Charter of Rights

Court of Appeal Limits Solitary Confinement to 15 Days

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

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

WHAT HAPPENED?

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

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

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

Justice Benotto stated:

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

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

THE IMPACT OF THE APPEAL COURT DECISION

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEDERAL INMATES WIN CLASS-ACTION LAWSUIT

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

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

Justice Perrell stated:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supreme Court of Canada Finds That Some Texts Are Considered Private

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

We have previously blogged about the topic of whether there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in text messages. The Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) ruled last week that Canadians can expect the text messages that they send to remain private even after they reach their destination (i.e. depending on the circumstances, there may be a reasonable expectation of privacy in text messages even after they have been sent to another person).

In a 5-2 ruling, the SCC in R. v. Marakah set aside the firearms convictions of a man whose incriminating text messages were found on the phone of an alleged accomplice by Toronto police.

WHAT HAPPENED?

An Ontario man, Nour Marakah, sent text messages regarding illegal transactions in firearms to his accomplice, Andrew Winchester. The police obtained and executed warrants for both Marakah’s and Winchester’s homes. While conducting the search, the police found Marakah’s Blackberry and Winchester’s iPhone and proceeded to search both devices, which revealed the incriminating text messages. These messages were then used as evidence to charge Marakah.

At trial, Marakah argued that the messages should not be admitted as evidence against him because they were obtained in violation of his rights against unreasonable search or seizure under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“Charter”).

The Ontario application judge found that the warrant for Marakah’s home had been invalid and that the text messages recovered from his own Blackberry could not be used against him. However, the court admitted the text messages from Winchester’s iPhone as evidence. Based on these messages, Marakah was convicted of multiple firearms offences.

The Court ultimately found that while someone who sends a text message has a reasonable expectation of privacy, this expectation ends when the message reaches the intended recipient.

Marakah appealed to the Court of Appeal, where he was unsuccessful. The majority of the Court agreed that Marakah could have no expectation of privacy in the text messages retrieved from Winchester’s iPhone, and therefore could not make a case against their admissibility. Marakah appealed further to the SCC.

SUPREME COURT OF CANADA RULING

The SCC allowed Marakah’s appeal, set aside the convictions and entered acquittals on all charges against him.

The Court found that Marakah had a reasonable expectation of privacy concerning his text messages. Therefore, the texts used as evidence to convict him had violated his guaranteed right to be protected against unreasonable search or seizure under the Charter.

In this case, Marakah was found to be the author of the text messages that he expected to remain private.  He had asked the recipient of the messages, Winchester, on numerous occasions to delete the messages. Marakah’s conviction was thrown out because the search was unreasonable and violated his right under section 8 of the Charter.

Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin, writing for the majority, stated,

I conclude that depending on the totality of the circumstances, text messages that have been sent and received may in some cases be protected under s. 8 and that, in this case, Mr. Marakah had standing to argue that the text messages at issue enjoy s. 8 protection.

The SCC did set out a four-step test to determine if and when one can reasonably expect privacy:

  1. What was the subject matter of the alleged search?
  2. Did the claimant (i.e. the person claiming privacy) have a direct interest in the subject matter?
  3. Did the claimant have a subjective expectation of privacy in the subject matter?
  4. If so, was the claimant’s subjective expectation of privacy objectively reasonable?

The SCC found that Marakah had standing to challenge the search based upon the following:

  1. The subject matter of the search was the electronic conversation between Marakah and Winchester;
  2. Marakah had a direct interest in the subject matter;
  3. Marakah subjectively expected the subject matter to be private;
  4. Marakah’s expectation was objectively reasonable.

The Court concluded that without the incorrectly admitted text message evidence, which was found to be inadmissible, Marakah would have been acquitted.

CAUTION BY THE SUPREME COURT OF CANADA

The SCC did caution that the expectation of privacy is not automatic and depends upon the facts of each case and that the outcome may be different in other circumstances. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin noted,

This is not to say, however, that every communication occurring through an electronic medium will attract a reasonable expectation of privacy and hence grant an accused standing to make arguments regarding s. 8 protection. This case does not concern, for example, messages posted on social media, conversations occurring in crowded Internet chat rooms, or comments posted on online message boards.

Therefore, we must expect that the law will adapt to changes and developments in technology and communication over time.   As these changes take place in the law, we will continue to provide updates through this blog.

To speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer about charges laid against you or your legal rights, call Affleck & Barrison at 905-404-1947 or contact us online. We offer a free consultation and are available to help you 24/7.

