Criminal litigation is serious business, and the stakes for the clients we defend are as high as they come. Your job. Your reputation. Your freedom.

 

Our clients come to us with the worst kind of problems and we solve them—with creative, focused, determined advocacy.

CRIMINAL LAWYERS BASED IN OTTAWA

 

ABERGEL GOLDSTEIN & PARTNERS LLP

We defend.

Our firm was founded in Ottawa by a group of hungry young criminal lawyers who believed that every one of our clients deserved a smart, creative, fearless defence.

We still believe that. And with years of experience defending serious, complex cases behind us, we have evolved into a focused group of seasoned professionals. Each one of our partners brings razor-sharp intellect, finely-honed judgment, and the courtroom skills that can make the difference between success and failure.

Our clients.

Over the years, our lawyers have been sought out by clients from across Ontario, and from all walks of life. We represent executives, civil servants, doctors, pharmacists, high-tech workers, and diplomats. Our clients also include institutions and organizations facing criminal or regulatory issues.

But we also believe quality representation should not only be available to those who can easily afford it. We have the flexibility to accommodate clients who might otherwise struggle to pay for top-flight legal representation. And, in appropriate cases, we accept Legal Aid.

Our cases.

We have what it takes to defend any criminal charge, regulatory infraction, or disciplinary offence. White-collar crime. Drugs. Crimes of violence. Driving offences, including impaired driving. We provide specialized representation at all stages of litigation. We give counsel to individuals and institutional clients about their legal responsibilities. And we represent people who have been charged: obtaining bail, at trial, and on appeal.

Our reach.

We are situated in Ottawa, and we regularly appear in Gatineau and Eastern Ontario, including Brockville, Kingston, L’Orignal, Pembroke, Arnprior, Perth, Smiths Falls, Alexandria, and Morrisburg.

But our reach doesn’t end there. We are often sought out by clients elsewhere, including Toronto, Thunder Bay, and beyond.

Our approach.

In our business, there is such a thing as being too nice. We never lose sight of the fact that a prosecution is always personal—someone is trying to take away your reputation, your future, your freedom. We respect our adversaries, but we never forget that we are there to protect our clients, not to make friends.

A custom-crafted defence.

Beware the cookie-cutter defence. Every client is different. Every case is different. We get to know our clients and we spend the time to find out what approach will work them.

And we know the simple things count. We will return your phone calls. We will keep you up-to-date on your case. And we will get to know you and your goals as we craft our strategy and your defence.

OUR EXPERTISE

Criminal Trials

We are trial lawyers.

In a criminal trial there is no room for mistakes. It’s under that kind of pressure that we do our best work. Judge or jury. Murder trial or impaired driving charge. Cracking open a tough witness or advancing a complicated legal argument. The courtroom is our comfort zone. We believe there are no impossible cases.

Discrete Lawyering

Keeping a lid on criminal charges.

You need to have a touch of showmanship in your blood to love jury litigation, and we’re always pleased to have a big win splashed across the newspapers. But a big part of the work we do is out-of-court lawyering—negotiating, cajoling, convincing. Turning big cases into little ones, and making little ones go away entirely. You won’t see these cases in the newspaper. Now, we like being in the news, but we find that many of our clients prefer to get a great result and skip the media attention. We’re happy to oblige.

Appeals

It ain’t over till it’s over.

The worst words a criminal defendant can hear from a judge or jury: guilty as charged. We have brought countless clients back from that abyss. Clients convicted of all kinds of offences have put their faith in us to deliver the just result they were denied at trial. Few firms have the experience, and or have had the success, that we have had in the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada.

IN THE NEWS

Scrapping preliminary hearings ‘not going to solve’ problem of court delays

It was the speech that felt like a slap in the face to criminal defence lawyers. Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, speaking to the Empire Club of Canada in Toronto last month, said he had written to his federal counterpart asking for reforms to the Criminal Code that would greatly limit the use of preliminary hearings as a way to speed up the justice system. […] Defence lawyers point out the actual percentage may be even lower because the data do not distinguish between hearings that are scheduled and held versus scheduled, but not held — for example, an accused person showing up for the first day of the preliminary hearing, but who ends up pleading guilty instead. Of the 9,179 completed adult criminal cases that involved a preliminary inquiry in 2014-2015, about 80 per cent were completed before the 30-month ceiling in Superior Court that was set by the Supreme Court in Jordan. “Preliminary hearings are a low-hanging fruit that provides a political solution and the appearance of action,” said Ottawa defence lawyer Michael Spratt. “(Naqvi’s) letter was a political letter, it’s why it was released publicly. I have no doubt that Minister Naqvi has ways to communicate discretely his concerns with (Wilson-Raybould), but he didn’t do that this time. “If he really wanted to write to the federal government to provide real solutions, he could have asked for speedier action on reforms to minimum sentences, to restore elements of conditional sentences. He could have urged the federal government to decriminalize marijuana while we wait for this long-anticipated legislation.” Read Jacques Gallant’s full story: Toronto... read more

