COVID-19 UPDATE FROM TARNOW CRIMINAL LAWLearn More

The Wheels of Justice Turn Slowly

It has been over one month since the Courts of British Columbia significantly curtailed operations in an attempt to combat COVID-19.


For many of those who work in the legal field, it was this development that made it all real. It quickly became clear that the novel coronavirus had the potential to spread quickly, and the confined space of a courtroom serves as ideal grounds for transmission.  

Despite the coronavirus acting as a proverbial wrench in the gears of justice, the judicial system continues to putter along. This is largely due to increased utilization of technological tools like video/conferencing for court appearances and swearing of affidavits, and relaxing restrictions when it comes to fax/electronic filing of court documents.

Video conferencing isn’t new to the BC court system. As early as 2002, Judges across the province agreed that the technology improved procedural efficiency by facilitating witness testimony from distant locations and allowing interim appearances by video involving counsel from other jurisdictions. Judges also noted the value of video- conferencing for inmates at correctional centres – defeating the purpose of transferring multiple inmates from various correctional centres to various courthouses. The bottom line is that modernizing certain aspects of the criminal justice system makes sense financially and systemically – and events like COVID-19 demonstrate how it can have occupational benefits too.

At present, there is enormous value in modernizing certain judicial processes for two reasons – one, to limit face-to-face interactions between judicial staff, defence counsel and an Accused person, and two, to mitigate the consequences of what can only be described as colossal delay.

In reducing operations, the majority of criminal trials scheduled between March 18, 2020 and June 1, 2020, have been adjourned generally to dates in June and July, 2020. Cases that are deemed to be of an urgent nature will be able to proceed, although in a procedural sense, things will look different – for example, witnesses who would ordinarily appear before the Court to give evidence may be authorized to testify via video. For the most part, however, trials will proceed at a date that is likely much later than originally anticipated.

 

The situation is more grim for accused persons in custody awaiting their trial. Inmates are, of course, among the most vulnerable to contracting the novl coronavirus – a concern that was a topic of discussion before the courts closed – but didn’t really become part of the actual narrative until it was too late Trials for accused persons in custody have also been adjourned (for trials scheduled between March 23 and May 16, 2020).  Sentencing hearings and bail hearings for accused persons will proceed. This could be positive – for some, it might result in their immediate release from the correctional system. For others, further incarceration for as little as an additional 90 days in custody will be devastating, a potential death sentence. 

It is far too early to gauge how overwhelmed the court system will be at the return to business as usual – but when you consider that there was a huge backlog before COVID-19 shut it all down, it seems only reasonable that extreme measures – such as implementing night/weekend court, and permanently authorizing certain modernization measures – will need to be taken to truly return to normal.

Psychedelics and Automatism

“No person is criminally responsible for an act committed or an omission made while suffering from a mental disorder that rendered the person incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act or omission or of knowing that it was wrong”


He was a student and Captain of Mount Royal University’s hockey team – but that changed on January 13, 2018, after taking a large dose of magic mushrooms.

Shortly after ingesting 4 grams of mushrooms at a house party, Matthew Brown took off all of his clothing and disappeared into the freezing night. Eventually, he came upon the home of a Mount Royal University professor that he had never met before. He broke into her home and beat her with a broken broom handle, leaving her with severe injuries. After leaving her residence, he broke into another home where he was eventually apprehended by the police. 

On March 2, 2020, he was acquitted after mounting a successful defence of “non-insane automatism” resulting from severe self-intoxication.

Mr. Brown was acquitted and walked out of court a free man. His actions were found to be involuntary – but not by reason of mental disorder. His defence of non-insane automatism resulting from severe self-intoxication was only available after a pre-trial ruling in which a judge found that Section 33.1 of the Criminal Code, prohibiting self-intoxication as a defence, was unconstitutional.

Non-insane automatism and insane automatism both involve an Accused person that was unaware of the consequences of their actions at the time of the offence, and therefore could not form intent required to prosecute the offence.

