Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Alek Minassian Pleads Not Criminally Responsible for Van Attack

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

The accused, Alek Minassian (“Minassian”), who has admitted that he planned the van attack and purposely drove onto the sidewalk with the intent to kill on April 23, 2018, has plead not guilty and is asking the court to find him not criminally responsible for his actions.

Minassian has been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder.  He faces 10 mandatory life sentences and potentially 26 life sentences, if found guilty.

NOT CRIMINALLY RESPONSIBLE DEFENCE

Minassian’s trial has finally begun and is being conducted entirely online through Zoom video teleconferencing due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Both the Crown prosecutors and the defence have agreed upon a lengthy set of facts setting out the events that occurred on the day of the attack.  The only issue before the court is Minassian’s state of mind at the time of the attack.

Minassian’s defence is claiming that Minassian’s autism prevented him from knowing it was wrong to kill.

Section 16 of the Criminal Code codifies the defence of “not criminally responsible”.  This defence typically arises when an accused who is mentally ill, does not understand either:

  • The nature and quality of the act that he/she has committed, or
  • That the act was wrong.

As Minassian has raised a not criminally responsible defence, the onus shifts from the Crown prosecutor to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt to the defence to prove on a balance of probabilities that more likely than not Minassian had a mental disorder that affected his behaviour and he didn’t understand that what he was doing was wrong.

If an individual is found “not criminally responsible” he/she will fall under the jurisdiction of the Ontario Review Board (“ORB”).  The ORB will hold an initial hearing shortly after the finding of not criminally responsible and additional hearings will be held once every year.  The Board is made up of five members including two lawyers, a psychiatrist, a psychologist and an appointed public member who determine based on an assessment and the accused’s risk to the public whether he/she should remain in hospital, be allowed to remain in the community or absolutely discharged.

AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER IS MINASSIAN’S DEFENCE

Minassian’s own lawyer, Boris Bytensky, admits that it is very rare to use autism as a mental disorder when pursuing a defence of not criminally responsible. 

Minassian was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age five.  Autism is a neurological condition that affects how the brain functions.  Those living with autism often find it hard to connect with others, may have difficulty communicating, repeat certain patterns of behaviour and may show interest in a limited number of activities.

Minassian’s defence team will argue that he “only understood wrongfulness at the intellectual level” and lacked the ability to rationally choose whether his behaviour was right or wrong.  It is anticipated that the defence will be calling psychiatric experts to testify that Minassian had an “autistic way of thinking” that was similar to psychosis.

UNPRECEDENTED RULING BY JUSTICE MOLLOY

Justice Anne Molloy reluctantly agreed to the never before granted demand by Dr. Alexander Westphal to guarantee that his videos of the accused are never publicly released.

Dr. Westphal, retained by Minassian’s legal team to provide expert opinion on their client’s mental state at the time of the attack, is a forensic psychiatrist specializing in autism and a professor at Yale University. 

Dr. Westphal made it clear that he would not testify if the tapes of interviews with the accused were to be recorded via Zoom or released for publication or distribution.  It was his belief that the footage of Minassian may be an inspiration to some vulnerable individuals and serve “as a catalyst for further violence”.  Dr. Westphal also noted that he wanted to protect the autism community from misinformation. 

In justifying her ruling regarding the videos, Justice Molloy stated:

Either I do it or proceed directly to sentencing.   … I made the analogy of a gun to my head.  Another one that occurs to me is a ransom demand.  I know it’s wrong to give into those kinds of demands.  As a general proposition kidnappers should not be paid ransom but that said, if somebody kidnapped my child, I’d probably pay. …

That’s my ruling.  Not happy about it.  (It’s) the least wrong thing to do in the circumstances.

In ordinary circumstances, Dr. Westphal’s bold request would not be entertained by a Judge.  However, Dr. Westphal is an American living in the United States.  If he were living in Canada, Justice Molloy could simply send a police officer to bring a hostile witness to court at a specific date and time.   

Bytensky argued that he could not put forward the defence for Minassian without Dr. Westphal’s testimony and stated:

Mr. Minassian, without Dr. Westphal, will be asked to fight with both hands tied behind his back.  That’s really what it comes down to.  And while that may be popular with some people who are watching the trial, that is not the test your Honour has to be concerned with.

