Recent decision

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

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

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

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

WHAT IS THE CHILD LURING LAW IN CANADA?

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

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

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

WHAT HAPPENED IN R. v. MORRISON?

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

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

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

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE SUPREME COURT OF CANADA?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Court of Appeal Limits Solitary Confinement to 15 Days

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

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

WHAT HAPPENED?

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

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

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

Justice Benotto stated:

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

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

THE IMPACT OF THE APPEAL COURT DECISION

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEDERAL INMATES WIN CLASS-ACTION LAWSUIT

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

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

Justice Perrell stated:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truck Driver in Brocos Bus Crash Sentenced to Prison

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Last week, Jaskirat Singh Sidhu (“Sidhu”) was sentenced to eight years in prison after pleading guilty in January to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.

Sidhu was the semi-truck driver involved in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash in rural Saskatchewan on April 6, 2018.

WHAT HAPPENED?

The accident occurred when Sidhu drove through a stop sign and collided with a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team that was heading to a playoff game. Sidhu was traveling between 86 and 96 km/h. He passed four signs warning him about the upcoming intersection that had an oversized stop sign with a flashing light.

A forensic collision report found that Sidhu did not brake at the intersection of Highway 335 and 35 before colliding with the bus. The report also indicated that Sidhu’s view of the intersection was not impeded by any environmental factors, such as trees or sunlight.

At the conclusion of the four day sentencing hearing, Sidhu apologized to his victims and took full responsibility for the crash. He stated that the accident occurred due to his inexperience as a truck driver.

More than 90 victim impact statements were presented to the court by friends and families of the victims and hours of arguments were made by lawyers. The victim statements were emotional with some families stating that they were able to forgive Sidhu, while others admitted that they would never be able to forgive him for his role in the accident.

Sidhu’s lawyer explained that he had been hired by a small Calgary trucking company three weeks prior to the accident. He spent two weeks with another trucker and then began driving on his own. Sidhu was apparently distracted by a tarp flapping on the trailer of the truck which resulted in his missing the four warning signs regarding the upcoming intersection. His lawyer advised the court that sentencing in cases of dangerous driving ranged from 18 months to 4 ½ years.

The Crown prosecutor argued that Sidhu had enough time to slow down and stop and described Sidhu’s driving as entering the intersection “like a rocket”.  He argued that Sidhu should receive a 10-year prison sentence, followed by a 10-year driving ban.

THE SENTENCE

Judge Inez Cardinal provided her sentencing decision in a makeshift courthouse at the Kerry Vickar Centre. The victim’s family and friends wore Broncos jerseys with the last names of their loved ones on the back.  Judge Cardinal began handing down her sentencing decision by reading the names of each of the victims aloud. She described the victims as:

…gifted athletes, community leaders, and team builders with hopes and dreams for the future…Some were dreaming of having a family, while others were already raising their families.

 Judge Cardinal recognized that there has been no similar case in Saskatchewan or Canada given the number of fatalities and injuries. She acknowledged that Sidhu’s remorse and guilty plea spared the victims’ families a lengthy trial and saved him from a maximum sentence of 14 years.

Judge Cardinal stated:

It is baffling, and incomprehensible, that a professional driver, even one with little experience, could miss so many markers over such a long distance. His inattention displays risky behaviour given he saw the signs but they did not register because he continued to focus on the trailers behind him.

Sidhu was sentenced to eight years for each count of causing death, and five years for each count of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. The sentences are to be served concurrently as they all arise from the same circumstances, which means the sentences will be served simultaneously.  Sidhu was also given a 10-year driving ban, a firearms prohibition, and is required to provide bodily samples for the purpose of DNA analysis.

WHAT COMES NEXT?

Sidhu grew up in India and came to Canada in 2013. He is a permanent resident, not a Canadian citizen. As a result of his conviction and sentence, Sidhu will face deportation to India.

Under Canada’s federal law, permanent residents cannot remain in Canada if they commit a crime for which the maximum sentence is at least 10 years or their jail sentence is more than six months.

As a result of this accident, the Saskatchewan government has undertaken to make changes to the intersection where the crash occurred, promising to add rumble strips and better signage.  The government has also promised to put millions of dollars into improvements at other intersections.

