person that has been charged with a crime, 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.

Man Sentenced to 6 Years in Prison for Impaired Operation of Canoe

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Last summer, David Sillars (“Sillars”), became the first Canadian to be convicted of impaired driving charges while paddling a canoe.  He was recently sentenced to six years in prison for the April 2017 death of an eight-year-old boy.

We have previously blogged about a landmark ruling by an Ontario judge who decided that a canoe is a “vessel” for the purposes of the definition of vessel found in the Criminal Code of Canada, which includes the criminal charges of impaired operation of a vessel causing death, operation of a vessel over 80, and the dangerous operation of a vessel.

WHAT HAPPENED?

On April 7, 2017, Sillars took his girlfriend’s son, Thomas Rancourt (“Rancourt”), for a canoe ride down the Muskoka River to teach him how to paddle a canoe.  Sillars was intending to paddle in the direction of and to retrieve a blue barrel, which appeared to be wedged against a barrier by debris.  The canoe capsized and Rancourt was swept downriver and went over a waterfall at High Falls, and then drowned.  Sillars, on the other hand, swam safely to the shore.

In his lengthy decision, Justice Peter C. West set out the following key findings of fact based upon the evidence presented in court:

  • Temperatures were between 3 and 4 degrees Celsius on April 7, 2017;
  • School buses were cancelled due to slush and ice, resulting in poor road conditions on April 7, 2017;
  • The majority of the ice on the river had melted, although small chunks were visible, resulting in a reasonable inference that the river water was extremely cold;
  • The water levels of the river were very high on April 7, 2017;
  • The current in the river was fast-flowing and extremely strong;
  • The yellow barrier is a warning to caution boaters of the danger created by the water flowing towards the High Falls;
  • Sillars was cautioned by two experienced individuals who warned him of the dangerous water conditions;
  • Sillars did not agree to take or wear an adult sized lifejacket;
  • The PDF worn by Rancourt was too small for him, especially given that he was wearing three layers of clothing beneath it, including his winter jacket;
  • Sillars had consumed alcohol and THC prior to operating the canoe on April 7, 2017;
  • Sillars intention was to paddle to the yellow barrier to retrieve a blue barrel, which was clearly wedged in debris and partially submerged; and
  • Rancourt looked up to Sillars as a father figure, and this relationship created a duty of care for Sillars towards Rancourt.

Based upon the evidence, the court ruled that:

David Sillars’ decision to canoe towards the yellow warning barrier, during the spring run-off with the described dangers and risks…, with the sole purpose to retrieve a blue barrel, partially submerged and wedged against the yellow warning barrier by other debris, was a significant contributing cause of Thomas Rancourt’s death.  …[B]ut for the decision of Mr. Sillars to go to the yellow barrier, Thomas Rancourt would not have fallen out of the canoe and wound not have gone over the waterfalls and drowned. 

With respect to the issue of impaired paddling, the court considered whether Sillars’ drinking impaired his ability to operate a canoe (Sillars’ minimum blood-alcohol content was 128 milligrams of alcohol in 100 mililitres of blood and he had 14 nanograms of THC in his blood).  The court concluded that Sillars’ intellectual abilities, specifically his reaction time, decision making abilities and his ability to respond to an emergency situation, were impaired by his consumption of alcohol.

The fact that Sillars ignored warnings by two individuals as to the potential danger of canoeing in the conditions on the river, refused to wear an adult lifejacket and failed to bring the required safety equipment in the canoe demonstrated to the court that he overestimated his canoeing abilities and underestimated the level of risk he was enduring, which further demonstrated how the alcohol and marijuana impaired his decision making abilities.

THE SENTENCING

Justice West found Sillars guilty of all four charges he was facing and was sentenced in October, 2019.  The Crown asked the court for a jail sentence of six to eight years and an order prohibiting Sillars from operating a vessel for 20 years.  Sillars’ defence team asked the court for a two-year jail term.

Justice West described numerous aggravating factors that he considered when deciding on the terms of Sillars’ sentence.  The fact that Sillars was in a position of trust and authority in relation to Rancourt was one such factors, as well as his previous criminal record. 