In Mr. Brown’s case, his automatism ended when the effects of the drugs wore off, and he was left with no memory of the event. Since his actions were not attributed to a disease that would have recurring symptoms, a Not Criminally Responsible according to Mental Disorder (NCRMD) finding would have been inappropriate.

A finding of NCRMD relates to automatism as a consequence of a mental disorder. Unlike automatism resulting from intoxication, it does not result in an acquittal. NCRMD is most commonly seen in cases where an Accused suffers from severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia. Across Canada, the number of Accused deemed NCRMD is small, however, media attention on these particular cases often results in public outrage.

After a judge has determined that an Accused is NCRMD, the case is usually handed over to the Review Board (governed by Province/Territory) where there are three possible outcomes:

  • Absolute Discharge
  • Conditional Discharge
  • Detention in a hospital

While most cases do end up under the authority of the Review Board, the Court of hearing has the discretion to proceed to disposition if it feels appropriate in the circumstances. If the Court orders an Absolute Discharge (the only available option when the Accused has been found not to pose a significant risk to the public), the matter is concluded. If the Court orders a conditional discharge, or detention in a hospital, the Review Board must review the matter again with 90 days. In any circumstance, the Court or Review Board must impose whichever sentence is the least onerous and least restrictive on the Accused, all while balancing protection of the public and the interests, liberty and dignity of the Accused. There have been success stories, (which may again cause unnecessary alarm to the public) that demonstrate how effective rehabilitation of mentally ill offenders is far from hopeless. It is also important to note that the statistics surrounding NCRMD cases show that the prevalence of an NCRMD finding in relation to violent offences are low. 

Bill C-75: An Act to relieve judicial delay

Bill C-75 received Royal Assent on June 21, 2019. The Act amends the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act (“YCJA”), the Victim Surcharge Bill (C-28), the Exploitation and Trafficking in Persons Bill (Bill C-38), and the Unconstitutional provisions Bill (Bill C-39).


Lacking a comprehensive amendment since 1972, the bail provisions of the Criminal Code have been revised to address concerns that have been mounting for several decades. The Act seeks to simplify the judicial interim release process by expanding the conditions on which the police can release an Accused person, thereby making an appearance before a Justice unnecessary. The Act will also seek to reduce judicial delay by ensuring that release conditions are not redundant, unrealistic or overly complex, and that sureties are not overburdened.

If successful, the amendments relating to bail will result in fewer Administration of Justice Offences (“AOJO”) being brought before the Canadian courts. In any event, the Act has laid new framework by which these offences will be dealt with. Offences of this nature are offences that are “committed against the integrity of the justice system”, including but not limited to: failing to comply with bail conditions (no contact, no-go, abstinence alcohol/drugs to name a few), failure to appear in court, and breach of probation. Amendments to the Act provide that these offences will be directed to a judicial referral hearing when appropriate, as opposed to immediately laying a breach charge. At a judicial referring hearing, rather than focus on the guilt or innocence of the accused, the Judge will review the conditions imposed, and will decide how to proceed. Judicial referral hearings will not appear on a person’s criminal record – however, if a person does not appear for their hearing, the investigating police officer may use their discretion to either drop or proceed with the charge. Since Administration of Justice Offences account for about 4 out of every 10 incidents reported by police, removing these matters from the traditional court process will likely have a substantial impact on managing judicial delay.

The Act amends several portions of the YCJA. Firstly, it limits the conditions that can be placed on a young person upon their release from custody, in hopes of avoiding breaches that occur only due to unnecessarily rigid conditions. The intended result will be lower frequencies of Administration of Justice Offences. Additionally, prosecutors will no longer be obligated to consider an adult sentence for youth charged with serious violent offences, and are no longer obligated to bring that decision to the attention of the Court. The Crown will also not be obligated to consider an adult sentence for a youth convicted of a serious, violent offence.

