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April 2017 Criminal Law Round-up

The federal government announced two pieces of legislation around the legalization of marijuana. The proposed Cannabis Bill would allow for the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, while downloading the sale and regulation of the drug to the provinces. The Liberals also introduced a bill about Impaired Driving, which deals not only with impairment but also of alcohol, and has raised questions as to whether the changes would survive a constitutional challenge.  (See also BC lawyer Sarah Leamon's thoughts on Power and Politics. The bills have raised some important discussions about the criminalization of racialized communities and the prospect of amnesty for past convictions.  

Justice Michael Tulloch released the Independent Police Oversight Review Report for Ontario.The recommendations contained in the report aim to improve transparency in police oversight in the wake of growing tension around racialized communities and police. The report calls for the collection of race-based data and the disclosure SIU reports to the public, but stops short of releasing the names of the officers involved. This article provides a thorough overview of the report, including reactions from various groups as well as some of the background to the reports' origins, including the fight from Black Lives Matter Toronto to have the SIU report in Andrew Loku's death released. You can also listen to Toronto lawyer Anthony Morgan for his comments on CBC's Metro Morning

Another report that was released this month was that of Paul Dube with respect to solitary confinement. The report finds significant issues with the ways in which jails are using solitary, and provides 36 recommendations including clarifying the definition of segregation and more carefully tracking days spent in segregation. While lawyer Breese Davies finds the report is well-intentioned, she argues instead in her piece for the Toronto Star that the only solution is to end solitary confinement. 

Cases

In the British Columbia case of R v. Chu, Justice MacNaughton ruled that retroactive changes to the procedure for pardons imposed by the Conservative government are a violation of an individual's Charter rights. The case involved the 2010 amendments to the Criminal Records Act, which changed the timelines and requirements for obtaining a pardon. The court found that the law offended the principle that individuals should have the benefit of lesser punishment when there is a change of rules, and also found that Mr. Chu was essentially being punished twice. 

The case of R v. Al-Saedi would likely not have gained media attention (or been included in this round-up) had a group of high school students not filed into the courtroom during his sentencing. Mr. Al-Saedi took the opportunity to address the courtroom about how he had learned from his charges, and the resulting case gives a closer look at an individual's right to address the court prior to sentencing (otherwise known as 'allocution'), and shows the impact of an individual's remorse and insight on a judge's decision.

The case of R v. France provided a troubling reminder of the risk of expert evidence in trials. In this case, Ontario's Chief Forensic pathologist, Michael Pollanen, testified at a trial where Mr. France was accused of killing a two year old. The Court found that while he testified in a manner that appeared to be unbiased, that a skilled cross-examination by defence lawyer Nathan Gorham revealed that he blurred his professional opinion with his own personal beliefs and reached outside of his professional expertise. 

Around here: 

I had the opportunity to speak with CBC radio morning shows about Rona Ambrose's Private Members bill about sexual assault training for new judges. You can hear one interview here or you can read my thoughts on it here.

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