The videos in question have been described as high-definition, close-up recordings of Minassian’s face as he responds to questions by Dr. Westphal and describes the attack.

A number of media organizations opposed the sealing of the videos and argued that courts are to be open and transparent.  Further, it was argued that it was an infringement of the rights set out in section 2 of the Charter which guarantee freedom of the press.

We will continue to follow the Minassian trial and will report on any further developments in this blog.

If you have been charged with a criminal offence 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 defence lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting our client’s rights.  We offer a free consultation and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

Latest Developments Regarding the Use of Segregation in Prisons

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

As we have previously blogged, last year the federal government passed legislation to eliminate the use of “administrative segregation” following decisions by the courts in Ontario and British Columbia, which found that placing prisoners in isolation for more than 15 days violated their rights under the Charter and was found to cause long-term psychological damage. This type of segregation, commonly referred to as solitary confinement, allowed prisoners to be isolated in their cells for more than 22 hours a day with no meaningful human contact.

The government replaced administrative segregation with “structured intervention”, which requires prisoners who need to be separated from the general prison population to receive four hours a day outside of their cells and at least two hours of meaningful human contact.

Despite the legislative changes to solitary confinement in prisons, a recent report discloses that prisoners give the structured intervention units a failing grade.

PRELIMINARY REPORT ON STRUCTURED INTERVENTION UNITS

An independent review panel, chaired by professor emeritus of criminology at the University of Toronto, Anthony Doob, appointed by the Liberal government to monitor the solitary confinement reforms released a preliminary report last month.  The results showed that nearly 50% of the structured intervention unit (“SIU”) placements lasted beyond the 15-day threshold.  Of the 1,646 prisoners placed in SIUs, less than 6% of prisoners in the new units were allowed to spend found hours outside of their cell every day.  The report stated that only 46% of prisoners had received the two hours of meaningful human contact on at least half of days in the SIUs.

According to the report, Indigenous and Black prisoners make up a disproportionate amount of prisoners being placed in SIUs.  Approximately 40% of prisoners sent to SIUs were Indigenous and 13% were Black prisoners. 

The authors wrote:

The failure to achieve the four hours out of the cell and two hours of meaningful human contact are, obviously, a special cause for concern.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, in response to this report, stated:

This preliminary report raises serious concerns with our progress in implementing the SIUs.  We take the findings of this report very seriously, and we won’t hesitate to address them. …

There is more work that needs to be done to address systemic racism and barriers within justice system, and the federal correctional system is no exception.  By working to eliminate these barriers, we can ensure better equitable reintegration outcomes for Indigenous, Black and other racialized inmates.

‘DRY CELLING’ VIOLATES THE CHARTER

In other news regarding prisons in Canada, a New Brunswick woman argues that “dry cell” segregation violates her rights under the Charter due to its cruelty and lack of basic legal protections

“Dry celling” occurs when an inmate suspected of concealing drugs is confined to a cell without running water or toilets so that their human waste can be examined for drugs. 

Lisa Adams (“Adams”), who was incarcerated for drug trafficking at the Nova Institution for Women, was placed in segregation due to correctional officers suspicion that she had been hiding methamphetamine in her vagina while she was outside of prison on parole.  Adams argues that a section of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which allows for the segregation and monitoring of prisoners for suspected drug concealment, violates the rights of Canadians guaranteed under the Charter and should be struck down.

Adams was given the choice of producing the drugs or being placed for 14 days in segregation for observation.  According to Adams, she could not provide the drugs as she was not hiding them.  After 14 days in segregation, she required medical attention for health reasons at which time she submitted to a vaginal exam.  This examination revealed that she did not have the drugs on her, however, Adams was subjected to another two days in isolation.

Adams maintains that she suffered mental anguish due to the prolonged segregation and nearly constant observation by correctional officers, even when she showered or went to the bathroom.  Furthermore, she was only allowed out in the prison yard five times and had no meaningful human contact except for a daily ten to fifteen minute visit by prison mental health staff during her isolation.

Adams argues that while in isolation her Charter rights prohibiting “cruel and unusual punishment”, the “right to life, liberty and security of the person” and her “right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure” were violated.