 

 

Ontario Crown Prosecutors Ordered to Get More Individuals Out on Bail

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Ontario’s current bail system is simply not working. It has been reported that almost 70% of the individuals held in Ontario’s jails are waiting for their case to come before the courts. Individuals kept in jail may ultimately end up serve more time awaiting trial than if they were convicted.

We’ve previously blogged about the government’s attempts to make the justice system faster and fairer. On October 30, 2017, Ontario’s Attorney General announced a new directive as part of the Crown Prosecution Manual to help make the bail system faster and fairer. This directive will be used to provide support and guidance to Crowns (i.e. prosecutors) and will be released in the coming weeks.

BAIL HEARINGS IN CANADA

Following an arrest, an individual is either released pending the first court date or kept in custody. The right to not be detained before trial is a fundamental right in Canada and is codified in section 11(e) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This right is based on the presumption of innocence (i.e. everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty).

Everyone charged with a crime is entitled to reasonable bail unless the Crown can show just cause to deny it. The principle of “reasonable bail” refers to the terms of bail (i.e. monetary conditions and other restrictions).

A bail hearing determines whether an individual accused of a crime will be released from custody for the time leading to their trial date. In order to grant bail, the Court must consider the following three factors:

  1. Whether there is any risk that the accused will flee the Court’s jurisdiction (i.e. leave the city, province, or country) or fail to return to Court when required;
  2. Whether there is substantial likelihood that the accused will reoffend or interfere with the administration of justice if released on bail; and/or,
  3. Whether releasing the individual will undermine public confidence in the justice system.

The following factors must be considered by the Crown when determining whether the individual should be detained:

  1. Age of the individual;
  2. Presence or absence of a criminal record, related offences and breach of court orders;
  3. Concern that the individual will interfere with the administration of justice (i.e. coercion of witnesses, destruction of evidence);
  4. Presence or absence of outstanding charges in any jurisdiction;
  5. Need for and the availability of supervision of the individual while on bail;
  6. Any ties to the community; and,
  7. Availability of community supports.

GUIDANCE FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF CANADA

The Supreme Court of Canada has set the stage for the new bail policies in its recent decisions in R. v. Jordan and R. v. Antic. The Court stated that reasonable bail is a right that should not be denied without a very good reason.

In the case of R. v. Antic, the Supreme Court of Canada reiterated the proper approach for conducting a bail hearing by using the “ladder principle”. The Court sent a strong message that too many individuals are being held unnecessarily in custody before trial and too many individuals are subject to restrictive conditions and forms of release. Under the ladder principle, the starting position at a bail hearing should be unconditional release and only if the circumstances of the individual in question require it should any conditions and financial requirements be added.

In the Supreme Court of Canada case of R. v. Jordan, the Court set strict time limits for the completion of criminal cases, where there are no exceptional circumstances. The Court specified a maximum of 18 months for cases in the Ontario Court of Justice and 30 months for cases in the Superior Court of Justice.

NEW BAIL DIRECTIVE

The main focus of the new bail directive is to keep more individual offenders out of jail while awaiting trial. The new policy should result in allowing more people charged with offences to be released with “realistic” conditions when warranted and only using sureties when necessary (the exception, rather than the rule). A surety is an individual appointed by the courts who promises to ensure that the individual complies with the conditions of their bail, and who puts up money that they may lose if they fail in their surety duties.

The directive recommends that the “ladder principle” be applied during bail hearings. This principle is codified in section 515(3) of the Criminal Code of Canada and simply states that an individual should be released on the least onerous form of bail unless the Crown shows reason to the court to proceed otherwise. The Crown must consider each “rung” of the ladder individually before rejecting it and moving along to a more restrictive form of release.

The new policy recommends that only necessary and appropriate conditions be imposed. Only conditions specific to each case should be recommended and should not be automatic. Conditions of release should be connected to the circumstances of the individual, the facts of the case, and meeting public safety concerns.

The directive further instructs Crowns to consider the unique circumstances that indigenous, low-risk vulnerable individuals and those with mental health and addiction issues face in being granted bail. The government will be introducing more assistance in the community for individuals who may need supervision and support, but who cannot attain a surety. For instance, the government has suggested the use of “bail beds”, which allow low-risk offenders to reside in a supervised home in the community while awaiting trial.

We will continue to monitor how this new directive is affecting the bail process in Ontario and will blog about updates as they become available.

