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

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

Brampton man filmed plying woman with vodka guilty of sex assault

Moazzam Tariq of Brampton, who was filmed plying a woman with alcohol at a club just over a year ago, has been found guilty of sexual assault. Tariq, 29, was charged two weeks after his encounter with the woman in the early morning hours of July 18, 2015. The complainant reported to police that she had no memory of consenting to sex during an encounter at the Thompson Hotel after an evening at the Everleigh nightclub . In handing down the decision in court Friday, Judge Mara Greene said that the complainant, who was 25 years old at the time, “did not have the capacity to consent and therefore did not consent.” […] Legal experts noted that the introduction of video evidence, nearly half an hour’s worth, to show that a complainant could not legally consent to sex was rare. But they also expect it to happen more, particularly in cases when alcohol or other factors might affect a witness’s reliability. “It can be very powerful and very corroborative evidence, depending on what it shows and what inferences can be drawn,” Ottawa criminal lawyer Michael Spratt told CBC News. Read full article:... read more

BLOG

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

Trudeau’s government should act on promises of justice reform

Last month at the 44th annual Criminal Lawyers’ Association conference, Canada’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould delivered the prestigious Spokina lecture. She said a lot of words. She told the audience the Liberal government was intent on moving forward with restorative justice initiatives, reducing the over-incarceration of indigenous people and ensuring Canada’s criminal laws are in compliance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The minister went on to speak of the need for transformational justice reform and highlighted the all-too-obvious problems of overflowing court dockets and the disproportionate criminalization and incarceration of minorities and marginalized groups. Next up was judicial discretion. Wilson-Raybould said restoring judicial discretion was an issue of the upmost importance — telling the crowd that justice cannot be a one-size-fits-all proposition. Specifically, she said that mandatory minimum sentences were a priority for change and promised that reforms were coming. Wilson-Raybould’s speech was greeted with thundering applause and a standing ovation. But not by me. I was not at the Sopinka lecture to hear the justice minister’s words. I was in my office — hundreds of kilometres away from the adoring crowds — preparing arguments for a constitutional challenge to the Conservative government’s retroactive pardon restrictions. Shockingly, the Liberal government’s lawyers are vigorously defending the Conservative law. Words matter, but actions matter more. Last January, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale described the former Conservative government as having “a certain ideology and a certain approach that needs to be re-examined.” Goodale went on to describe the retroactive pardon changes as “punitive” — his lawyers are now arguing exactly the opposite. There have been words but no action... read more

Police racism? It’s part of the system

Are the Ottawa police racist? The simple answer is yes — a conclusion supported by a new study, Race Data and Traffic Stops in Ottawa. The study, authored by a highly respected research team from York University, represents the largest race-based data collection in Canadian history. The researchers examined 81,902 traffic stops between 2013 and 2015 and found that visible minorities were stopped by the police at a disproportionate rate compared to white drivers. In simple terms, a driver of Middle Eastern descent is 3.3 times more likely than a white driver to be stopped by the police, and a black driver is 2.3 times more likely to be pulled over and detained. Of course, the vast majority of police officers are not racists. Still, some are – after all, it was just last month that disgraced Ottawa police Sgt. Chris Hrnchiar posted racist Facebook comments after the death of Inuit artist Annie Pootoogook. The point of the visible minority traffic study was not to discover if a gang of racist officers was harassing minorities for kicks and giggles. Life is more complicated than that. In the real world villains seldom twirl their mustaches and laugh menacingly. The real point of the study – as was the case with carding and marijuana arrests – is to determine whether the actions of the police are guided by systemic racism. Systemic racism is insidious because it is hard to identify. It’s given life by our unconscious biases, our privilege, our irrational unacknowledged fears, and the very histories of our institutions. In the case of traffic stops, however, the study’s data makes... 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
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