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

Lawyers, advocates call for bail reform to ease jail overcrowding

“There’s been a creep,” said Michael Spratt, an Ottawa criminal defence lawyer. “Police, Crowns and judges really default to incarcerating people or releasing people with very strict conditions, when probably that’s not the most cost-effective way to do things, and it’s certainly not a method that increases public safety.” Spratt pointed to several changes over the past decade, including the replacement of regional jails with so-called super jails, mandatory minimum sentences and the creation of a reverse-onus bail system. Combined, these factors have led to “exploding numbers of individuals in custody,” Spratt said. Spratt and others advocates for bail reform want the courts to speed up the process for people accused of non-violent offences, property crimes or administrative violations such as breaking curfew. Both Spratt and Langevin said onerous bail conditions set their clients up to fail, making a return to jail virtually inevitable. That’s exacerbated by the fact that many inmates are made vulnerable by mental health issues or addictions, and find day-to-day life hard enough without having to adhere to court-imposed conditions, the lawyers said. Read Julie Ireton‘s full article: CBC... read more

Ottawa police officers never charged after ‘egregious’ Charter breaches

Ottawa police officers who were found to have “gratuitously” inflicted pain on people they arrested, denied those people their right to immediately speak to their lawyers and then lied to the court have not faced any charges under the Police Services Act. And the force won’t say if it has disciplined those officers. In the last two weeks, the Appeal Court of Ontario overturned convictions against two people because multiple officers seriously breached their Charter rights in separate drug-related investigations in 2010 and 2011. In both cases, the accused were by all accounts guilty of their charges. […] It’s how these officers conducted themselves and gathered their evidence that the appeal court found particularly troubling. But in an email to Metro, the Ottawa Police Service said none of the officers in either case has ever been charged under the Police Services Act in the last five years. Officers may also be subject to internal discipline, but the force said, “OPS does not discuss internal discipline matters publicly.” That’s not good enough, according to criminal lawyer Michael Spratt. “Any action, corrective or otherwise, against these officers should be public. These were public breaches,” said Spratt, who has reviewed both appeals. “The community has a right to know what consequences were visited upon these officers for what the court has found to be egregious behaviour.”  Read Joe Lofaro’s full article: Ottawa... read more

Charter breach is a Charter breach, no matter when it happens

The court of appeal has ruled evidence collected against an accused should be excluded if the police breached their Charter rights — regardless of whether the breach occurred before or after the evidence was collected. In R. v. Pino, the Ontario Court of Appeal acquitted the accused after excluding the evidence collected before the Charter violations. Howard Krongold, a partner at Abergel Goldstein & Partners LLP in Ottawa and counsel for Eneida Pino in the case, says the May 24 ruling is a further step towards a broad liberal approach to s. 24(2) of the Charter that the courts have traditionally taken. “It’s been the law for a long time — that you don’t need to have a causal connection between a Charter breach and evidence — but it’s been at the very least uncertain whether you could have a case where the evidence comes first and the breach only materializes later,” says Krongold […] “Frequently you have a conflict between what the accused says happened and what the police say happened. If the accused is able to show the police are being dishonest it’s very helpful to gain exclusion when you don’t have to also explain why they’re being dishonest.” He’s not aware of any steps taken with respect to the officers involved in spite of the fact there was a “very clear finding by the judge that one of them in particular was less than truthful in his testimony in court under oath.” On May 13, a similar appeal ruling came out in R. v. McGuffie, another Ottawa case that again saw evidence excluded following the police’s violation of... read more

Ottawa police to consider training officers following ‘serious’ Charter violations

The Ottawa Police Service is consulting with the Crown Attorney’s office after Ontario’s highest court ruled twice in as many weeks that officers seriously breached fundamental Charter rights of people in their custody. In two separate cases, the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned convictions on a man and woman who were found guilty of drug-related charges because their constitutional rights were severely violated by a number of police officers. In one of the cases, police officers did not inform Eneida Pino of her right to speak to legal counsel after her arrest and then held her in a cell for almost five-and-a-half hours before letting her speak to a lawyer, which is a violation of section 10b of the Charter. In the other case, Philippe McGuffie waited for more than an hour to see a lawyer and one officer “gratuitously assaulted” him during a cell block strip search by standing on his ankles, the court ruled. Read  Joe Lofaro’s full article: Metro... read more

Conviction overturned after police breach woman’s rights

For the second time in less than two weeks, Ontario’s top court has overturned a drug conviction after concluding Ottawa police officers seriously violated the rights of a suspect. Eneida Pino was convicted of possession for the purpose of trafficking after Ottawa police seized 50 marijuana plants from the trunk of her car following a dramatic takedown in June 2010. The officers had been following Pino, a 43-year-old cleaning lady, after watching her leave a house on St. Claire Avenue that they suspected to be a marijuana grow operation. Pino and a man who was in the car with her described during the trial how an “aggressive” officer wearing a balaclava and police vest blocked the path of their car, shouted and pointed a gun at them. The officer in question denied that he had pulled his handgun — a claim that judge David Paciocco concluded was a lie. […] Both Pino and McGuffie were represented by Ottawa lawyer Howard Krongold. “Both of these cases involve police misconduct so serious that the Court of Appeal felt that it had the potential to bring the administration of justice into disrepute,” said Krongold. “In both cases the trial judges were limited by the evidence before them, but it is interesting to note that in each case the trial judge found there was no evidence of a systemic problem. I think it’s fair to ask how many ‘isolated incidents’ there must be before we acknowledge that there may be a problem with how police are trained, and with the policing culture at work in our city.” Read Andrew Seymour’s full story: Ottawa... read more

