In the News

No movement on scrapping surcharge

The federal government says it has not taken further steps to give judges the discretion to waive the mandatory victim surcharge, despite announcing its intention to do so 14 months ago, because of a lack of time available in Parliament. […] Periods of 12 to 18 months or even longer to pay the charges are not uncommon, says Michael Spratt, a defence lawyer and partner at Abergel Goldstein & Partners LLP in Ottawa. “The justice system seeks to level itself when there is an imbalance. I wish those who make up criminal justice policies would actually spend more time in courts,” Spratt says. The mandatory surcharges can create “absurdities,” he suggests, such as in a recent Ottawa case where an individual was classified as a dangerous offender with an indeterminate prison sentence and the judge was also required to impose a $100 penalty for a breach of a court order. Read the full article: Law... read more

Security screening at Toronto Police HQ could have ‘chilling effect’ on public access, lawyers say

Lawyers are siding with a recent motion put forth to end security searches of people attending Toronto Police disciplinary hearings. Lawyer Selwyn Pieters filed a motion Nov. 28 to Toronto Police hearings officer Insp. Richard Hegedus, objecting to the mandatory security screening the force recently put in place at the entranceway of its downtown headquarters. […] Security searches such as this “can often represent a barrier to public attendance,” said Ottawa criminal lawyer Michael Spratt, of Abergel Goldstein and Partners LLP. “It is particularly troubling that when police are accused of violations of their sworn duties and accused of intimidation and violence, the public that was subject to the intimidation and violence must subject themselves to further police searches in order to give evidence or witness the hearing,” said Spratt. “These types of police misconduct [hearings] should not be conducted at police headquarters. They should be held in accessible and neutral locations to encourage public participation and limit any appearance of bias.” Read the full article: Lawyer’s... read more

Proposed impaired driving laws could lead to ‘criminalizing’ some pot users, lawyers say

A letter to Ottawa from lawyers panning proposed Criminal Code changes around marijuana use and impaired driving highlights the need for evidence-based legislation, not “gut reaction” policy that would criminalize the innocent and beat down the disadvantaged, says a signee. […] Ottawa lawyer Michael Spratt, of Abergel Goldstein & Partners LLP, is one of the letter’s signees. He said the proposal’s category of 2-5 ngs of THC is problematic, explaining that someone could fall within this range but not be impaired. He points to the government’s own description of this lower, summary conviction criminal charge as “not directly linked to impairment, but is, rather, based on a precautionary or a crime prevention approach.” “The problem with the lower threshold is that the government, even in its own write-up of the regulations, acknowledges that the 2 ngs doesn’t correspond to any impairment,” said Spratt. “It doesn’t mean that you are impaired at that level, and that’s where the problem arises because we are going to be criminalizing individuals through the imposition of a criminal record and the collateral consequences of that.” Read the Full article: Lawyer’s... read more

Defence bar hopes Senate will amend sexual assault law reforms

With MPs poised to send the Trudeau government’s controversial proposed sexual assault law reforms to the Senate with only a few changes, the defence bar is hoping its constitutional red flags will get more attention from the chamber of “sober second thought.” […] In supporting the amendment Nov. 8, the Conservatives’ deputy justice critic Michael Cooper told MPs: “I have significant concerns about the changes to the Criminal Code with respect to the application process for defendants who have records related to the complainant — I think there are real distinctions between that scenario and records that are in the hands of third parties, which is why I voted against the previous clause. But at the very least, I believe there is absolutely no reason why one would have to go through the application process in the case of a witness.” The Edmonton litigator also told committee members after testimony on Bill C-51 by Ottawa criminal lawyer Michael Spratt last month that “I agree with Mr. Spratt when he stated that the reverse disclosure requirements for the defence could potentially tip the hand of [the defence to] a liar, who would then be given an opportunity, as a result of sitting in and getting access to those records, and have an understanding of the defence’s litigation strategy to explain away inconsistencies and contradictions.” Read the Full article: Lawyer’s... read more

Lawyers criticize proposed THC regulation

Lawyers say a government proposal to criminalize having a certain amount of THC in your blood two hours after driving will likely face a Charter challenge if implemented. […] Criminal defence lawyer Michael Spratt, who also signed the letter, says a criminal record for this offence could prevent international travel, limit employment opportunities and preclude full participation in society. “This is especially true given that we know there will be a disproportionate impact on visible minorities and marginalized members of society. This is a shocking and unprecedented use of criminal law power.” He adds that the law is “irrational, not based on evidence and overly broad.” Read the full article: Law... read more

