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

Government releases legal limits for drugged driving but can’t say how much pot is too much

The federal government has released a draft of its planned drug concentration levels but admits the new rules provide no guidance on how much marijuana it would take to push a driver over the legal limit. “It should be noted that THC is a more complex molecule than alcohol and the science is unable to provide general guidance to drivers about how much cannabis can be consumed before it is unsafe to drive or before the proposed levels would be exceeded,” an analysis statement released with the draft regulations said. […] “That is a tricky and perhaps unconstitutional proposition when we’re looking at criminal sanctions,” said Ottawa criminal defence lawyer Michael Spratt. Spratt’s primary concern is that the summary conviction would mean a criminal record for people who aren’t even considered impaired under the regulations. That can make it harder to travel internationally and create problems when volunteering or applying for a new job or housing. “We’re going to stigmatize a large number of people who are not acting — according to the regulations — in a dangerous manner,” said Spratt. Lesser penalties that wouldn’t result in a criminal record would be a better option, Spratt suggests, such as a licence suspension or even impounding the driver’s car. Read the Full article: CBC... read more

Mel Arnold, Tory MP, Wants Thieves To Face Life Sentences For Stolen Firefighting Equipment

A Conservative MP wants to amend the Criminal Code by proposing a severe penalty — life in prison — for those who steal firefighting equipment that “causes actual danger to life.” […] But despite the unfortunate circumstance of this year’s record blazes, one Ottawa-based criminal defence lawyer thinks Arnold’s bill is an unwise use of parliamentary resources. Michael Spratt says the theft of firefighting equipment is already adequately dealt with by the law, as theft in general is illegal. And theft over $5,000 is already punishable with possible jail time. He warned against making amendments to the Criminal Code, which already includes offences as specific as stealing cattle, theft from clam beds and mischief endangering life. Adding an additional offence such as stealing firefighting equipment is unnecessary, he said. “The more complex and the larger the Criminal Code becomes, the more unwieldy it becomes,” he told HuffPost Canada in an interview on Friday. Read the full article: Huffington... read more

Liberals drop controversial height restriction on homegrown pot plants

The Liberals have dumped the controversial 100-centimetre height restriction on homegrown cannabis plants that lawyers had warned was apt to be struck down in court for arbitrariness and irrationality. […] Ottawa criminal defence counsel Michael Spratt warned the committee last month “when you look at the rationale that has been disclosed for the criminalization of that one extra centimetre — looking at fence height, not looking at [plant] yield, or potency, or problems with distribution — that could very well lead to some Charter problems with respect to the rationality of that sort of somewhat arbitrary benchmark.” Spratt pointed out someone could go away for a weekend as an innocent person, only to return as a criminal because her plants had grown a centimetre over the limit. “It is absurd that one centimetre of plant height would result in legal marijuana magically transforming into illicit marijuana — but under Bill C-45 one centimetre can make the difference between legality and a criminal offence punishable by up to 14 years in jail,” Spratt remarked. “The government’s vice squad will need to carry rulers and learn to divine the difference between identical legal and illicit marijuana.” Read the full article: Law... read more

Proposed changes to impaired driving laws raises red flags: lawyer

Proposed changes to Canada’s impaired driving laws could allow police to show up at your doorstep and demand a breath sample a full day after you arrive at home, according to a criminal lawyer studying the issue. Officers may also be within the law to lay charges within two hours of a driver exiting their vehicle. The changes outlined in Bill C-46, currently before Parliament alongside the marijuana legalization legislation, are raising a number of red flags for legal experts — some who say the plan blatantly steps on constitutional rights. “If you are completely sober, you drive your car to a wine tasting or cocktail party. You plan to leave it there, and you have some drinks at the party. If the police have reason to come and question you, and they smell some alcohol on your breath, you can actually be charged with drinking after driving,” Ottawa-based criminal lawyer Michael Spratt told CTV’s Power Play on Wednesday Read the full article: CTV... read more

Legalized marijuana will lead to more impaired driving, police tell Commons committee

The proposed impaired-driving law has been criticized for giving police too much power, including the ability to demand breath tests even when drivers aren’t suspected of being under the influence of alcohol. On Wednesday, Michael Spratt, a lawyer with the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, said mandatory roadside testing will end up targeting certain groups. “If you’re a visible minority… you’re stopped disproportionately compared to the rest of the population,” he said. “This is just legislative carding in a car. That’s how it’s going to play out.” “If this legislation is passed as it is, it will be vigorously challenged,” and it will cost taxpayers millions, said Sarah Leamon, a lawyer with Acumen Law Corporation. Read the full article: National... read more