Creep Catchers bring vigilante tactics to Ottawa Valley

We’re here to expose guys like you,” Luke Arnott can be heard telling another man on a video shot last week in his hometown of Carleton Place, Ont. Arnott is a tattoo artist and father of five. The other man in the video has come to the McDonald’s parking lot off Highway 7 to meet a 14-year-old girl. “You’re here to meet Becky, aren’t you?” Arnott demands. The man can be heard saying “yeah,” he was there to meet Becky, before shouting expletives and leaving in his car. But there is no Becky. […] “There’s an important principle in our society, and that’s people are presumed innocent until proven otherwise. And investigations like this can catch up innocent people in sort of vigilante type of justice,” said Spratt, a partner at Abergel Goldstein & Partners. Spratt said even well-meaning vigilantes can potentially interfere with the court process if charges are laid in a case they’ve been involved in. “Evidence can be tainted, memories are always vulnerable at the best of times, there can be severe evidentiary problems that … these vigilante investigations can lead to, and that can imperil the actual court process,” said Spratt. “So innocent people may be caught up in this sort of dragnet, but also guilty people may escape justice because of this sort of action. And that’s not something anyone wants,” he said. Read Hillary Johnstone’s full article:... read more

Challenge to hinge on pardon waiting period

An increase in waiting periods to apply for a pardon of a criminal conviction that was enacted by the former Conservative government of Stephen Harper is facing a court challenge on the grounds that the changes violate the Charter of Rights. An Ontario Superior Court judge in Ottawa will hear an application Nov. 7 by two men who are arguing that the current provisions, which also applied retroactively after they were implemented in 2012, constitute “punishment” and breach sections 11(h) and 11(i) of the Charter. […] “The applicants are entitled to the benefit of the lesser punishment — that is, the punishment that was in place when the offences were committed,” state lawyers Michael Spratt and Michael Lacy in written arguments on behalf of their clients filed in Superior Court. Individuals who must disclose past criminal convictions have a more difficult time finding employment and even housing, they state. […] The constitutional challenge is focused on the increases in the waiting periods. In response, the federal government says the existing rules “address pressing and substantial objectives” to public safety. The written arguments filed in Superior Court suggest there was an imbalance in the previous rules and that the changes made by the Conservatives were necessary. Public Safety Canada did not respond to requests for comment. Read Shannon Kari’s full article: Law... read more

Government defends retroactive elements of criminal pardons law

The federal government is going to court to defend one of the most controversial changes to the criminal pardons system made by the previous Conservative government. In 2010, Parliament changed the Criminal Records Act to extend the waiting period required to apply for a pardon, to 10 years from five for indictable offenses. And, in a move that drew a great deal of criticism, the amendment was made retroactive to anyone who had already been sentenced under the old law and was awaiting a pardon. The changes came into force in March 2012. One man who was caught up in the retroactive application of the law is challenging its constitutionality in an Ottawa court next week. […] Spratt argues that extending the waiting period is unconstitutional because it violates the section of the charter that says offenders are entitled to the “lesser punishment” if Parliament changes the rules mid-process.   […] In his submission to the court, Spratt also highlighted a story first reported by CBC News in January 2016, in which Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said some changes by the Conservatives were “punitive” and would be reviewed. “Protecting the public is important, but we also need to look at the issue of balance and fairness and proportionality, and we will examine all of those things in reference to this issue,” Goodale said at the time. Read Alison Crawford’s full article:... read more

Take a rare look inside the notorious Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre

The Ottawa Carleton-Detention Centre is making steps to improve the living conditions and overcrowding problems plaguing its facility, a new report says. On Thursday, after media were granted a rare tour inside the jail, a 13-person task force comprised of ministry staff, union and community leaders, released its first quarterly Ottawa jail progress report.  According to the task force, OCDC has completed 11 of the 42 recommendations made in June. […] Some critics, however, believe the recommendations and subsequent changes do not address the underlying problems facing Ontario’s corrections system. Criminal Defence Attorney Michael Spratt says the changes represent an attempt by the government to fix a public relations problem. “It’s not enough. That’s the short answer,” Spratt says. “A fresh coat of paint  and ending some of the most egregious behaviours like housing people in a shower isn’t enough to fix a problem system. There needs to be change from the top, from the political forces who are in charge of the institutions.” Read Annie Bergeron-Oliver’s full article: CTV... read more