Trudeau grab an assault? Maybe technically, but PM unlikely to be charged

Following the fracas on the floor of the House of Commons Wednesday night, opposition members of Parliament have taken turns scolding Justin Trudeau for his behaviour, with some even suggesting that the prime minister might be guilty of a crime. NDP MP Niki Ashton said that “physical violence” had taken place in the House and that “people would call what happened here assault.” Conservative MP and deputy justice critic Michael Cooper suggested that Trudeau’s physical encounters with two MPs could be defined as “criminal assault.” And Tory MP Mark Warawa tweeted that Trudeau was guilty of “physical assault.” And technically speaking, they might have a point. […] Ottawa lawyer Michael Spratt agreed, saying that while, technically, it’s an assault, the legal system calls for discretion and restraint when it comes to applying that law so it would likely not be concerned with incidents as trivial as Trudeau’s grabbing of Brown’s arm. “I think it would make a true ass out of the law to say that this kind of conduct — momentary physical contact that doesn’t leave any injuries — in a situation like this would ever be charged or prosecuted,” Spratt said. “It would be my hope that any police officer who was looking at this, Crown who was screening it or judge who was adjudicating it would have the good sense to see that it was momentary, on the low end of the spectrum with respect to any force, and that it’s something that shouldn’t be dealt with criminal law.” Read Mark Gollom’s full story: CBC... read more

BLOG

The war on drugs blindly marches on

By Michael Spratt: After 10 years of tough-on-crime ideology, Canada is back with a new and progressive Liberal government. At least this is the narrative. The most progressive and certainly highest-profile plank of the Liberal’s justice platform was the promise to legalize and regulate marijuana “right away.” In reality, with the promise of legislation not until 2017, “right away” is proving to be a long, long time. In the meantime, the war on drugs blindly marches on. Let’s just get this out of the way right now: The war on drugs has been a complete and abject failure. The social and financial cost of drug criminalization outweighs any illusory benefit. Yet on we blindly march. Over the past 10 years, arrests for possession of marijuana have increased by 28 per cent. In 2014, approximately 50,000 people were arrested for simply possessing marijuana. Ultimately, about 24,500 of those people ended up in court. Our court dockets are not filled with middle-class white kids caught smoking a joint. These kids are cut slack. Police decline to charge and prosecutors often divert or withdraw these marijuana charges. There are echoes of racism in Canada’s pot laws. Minorities and aboriginal communities are disproportionately charged, prosecuted, and incarcerated. In simple terms, the criminalization of marijuana does more harm than good. Every year, scores of young men and women are killed over relatively small amounts of pot — killed because marijuana is illegal, making it the focus of a vastly profitable and violent black market. Marijuana criminalization imposes unreasonable penalties on a relatively low-risk vice. In the real world, a drug record means limited employment... read more

Crown bury heads in sand on bail failures

By Michael Spratt – The problems at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre should be obvious – even to the most zealous tough-on-crime ostrich. Over the past decade, the notorious Ottawa jail has earned a well-deserved reputation as a Dickensian hellhole. This is, after all, the same jail where guards stood by while a pregnant woman gave birth on the cold concrete floor of her jail cell; the same jail where the Ontario Ombudsman described guards brutalizing inmates then covering up that abuse with impunity; the same jail that is so overcrowded inmates were forced to sleep in wet shower cells; the same jail where inmates have literally gone insane while in segregation. There is always a straw that breaks the government’s back and spurs action. In the case of the Ottawa jail, it seems that shower-jail-cells was one indignity too many for Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Yasir Naqvi and so he took definitive action – he ordered the preparation of a report. That report, the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre Task Force Action Plan, was released Wednesday and sets out 42 recommendations to address systemic overcrowding and poor conditions at the Ottawa jail. Many of those recommendations are welcome but ultimately the recommendations – if ever implemented – merely address symptoms of a broken system. Let’s take a step back and talk about the root cause of our jail problem – there are simply too many people in custody. At a time of historically low crime rates, Canada has fallen in love with incarceration. Our provincial jails are bursting at the seams and there is one simple cause — an over-reliance on pre-trial incarceration. But we knew this long... read more