In his reasons, Justice West commented on how this is a “unique” case as there are no precedent cases of criminal negligence causing death or impaired operation causing death in the case of a capsized canoe.  However, Justice West used precedent cases of those who have been found guilty of operating a motor vehicle while impaired and sentenced Sillars to six years in prison, an order requiring that samples of bodily substances be taken for the purposes of forensic DNA analysis  and an order prohibiting Sillars from operating a vessel for 10 years.

Justice West stated:

In my view general deterrence and denunciation are particularly important in cases where alcohol or drugs have impacted an offender’s ability, as in this case, to operate a vessel and the factor that a motor vehicle was not … involved makes no difference.

Sillars has already filed an appeal and has been released on $1,500 bail pending his appeal.  He must remain at home under house arrest and abstain from drinking alcohol. 

We will continue to follow any developments that may arise in this case and will report any updates in this blog.

In the meantime, if you have been charged with a criminal offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact Affleck Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947.  We offer a free consultation and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Trust our experienced criminal lawyers to handle your defence with diligence, strategy and expertise.

Supreme Court Rules that Offender Has the Right to Lesser of Two Penalties Available at the Time of Commission of the Offence or Sentencing

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

In a recent ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada, the Court determined that a convicted individual is entitled to the lesser of two punishments, either the one in effect when the offence took place or the one in effect at the time of sentencing.  This decision overturned the Quebec court’s decision that a convicted offender has the right to the least harsh punishment in effect from the time of the offence until the sentencing.

WHAT HAPPENED?

In the case of R. v. Poulin, the accused was convicted in 2016 of sexual assault and acts of gross indecency from incidents occurring between 1979 to 1987.  Poulin was found guilty of offences against a child between the ages of seven and fifteen.  Crown prosecutors asked for a prison term of 3 ½ to 5 years.  Poulin’s defence team requested a conditional sentence given Poulin’s advanced age (82 at the time) and his poor health.  A Quebec court sentenced Poulin to a conditional sentence of two years less a day, to be served in the community, for the charges of gross indecency.

The Crown was unsuccessful in its appeal to the Quebec Court of Appeal and the decision was appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

At issue in this appeal was the interpretation of section 11(i) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which reads as follows:

11.  Any person charged with an offence has the right:

(i) if found guilty of the offence and if the punishment for the offence has been varied between the time of commission and the time of sentencing, to the benefit of the lesser punishment.

The question is whether this provision signifies a comparison of the lesser sentence at two relevant times (i.e. the commission of the offence and the sentencing of the offence) or whether the provision signifies a consideration of variations between the time of the commission of the offence and the sentence.

The judges of the Supreme Court split their decision 4-3 and concluded that Poulin was not eligible for the conditional sentence as it did not exist either at the time of the offence or at the time of his sentencing (it only existed temporarily between these two points in time).

Justice Shellah Martin, writing on behalf of the majority of the court, stated:

The legal rights reflected in our Charter represent the core tenents of fairness in our criminal justice system.  The right to comb the past for the most favourable punishment does not belong among these rights. 

The majority of the court found that the language of section 11(i) of the Charter suggested the application of a “binary approach”, as opposed to a “global approach”.  The binary approach would not permit Poulin to be granted a conditional sentence as it was neither in force at the time of commission or at the time of his sentence. The global approach would permit Poulin to be granted a conditional sentence because it was in force for a period of time between the commission of the crimes and his sentence. 

HOW ARE SENTENCES IMPOSED?

If an accused either pleads guilty or is found guilty at trial, a Judge must impose a sentence that is fair given the circumstances of the offence, the seriousness of the offence and the offender’s degree of responsibility.

The Court will consider both aggravating and mitigating factors relating to both the offender and the offence itself. 

Aggravating factors are those that the court relies upon which may increase the sentence, which may include:

  • Your criminal record;
  • The facts of the offence (i.e. your role in the crime, whether you have committed the crime on multiple occasions, whether a weapon was used and how, whether property was damaged or money was taken);
  • The impact of the crime on the victims (i.e. whether the crime involved a person under the age of 18 years, whether the victim’s health was seriously harmed, whether the victim received permanent physical or psychological injury, whether the victim experienced financial harm due to the crime); and
  • Your association with other criminal organizations (i.e. the crime was committed for the benefit of a criminal organization or committed as an act of terrorism).

