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Coming into Force: Changes in Criminal Law from Bill C-75

It has now been 90 days since Bill C-75 received Royal Assent, and many sections of the bill come into force today. The massive bill has far-reaching consequences for the procedures in the criminal justice system. Here are some of the changes that take effect as of September 19, 2019:

Preliminary inquiries: The availability of a preliminary inquiry is limited to an offence where an individual is liable to a maximum punishment of 14 years or more in prison. In other words, for many offences where the maximum penalty is less than 14 years (such as sexual assaults, for example), an accused person will not be able to test the evidence in a preliminary inquiry. The issue of whether this part of the bill applies retrospectively is being argued in Ontario at the moment. (This will determine whether people who had elected to have a preliminary inquiry before September 19, but whose hearing was scheduled for after the coming into force will still be permitted to have their preliminary inquiry.)

Juries: Among the changes to jury trials is the elimination of peremptory challenges. Traditionally, an accused person can use their discretion to challenge (or exclude) a potential juror without having to provide an explanation. 

Re-election: The right to re-elect mode of trial is now 60 days prior to the first day appointed to trial, as of right, as opposed to 14 days.

Reclassification: The bill has changed 118 offences to hybrid offences, where the Crown can elect to proceed either by summary conviction or indictment. The default maximum penalty for summary convictions is now 2 years, as opposed to 6 months. Meanwhile, the limitation period for all summary conviction offences is now 12 months, meaning that police have 12 months instead of 6 to lay a charge.

Remote Appearances: The bill has codified the ability of an accused person or witness to appear in court by way of either phone of videoconference, so long as arrangements are made in advance and the court finds that it is appropriate in the circumstances.

Intimate Partner Violence: The new definition of domestic violence has been incorporated into the Criminal Code. The changes include new maximum penalties for offences of intimate partner violence, and codifies the sentencing principles of denunciation and deterrence in such cases. (There are further changes that deal with bail in cases of intimate partner violence, which come into force in December.)

Many of these changes were proposed with the intent to streamline efficiency in the courts, reduce delay and promote fairness. It remains to be seen what the actual impact will be, and whether in the meantime some of the changes will be subject to a constitutional challenge.

Keep in mind that there many other parts to this bill, relating to administration of justice offences, judicial case management, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and 'efficiency measures' and more, some of which will come into force in December, 2019. The entire text of the bill can be found here.

As always, this blog post is intended for information and not legal advice.

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