Although there is mandatory training for semi-truck drivers in Ontario, training for semi-truck drivers in Saskatchewan only became mandatory last week. Training for drivers across the rest of the country will also become mandatory in 2020.

If you are facing a dangerous driving charge or need to speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer about criminal charges laid against you or your legal rights, please 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. We are available when you need us most.

Seven Year Prison Sentence for Canadian Tire Terror Attack

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

A woman who attacked Canadian Tire employees with a knife and a golf club while proclaiming support for a terror group has been sentenced to seven years in prison.

Rehab Dughmosh (“Dughmosh”) was found guilty of several terror charges by a jury after admitting to attacking workers at a Canadian Tire Store in east Toronto.

WHAT HAPPENED?

According to the agreed statement of facts, the only evidence presented at the trial, Dughmosh began considering an attack in Toronto almost a year after her return from a trip to join ISIL (a militant Islamic fundamentalist group active in Syria and Iraq). She admitted that she began to assemble store-bought and homemade weapons and created an ISIL banner using black spray paint.

On June 3, 2017, Dughmosh packed several bags with weapons, including a hammer, 31 metal barbecue skewers, 76 straws with screws glued to the tip, scissors, and a child’s shovel converted to claws. She also had an archery bow and a 20-centimetre butcher knife. As she left her apartment, her estranged husband took away the bags of weapons, however, he did not know she still had concealed an archery bow and a butcher knife.

Dughmosh proceeded to Canadian Tire and began collecting tools in a shopping basket. After 5 p.m., she took an ISIL banner from under her robe, tied an ISIL bandana around her head, and took out the archery bow. She then obtained a golf club and began swinging the club at three employees while chanting, “This is for ISIS”. The employees were able to take the club from her hands. She then proceeded to obtain her butcher knife, which the employees were also able to seize after wrestling her to the ground. Shortly thereafter local police and RCMP arrived at the scene.

Dughmosh admitted that she pledged allegiance to ISIL after reading about the terror group and watching videos online. She also admitted that she wanted to hurt people, but not kill them. She confessed that the attack was designed as payback for the public’s implicit agreement with governments killing Muslims.

Following the attack, Dughmosh’s home was searched and bags of weapons were found along with a cellphone that contained propaganda and a handwritten will where Dughmosh asked to be granted martyrdom.

THE TRIAL

Dughmosh was initially facing 21 charges. These charges were reduced to four, including two counts of assault with a weapon and one of carrying a weapon. She was also charged with leaving Canada for the purpose of committing a criminal offence in connection with an attempted trip to Syria in April 2016.

Dughmosh, who represented herself, did not enter a guilty plea on the charges. A not-guilty plea was entered on her behalf. She also did not present a defence and refused to make a closing statement to the jury.

The only evidence that was presented in court was an agreed statement of facts. This is very unusual in a jury trial.

Jason Wakely, federal Crown prosecutor, stated after the verdict,

Ms. Dughmosh was prepared to admit the facts that the Crown was alleging against her but for her own reasons she was not willing to formally enter a guilty plea, to formally elect to be tried by judge alone, she exercised her right to have this matter decided by a jury.

COURT-ORDERED PSYCHIATRIC ASSESSMENT

The Court ordered a psychiatric assessment last year to determine whether Dughmosh was eligible to use the “not-criminally-responsible” defence.

Dr. Sumeeta Chatterjee concluded that Dughmosh suffers from a major mental illness, most likely schizophrenia. He found that she was suffering from “actively psychotic” symptoms and “paranoid and persecutory delusions” at the time of the attack. The report suggested that her mental health began deteriorating in 2014, which may be associated with her adopting the terrorist group’s ideology during this time period.

Dr. Chatterjee concluded that although Dughmosh was suffering “intense psychotic symptoms” at the time of the attack, she was well aware that her actions could cause harm and were legally wrong.

THE SENTENCE

In this case, the Crown prosecutor was seeking a sentence of eight years, reduced from 12 years, due to the well documented mental health issues suffered by Dughmosh.

Superior Court Justice Maureen Forestell, in making her ruling, acknowledged that terrorists must be condemned and punished and that it was clear that Dughmosh’s offences were serious and that she prepared, planned, and intended to attack and cause harm.