In the interests of addressing delay, the Act has also removed certain elements of the judicial process, many of which could likely hinder an Accused person’s ability to make full answer and defence to the charges against them. Firstly, the Act restricts the availability of Preliminary Inquiries to offences that carry a maximum punishment of 14 years or more in prison (previously, any indictable offence could attract a Preliminary Hearing). Preliminary Hearings are an excellent opportunity for the Crown, Defence and Judge to assess the strength of the prosecution’s case. It assists with judicial case management, providing insight into the length of time required for witnesses to give their evidence, issues requiring a Voir Dire, and the number of days required for trial. In certain instances, it may also provide an opportunity for the defence to consider a resolution proposal, in circumstances where the evidence presented guides such a decision. Additionally, the Act permits Judges to limit the issues explored during a Prelim, and which witnesses may be called. It goes without saying that indictable matters aside from first degree murder and aggravated sexual assault are deserving of a Preliminary Hearing. 

The Act also modifies the procedure for jury selection. Peremptory challenges, which allowed counsel to reject a potential juror without requiring a reason, have been abolished. There were serious concerns surrounding the misuse of peremptory challenges to ensure the jury was of a particular composition – one that would be adverse to the interests of the Accused.

The objective of the Act, broadly, is to reduce judicial delay by targeting and eliminating systemic flaws that impede the wheels of justice from turning as they should – but constitutional challenges are still to be expected.

If you’ve been charged with a criminal offence, it is crucial that you contact an experienced criminal lawyer without delay. We are conveniently located in Richmond, B.C., only a few steps away from Brighouse Station on the Canada Line, which brings you from various locations in Metro Vancouver in 20 minutes. We service all areas of the lower mainland (including but not limited to Surrey, New Westminster, Port Coquitlam, North Vancouver, and Abbotsford) the interior of B.C. (including but not limited to Cranbrook, Kelowna, Kamloops, and Salmon Arm), Northern B.C. (including but not limited to Prince George, Prince Rupert, and Quesnel) and in the Yukon Territory where we offer services in Whitehorse, Dawson City, Faro, Mayo, and Old Crow. Contact our office today to speak to a criminal defence lawyer without delay. 

Booze cruise: Drinkin’ and Paddlin’


Impaired operation of a vehicle/vessel is illegal in British Columbia, the Yukon Territory, and really, across our entire nation. However, you may be surprised to learn that police agencies haven’t always exercised their discretion when determining what constitutes a “vessel”. We all know it is against the law to drive your motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, and common sense dictates that this also applies to motorcycles, and motorized boats – but did you know that it is (apparently) just as unlawful to knock back a few and go for a ride in your canoe?


Yes, the word “vessel” does not limit illegality to motorized methods of passage. Police agencies across Canada have been known to charge individuals for tipsy transport via canoe.

If you make the smart choice to ride your bicycle to/from the bar, and your swerving attracts the attention of police, you might be ticketed with public intoxication – but not impaired driving.

If you get caught canoeing down the Fraser River, you could potentially be charged with impaired operation of a vehicle/vessel – and if convicted, you would likely lose your driver’s license.

Even though you don’t need a license to operate a canoe, it probably isn’t smart to be drunk on the water. While you’re unlikely to harm anyone else, open water and alcohol don’t mix very well. You could end up paying big penalties for impaired operation of a canoe, the highest of which would be your life if you happen to fall overboard.

But, if you don’t heed my advice & find yourself being breathalyzed canoe-side – “thar she blows…. over .08”, contact our office to discuss your options.

We are conveniently located in Richmond, B.C. only a few steps away from Brighouse Station on the Canada Line, which brings you from various locations in Metro Vancouver in 20 minutes. We service all areas of the lower mainland (including but not limited to Surrey, New Westminster, Port Coquitlam, North Vancouver, and Abbotsford) the interior of B.C. (including but not limited to Cranbrook, Kelowna, Kamloops, and Salmon Arm), Northern B.C. (including but not limited to Prince George, Prince Rupert, and Quesnel) and in the Yukon Territory where we offer services in Whitehorse, Dawson City, and Old Crow. Contact our office today for your initial consultation.

You have the right to remain silent…so, why don’t you?