Ontario to improve provincial court diversity

The Ontario government has announced plans to bolster the diversity of provincial court appointments with reforms to the province’s Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee. Lawyers say that this is a needed move, as the Ontario Court of Justice is noticeably lacking in diversity, especially outside of Toronto. “It’s a positive thing that the government is seeking a diversity of candidates when looking at judicial applications,” says Michael Spratt, partner with Abergel Goldstein & Partners LLP and also former vice president of the Defence Counsel Association of Ottawa. “What we see across the province is a bench and judges that don’t necessarily reflect the communities in which they sit,” says Spratt. “This is particularly problematic in Ottawa where I can count the number of racialized judges on one hand — in fact, one finger.” Spratt says that when judges reflect the diversity in their communities, it leads to a broader range of life experiences and enhances both the trial and sentencing process. Read the full article: Law... read more

BLOG

Marijuana bill another example of Liberals’ broken promises

The Liberals made a lot of promises during the 2015 election. Who could blame them? A third-place party needs to shoot for the moon. But as electoral reform, lower small business taxes, stock option loopholes, modest deficits and on and on demonstrate, election promises are made to be broken. So perhaps it should not be a surprise that the Grits are on their way to breaking a few more campaign pledges — a promise to base policy on evidence and a promise to improve parliamentary committees. The evidence of these latest campaign reversals can be found in another half-kept promise — legal marijuana. When it comes to legalization of marijuana, it seems that the Liberals will keep their promise — sort of. They pledged to legalize marijuana because it “traps too many Canadians in the criminal justice system,” because illegal weed funds criminal organizations and because legal but regulated cannabis better keeps drugs away from our children. So, in 2015, the Liberals promised to “remove marijuana consumption and incidental possession from the Criminal Code.” But the Liberal’s proposed cannabis bill actually doesn’t do any of those things very well. Sure, the new legislation does legalize some marijuana — some of the time, under some circumstances — but it does not “remove marijuana consumption and possession from the Criminal Code.” In reality, the new bill is an unnecessarily complex piece of legislation that leaves intact the criminalization of marijuana in many circumstances. An adult who possesses more than 30 grams of marijuana in public is a criminal. A youth who possesses more than five grams of marijuana is a criminal. An 18-year-old who... read more

Not all Marijuana will be legal

The irrationality of the Liberal government’s legislation to legalize marijuana was brought into sharp focus last week as bill C-45 made its way through the health committee (check out my testimony here). The problem is obvious — the war on drugs has been an abject failure. Criminalization of marijuana abdicates control over the production, distribution and regulation of cannabis to criminal organizations. Yes, your dealer may be a middle-class, suburban stay-at-home dad, but as a criminal lawyer, I have seen the bloodshed brought about by illegal weed. The bottom line is that the criminalization of marijuana kills. But this is not all it does. The criminalization of marijuana is a drain on court resources and diverts law enforcement resources away from truly harmful activities. The prosecution of marijuana offences unduly stigmatizes otherwise law-abiding citizens through the imposition of a criminal record. But it gets worse. The criminalization of marijuana disproportionally impacts individuals who are young, marginalized, members of over-policed communities or are racialized. It is these groups that are more likely to be targeted and arrested by the police and prosecuted by the federal government’s lawyers. Most of the clients I have represented over the past decade charged with simple possession of marijuana have been poor, from a minority group or lived in an area with a heavy police presence. In our drug laws are echoes of racism and bias. Bill C-45 may be a grudging step in the right direction, but it is no cure to the ills inflicted through marijuana criminalization. The bill is an unnecessarily complex piece of legislation that leaves intact the criminalization of marijuana in... read more

Justice by the polls

Canadians were told that reforming the justice system was a priority for Jody Wilson-Raybould and the Trudeau government. We were told evidence-based policy is the new order of business when it comes to crime and punishment. Both Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould identified the use of mandatory minimum sentences and constraints on judicial discretion as priority areas for reform. And then there was no action. But last year at the Criminal Lawyers’ Associations annual conference, Wilson-Raybould was crystal clear in saying that restoring judicial discretion was an issue of upmost importance — she told the crowd that justice couldn’t 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. And then, again, there was no action on minimum sentences. Heck, Wilson-Raybold even introduced legislation to repeal laws that the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled are unconstitutional — except for the minimum sentences. So what can possibly explain the government’s lack of action on minimum sentences? Well, it seems that the government’s resolve on evidence-based decision-making and progressive justice policy may begin and end with public opinion. Last week Jessica Prince, senior policy advisor to the minister of Justice, tweeted a link out to an EKOS survey commissioned by the Department of Justice. The survey seeks the public’s feedback on the use and effectiveness of mandatory minimum sentences. Forget the EKOS questions. The question we should be asking is why? Let’s be frank. The public’s opinion on minimum sentences is irrelevant if the goal is genuinely to enact policy based on evidence. Just like the public’s opinion on whether global warming is... read more