Justice Forestell also recognized that Dughmosh’s mental illness played a role and was a mitigating factor. She found that Dughmosh’s mental illness made her vulnerable to extremist beliefs.

Justice Forestell sentenced Dughmosh to seven years in prison and stated that this particular sentence was significantly less than one that would have been imposed on an offender who did not have a mental illness and who did not show progress with treatment.

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.

Eaton Centre Shooter Found Guilty of 2 Counts of Manslaughter

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

After six days of deliberations, a jury found Christopher Husbands (“Husbands”) guilty of two counts of manslaughter for killing Nixon Nirmalendran (“Nirmalendran”) and Ahmed Hassan (“Hassan”) during a shooting spree at the Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto on June 2, 2012.

Husbands was also convicted of five counts of aggravated assault, one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm, and one count of reckless discharge of a firearm for injuring bystanders in the crowded food court.

In April 2015, Husbands was sentenced to life imprisonment with no chance of parole for 30 years when he was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder. He launched an appeal and was granted a second trial after the Ontario Court of Appeal found that the trial judge had erred during jury selection.

WHAT HAPPENED?

On June 2, 2012, Husbands was shopping at the Eaton Centre with his girlfriend. They proceeded to the food court after purchasing inline skates and a jacket from Sport Chek.

Husbands began shooting in the food court of the Eaton Centre in the direction of a group of five men, which included the deceased Nirmalendran and his brother Nisan Nirmalendran. Husbands testified at trial that these brothers were part of a group of men that beat and stabbed him more than 20 times three months prior to this incident.

Husbands fired 14 shots during his rampage as seen on surveillance video from the food court. Bullets from Husbands’ gun killed Nirmalendran and Hassan. He also shot, but did not kill, 13-year-old, Connor Stevenson, in the head. Two additional shoppers were shot in the leg and two were grazed by bullets. Husbands actions also caused a stampede of panicked shoppers who trampled a pregnant woman.

WHAT WAS HUSBANDS’ DEFENCE ARGUMENT?

Husbands’ defence team argued that at the time of the shooting their client was in a dissociative state as a result of suffering from PTSD and did not have control over his actions. It was argued that Husbands had been triggered after seeing the Nirmalendran brothers at the Eaton Centre.

Husbands’ defence lawyers infer that the jury either believed that Husbands was provoked into shooting at men who had previously attacked him, or that his PTSD “caused him to react instinctively without forming the intent to kill”.

Stephanie DiGiuseppe, one of Husbands’ lawyers, stated:

It would have been easy for the jury to look at the video and think this was all about revenge, but to look at it through the lens of trauma was something significant, I think, for our community.

WHAT WAS THE CROWN’S ARGUMENT?

Crown prosecutors argued that Husbands was out for revenge and went on a shooting rampage as a form of “street justice”.

Although the Crown accepted that Husbands had PTSD, it was argued that Husbands was in control of his actions throughout the confrontation.

The psychiatric experts who assessed Husbands all agreed that he had PTSD, but were split on whether he was in a dissociative state at the time of his shooting rampage.

At the time of the shooting rampage, Husbands was out on bail for a sexual assault conviction. He was supposed to be living under house arrest and he was under a weapons ban as well by court order. The jury was not privy to this information.

WHAT IS MANSLAUGHTER?

Manslaughter is defined as a homicide which is committed without the intention to cause death, although there may have been an intention to cause harm.

Manslaughter is found at section 234 of the Criminal Code and the punishment for manslaughter is set out in section 236 of the Criminal Code.

Manslaughter does not carry a minimum sentence, except when it is committed with a firearm. In the case of a conviction of manslaughter committed with a firearm, there is a minimum sentence of four years in prison.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT FOR HUSBANDS?

Husbands is facing a life sentence in prison with no chance of parole for seven years.

Parole refers to the temporary release of a prisoner who agrees to abide by the conditions set by the court before the completion of the maximum sentence.  However, the ability to apply for parole does not necessarily mean that parole will be granted.

Husbands’ sentencing hearing will begin on April 29, 2019.  He has already been behind bars for seven years.

We will continue to follow this case and will report on any developments in this blog.

In the meantime, 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.