The lawyer representing the federal Crown acknowledges that although Adams’ detention was unlawful as the law was not administered properly in Adams’ case, the practice of dry celling can be carried out appropriately and should not be struck down.

Justice John Keith has reserved his decision on this case. 

We will continue to follow any developments in the law regarding solitary confinement and dry celling in Canada’s prisons and will report any updates in 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 LLP 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.

Alberta Appeal Court Ruling Likely to Limit Electronic Device Searches at Canadian Border

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Sheldon Canfield (“Canfield”) and Kent Townsend (“Townsend”), both Canadian citizens, were charged with possession of child pornography contrary to section 163.1(4) and with importing child pornography contrary to section 163.1(3) of the Criminal Code.

The criminal charges against both men took place when they re-entered Canada at the Edmonton International Airport in 2014.  Although the charges against the men are unrelated, both men sought an order from the Court under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that the evidence of the search of Canfield’s cell phone and Townsend’s computer by border officers be excluded at their trials. 

Both Canfield and Townsend had their electronic devices searched by border officers and were found to have child pornography in their possession.  They were both arrested, convicted and appealed the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta’s decision not to exclude the evidence obtained during the search of their electronic devices by border officials.  The Alberta Court of Appeal has ruled that the searches by the Canada Border Services Agency (“CBSA”) officers of the digital devices were unconstitutional as the Customs Act imposes no limits on the search of these types of devices at the border.

THE CRIMINAL CHARGES

At the Canadian border, Canfield was flagged for a secondary screening due to his travel patterns and “overly friendly demeanor” after returning home from Cuba.  During this screening, an officer suspected that Canfield had child pornography on his phone.  Canfield confirmed that he did and showed the officer an image of child pornography on his device. 

Townsend was also arrested after being flagged by border officials when returning home from Seattle.  Townsend was selected for a secondary screening due to his five-month travel pattern, his lack of eye contact with border officials and his lack of employment.  He was also carrying 12 electronic devices.  Child pornography images were found on Townsend’s laptop and he was arrested.

At trial, Canfield and Townsend were convicted of possession of child pornography and importing child pornography.  Canfield was sentenced to 18 months in jail and Townsend was sentenced to two years.

THE APPEAL

At their appeal, it was argued that section 99(1)(a) of the Customs Act (“Act”) was unconstitutional as it permitted unlimited searches of electronic devices at the Canadian border.

Section 99(1)(a) of the Customs Act permits Canada Border Services Agency officers to examine “goods” that have been brought into Canada.  This section has been interpreted to allow CBSA officers to search personal electronic devices without restriction.

The written decision by the three judge panel of the Court of Appeal stated:

While the search of a computer or cellphone is not akin to the seizure of bodily samples or a strip search, it may nevertheless be a significant intrusion on personal privacy.  … To be reasonable such a search must have a threshold requirement.

According to the Court of Appeal, the trial judge failed to assess the application of section 99(1)(a) of the Act considering the developing technology of personal digital devices.

There is no doubt that there have been significant developments in the technology of personal electronic devices and the way they are used by Canadians (since 1988).  Individuals were not travelling and crossing borders with personal computers or cell phones that contained massive amounts of highly personal information.

The Court ruled that the definition of “goods” in the Act is “of no force” when it comes to personal electronic devices.

The Alberta Court of Appeal found that section 99(1)(a) of the Act was unconstitutional as it imposed no limits on searches of electronic devices by CBSA officers at the border.  The Appeal Court ruled that this section will be of no force and effect for one year to allow Parliament the opportunity to amend the Act.

Despite the Appeal Court’s ruling on the constitutional validity of the section, the convictions of Canfield and Townsend were upheld by the Court based upon the finding that the border officers acted in good faith in carrying out the searches and uncovered real evidence of serious offences.  Furthermore, society’s confidence in the justice system was best maintained through the admission of the evidence obtained through the unconstitutional searches. 

The CBSA, in a statement to CBC News, reported that it is currently reviewing the appeal court decision and assessing the next steps.  According to the CBSA:

The CBSA’s policy is to examine a digital device only if there are indicators that evidence of a contravention will be found.  It is important to note that examinations of digital devices are not conducted as a matter of course. …

This is a pretty big change in the law for the 98 million people who come through our Canadian border every year.

