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February Criminal Law Round-up

Despite the relentless coverage of the Ghomeshi trial at the beginning of February, there was no shortage of criminal law news this month. 

In the news:

The mother of a young Inuit man who died in custody is seeking redress from the federal government.

The Current did an interesting piece on the ripple effects of Harper's 'tough on crime' legislation, looking at the issue of aging populations in Canadian federal prisons.

Meanwhile, the popular website Humans of New York did a number of profiles of American prisoners. Many, like this one, outline the hurdles that face many people in trying to stay out of the criminal justice system. Others, like this one, are just heartbreaking.

Harper Lee, the author of arguably the most famous fictional lawyer, Atticus Finch, passed away this month. Rebecca Bromwich asked us to consider the parallels between 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and the Jian Ghomeshi trial in this article for the Canadian Bar Association Magazine.

Macleans ran an important story about Indigenous people and the criminal justice system ("Canada's prisons are the new residential schools"), focusing on street checks, bail, sentencing and segregation.

In the courts:

A judge in Newfoundland reacted strongly to an accused woman in his court being shackled for a court appearance. In this decision, he called out the police for the routine use of unreasonable restraint in courtrooms, citing a culture of fear that "undermined the presumption of innocence, offended her human dignity and humiliated her in the face of the court." Read the decision here: or an overview here.

The Federal Court struck down the provisions that restrict medical marijuana users from growing their own marijuana. While this doesn't impact the Criminal Code provisions around recreational use of marijuana, it does stipulate that the federal government come up with new regulations for medical marijuana.

An Ontario Court judge found that human trafficking is a serious personal injury offence, making it possible for the Crown to bring a dangerous offender application in the case of Tyrone Burton. (He is the first person in Canada to be convicted of the offence, which was created in 2014.) The decision is here and you can read an overview of the case here.

Vince Li, the man who was found Not Criminal Responsible following the beheading of Timothy McLean on a Greyhound bus, had his conditions loosened and may move to independent living in the community.Debra Parks, a law professor at the University of Manitoba, provides some insightful commentary here.

The Ontario Court of Appeal found in R v. Quick that an individual needs to understand all of the collateral consequences of a conviction in order for the guilty plea to be valid. In this case, the lawyer had not discussed a licence's suspension that would result from the plea to a dangerous driving offence.

Maria Shepherd, a woman who plead guilty to manslaughter in the death of her daughter, was exonerated by the Ontario Court of Appeal. The case had involved evidence from disgraced pathologist Charles Smith, and following new evidence, the convictions was quashed and an acquittal entered. Read the story here.

Around here:

I appeared on CBC's All in a Day to chat about the Ghomeshi case. Have a listen here.

I'm also happy to announce that I am now serving as a director on the Defence Counsel Association of Ottawa.

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