Millard Files Appeal of Conviction in Father’s Death

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Dellen Millard is appealing his first-degree murder conviction and sentence for the death of his father, Wayne Millard.

WHAT HAPPENED?

In September, 2018, Millard was found guilty of murdering his father. In a judge alone court case, Millard was convicted of shooting his 71-year-old father, Wayne Millard, through his left eye as he slept on November 29, 2012.

Millard’s father’s death was originally ruled a suicide. Following Millard’s convictions in the deaths of Tim Bosma (“Bosma”) and Laura Babcock (“Babcock”), police began to re-examine Wayne Millard’s apparent suicide. Crown Prosecutors alleged that Millard killed his father in order to protect his inheritance.

During the investigation, Millard revealed to the police that his father was depressed and an alcoholic. Millard told police that he found his father dead in bed around 6 p.m. on November 29, 2012. He claimed that he last saw his father alive around noon the day before and spent the night at his friend Mark Smich’s house (his accomplice in the murders of Bosma and Babcock).

Phone records revealed that Millard travelled back to his father’s house in the early hours of the morning on November 29, 2012. The police came to learn that the gun found next to Wayne Millard was a gun purchased illegally by his son and had the younger Millard’s DNA on it.

Justice Maureen Forestall found that Millard had set up a false alibi by leaving his car, a cell phone, and his credit card at Smich’s house and he took a taxi to his father’s house.

MILLARD’S SENTENCE IN HIS FATHER’S DEATH

Following his conviction, Justice Forestall sentenced Millard to his third consecutive life sentence. Thus, Millard will serve 75 years behind bars before he is eligible to apply for parole. This is the longest term of parole ineligibility in the Canadian criminal justice system and the first time that this sentence has been handed down in Ontario.

At the time of sentencing, Justice Forestall stated:

Dellen Millard has repeatedly committed the most serious offence known to our law. He has done so with considerable planning and premeditation. In the murder of his father, he took advantage of the vulnerability of his father and betrayed his father’s trust in him.

In response to Millard’s lawyer argument that the consecutive sentence without parole eligibility is an unduly long and harsh judgement, Justice Forestall stated:

It is necessary to impose a further penalty in order to express society’s condemnation of each of the murders that he has committed and to acknowledge the harm done to each of the victims. It is not unduly long and harsh.

MILLARD’S APPEALS

Two days following Millard’s sentencing, his lawyer filed a notice of appeal with the court. According to Millard’s counsel, it will be argued that the verdict is unreasonable and the sentence is unconstitutional.

Millard will serve 75 years in prison before he will be eligible to apply for parole at 102 years of age.

Millard’s defence attorney argues that the consecutive sentence without parole eligibility is unduly long and harsh.

Millard is also appealing his first-degree murder convictions and sentences in the deaths of Tim Bosma and Laura Babcock.

Millard was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Tim Bosma by a jury in June 2016 after a 16-week trial. Bosma’s burnt remains were found in an incinerator on Millard’s farm. Millard is appealing his conviction. He filed a handwritten notice of appeal with 13 itemized arguments on appeal including the length of the proceedings, that the judge failed to sever his trial from that of his co-accused, that the judge failed to grant his request to move the trial out of Hamilton, that the judge allowed post-offence conduct evidence regarding the incineration of the deceased, that the judge allowed evidence which was seized contrary to his Charter rights protecting him against unreasonable search and seizure, and that the judge should have excluded evidence seized from electronic devices, amongst others.

Millard was also found guilty, by a jury of his peers, of killing his former lover, Laura Babcock, and burning her body in an animal incinerator. He filed an appeal following his sentencing arguing that his first-degree murder conviction was unreasonable and the life sentence was too harsh. He specially claims that the judge forced him to represent himself at the murder trial, despite the fact that Justice John McMahon repeatedly advised him to obtain a lawyer and his trial was adjourned twice to allow Millard to retain counsel.

We will continue to follow any developments in these cases as they make their way through the judicial system and will provide updates in this blog.

In the meantime, to speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer about charges laid against you or your legal rights, please 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. We are available when you need us most.

12 Year Sentence for Vigilante Justice Upheld

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

The Alberta Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 decision, upheld Steven Vollrath’s (“Vollrath”) 12-year prison sentence for cutting off his victim’s thumb during an abduction in a case of vigilantism.