Mitigating factors are those that the court relies upon to lighten the sentence, which may include:

  • The absence of a criminal record;
  • The facts of your offence (i.e. your role in the crime, co-operation when you were arrested, addiction or mental health issues);
  • How you’ve behaved since the crime (i.e. whether you have taken steps to address addiction or mental health issues, whether you have followed the release order or volunteered or given money to charity to repair the damage you have caused); and
  • Your personal circumstances (i.e. age, health, cultural background, education, work history and potential work opportunities, children and dependents).

The Court will take all of these factors into account when determining an appropriate sentence in an effort to maintain a just and safe society for all Canadians.

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 offer a 24-hour phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.  We are available when you need us most.

Changes to Jury Selection Upheld in Ontario Court

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

An Ontario Superior Court of Justice has ruled that the changes to peremptory challenges of jurors should be applied to jury selection beginning September 19, 2019. 

The decision in R. v Chouhan upholds the constitutionality of the new legislation found in Bill C-75 that removed the ability for lawyers to challenge potential jurors.

WHAT HAPPENED?

On September 19, 2019, Pardeep Singh Chouhan was scheduled to select a jury for a first-degree murder trial.  This was also the day that Bill C-75 came into force. 

The amendments set out in Bill C-75 reform the procedure for jury selection in the following three ways:

  1. The trial judge will be the one to determine whether the prospective juror is likely to decide the case impartially in the circumstances when either party has challenged the juror for cause.  Previously, the court used lay triers to make this determination.
  2. The ability to challenge prospective jurors by means of peremptory challenges by either party has been eliminated.
  3. The trial judge has been given the discretion to stand aside a juror for the purpose of maintaining public confidence in the administration of justice.

In court, Chouhan’s lawyers argued that the provisions of Bill C-75, specifically the elimination of peremptory challenges, violates sections 7 (the right to life, liberty and security), 11(d) (the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty) and 11(f) (the right to trial by jury where the maximum punishment for the offence is imprisonment for five years or a more severe punishment) of the Charter of Rights and FreedomsChouhan’s lawyers argued that the new procedures would breach their client’s right to an independent and impartial jury by giving the trial judge the discretion to make the determination in circumstances of either party challenging the juror for cause.

Justice John McMahon concluded that Bill C-75 does not violate an individual’s rights under the Charter.  Justice McMahon wrote in his decision:

The ability to exclude a potential juror based simply on their appearance, their look, or a person’s gut feeling, without furnishing a reason, is not transparent.  The elimination of the peremptory challenge does make the justice system more transparent, but without removing either parties’ ability to set aside potential jurors for articulate reasons.  The representativeness of the panel, the randomness of its selection and the ability for either party to challenge the process provide sufficient safeguards.

Justice McMahon held that an accused is not entitled to a jury that “reflects the proportionality of the population” or those of members of the same demographic group.  He concluded that there are safeguards in place to ensure that the jury remains independent and impartial, including the ability to screen prospective jurors for bias and the trial judge’s ability to excuse or reject prospective jurors for specific reasons.  He explained:

It appears that if either party can articulate reasons why a prospective juror would not be impartial, the judge would clearly have the ability to stand aside a prospective juror to maintain public confidence in the administration of justice.

Chouhan’s lawyers also argued that the changes to jury selection should not apply to those whose alleged offence occurred before Bill C-75 came into force.  Justice McMahon dismissed this argument and maintained that the new rules should be applied for every jury selected after they went into force, including Chouhan’s pending trial.

WHAT IS THE NEW LAW REGARDING JURY SELECTION?

Section 634 of the Criminal Code provided the rules for peremptory challenges.  Bill C-75 was established by the government in an effort to make juries more representative following the divisive acquittal of Gerald Stanley.  We have previously written a blog regarding the case of Stanley, who was charged with second-degree murder in the death of an Indigenous man, Colten Boushie.  In this case, there were no Indigenous members sitting in the jury.