We will continue to follow any developments in the law with respect to the limits imposed on officers to search electronic devices at border crossings in Canada and will report them in this blog.

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.

Appeal Court Expunges the Defence of Self-Induced Intoxication

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Last week, amidst great controversy, the Ontario Court of Appeal released its decision in the cases of R. v. Sullivan and R. v. Chan regarding the application of the defence of self-induced intoxication. 

This significant decision declared that section 33.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada (“CC”) is unconstitutional and of no force or effect.

SECTION 33.1 OF THE CRIMINAL CODE

Section 33.1 of the CC established that if an accused caused his/her own intoxication and commits a violent offence, he/she cannot claim that he/she was too intoxicated to be found guilty of even general intent offences (i.e. assault and sexual assault).  This applies even if he/she was intoxicated to the point of automatism (the performance of an action unconsciously or involuntarily), even if his/her acts were involuntary or he/she lacked the mental state to commit the violent act.

In its latest decision, the Ontario Court of Appeal determined that this law breached “virtually all the criminal law principles that the law relies upon to protect the morally innocent, including the venerable presumption of innocence”.

WHAT HAPPENED IN THE SULLIVAN CASE?

In the case of David Sullivan, the accused over-consumed prescription medication in an attempt to take his own life.  The medication left him in a state of extreme psychosis.  During the psychotic episode, he believed he had captured an alien and proceeded to stab his mother.

At trial, Sullivan was found guilty of the violent offence despite Sullivan’s contention that his intoxication was involuntary as it resulted from a suicide attempt. 

WHAT HAPPENED IN THE CHAN CASE?

Thomas Chan, a high school student, stabbed and killed his father and severely injured his father’s partner during a psychotic episode after consuming magic mushrooms.  Chan believed he was a deity and that his father was the devil. 

At trial, Chan also attempted to rely upon the defence of non-mental disorder automatism.  Given section 33.1, which prohibits the use of automatism as a defence in cases of violence when an accused’s intoxication was self-inflicted, this defence failed and Chan was convicted.

THE COURT OF APPEAL’S DECISION REGARDING SECTION 33.1 OF THE CRIMINAL CODE

The Court of Appeal found that section 33.1 of the CC violated the following sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms:

  1. The right to life, liberty and security of the person (section 7); and
  2. The right to the presumption of innocence (section 11(d)).

Under Canadian law, if a law violates a Charter right, in certain circumstances it can be justified by the Crown and upheld despite the violations.  In this case, the Appeal Court could not find benefits to the law, and instead found that the law was contrary to the principles of fundamental justice.

In its decision, the Court of Appeal wrote:

Put simply, the deleterious effects of s.33.1 include the contravention of virtually all the criminal law principles that the law relies upon to protect the morally innocent, including the venerable presumption of innocence. …

With very little true gain, Parliament has attempted to cast aside the bedrock of moral fault.

The Court of Appeal held that a person must act voluntarily to commit a crime.  Although lawmakers attempted to help victims attain justice with the introduction of section 33.1 of the CC, the law in actuality violated an accused’s rights by making them responsible for violence they had no control over.  Justices David Paciocco and David Watt wrote:

As for recognizing and promoting the equality, security and dignity of crime victims, it is obvious that those few victims who may see their offenders acquitted without s.33.1 will be poorly served.  They are victims, whether their attacked willed or intended the attack.  However, to convict an attacker of offences for which they do not bear the moral fault required by the Charter to void this outcome, is to replace on injustice for another, and at an intolerable cost to the core principles that animate criminal liability.

The Court of Appeal ordered a new trial for Chan as he was only convicted of offences that included an element of assault and those convictions depended upon section 33.1.  On the other hand, the Court of Appeal acquitted Sullivan of all of his charges.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

The Crown prosecutor has advised that it will be seeking leave to appeal these decisions to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund has strongly expressed its frustration over this Court of Appeal decision and believes that this decision sends a message “that men can avoid accountability for their acts of violence against women and children through intoxication”.

However, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has expressed that the concern that the floodgates have been opened to men arguing the defence of intoxication are unwarranted.  An accused must still prove that he/she was in a state of automatism, not merely drunk.

Cara Zwibel, Director with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, stated:

This is a rarely used provision.  It’s not this widespread, systemic concern.