OPP use court-obtained cell data to text over 7,500 possible murder witnesses

  The Ontario Provincial Police will be texting 7,500 cellphone users who were in the vicinity of a murder victim last December, hoping someone can offer information to help solve the cold case. But legal experts say the police may be on shaky legal ground if the text canvass produces any evidence, and that there are no clear rules about what happens to the data once the investigation wraps. […] Michael Spratt, a partner at Abergel Goldstein and Partners law firm in Ottawa, says if the text canvass produces any fruitful information, police may find it’s not admissible in court. “There is some concern here because police aren’t permitted to engage in groundless fishing expeditions… There has to be reasonable grounds to believe the information being sought will afford evidence of an offence.” He said it’s clear from what investigators have said publicly in this case that they have “no idea” what this technique could produce. “They may be on constitutionally shaky ground because this seems like a fishing expedition for digital information.” Forcing a phone carrier to release information is much different than knocking on a door during a canvass, Spratt said. “This is akin to knocking on everyone’s door and then looking in their mailboxes and opening their mail to see if there is anything of use.” Read Meredith MacLeod and Graham Slaughter’s full article: CTV... read more

BLOG

Liberals pick only low-hanging justice fruit with Bill C-39

This month, the Liberal government took swift and decisive action against zombie laws found lurking in Canada’s Criminal Code. Except their actions were not swift, decisive or principled but instead a half-hearted grab at only the lowest hanging justice fruit. Let’s first take a step back and look at the problem. As I wrote almost exactly a year ago, there is hidden in plain sight, right at the beginning of the Criminal Code, one of our law’s most laughable presumptions: Ignorance of the law by a person who commits an offence is not an excuse for committing that offence. In other words, we assume that every person in Canada knows not just the letter of the law but also the centuries’ worth of judicial interpretation that informs our criminal justice system. The Criminal Code is a big book full of antiquated laws, unconstitutional provisions and unjust policies. Criminal law is a blunt tool that has been overused by successive generations of politicians as a lazy way to deal with complex social problems. The result has been generalized and systemic criminalization of poverty, mental illness and addiction. But at the same time, Canada’s criminal laws are also overly specific — apparently, it is not sufficient to criminalize theft but every possible variation of theft: theft of oysters, theft of telecommunication service, theft of motor vehicle, theft of cattle and theft of mail. The code also contains antiquated and absurd laws. It is illegal to fraudulently practise witchcraft or sorcery — legitimate witchcraft is perfectly fine. It is also a crime to sell, distribute or produce any comic book or work of art that depicts... read more

To Plea or Not to Plea

The plea bargain is a deal with the devil — at least according to many members of the public. The public may be right, but the real question is: Just who is the devil in the plea bargain equation? Let’s first take a step back and go over some basics. In 1975, the Law Reform Commission of Canada defined a plea bargain as “any agreement by the accused to plead guilty in return for the promise of some benefit.” The essence of any plea bargain is a quid pro quo. So the quid: The accused gives up their constitutional right to be presumed innocent and waives their right to a trial. In other words, the accused relieves the state of the heavy obligation of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. After all, there is only one guarantee in criminal law — if you plead guilty you will be found guilty. And the quo: The accused receives the benefit of reduced charges, or less jail time or some measure of certainty about the ultimate sentence. But it is not just the accused and the prosecution who benefit from guilty pleas. Plea bargaining is an essential lubricant in the justice system. Recently, in R. v. Anthony-Cook, the Supreme Court of Canada described plea agreements as “vitally important to the well-being of our criminal justice system,” without which the justice system would “eventually collapse under its own weight.” So, everyone wins — unless you are the innocent accused who is induced into pleading guilty. The Criminal Code recognizes the fundamental importance that all admissions of guilt are fully voluntary. Before a court can accept a guilty... read more

INSTITUTIONAL BIAS FAVOURING CROWN ATTORNEYS PREVENTING LEVEL PLAYING FIELD

There have long been whispers in the criminal defence bar that Ontario’s judicial appointment process is broken. Since June 13, 2017, when Ottawa area MP Yasir Naqvi took the reins as Ontario’s attorney general, 70 per cent of his appointments to the bench have been drawn from the Crown’s office. Over the last eight months 17 judges have been appointed to the Ontario Court of Justice — 12 of those appointments were Crown attorneys and five were defence counsel. That does not seem like a level playing field. But this is not a new problem special to Naqvi — it has been this way for decades. Don’t get me wrong — Crown attorneys can and do make fantastic judges. Some of my very favourite judges are former Crown attorneys and they have proven to be smart, fair, compassionate and a pleasure to appear before. But the simple numbers cast doubt on what at first blush appears to be a rigorous and independent provincial judicial application and review process. In Ontario aspiring judges must submit 14 copies of their application packageto an independent committee which reviews and interviews the candidates and provides a ranked list to the attorney general who then makes his picks. The independent committee is made up of a mix of members from the bench, bar and general public and its composition is legislatively required to reflect the diversity of Ontario’s population, including gender, geography, racial and cultural minorities. And the committee is not stacked with Crowns or provincial bagmen and it currently includes David M. Humphrey — a respected criminal defence lawyer. Also, I have a bit... read more