The ‘Dickensian hellscape’ of our jails

Michael Spratt Imagine a jail so devoid of humanity that guards stand idly by while a pregnant woman gives birth on the cold concrete floor of her jail cell; a jail so lawless that guards can brutalize inmates and then cover up the abuse with impunity; a jail so overcrowded inmates are forced to sleep in wet shower cells; a jail so short-sighted that people presumed innocent are warehoused without access to any rehabilitative programs; a jail so horrible the inmates are literally driven insane. There is no need to imagine this Dickensian hellscape because it exists. Torture is alive and well in Canada and it is taking place in the shadow of Parliament Hill and in Ontario Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur’s and Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Yasir Naqvi’s backyards. The Ottawa Detention Centre is Canada’s canary in the custodial coal mine. The recent systemic abuses uncovered at the Ottawa jail and the laughable political response demonstrates the absurdity of Ontario’s provincial correctional system. At a time of historically low crime rates, Canada has fallen in love with incarceration. Our provincial jails are bursting at the seams. There is one simple cause — an over-reliance on pre-trial incarceration. The John Howard Society of Ontario’s 2013 report, “Reasonable Bail?,” quite accurately concludes “decisions made at various stages of the criminal justice system are increasingly influenced by organizational risk aversion.” In simple terms, Ontario’s Crown attorneys are seeking the pre-trial detention of too many people. More than half of Ontario’s jail population is made up of individuals awaiting trial. These prisoners on “remand” are presumed innocent and their... read more

The Criminal Code is a weighty book — literally

The 2016 Martin’s Annual Criminal Code weighs in at a hefty 1.8 kilograms of rules, regulations, presumptions, and penalties. Hidden in plain sight, right at the beginning of the code, is 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. I will let you in on a secret: Even the best criminal lawyer has no idea about half of the flotsam and jetsam that litter the big book. Some examples of the antiquated sections of the code are, at least on first blush, quite funny. It is illegal to steal cattle or oysters from an oyster bed — because one section covering all theft is not quite enough. It is an offence to leave an ice hole open and water ski at night — common scourges on our otherwise idyllic communities. It is illegal to fraudulently practice witchcraft or sorcery — a historic and highly contentious concession made to the powerful legitimate dark arts lobbying groups. Yes, all funny. Just silly, old laws; no harm. But it is also an offence to sell, distribute, or produce any comic book or work of art that depicts real or fictitious violence — an odious limit on free speech that has no place in modern society. Even worse, the code contains sections that are actually not the law at all. According to the... read more

Are Threats Considered a Criminal Offence?

The Criminal Code of Canada defines the criminal offence of “Uttering Threats” in Section 264. This criminal offence is committed whenever a person conveys, utters, or causes a threat to be made against another person in any manner. It is important to note the threat must be made knowingly by the person, who uttered it, and with intent. In addition, the threat was made with the intention to inflict bodily harm or death of another, or to harm, poison, injure or kill another person’s bird or animal (pets) in their care, or with the intention to burn, destroy or damage another’s real personal property. The penalties for being convicted and found guilty of “Uttering Threats” depends upon the nature of the threat, as well as whether the person is prosecuted as an indictable offence or as a summary conviction. The consequences for being found guilty or taking a plea agreement for an “Uttering Threats” offence, could include, but may not be limited to: travel restrictions, fines, fees, varying periods of imprisonment, and communication and contact restrictions with the victim. When people are charged with this criminal offence, they often do not understand why they were charged. What they fail to understand is there are different ways in which threats could be made against another, their pets, or their property. While the most obvious way to threaten another is verbally and directly in their presence, there are several other ways to make threats, like: During a Telephone Conversation Through a Text Message Posting the Threat to a Social Media Page Making the Threat through Twitter Through an Email Through a... read more

More than sunny ways needed to address mandatory minimums

Sunny ways. This is the promise of Justin Trudeau and his newly elected Liberal government. If there is one dark vestige of the Conservative government that could benefit from the light it is criminal justice policy. Over the last 10 years, our Criminal Code has been radically altered. The changes did not happen all at once but slowly as evidence-based police gave way to partisan ideology. The death was one of a thousand cuts. The Conservatives were wicked smart in implementing their crime agenda. Major legislative changes were buried in massive omnibus bills. Small but problematic amendments were hurried through Parliament and shielded from constitutional scrutiny in private members bills, and the parliamentary review process was gamed to suppress evidence that contradicted the government’s agenda. We are living with the sad results: overcrowded jails, massive costs, reduced public safety, and law after law ruled to be unconstitutional. And there is no better example of the Conservatives’ disdain for evidence-based criminal justice policy than mandatory minimum sentences. The Harper government promoted mandatory minimum sentences as a tough-on-crime elixir. However, the reality is that mandatory minimum sentences are simply poor policy. They are not supported by the evidence. They do not make communities safer. They do not deter the commission of offences. They impede rehabilitation. They are costly. They are simply unjust. Proponents of mandatory sentences say minimum sentences deter crime and make communities safer. Let’s look at what the evidence does tell us: Minimum sentences and harsh incarceration aren’t effective at reducing crime, and they do little to assist with rehabilitation. Read Michael Spratt’s full article: Canadian... read more
Abergel Goldstein & Partners LLP
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