If you have been charged with an offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, contact Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We offer a free consultation and are available to help you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ontario Taking Steps to Improve Criminal Justice System

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Earlier this month, the Ministry of the Attorney General announced that the Ontario government is taking proactive steps to make the province’s criminal justice system “faster and fairer”, including improving the bail system, and reducing the time it takes for matters to get to trial.

Highlights of the Government’s Plan

The government intends to enhance public safety through expediting the resolution of criminal matters and creating more supports for vulnerable individuals who come into contact with the legal system.

The plan includes:

  • The appointment of 13 provincial court judges, 32 Crown attorneys, 16 duty counsel (i.e.- lawyers who are paid by Legal Aid), and 26 court staff;
  • The appointment of three prominent legal experts, including a former Chief Justice, former Deputy Attorney General, and a deputy Crown attorney to provide insights on modernizing Crown (i.e- prosecution) policies on bail;
  • Several measures intended to improve the bail system, including a province-wide expansion and enhancement of the existing Bail Verification and Supervision Program, making the program available at several court locations on weekends, and extending eligibility for the program. This is intended to facilitate successful release of low-risk individuals on bail, pending trial, and ensure that they are not behind bars until their trial is completed;
  • Launching a new “bail beds” program in five Ontario communities to provide supervised and safe housing for low-risk individuals;
  • Embedding duty counsel in six correctional facilities province-wide to allow for more effective bail hearings;
  • Developing a new, culturally sensitive program providing support to Indigenous individuals going through the bail process.

Quick Facts about Bail

  • The decision to grant or deny a person bail is complex and based on the specific circumstances of each individual matter;
  • Some key factors considered by Crown when recommending bail are: public safety (particularly the safety of any victims), attendance in court, rights of the accused, and public confidence in the justice system;
  • If an accused is not released on bail, they will be held in hail until their trial is heard. This can take many months, or even a year or more;
  • Denial of bail causes significant damage to the life and career of the accused, as well as the life of their family.

Delays in the Current Justice System

Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi has stated that:

Our criminal courts are bottlenecked, daily dockets are jammed and early trial dates are hard to come by…This is not good for anyone.

The province’s announcement follows the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in R.v. Jordan, which set time limits by which all matters must get to trial. In the wake of the Jordan decision a case may be dismissed due to delay if it takes more than 18 months to get to trial in provincial court, or 30 months in Superior Court. As we’ve previously blogged about, Ontario courts subsequently changed their practices with respect to any cases that entered the system after the SCC’s ruling.

Last month, a Superior Court judge in Ottawa halted a first-degree murder case because it had taken too long to get to trial.

It will be interesting to follow developments in the province’s plan, and to see what effect it has on the criminal justice system. We will continue to monitor the program as it progresses, and will blog as needed to provide updates.

To speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer about your rights, please contact Affleck & Barrison online or at 905-404-1947. Our firm and its predecessors have been protecting client rights since 1992. Our skilled lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting our client’s legal interests.  We are available 24 hours a day, and offer a variety of payment options, including Legal Aid. Whatever the nature of your offence, we can help.

 

Text Messages: Is there a Reasonable Expectation of Privacy?

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

The Ontario Court of Appeal recently ruled that text messages seized from a recipient’s phone can be used against the sender in court.

In R v Marakah, 2016 ONCA 542, Nour Marakah appealed his conviction of multiple firearms offences arguing that the text messages used as evidence against him at trial were not lawfully obtained and should have been excluded by the trial judge.

The Court of Appeal ruled 2-1 against Mr. Marakah, stating that he did not have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in the messages once they had been sent. Mr. Marakah was successful in bringing a section 8 Charter challenge regarding the evidence seized at his home and from his own cell phone. Section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects all Canadians against unreasonable search and seizure.

However, regarding the messages seized from the cellphone of his co-accused, Andrew Winchester, the Court of Appeal sided with the trial judge in finding that Mr. Marakah did not have standing to challenge the search of Mr. Winchester’s phone. The test for establishing a section 8 Charter right is to for the applicant to establish a reasonable expectation of privacy. The Court of Appeal found that once Mr. Marakah had sent the messages, they were no longer under his control. Although he told Mr. Winchester that he expected the messages to be kept confidential, his subjective expectation of privacy in the text messages was not enough to satisfy the test because his expectation of privacy was not objectively reasonable.

The Court found that Mr. Marakah knew that he had no control over what would happen to the text messages once they reached Mr. Winchester’s phone and he therefore could not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the messages. Text messages, according to the decision, are more akin to an email or letter than voice communication.

To speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer about your rights, please contact Affleck & Barrison online or at 905-404-1947.

To read the full decision, click here.