It goes without saying that the judicial system has been hit hard by COVID-19. This isn’t wildly surprising – there was no solidemergency response strategyin place for a situation like this, and as a result, a significant amount of time and resources have been expended to create a sense of control amongst the chaos.
It was acknowledged early on that certain individuals in the justice system would be disproportionately effected – accused persons in custody awaiting trial or sentencing, residents of remote communities that operate under a court circuit, and, of course, the victims in cases where there is uncertainty of if or when the case proceeds at all.
Since the World Health Organization declared a pandemic in response to COVID-19, law enforcement has tried to adapt where required. One of the most profound changes relates to the processing of newly accused individuals – and it may provide context into why intimate partner violence has surged during the pandemic. Between April 6 and May 6, 2020, 8 tragic incidents of domestic violence against women across Canada resulted in fatalities. There is, of course, no doubt about the fact that violence in relationships occurred before COVID-19, and will continue long after the pandemic is declared over – but there are aspects to a surge in intimate partner violence that are directly linked to the virus and to the policies that have been implemented when trying to process, manage, and supervise offenders.
Hundreds of accused persons awaiting trial in custody have been released, with chargeable offences ranging from assault, fraud, drug trafficking and beyond. Again, not surprising – as we’ve discussed previously on the blog, the correctional system serves as the perfect breeding ground for the virus, and it would be beyond cruel and unusual to take no action at all to protect those that are considered to be among the most vulnerable.
It’s the way that law enforcement has chosen to operate on a “catch and release” scheme in cases that would, under normal circumstances,require a bail hearing– and probably a highly contested one at that – that has likely contributed to domestic violence rates during COVID-19. Due to concerns about the nature of the virus and its ability to spread quickly, bail hearings have occurred less frequently, even with video-conferencing and telephone conferencing put into effect to streamline the process and protect the health of all parties involved. Instead of a bail hearing, an accused is more likely to be released on an Undertaking. The Undertaking may require that the accused check in with a bail supervisor weekly – something that is generally done on an in-person basis, where the most value lies in a face-to-face meeting – by telephone instead.
Aside from that, the “stay at home” order has, unintentionally, resulted in many victims of violence becoming prisoners in their homes. Public services like shelters and safe houses are stretched beyond capacity, and for some (especially people with underlying health conditions and people with children) entering into such an environment during a virus pandemic might seem even less tolerable than continuing to cohabitate with their abuser.
As with the other aspects of our lives – returning to work and school, chatting with our neighbors, planning vacations – the judicial system will, in one way or another, return to full operational capacity. But for those who have suffered the effects of intimate partner violence during the pandemic, there may be no return to the way things once were.
“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 theReview Board(governed byProvince/Territory) where there are three possible outcomes:
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 beensuccess 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 thestatistics surrounding NCRMD casesshow that the prevalence of an NCRMD finding in relation to violent offences are low.
A vigilante group based out of Surrey, B.C., has been making headlines lately for their efforts in identifying and publicizing child predators to the media via video. It’s a spin-off of Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator”.
The videos, which are publicly posted to the group’s Facebook and Youtube accounts, display the real-time encounters had between members of the group and the individual that they have led there with false promises of sexual relations with an underage person, after chatting online about it.
The encounters are brief, lasting only a few minutes at most. The exchange between the two parties consists of accusations from one side, and flat out denials from the other. The subject of the Creep Catcher’s “investigation” attempts to shield his face before turning and running in the other direction, continually denying the allegations. What happens beyond that point is unknown.
From what I’ve seen, the public seems to be pleased with the endeavors of Creep Catchers. The videos certainly provide shock value – generally, the public does not play a role in, or even have the opportunity to witness the apprehension of a suspected pedophile – and for good reason.
The investigations that are conducted with respect to these offences are complex, calculated and require significant resources and manpower. The Integrated Child Exploitation Unit of the RCMP works with Interpol and police agencies around the world to gather, sort, and analyze information that advances their efforts in identifying, charging, and convicting individuals of child-related offences such as the Possession and Distribution of Child Pornography.
There are tactical strategies that require a high degree of skill and experience to be carried out effectively. The process of gathering evidence before an arrest and charge approval is paramount to the success of the investigation – in cases like these, proper identification of the suspect can take a significant amount of time. And this is where the work done by the RCMP and the work done by Creep Catchers become astoundingly diverse. Creep Catchers does not have the resources, funding, experience or skill to be meddling in these matters. There are several risks that come to mind:
1) Meeting these individuals in a public place, at a busy time of day, poses a serious risk to innocent bystanders in the area. Creep Catchers does not know if the individuals they are liaising with are violent or mentally ill. Innocent people could be caught in the cross-hairs of an encounter that quickly gets out of hand;
2) The police may already be conducting an investigation on an individual who has been sought out by Creep Catchers. This could lead to that entire investigation collapsing;
3) The very real possibility that they may wrongfully accuse someone of these crimes. The repercussions of being wrongfully blamed could be permanent. It is extremely difficult to exonerate someone on such allegations.
While their intentions may be good, the ends do not justify the means. This work is best left to the police.
Accessing, distributing, and making child pornography available are some of the most serious offences in the Criminal Code. There are new mandatory minimum jail sentences for these offences, details of which can be found here. Aside from a custodial sentence, someone convicted of one of these offences will almost definitely be required to register as a sex offender, which comes with lifelong consequences.
Our offices frequently handle cases with similar allegations. If you have been charged with one of these offences, contact our office to retain a criminal lawyer who can assist in navigating you through the criminal justice system with your best interests in mind.