Two of the three judges at the Court of Appeal ruled that Vollrath’s sentence at trial was appropriate for the well planned “revenge kidnapping”.

The Appeal Court denounced vigilantism and stated:

Vigilantism undermines the rule of law and interferes with the administration of justice. As a general rule, those who engage in it should be dealt with severely.

WHAT HAPPENED?

In May, 2013, Richard Suter (“Suter”) was parked next to a restaurant when he and his wife began having an argument. He failed to put his car in park, and as the car proceeded forward, he unintentionally pushed on the accelerator instead of the brake. The car advanced onto the restaurant’s patio striking and killing a two-year-old child.

Suter was convicted of failing to provide a breath sample. The trial judge found that the accident was caused by driver error and not drunkenness. The Supreme Court of Canada reduced Suter’s 26-month sentence to the 10 months he had already served in jail.

While Suter was awaiting trial, Vollrath, dressed as a police officer, and two accomplices rang Suter’s doorbell and abducted him in front of his wife. His captors revealed that the reason he was being abducted was that he had hit and killed a child with his car. Suter was taken to a snowy field, his thumb was cut off with pruning shears, and he was left unconscious in the snow.

Vollrath was convicted in 2016 of kidnapping, aggravated assault, possession of a weapon, and impersonating a police officer. Vollrath had a lengthy criminal record, including violent and weapons offences.

SENTENCING PRINCIPLES

According to section 718 of the Criminal Code, the purpose of sentencing is to protect society and to impose sanctions that meet the following objectives:

  • denounce unlawful conduct;
  • deter the offender and others from committing offences;
  • separate offenders from society;
  • assist in rehabilitating offenders;
  • provide reparations for harm done to victims or the community; and
  • promote a sense of responsibility in offenders and acknowledge the harm done to victims or to the community.

Sentencing must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender.

In deciding on an appropriate sentence, the Court must consider aggravating and mitigating factors, sentences imposed on similar offenders for similar offences, and all available sanctions other than imprisonment must be considered.

In Mr. Vollrath’s case, the Court considered the following aggravating factors:

  • he did not act alone;
  • there was advance planning involved in committing the offences;
  • he impersonated a police officer with the purpose of facilitating another offence;
  • the incident began at the Suter’s home;
  • the kidnapping and assault were targeted;
  • leaving Suter maimed and unconscious in a deserted area showed a callous indifference to whether he lived or died;
  • the lasting physical harm to Suter;
  • the psychological impact to both Mr. and Mrs. Suter;
  • Vollrath’s extensive criminal record; and
  • Vollrath was on release at the time of the offences.

The Court is also obligated to consider background factors for aboriginal offenders and to consider how these factors affect the offending behaviour. In Mr. Vollrath’s case, the Court found that he had no connection with his aboriginal culture at the time he became incarcerated. Furthermore, the Court held that Vollarth’s dysfunctional background was not connected to his aboriginal history as his biological father, who was a Metis man, left him when he was very young.

In coming to a conclusion in her 2016 sentencing decision, Justice E. A. Johnson of the Provincial Court of Alberta felt that the most important objective was to “denounce the acts and to deter Mr. Vollrath and others from engaging in this kind of behaviour.” Justice Johnson also considered the objectives of separating the offender from society and rehabilitation. Therefore, Justice Johnson concluded that 12 years of incarceration were fitting given the seriousness of the offence, the degree of responsibility of the offender, the aggravating factors, and the need for denunciation and deterrence.  The majority of the Alberta Court of Appeal agreed with this sentencing decision.

WHAT COMES NEXT FOR VOLLRATH?

At the Court of Appeal, the dissenting judge held that Vollrath should have been sentenced to nine years in jail after taking into account the deprivations of his childhood.

Given that there was a dissenting opinion on appeal, Vollrath has the option of appealing his case to the Supreme Court of Canada. However, the Supreme Court of Canada will only hear a case if it is convinced that the case involves a question of public importance. Approximately 1 out of 10 cases that request “leave” to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada receive permission.

We will continue to follow this case and will report any developments on this blog.

In the meantime, if you have been charged with a criminal offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced and knowledgeable 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.