What you say CAN and WILL be used  you (seriously)!

 

I think it is important to discuss the importance of exercising constitutional rights/freedoms. In particular, the right to remain silent when being questioned by law enforcement about alleged criminal activity.

Why does this seem to be the one freedom that no ordinary citizen wants to evoke? It is understandable of course – to a point. Yes, you want to be respectful and cooperative to with the police in the course of their investigation. This means conducting yourself maturely and appropriately, and politely advising the officer that you wish to exercise your right to silence – meaning you do not wish to have any further discussions whatsoever.

And you definitely are not taking the lie detector test.

There is a difference between cooperating and conceding.  Exercising your constitutional right to remain silent does not indicate guilt – it does absolutely nothing except protects your best interests, liberty, and quite literally your freedom (depending on circumstances).

Assuming guilt as a result of silence is what’s known as an adverse inference – and in the realm of criminal justice in Canada, an Accused person is protected from such an insinuation. So, there really is no downside to the advice that seems to evade people during times of crucial importance: don’t talk to the police. Remain silent. Protect your best interests. Seek legal advice. Trust the guidance you receive from seasoned legal professions. We have dedicated our livelihood to protecting the fundamental and inherent rights awarded to every single individual in this country – but in order to obtain the best possible outcome, you, the client, must have confidence in your legal counsel’s ability as your advocate.

This is best demonstrated by being mindful of the first piece of advice you will receive: DO. NOT. TALK. TO. POLICE.

Instead, advise them that any dealings they wish to have with you should be done through your criminal defence lawyer. Once retained, a criminal lawyer becomes the conduit between you and the police. This not only ensures that all communications will be appropriate and methodical – it also provides a new point of contact for the police generally.

Here is a short (non-exhaustive) list of circumstances under which seeking legal advice is strongly recommended:

1) You have been arrested and charged with a criminal offence;

2) You have been contacted by the police for a statement, interview, etc and you are unsure if you are being looked at as a suspect;

3) There is a warrant out for your arrest; or

4) You have reason to believe you will be investigated, arrested, or charged in the near future.

We are conveniently located in Richmond, B.C. only a few steps away from Brighouse Station on the Canada Line, which brings you from various locations in Metro Vancouver in 20 minutes. We service all areas of the lower mainland (including but not limited to Surrey, New Westminster, Port Coquitlam, North Vancouver, and Abbotsford) the interior of B.C. (including but not limited to Cranbrook, Kelowna, Kamloops, and Salmon Arm), Northern B.C. (including but not limited to Prince George, Prince Rupert, and Quesnel) and in the Yukon Territory where we offer services in Whitehorse, Dawson City, and Old Crow.

Whether the crime is violent (assault, aggravated assault, sexual assault, assault causing bodily harm, manslaughter, murder), financial (fraud over/under $5,000, possession of stolen credit cards, forgery), or falls under any other category, the experienced criminal defence lawyers at Tarnow Law Offices are well equip and ready to help navigate you through this difficult time from start to finish.

Hands Free (and neck) (and shoulder)

Ian Pumphrey was back before the Yukon Courts earlier this week to represent himself in an Appeal launched by the Yukon Government.

In January of 2015, the Honourable Judge Luther found that Pumphrey wasn’t breaking the law by talking on the phone while driving, having his cellphone suspended between his ear and shoulder. It is, of course, illegal to drive while talking on your cellphone in the Yukon Territory – however, hands free devices are permitted. Since Mr. Pumphrey clearly was not using his hands to talk on the phone, he was not in violation of any regulations of the Motor Vehicle Act.

The Yukon Government appealed Judge Luther’s decision before a Supreme Court Judge, saying that in dismissing the ticket, he took the meaning of “hands free” too literally.

Mr. Pumphrey is of the opinion that the Government’s appeal is a waste of time and money – that would be better spent clarifying the legislation. He also stated that he will be seeking $15,000 in compensation from the Yukon Government in relation to all of the time he has spent working on the Appeal.

The Supreme Court Judge reserved decision on the matter.