Religious groups urge MPs to keep Criminal Code prohibition on disrupting a worship service

OTTAWA — Some of Canada’s major religious organizations are trying to convince MPs to back off removing a section of the Criminal Code that makes it a specific crime to disrupt a religious gathering, arguing it will erode the freedom to worship. […] Defence lawyer Michael Spratt argued the committee should stay focused on simplifying the Criminal Code, and trust that the courts will still give serious treatment to threats to religious freedom. “A judge undoubtedly would view causing disturbance and interrupting a baptism or a bar mitzvah or another solemn religious service much differently from someone screaming on the corner of a busy street,” he said. Read the full article: National... read more

Listening to podcast can help your career

All across Canada, lawyers are expanding their legal knowledge and know-how by listening to free Canadian legal podcasts on their smartphones and computers. […] The Docket: The Docket tackles tough, often provocative issues associated with Canadian law. Recent topics include a sexual assault victim who was jailed alongside her attacker, because the Crown was worried she wouldn’t return to court to testify; whether trial-by-jury is actually a good way to achieve justice for victims and the accused; and whether plea bargains are unfair to the accused. The podcast crew also did an episode-by-episode review (still available online) of the Netflix series “Making a Murderer.” Read the full article:... read more

‘Completely absurd’: Lawyers doubt clout of pending pot regulations

Some criminal lawyers say the strict regulations around recreational marijuana proposed by the New Brunswick government might not stand up in court, or even be enforceable. The proposed regulations include a requirement for marijuana users to store their pot in a locked container in their home, a rule that Ottawa-based criminal defence lawyer Michael Spratt called “completely absurd.” Read the full article:... read more

Public’s ‘appetite for reform’ paves way for pledged record suspension changes

The Liberal government is paving the way for much-anticipated Criminal Records Act (CRA) reform by unveiling public feedback supportive of rolling back Conservative-era changes that make it slower, costlier and harder for law-abiding offenders to get their criminal records removed from the database of the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC). […] Spratt successfully challenged in Ontario a 2012 amendment to the CRA that retroactively doubled the time a person convicted of an indictable offence must wait to apply for a record suspension. Halfway through their mandate, the Liberals have been too slow in bringing forward necessary reforms, Spratt argued. “It’s encouraging that general members of the public recognize the benefits of pardons and the positive impact that they have on individuals’ lives and community safety,” he observed. “The results certainly speak to the public’s appetite for reform. But this survey was not required for the government to take principled action. … The empirical evidence from criminologists, from experts who work in the field, and from criminal lawyers has been clear for decades that pardons are a net benefit. …We know that 97 per cent of people who are granted pardons never reoffend.” Read the full article: Lawyers’... read more

Liberals’ tweaks to impaired driving bill can’t fix Charter flaws, lawyer groups say

The Liberal government has tweaked its proposed drug-and-alcohol-impaired driving legislation, but the changes to Bill C-46 are minor and do not assuage the constitutional concerns raised by major legal organizations. […] The amendments fail to address the bill’s constitutional flaws, said Michael Spratt of Ottawa’s Abergel Goldstein and Partners LLP. Spratt’s arguments, on behalf of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association (CLA), pointing to the potential for absurd results to flow from the proposed provision allowing for the backward extrapolation of BAC when testing is done more than two hours post-driving did persuade the Liberals to modify the provision. “There were those minor amendments, but there were no amendments to any of the other sections that the Civil Liberties Association, the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, the Canadian Bar Association and other witnesses pointed out were … problematic,” Spratt noted. Read the full article: Lawyers’... read more

MPs heed defence bar’s warning that compelling defence disclosure in sex assault cases violates Charter

Members of the defence bar who warn that imposing unprecedented new disclosure requirements on people accused of sexual assault is unconstitutional say MPs appeared receptive to their suggestions for improving Bill C-51. […] The message of the defence bar, including that of Ottawa criminal lawyer Michael Spratt who testified as an individual, persuaded at least some MPs. “I agree with Mr. Spratt when he stated that the reverse disclosure requirements for the defence could potentially tip the hand of [the defence to] a liar, who would then be given an opportunity, as a result of sitting in and getting access to those records, and have an understanding of the defence’s litigation strategy to explain away inconsistencies and contradictions,” said the Conservatives’ deputy Justice critic, Edmonton litigator Michael Cooper. Read the full article: Lawyers’... read more

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