‘Sexsomnia” Defence Rejected by Ontario Judge

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

A Judge has rejected the defence of “sexsomnia” and ruled that Ryan Hartman (“Hartman”) is criminally responsible for the sexual assault of a woman despite his claim that he was sleepwalking at the time of the criminal act.

Hartman was found guilty of sexual assault in 2012 and sentenced to 14 months in jail. He appealed and lost. He appealed again and admitted to the crime, but offered new evidence claiming that he was suffering from a condition called “sexsomnia” and maintained that he was sleeping when he raped the woman.

The Ontario Court of Appeal granted Hartman a new trial. The trial began in April 2017 and concluded this week with a Judge ruling that Hartman is guilty of sexual assault.

WHAT HAPPENED?

In February 2011, the woman, whose identity is protected by a court order, was attending a house party in Spencerville, Ontario with her boyfriend. The couple fell asleep on an air mattress to sleep off all of the alcohol they had consumed before driving home.

Suddenly, the woman felt a strong pain in her buttocks. She realized that her jeans were pulled down and that someone was penetrating her anally while her boyfriend remained asleep.

Hartman gave evidence at his first trial that he crawled onto the double air mattress with a sleeping couple. When he awoke, he was alone on the air mattress with an erection and his pants were unzipped.

As the woman and her boyfriend drove away from the house party, she observed Hartman sitting at a picnic table in the garage looking wide awake.

During the trial, Hartman’s lawyer argued that his client was asleep during the sexual assault and was therefore not criminally responsible for his “involuntary” acts.

Hartman relied upon evidence provided by Dr. Julian Gojer, a forensic psychiatrist, who determined that Hartman was likely asleep during the assault. Dr. Gojer’s opinion relied upon a family history of sleepwalking and evidence from Hartman’s girlfriend who had once found Hartman masturbating beside her in bed while apparently asleep.

The Crown prosecutor relied upon affidavit evidence from a U.S. sleep expert Dr. Mark Pressman who opined that Hartman was likely awake, but drunk during the assault.

At trial, evidence before the court included the fact that Hartman had consumed as many as 21 alcoholic beverages during the party and that his blood-alcohol level was estimated to be three to four times the legal limit.

Judge Kimberly Moore rejected Hartman’s defence of sexsomnia and ruled that Hartman was “awake and aware” and his “actions were not involuntary” when he pulled down the victim’s pants and anally penetrated the woman without her consent.

 WHAT IS SEXSOMNIA?

Sexsomnia is a type of parasomnia, an abnormal activity that occurs while an individual is asleep. It is a sleep disorder that causes individuals to engage in sexual behaviour while asleep.

Sexsomnia is similar to sleepwalking and occurs during non-rapid eye movement sleep. Most individuals are experiencing such a deep sleep that they will not even remember that the event occurred the following day.

Sexsomnia was added to the DSM-5 in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association’s relied upon classification of mental disorders.

WHAT IS THE DEFENCE OF SEXSOMNIA?

In Canada, sexsomnia has been raised by defence lawyers as a legal defence in at least a dozen criminal cases since 2005. The defence of sexsomnia has resulted in a “not criminally responsible” ruling five times.

A 2003 incident that occurred in Toronto set the precedent for the sexsomnia defence in Canada when Jan Luedecke was found not criminally responsible after being accused of sexually assaulting a woman at a party by the Ontario Court of Appeal.  In 2009, Luedecke was granted an absolute discharge by the Ontario Review Board based upon two risk assessments by a forensic psychiatrist and a forensic psychologist. He was found not to pose a significant threat to public safety.

In another case, a man from Blue Mountain, Ontario was found not criminally responsible for the sexual touching of a young girl as a result of sexsomnia in February 2015. In June 2016, the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court ordered a new trial for a man convicted of sexually touching his younger sister on the basis of a sexsomnia defence.

Sexsomnia is a difficult defence as it requires a great deal of medical evidence, including expert testimony.

The victim of Hartman’s assault maintains that the assault has changed her life, her sexual relationships, her personal relationships, and her career path. Hartman will be sentenced on November 30, 2018.

If you have been charged with a sexual assault 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.

 

 

 

 

 

‘Spiderman’ Has Murder Conviction Overturned

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

 

Shawn Vassel (“Vassel”) has spent seven years in prison and has recently had his conviction overturned and a new trial ordered by the Ontario Court of Appeal.

