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October 2018 Criminal Law Round-Up

The biggest news of the month was the legalization of cannabis when Bill C-45 came into force on October 17. As people lined up (or placed their orders online), the government announced that it will pardon those with convicitons for marijuana offences. Advocates for pardons, lead in large part by Annamaria Enenajor's efforts with Cannabis Amnesty, have highlighted the disproportionate effect that criminal records for marijuana offences has on marginalized communities. Lawyers Ben Kates and Pam Hrick argue in their op-ed that expungements of criminal records are necessary in order to right this historical wrong.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced a bill that would change the rules around segregation in federal prisons. Bill C-83 proposes to change the way that staff in prisons can separate inmates from the general population while still allowing them time out of cells and opportunities for human contact (as opposed to solitary confinement.) This piece by Queens professor Lisa Kerr argues that if the legislation is properly implemented by Corrections that it could meet the intended effect of ending solitary confinement in federal prisons in Canada.

In Halloween-appropriate news, a woman in Milton was recently charged with pretending to practice witchcraft under a very dated section the Criminal Code. She was also charged with fraud and extortion under her business as a psychic. (It should be noted that it is only illegal to pretend to practice witchcraft, not actually practice witchcraft. Although this zombie law will soon be no more!)

Cases:

The Supreme Court ruled this month in R v. Gubbins that an accused is only entitled to the logs of a breathalyzer machine in an impaired driving case where they can show that they are relevant to their defence. Defence lawyer Lisa Jorgensen commented on the decision, arguing that the case shifts the burden of seeking records onto the accused, who has fewer means.  that it is difficult for defence lawyers to know whether the maintenance records are helpful without first seeing the records, creating a challenge to impaired driving cases. Emma Cunliffe's twitter thread provides a helpful overview of the case. 

In R v. Cubillan, the Ontario Court of Appeal reminded lawyers that while counsel must provide advice, it remains the accused's decision whether or not to testify is their own defence, and that preventing a client from testifying could, as in this case, amount to ineffective assistance of counsel.

If you followed the Supreme Court's case of R v. Suter (see June's round-up) then you know that the case had a bizarre twist of vigilante justice. This month, the Alberta Court of Appeal upheld the sentence of 12 years for Steven Vollrath, the man who abducted Mr. Suter and cut off his thumb with pruning shears. Given that there is a dissent, Mr. Vollrath could appeal the Supreme Court, given this legal saga and whole new chapter.

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