Bill C-75 includes the removal of peremptory challenges from the jury selection process.  Peremptory challenges were a means by which lawyers for both the prosecution and defence could dismiss a certain number of prospective jurors, without any explanation.  The number of peremptory challenges allowed to a given party depended upon the seriousness of the crime, the number of jurors and whether there are co-accused.  Some believe that this process was used to ensure a particular composition of the jury.

Under the provisions of Bill C-75, lawyers have the ability to disqualify prospective jurors that they believe cannot be impartial.  However, under the new provisions, the judge makes the final decision.  This change is meant to address a growing concern that the jury selection process may discriminate unfairly against potential jurors. 

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.

Couple Found Not Guilty in Death of Son

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

We have previously written in this blog about the criminal case involving the Alberta couple, David and Collet Stephan, who were charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life to their 19-month-old son Ezekiel, who died in 2012.  At their second trial, a judge last week found the couple not guilty.

WHAT HAPPENED?

The Stephans testified that they believed their son was suffering from an upper airway infection (i.e. croup).  They treated him at home with natural remedies, which included a smoothie made of garlic, onion and horseradish.  They also used cool air and a humidifier to help with his breathing.  Ezekiel’s condition seemed to get better one day, then worse the next day, then better again.

On March 12, 2012, Ezekiel’s body remained stiff and he was unable to drink on his own.  Terry Meynders, a registered nurse, attended at the Stephans’ home and suggested to the couple that Ezekiel may have viral meningitis and that he should be taken to a doctor. 

On March 13, 2012, after Ezekiel stopped breathing a few times, the Stephans called for an ambulance.  The breathing equipment available in the ambulance was too large for a small child and he went without oxygen for nine minutes.  Ezekiel attended two area hospitals and was then transported to Alberta Children’s Hospital Calgary, where he was put on life support and died a few days later.

HISTORY OF THE CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS

At their original trial in 2017, a jury convicted the Stephans of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their son contrary to section 215(2)(b) of the Criminal Code.  David Stephan was sentenced to four months in jail and his wife was sentenced to three months of house arrest.

This trial decision was upheld on appeal and the ruling was further appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.  The highest court in Canada quashed the Stephans’ convictions and ordered a new trial (please see our blog regarding this decision).

A new trial began on June 3, 2019 before Justice Terry Clackson of the Court of Queen’s Bench, without a jury, lasting over three months. 

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE STEPHANS’ SECOND TRIAL?

Although it was established that Ezekiel had meningitis, the following issues were in dispute at trial:

  • Whether Ezekiel had bacterial or viral meningitis;
  • Whether Ezekiel’s death was the result of meningitis or hypoxic injury (damage to cells resulting from decreased oxygen tension);
  • Whether the Stephans knew Ezekiel had meningitis;
  • Whether the Stephans, knowing that Ezekiel had meningitis, ought to have sought medical intervention.

Based upon the evidence before the court, Justice Clackson came to the following conclusions:

  • Ezekiel had viral meningitis;
  • Ezekiel did not die from meningitis, but from the lack of oxygen;
  • The Stephans did not know Ezekiel had meningitis, but were aware of the possibility and were monitoring his symptoms.

Given these findings, Justice Clackson found that the Stephans were not guilty of the charge against them.

According to Justice Clackson, section 215 of the Criminal Code does not impose a duty on parents or guardians to seek medical attention for every sick child.  A duty is imposed when there is a risk to the child.  Justice Clackson found that, based on the evidence before him, the viral meningitis that Ezekiel suffered from did not constitute a risk to his life.

Justice Clackson ruled that there was no physical evidence that Ezekiel died of meningitis, thus the Crown had failed to prove its case.  The evidence before the court informed that there is no specific means to effectively treat viral meningitis.  Therefore, the Crown did not prove that medical attention could have or would have saved Ezekiel’s life.  Clackson stated:

I have concluded that the Stephans knew what meningitis was, knew that bacterial meningitis could be very serious, knew what symptoms to look for … They thought their son had some sort of croup or flu-like viral infection. … The physical evidence supports … [the] conclusion that Ezekiel died because he was deprived of oxygen.  That occurred because he stopped breathing and the resulting oxygen deprivation lasted long enough to lead to his death.

In response to the verdict, the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service issued the following statement:

We respect the decision of the court.  This has been a challenging case for everyone involved.  The Alberta Crown Prosecution Service will review the decision to determine the next steps.  As such, no further comment will be provided.