In 2011, Vassel was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of a Mississauga man during a drug deal turned robbery that occurred in 2007.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Vassel was nicknamed the “Spiderman killer” after he scaled down 11 floors of a North York apartment building in his attempt to flee the police.

Vassel was confronted by police at his mother’s apartment on the 18th floor. He exited the balcony and began rappelling from one floor to the next, finally appearing outside of the building and was eventually caught by the police after a chase on foot.

Vassel was arrested and charged for the murder of Husam Dagheim (“Dagheim”). Dagheim was shot at point-blank range in the parking lot of the Coliseum movie theatre in Mississauga during an attempted drug deal.

Vassel testified at his trial that he “risked his life” in his attempt to escape the police because he didn’t want to go to jail for a crime that he alleged he did not commit.

Vassel was sentenced to an automatic life sentence with eligibility for parole at 16 years. He has an extensive criminal record, which includes robbery, drug trafficking, and assault.

THE TRIAL

At issue at Vassel’s trial was the identity of Dagheim’s killer.

The Crown’s star witness, a former friend of Vassel, Michael Agba (“Agba”), testified that he was present during the botched drug deal and witnessed Vassel holding the loaded gun before the murder took place. During cross-examination by Vassel’s lawyer, Agba was accused of lying in order to secure a plea deal. Agba was originally charged with murder, but pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

There were no other witnesses that could identify the shooter, including the deceased’s wife who was seated beside her husband in a minivan at the time of his death.

Vassel testified at his own trial that he was not at the crime scene. He also testified that he lent his friends his girlfriend’s rental car for the planned robbery at the drug deal. Vassel suggested that the real killer was either Agba or another friend who were both present during the drug deal.

Cellphone records were introduced as evidence to prove that Vassel was at a townhouse complex on Ridgeway Drive in Mississauga at the time of the killing.

THE APPEAL

Vassel appealed both his conviction and the period of parole fixed by the trial judge. Vassel’s counsel argued that the trial judge made several errors regarding the admissibility of evidence and his instructions to the jury.

One of the grounds of appeal argued by Vassel’s counsel was that the trial judge erred by instructing the jury to take caution and particular care with Vassel’s evidence at trial.

In a criminal trial, all parties are entitled to a properly instructed jury. An appellate court ,when assessing a judge’s jury charge, must take a functional approach to determine whether the instructions, read as a whole, provide the jury with the necessary tools to render a verdict.

The trial judge instructed the jurors to apply the same factors in assessing Vassel’s testimony as they would any other witness. Justice Tulloch specifically stated:

Mr. Vassel has given evidence that may tend to show that either Mr. David Grant or Mr. Agba was the shooter as he was not on at the scene of the crime on the night in question. You should consider that testimony of Mr. Vassel with particular care because he may have been more concerned about protecting himself than about telling the truth. Bear that in mind when you decide how much or little you can believe of and rely upon what Mr. Vassel told you about Mr. Grant’s involvement in deciding this case.

Vassel argued, on appeal, that the trial judge erred in instructing the jury about the manner in which the jury was to assess the testimony of the appellant (the person who applies to a higher court for a reversal of the decision of a lower court).

The Appeal Court agreed with Vassel’s arguments and held that the trial judge’s instruction was problematic in terms of its impact regarding Vassel’s alibi (Vassel’s primary defence).

The Court of Appeal held that this instruction to the jury by the Judge was one of several errors. The Court stated:

In these circumstances, the inclusion of this reference had the effect of adding a level of scrutiny to the alibi evidence that was unwarranted and constitutes error.

Given that the Court of Appeal determined that the trial judge made multiple errors, Vassel’s appeal was allowed, his conviction was set aside, and a new trial was ordered. Vassel can apply for bail as he awaits his retrial.

We will continue to follow developments in this case as it makes it way through the court system and will provide updates in this blog.

In the meantime, 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. We are available when you need us most.

Judge Strikes Down Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Sex Crimes

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

A judge from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has ruled that mandatory minimum sentences for two sex offences should not apply in the case of Steevenson Joseph (“Joseph”), a 24-year-old first-time offender, who recruited and photographed two underage prostitutes.