We will continue to follow the law as it evolves in response to the recent Ontario Court of Appeal decisions and will report any developments in this blog.

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.

Constitutional Challenge Filed by Prisoner Alleging Breach of Charter Rights

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Sean Johnston, a federal prisoner serving a life sentence for murder, has filed an application in federal court against Canada’s Attorney General and Correctional Service of Canada (“CSC”).  Johnston is currently serving his sentence in Ontario’s medium security Warkworth Institution.

Johnston, along with five human rights organizations including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Prison Law Association, allege that CSC cannot keep prisoners safe as they are unable to ensure proper physical distancing measures are implemented without reducing the prison population.

According to CSC, two prisoners have died of COVID-19 and 333 prisoners have tested positive with COVID-19 in Canada.

ALLEGATIONS AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT

Johnston’s application alleges that the government’s failure to protect the health of the prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic violates the liberties set out in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms

As there is currently no vaccine or approved treatment for COVID-19, physical distancing is the principal protection against contracting the virus.  It is alleged that the government has failed to take steps to transfer low-risk inmates to community supervision and has failed to implement appropriate infection control measures in their facilities, including testing, hand-washing and comprehensive cleaning of common areas.

According to Johnston:

Physical distancing measures in prison have been grossly inadequate.  Some of us remain double-bunked and cannot achieve physical distancing within our own cells, let alone throughout the institution.

The lawsuit alleges that:

Federal prisoners are disproportionately at risk both of contracting COVID-19 due to the nature of the penitentiary environment, and of suffering severe adverse outcomes including death, due to the prevalence among the federal inmate population of pre-existing vulnerabilities.

The lawsuit also alleges that some prisoners are resorting to the use of lockdowns (being confined to their own cells for indefinite periods of time), which is similar to segregation, in order to reduce the spread of the virus. 

According to the lawsuit, Johnston has served 28 years in prison and suffers from diabetes, heart problems, asthma, sleep apnea, post traumatic stress disorder and experiences blood clots.  He also uses a medical machine for asthma, which may increase the spread of the virus.  It is alleged that Johnston is a medically-vulnerable inmate and he and prisoners like him should be released and allowed to self isolate in the community.  Failing to do so is a breach of his rights under the Charter.

None of the allegations by Johnston have been proven in court. 

CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT AGAINST CORRECTIONAL SERVICE CANADA

Representative plaintiff, Joelle Beaulieu (“Beaulieu”), an inmate at the federal women’s prison in Joliette, Quebec that reports the most confirmed cases of COVID-19, has commenced an application for a class action lawsuit against CSC. 

It is alleged that CSC failed in their duty to protect vulnerable inmates from the spread of the deadly virus.  It is further alleged that federal prison officials were slow to implement preventative measures at the prison. 

Beaulieu’s action seeks $100 per day for all federal inmates since March 13, 2020 (the day when Quebec declared a medical emergency), and an additional $500 lump sum for those who contracted COVID-19.

Beaulieu claims that she was “patient zero” in the outbreak of the virus that has affected more than half of the 82 residents at Joliette Women’s Institution.  It is alleged that Beaulieu was forced to clean high-traffic common areas wearing only gloves.  Her requests for masks or other protective equipment were denied on three occasions.

According to the Statement of Claim, when Beaulieu began experiencing symptoms that included fever and muscle pain, she was given Tylenol and sent back to her unit.  Beaulieu alleges that a nurse told her she couldn’t have contracted COVID-19 as she had not travelled.  She was finally tested for the virus after suffering from symptoms for a week and had transferred units several times.

It is further alleged that as a result of testing positive, Beaulieu was detained in her cell all day, except for 15 minutes per day.  Her requests to speak with an Indigenous elder or mental health consultant were ignored.

None of the allegations have been proven in court and the Quebec Superior Court has not as of yet authorized the class action application.

THE CANADIAN GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSE

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair reported earlier this month in a government briefing that “literally hundreds” of Canadian inmates have been released from prison given the COVID-19 pandemic.  He has also assured the public that the government, CSC and the Parole Board have taken “a number of significant steps” to ensure the health and safety of the inmate populations.

It is unclear as to how many inmates have actually been released in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 amongst the prison population in Canada.

Minister Blair has declined to comment on Johnston’s application and the CSC has responded that it is reviewing the application.