We will continue to follow the developments in this case and will provide updates on this blog when they become available.

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

Ontario Judge Awards $20 Million to Inmates Placed in Solitary Confinement

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

A recent decision by a Judge of the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario has ruled that the federal government breached prisoners’ rights and will have to pay $20 million to thousands of individuals who were placed in administrative segregation for long periods of time.

WHAT IS ADMINSITRATIVE SEGREGATION?

Administrative segregation refers to the isolation of inmates for safety reasons in circumstances when authorities believe there is no reasonable alternative.  Segregation occurs when a prisoner is placed in a small cell for up to 22 hours without any human contact or programming.

Critics of administrative segregation argue that this method of isolation causes severe psychological harm and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Courts in both Ontario and British Columbia have also ruled that this practice of segregating prisoners is unconstitutional.

WHO IS INVOLVED IN THIS CASE?

Julian Reddock (“Reddock”), the representative plaintiff (the individual who brings a case against another in a court of law), began his action in March 2017.  His case was certified as a class action last year.  The class comprises almost 9,000 inmates who were placed in isolation in federal penitentiaries for more than 15 days between November 1, 1992 and March 2015.  

The class action claim alleges that the Federal Government breached the inmates rights to the following under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“Charter“):

  • to life, liberty, and security of the person (section 7);
  • not to be arbitrarily detained (section 9);
  • not to be tried or punished again for an offence (section 11(h)); and
  • not to be subjected to cruel and unusual treatment or punishment (section 12).

The class members also bring a claim in systemic negligence against the Federal Government.

According to Reddock, he spent days without leaving his cell and never knew when he would be allowed out.  Reddock would find ways to consume anti-anxiety drugs, which he would use to knock himself out.  He testified:

All I wanted was to pass out cold for as long as possible, again and again.  It was all I could think to do to cope with the hopelessness of not knowing they would let me out.

WHAT WAS THE RULING?

Justice Paul Perell provided a lengthy written ruling, which was based upon 22,500 pages of evidence.  The ruling held that the Federal Government breached the class member’s rights to life, liberty and security of the person and to be free of cruel and unusual punishment under the Charter by placing inmates in administrative segregation for more than fifteen days.

In regards to the negligence claim made by the class members, Justice Perell also ruled that the Federal Government had a duty of care in operating and managing the federal institution.  The Judge concluded that the Federal Government’s breach of its duty of care resulted in damages to each of the class members. 

Justice Perell concluded that Correctional Service of Canada violated the inmates rights protected under Canada’s Charter due to an absence of independent oversight and the lengthy terms of segregation, which caused numerous detrimental effects including anxiety, hallucinations, delusions, panic attacks and psychosis.

Justice Perell ruled that an inmate is considered to be “cruelly and unusually treated” once the placement in administrative segregation is more than 15 days.

In his ruling, Justice Paul Perell stated:

The Correctional Service operated administrative segregation in a way that unnecessarily caused harm to the inmates.  Class members suffered harm because of a systemic failure. …Many of the administrative or disciplinary cells are very poorly maintained.  They are filthy and unsanitary.

Even if some form of segregation were necessary to ensure the safety or security of the penitentiary and its population, there never has been an explanation and hence no justification for depriving an inmate of meaningful human contact.  This form of segregation is not rationally connected to the safety of the penitentiaries.

Justice Perell awarded the class of inmates $20 million, but did not award any punitive damages.  Each inmate is entitled to $500 for each placement in administrative segregation for more than 15 days for “vindication, deterrence, and compensation”.  The individual class members have the right to pursue claims for punitive and other damages at individual issues trials, if they can prove individual harm. 

The decision in the Reddock class action case is expected to be appealed by the Federal Government.  We will continue to follow the developments in the legislation and case law regarding the legality of administrative segregation in Canada and will provide updates through this blog

In the meantime, should you have any questions regarding your legal rights and need to speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer please contact Affleck & Barrison at 905-404-1947 or contact us online.  We are highly knowledgeable and extremely experienced at defending a wide range of criminal charges.  For your convenience, we offer 24-hour phone services.

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.