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    12 Apr 2018

    New Bill Aims To Tackle Delays In Canada's Criminal Justice System

    On March 29, 2018, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould introduced a new bill aimed at improving the efficiency of the criminal justice system and reducing court delays.

    The reforms in Bill C-75 are, in part, a response to concerns about the unfair treatment of Indigenous people and vulnerable populations in the criminal justice system, including those with addictions and mental illness. On Monday, March 2, 2018, Tanya Walker discussed those changes on CTV. 


    Below is a recap of some of the main changes proposed by Bill C-75 that you should know about:

    JURY SELECTION

    One of the main changes included in Bill C-75 is bringing an end to peremptory challenges in jury selection. A peremptory challenge occurs when one of the lawyers rejects a prospective juror without giving a reason. Under the current system, the Crown and defence lawyer each have a limited number of peremptory challenges depending on what the accused is charged with. If passed, the legislation would shift this power to judges. It will still be possible to challenge a potential juror – for example, if impartiality is in question – but the final decision will rest with a judge.

    Peremptory challenges became a flashpoint last month during the trial of Gerald Stanley who was found not guilty of second-degree murder in the death of 22-year-old Indigenous man, Colten Boushie. The controversy surrounding this trial stemmed from the fact that community members were reportedly angered that all of the “Indigenous-looking” jury candidates were challenged and excluded by Stanley’s defence team. Some have commented that this case demonstrates the problems with the peremptory challenge system, such as its vulnerability to inviting bias on the basis of race and gender. 

    INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE

    The new legislation also includes changes that will attempt to curb intimate partner violence. These changes include a reverse-onus at bail for an accused person charged with an offence involving domestic violence who is a repeat offender. This means that an accused person who has a history of domestic violence will have the responsibility of proving they are entitled to be granted bail. Intimate partner violence would also be considered an aggravating factor in sentencing, and there may be increases to the maximum term of imprisonment for repeat offences involving intimate partner violence.

    BAIL REFORM

    The legislation would also update bail practices, including allowing both the police and judges more flexibility to deal with criminal charges instead of automatically jailing the accused, particularly if an alternative would pose no threat to public safety. In many detention facilities, there are more people awaiting trial than those who have been found guilty. Further, of those detained while awaiting trial, a disproportionate number are Indigenous people or members of vulnerable populations.

    During bail hearings, judges would be required to consider the circumstances of accused persons who are Indigenous or members of vulnerable populations. The changes would also give judges more discretion when it comes to administration of justice offences, such as failing to appear in court or comply with bail conditions like abstaining from alcohol. These offences often lead to jail time, and members of vulnerable populations are disproportionately charged with these offences which contributes to delays. Bill C-75 will allow the court in those cases to issue a warning, vary the bail conditions, or revoke bail, which is hoped to have the effect of reducing the number of these cases in the system.

    PRELIMINARY INQUIRIES

    Under the new legislation, only an adult accused of a crime punishable by life imprisonment would be able to request a preliminary inquiry. Preliminary inquiries are hearings that occur in certain serious criminal proceedings to determine whether there is enough evidence for the case to proceed to trial.

    The decision to restrict preliminary inquiries flows from a 2016 decision by the Supreme Court of Canada called R. v. Jordan. This case laid down new rules to reduce the time it takes for a criminal trial to be heard. The goal of restricting preliminary inquiries is to reduce court backlogs and delays in criminal matters proceeding to trial.

    However, some critics point out that preliminary inquiries are discretionary, and since they slow down the process, an accused will generally only opt for one where it will enable them to obtain important evidence, narrow issues, or arrive at a fair resolution. These are all important goals, as narrowing issues generally means shorter trials; resolution results in fewer trials; and disclosure of evidence creates fairer trials. As a result, restricting preliminary inquiries may have the negative effect of increasing the length of trials themselves.

    Overall, the reaction to Bill C-75 has been substantial and mixed. Proponents of Bill C-75 hope that it will result in a significant improvement to the fairness and effectiveness of the Canadian criminal justice system. However, critics express concerns that some of the changes proposed by Bill C-75 are counterproductive, reactionary, and may contribute further issues with the criminal justice system rather than resolve them.

    Read 1288 times Last modified on Thursday, 12 April 2018 23:25
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    Walker Law Professional Corporation

    Tanya Walker obtained her law degree from Osgoode Hall at York University in 2005 and her Honours Bachelor of Commerce with a minor in Economics from McMaster University in 2002. She was called to the Ontario Bar in 2006 and created Walker Law a litigation law firm in 2010. Tanya is currently serving a term as Bencher of the Law Society of Ontario; elected by her peers as not only the first Black elected female Bencher from Toronto, in the 220-year history of the Law Society, but also as one of the youngest sitting Benchers.
 Tanya is a frequent speaker on legal issues to the Toronto Community and regularly appears on the CTV Show, Your Morning as a legal expert. She has also been named in the 2017 and 2018 Lexpert Guides as one of the Leading Lawyers to Watch in Corporate/Commercial Litigation and is also the recipient of the 2018 Women’s Business Enterprise of the Year Award.

 Tel: 647-342-2334 ext. 302 
 Email: tanya(at)tcwalkerlawyers.com

    tcwalkerlawyers.com/

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