Let’s Talk about Mental Health

This month Manitoba’s Criminal Review Board granted Will Baker an absolute discharge – and then the theatrical outrage hit the political fan, because Baker is better known as Vince Li, the man responsible for a gruesome and widely publicised 2008 killing on a Greyhound bus. But Baker was not really responsible. Baker suffers from schizophrenia. At his trial both the Crown and defence counsel agreed that his actions were driven by mental illness and that he should not be found guilty of the gruesome murder. You see, in Canada we exact punishment, vengeance and retribution against those who commit serious violent offences. But we do not punish people who don’t know right from wrong and because of mental illness cannot appreciate the nature and consequences of their actions. In Canada, people who have illnesses like Baker receive treatment and live under restrictions until they no longer pose a risk to the public. Baker did not get off scot-free. For years following the finding of not criminally responsible, Baker was confined to a secure mental health centre and received intense treatment. Each year a group of judges, physiologists, doctors, experts and members of the public reviewed his case. Gradually Baker was given more and more liberty – first escorted visits to the community, then day passes and eventually the right to live on his own. Baker passed each test – he took his medication, followed the conditions and ultimately the review board of community members, experts, doctors and lawyers found that he no longer posed a threat to the community. It was only after nine years of intense and successful treatment that Baker was granted... read more

NAQVI: SOLUTION TO COURT DELAYS – CALL OFF YOUR CROWNS

There is a problem with delays in our justice system. This is true. It is also true that the criminal justice system is an insatiable beast — a black hole that will endlessly devour money and resources. The fix to delays in our courts is not as easy as simply feeding the beast. But this was the solution proposed by Ontario’s Attorney General Yasir Naqvi earlier this month. Naqvi’s proposed solution of half measures including a handful of new judges and prosecutors is a Band-Aid that will not result in quicker justice. The only real solution to court delays is to refocus and rethink how we use the justice system — maybe the beast needs a diet. There can be no debate — delays in our justice system are a very bad thing. With every week, month and year of delay, memories fade, the quality of evidence degrades and victims are denied legal closure. And, often intentionally overlooked is the reality that court delays mean that accused persons who are presumed (and often are) innocent suffer ongoing stigma, stress, loss of employment, oppressive bail conditions and incarceration waiting for their trial dates. Let’s get one thing straight — there is not one accused person being held in our Dicken-sian provincial jails who is intentionally delaying their day in court. There is simply no benefit to do so. Ontario’s remand centres are violent, overcrowded, humanity-destroying hellscapes, which are completely devoid of any rehabilitation programming or basic human comforts. No one wants to be in provincial jail waiting for their day in court and every presumed innocent but jailed client I have ever... read more

The RCMP needs you scared — and the media seems happy to help

Long before email, metadata and GPS tracking, King Louis XIII’s hatchetman Cardinal Richelieu said: “If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged.” Nothing’s changed. The RCMP is back at the back door, lobbying the government for greater powers to access digital evidence — and now they’re using the media to make their case. Recently, the RCMP self-selected 10 investigation files and fed summaries to the CBC and Toronto Star. Details that could compromise ongoing investigations (or be used by journalists to fact-check) were redacted. Both media outlets dutifully gave the Mounties the headline they wanted — one about how child predators, drug gangs and terrorists are escaping justice. The RCMP’s proposed solution is, of course, more police power. It’s always more police power. The RCMP wants laws that would compel suspects to hand over passwords, grant warrantless access to subscriber information and require telecommunication providers to build back-door intercept capabilities into their networks. The RCMP’s sophisticated media campaign leverages the same fear that former Conservative public safety minister Vic Toews sought to exploit in the Bill C-30 debacle — the one that saw Toews demand that opposition MPs “stand with us or with the child pornographers.” In fact, some of the added powers the RCMP is now lobbying for were at the heart of Toews’ bill. Public backlash undermined C-30 to such a degree that then-Justice Minister Rob Nicholson had to declare the government would “not be proceeding with Bill C-30 and any attempts [to] modernize the Criminal Code will not contain the measures in... read more
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