After a three-week trial last February, Joseph was convicted of receiving a benefit from the prostitution of a person under the age of 18-years; procuring a person to offer to provide sexual services believing that the person was 18-years or older; knowingly advertising an offer to provide sexual services for consideration; and of making and possessing child pornography. A jury acquitted him of more serious charges, which included sexual assault and two charges related to underage prostitution.

WHAT HAPPENED?

At the time of the crime, Joseph was 21-years-old and was depressed and lonely. He received information from a friend, who was involved in the sex trade, about how lucrative the business was. He then met a girl, identified in court as C.A., who was a college student and who he believed was 18-years-old. He asked her if she wanted to make money in the sex trade. C.A. testified that Joseph did not pressure her to take part in prostitution. She also introduced her best friend, identified as R.D., to meet Joseph as she was also interested in the sex trade.

Joseph took provactive photos of both girls and posted them on a website that features escort service ads. The girls, who were in fact in high school and under the age of 18 at the time, also used Joseph’s apartment to service clients.

Joseph was caught by police through an Ottawa police sting operation after a girl identified as M.M. contacted Joseph through social media interested in becoming involved in the escort business.  M.M. was 15 years-old.

All three girls testified at trial that they were never pressured by Joseph, that they lied about their ages, and that they decided freely to join the sex trade.

REASONS FOR SENTENCE

At Joseph’s sentencing hearing, the Crown prosecutor argued that Joseph should be sentenced to a 3-and-a-half year jail term, while the defence requested a suspended sentence (ie. defendant serves a period of probation and receives a criminal record).

Joseph’s lawyer argued that given the facts of the case, the minimum penalties would be a form of “cruel and unusual punishment” and should be struck down as unconstitutional.

Justice Colin McKinnon agreed with Joseph’s lawyer and stated that the minimum penalty prescribed by law “for his offences are grossly disproportionate”. He gave him a suspended sentence, one year probation, and the conditions that he report to a probation officer and not communicate with underage girls identified as C.A., R.D. or M.M.

Justice McKinnon also ordered that Joseph’s DNA be taken pursuant to section 487.051 of the Criminal Code and that he be listed on the Sex Offender Registry for his entire life pursuant to section 490.013(2.1) of the Criminal Code.

Justice McKinnon struck down the mandatory minimums for two offences (receiving a benefit from the prostitution of someone under the age of 18 and making and possessing child porn) as unconstitutional.

This decision took into account that Joseph suffered “irreparable damage” due to inflammatory media reports that were based on exaggerated police assertions regarding human trafficking.

Justice McKinnon stated in his reasons for sentence:

I have sent a number of them to penitentiary, including two child pornographers. In stark contrast to those cases, the facts of this case constitute the least serious conduct witnessed by me in the context of prostitution and child pornography cases. …

An objective view of the facts causes me to conclude that Mr. Joseph has been subjected to sufficient punishment.

WHAT ARE MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCES?

Canada’s criminal law sets out mandatory minimum penalties as the lowest possible punishment an individual can receive if convicted of a criminal offence in Canada. These are often crimes that are both serious and violent offences. There are currently more than 70 of these provisions in the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

The majority of offences found in Canada’s Criminal Code do not have mandatory minimum sentences. In these cases, it is the judge’s discretion to deliver an appropriate sentence.

The codification of mandatory minimums was markedly increased by the former Conservative government in an effort to promote its “tough on crime” agenda.

The Supreme Court of Canada and lower courts have already struck down numerous mandatory minimum sentences related to weapons offences, drug offences, and sexual offences against children as unconstitutional. In fact, the Supreme Court of Canada has decided three of these cases (R. v. Nur and R. v. Charles; R. v. Lloyd) and R. v. Morrison is already on the docket to be heard in the near future.

In the current state of criminal law in Canada, millions of dollars are being used to litigate these sentences on a case-by-case basis. This results in inconsistent legal decisions across the country and uncertainty as to which mandatory minimums are valid.

Sentencing in the Joseph case is currently being reviewed by the Crown Law Office in Toronto to determine if the decision will be appealed. We will provide updates in this blog of any developments in this case as they become available.

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 905-404-1047 to speak with one of our experienced criminal defence lawyers today.