The Jury System

Criminal trials are high stakes affairs. Unlike civil disputes criminal trials are not merely monetary. In criminal trials the defendants’ liberty and freedom hang in the balance. To lose a serious criminal trial means jail — confinement in a dirty, violent, and punitive Dickensian hellhole. Monetary damages can be reversed, property losses can be compensated but a wrongful incarceration is a scar that never heals. So when it comes to criminal trials — especially involving serious allegations — we’d better get it right. So, for the most serious criminal matters who does our justice system trust to get it right? They are largely anonymous. They lack any legal background or formal training. They deliberate in secret and they are not required to give any reasons for their decision. Welcome to the venerable jury system. The jury system is one of the historic pillars of the common law system. Criticizing the jury system is also a pillar of the common law system. Mark Twain wrote in an 1873 letter to the New York Tribune, “The humorist who invented trial by jury played a colossal practical joke upon the world, but since we have the system we ought to try and respect it. A thing which is not thoroughly easy to do, when we reflect that by command of the law a criminal juror must be an intellectual vacuum, attached to a melting heart and perfectly macaronian bowels of compassion.” Twain may have been right. It may be time to re-evaluate the jury system. Let’s start with how juries are selected. In a typical first-degree murder trial — which must be... read more

THE Ghomeshi Rules: Bill C-51 and the Unprecedented Case of Reverse Disclosure

Earlier this month, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould introduced legislation to modernize the Criminal Code. The new legislation, Bill C-51, would repeal sections of the Criminal Code that have been found unconstitutional, remove outdated offences and bring written sexual assault law up to speed with court decisions. At least, this is what made it into the headlines. Vice reported that “Updates to Canada’s criminal law will legalize duels and permit pretending to practise witchcraft,” CTV’s headline read “Government bringing sexual assault law up to speed with the courts, times” and the headline in Metro News read “Duels, ‘crime comics’ and witchcraft: The battiest laws being scrubbed from the Criminal Code.” So, funny, old-timey laws that have not been relevant since the turn of the century will be removed from the Criminal Code, sexual assault laws will be updated to clarify the well-established common law principle that an unconscious person cannot consent to sex and clearly unconstitutional laws will be scrubbed from the books. This is all good even if it is not the ambitious reforms our criminal justice system needs. But Wilson-Raybould should not be patting herself on the back for grabbing the lowest of the low-hanging justice fruit. This is especially true given that not all the unconstitutional laws will be repealed. Take mandatory minimum sentencing, for example. In 2015, the Supreme Court found some minimum sentences violated the Charter and struck down the mandatory sentencing provisions. Wilson-Raybould’s new bill was silent on those unconstitutional laws. I suppose unconstitutional sentencing laws for gun crimes are less funny and more politically problematic than crime comics and witchcraft. Beyond the humour and incoherence of the new legislation... read more

Judicial Poetry

Judges have a duty to provide reasons for their decisions. This would seem to be self-evident. But it wasn’t — at least not until 2002 when the Supreme Court of Canada was called upon to review the sufficiency of the trial judge’s reasons for convicting a young man named Colin Sheppard. At trial Sheppard had been convicted of stealing two windows. There was no physical evidence linking him to the theft —- no fingerprints, no DNA, nor any video surveillance. Nothing. The only evidence of guilt came from his estranged girlfriend — who went to the police two days after her “tempestuous” relationship with Sheppard had ended. She said that he had confessed to her and told her he had stolen the windows. Sheppard testified and denied he committed any crime. The case was laughably weak. But Sheppard was convicted. The trial judge could have tweeted his reasons: “Having considered all the testimony in this case, and reminding myself of the burden on the Crown and the credibility of witnesses, and how this is to be assessed, I find the defendant guilty as charged.” Seriously — that is all of it — 36 words. The Supreme Court, in R. v. Sheppard 2002 SCC 26, overturned the conviction saying that Sheppard “still does not understand the basis of his conviction and neither do we.” It is really about common sense. The importance of reasons for judgment cannot be understated. Detailed reasons are the main way for a court to communicate with the parties to the litigation. At the end of a case there should be no doubt why and how a... read more