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.




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.


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.


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.


Elliot Lake mall collapse investigation needs ‘second look,’ resident says

A petition is circulating, urging the provincial government to instruct Ontario Provincial Police to re-examine the fatal Elliot Lake mall collapse. Two people died and more than a dozen others were injured when a portion of the building’s rooftop parking deck gave way on June 23, 2012. […] Moyer’s petition will not carry much weight in the justice system, according to criminal defence lawyer Michael Spratt. “An outpouring of public sympathy, public support or public condemnation does nothing to change whether grounds exist and the evidence would support prosecution,” Spratt said. “If there are reasonable and probable grounds to believe an offence occurred and the evidence supports that then charges should be laid if it’s in the public interest. If there’s not, then charges shouldn’t.” Read Olivia Stefanovich’s full article:... read more

Rape Trial In Which Complainant Was Blackout Drunk Raises Questions About Consent

[…] Ottawa-based criminal lawyer Michael Spratt told VICE that in fact you can give consent after you’ve been drinking. “You consent to many things when intoxicated. That doesn’t preclude you from making decisions,” he said. “The real analysis that comes out in court is: Is the person so intoxicated that they are unable to consent to certain actions? Because we do recognize that if you are still intoxicated you are unable to make rational decisions.” […] Read Manisha Krishnan full article: Vice... read more

Ottawa man dies after arrest that left him in a ‘pool of blood’

Abdirahman Abdi, a Somali immigrant described as a gentle man with a mental illness, has died following a bloody altercation with Ottawa Police. Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit is probing Abdi’s arrest on Sunday, which is leading to accusations of police brutality and anti-black racism. Witnesses said several police officers were involved in the arrest and that they used batons to subdue Abdi in front of the non-profit building where he lives. […] Ottawa lawyer Michael Spratt, who has handled cases involving excessive police force but isn’t directly involved with Abdirahman’s case, says he’s concerned about some of the early reports on the arrest. “There are often times injuries incurred trying to arrest someone in a dynamic situation, but the reports of gratuitous violence after handcuffs were placed on the individual [are] shocking and there can be no excuse for violence after the person is handcuffed and on the ground,” Spratt said in an interview with CTV News. “The lack of immediate medical attention and the reports about the delays between when first aid was administered and when paramedics arrived is troubling as well. When a subject is detained and handcuffed and has been beaten into unconsciousness, there can be no reasonable reason why medical attention should be delayed.” Read the full article: CTV... read more

Calgary Man Said He’s ‘Sorry’ for Killing House Party Guests He Believed Were Werewolves

The Calgary man found not criminally responsible for stabbing to death five students at a house party in April 2014 addressed the family of his victims for the first time Wednesday. Speaking at a review board hearing to determine what privileges, if any, he would be granted while in custody at the Southern Alberta Forensic Psychiatry Centre, de Grood said he was “deeply sorry.” […] Michael Spratt, an Ottawa-based criminal lawyer told VICE privileges in this case would typically be things like allowed access to the grounds, escorts to the community, frequent family visits, and other activities that will assist in treatment and reintegration. As it stands, de Grood will be under 24-hour supervision. Spratt said the main consideration when granting privileges should be public safety. “Privileges should never be denied as punishment. It is not uncommon for privileges to be granted gradually to ensure that the patient is ready and the public won’t be jeopardized.” Spratt said de Grood’s apology is not unusual for this type of hearing. “The person is at the hospital and being treated because they did not know that they did wrong. It is a sign treatment is working when a patient gains insight and appreciation of their mental health issues and the impacts of their actions.” Read Manisha Krishnan‘s full story:... read more

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


Its Time to Record the Police

On July 24, the Ottawa police were called to a coffee shop to respond to a disturbance. There were reports that a man had attempted to grope a woman. By the time the police arrived at the coffee shop, the man had left. The police pursued. Minutes later, 37-year-old Abdirahman Abdi was dead. Abdi was not carrying any weapons. Only the police were armed. Witnesses described police officers on top of a grounded Abdi beating him with batons and spraying him with pepper spray. It was clear to onlookers that Abdi was in serious medical distress. These same witnesses reported that the police officers involved in Abdi’s death seemed in no hurry to administer CPR. Videos taken by members of the public show a beaten and handcuffed Abdi lying motionless on the concrete for 10 minutes before paramedics arrived. And another black man is dead at the hands of the police. Ottawa may have its very own Sammy Yatim. The Special Investigations Unit is investigating Abdi’s death. Regardless of the outcome of the SIU’s investigation, the situation does not reflect well on the Ottawa criminal lawyer. I have little confidence that the police will be held to account — just Google “SIU police cleared.” The odds are forever in the police’s favour. In the rare case where the police are held accountable for gratuitous violence, civilian cellphone videos have played a key role. Perhaps this is why the police attempted to confiscate the phones of the witnesses who watched Abdi die. It is time to require all police officers to wear a body camera — not to record the public but to record them. Police... read more

Expect Delays: Right to a Speedy Trial

In 1991, more than 47,000 criminal charges Ottawa were thrown out of Ontario courts. Why? Because of systemic disregard for the Charter-protected right to a trial within a reasonable time and a man named Elijah Anton Askov. In 1983, Askov was charged with very serious offences: extortion, brandishing and pointing a sawed-off shotgun, and assault with a weapon. But there never was a trial. As it turned out, 34 months spent waiting for a trial was too long and unconstitutional.All charges against Askov were stayed. In finding that Askov’s Charter rights were violated, the trial judge commented that the unreasonable delay was caused by a lack of institutional resources and that that those responsible for the administration of justice had known about the systemic problem for years. In 1990, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the trial judge’s decision and affirmed the fundamental importance of the right of accused persons, who are presumed innocent, to have the opportunity to clear their name and reputation at the earliest possible opportunity. Then, in Ontario alone, lower courts dismissed more than 47,000 cases. And so there was swift action. Politicians increased the use of criminal sanctions to deal with complex societal problems and doubled down on their misguided love of minimum sentences. Prosecutors and police became risk averse — overcharging by police became the norm, denial of bail became routine, and speedy resolution of cases became more difficult. The result was overflowing court dockets and exploding jail populations. The right to a speedy trial became even more illusory than in the pre-Askov days. So it fell to the courts to take action, and they did.... read more

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 offences law 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... 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 ottawa 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 Ottawa 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... read more
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