Esther Mailhot, a spokesperson for the CSC, has written:

CSC is working diligently to protect the safety of staff, inmates and the public.  Since the start of COVID-19 pandemic, management teams at all levels are engaging with local, provincial and federal public health authorities to navigate these unprecedented times.

We will continue to follow new developments regarding how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the Canadian justice system and will provide updates in this blog.

If you have been charged with a criminal offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal defence lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP.  Our skilled criminal defence lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting our client’s rights.  Contact our office today 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.

Criminal Convictions are in Jeopardy Following Clarification of New Rules For Jury Selection by the Appeal Court

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

A recent ruling by the Ontario Court of Appeal in the case of R. v. Chouhan, regarding how jury selection changes should be applied, could require new trials for those recently convicted in Ontario.

Pardeep Singh Chouhan (“Chouhan”) challenged the new rules for jury selection that were set out in Bill C-75 at the court of appeal.  The jury selection process in Chouhan’s first-degree murder trial took place on the same day as the changes to the legislation came into force.  The appeal court upheld the constitutionality of the new rules, however, ruled that the trial judge did not apply the new rules correctly.

WHAT CHANGES OCCURRED AS A RESULT OF BILL C-75?

As we have previously blogged, following the acquittal of Gerald Stanley, who was charged with killing a 22-year-old Indigenous man, Bill C-75 was introduced to modify the jury selection process in Canada.  The changes to jury selection were intended to make juries more representative.

The reform of the jury selection procedure under the new legislation, which came into force on September 19, 2019, is as follows:

  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. 
  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.

WHAT HAPPENED AT CHOUHAN’S TRIAL?

Chouhan was charged with first-degree murder in the 2016 shooting death of  Maninder Sandhu.  Chouhan was scheduled to select a jury for his murder trial on September 19, 2019, the same day that Bill C-75 and the changes to the jury selection process came into force.  We have previously blogged about this Superior Court decision.

At that time, Chouhan’s lawyers requested that the court use the previous jury selection rules as the new jury selection process violated Chouhan’s Charter rights.  The presiding judge rejected the defence arguments that doing away with peremptory challenges infringed Chouhan’s constitutional right to be tried by an independent and impartial jury.  Ontario Superior Court Justice John McMahon ruled that the new changes to the jury selection process should apply to every jury selected after the legislation came into force and for those cases in the system where the accused had already opted for a jury trial.

WHAT HAPPENED AT CHOUHAN’S APPEAL?

Chouhan’s case made its way to the court of appeal, at which point the unanimous court ruled that the new rules were constitutional and did not infringe Chouhan’s Charter rights.  However, the three judges of the appeal court held that the trial court did not apply the new rules appropriately.

Writing on behalf of the appeal court judges, Justice Watt wrote:

With respect to the temporal application of the amendments, I decide that the abolition of the peremptory challenge applies prospectively, that is to say, only to cases where the accused’s right to a trial by judge and jury vested on or after September 19, 2019.  …[T]he amendment making the presiding judge the trier of all challenges for cause applies retrospectively, that is to say, to all cases tried on or after September 19, 2019, irrespective of when the right vested.

[N]ot all accused charged with an offence before September 19, 2019 have a vested right to a trial by judge and jury under the former legislation.  For the right to have vested, the accused must have, before September 19, 2019:

(i) been charged with an offence within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Superior Court;

(ii) been directly indicted; or

(iii) elected for a trial in Superior Court by judge and jury.

The Court of Appeal allowed Chouhan’s appeal, set aside his conviction and ordered a new trial on the indictment.

The Ontario government can appeal this decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.  We understand that the Crown is currently reviewing the appeal court decision and we will provide an update in this blog when information regarding the government’s decision on an appeal becomes available.

We will continue to follow the affects of the Chouhan decision on legal cases and will provide updates in this blog.  We can advise that only hours after the appeal court decision in the Chouhan case, two cases being heard in Toronto’s Superior Court (a murder charge and a sexual assault case) were declared mistrials.

If you have questions regarding charges laid against you or your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP at 905-404-1947 or contact us online.  Our skilled criminal defence lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting our client’s rights.  We offer a free consultation and are available to help you 24/7.

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. 

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.

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.