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

Judge gives pot shop budtender some advice that may spare him a criminal record

Two other judges, including Dorval herself, have given budtenders suspended sentences, which means they have criminal records. The difference is substantial, since a criminal record can interfere with a person’s ability to find employment, enter some occupations or travel outside Canada. “If you had a lawyer he would tell you that I have refused a conditional discharge in circumstances that are similar to yours,”  said Dorval. She told McChesney that he may want to plead guilty in Justice Boxall’s court. “It doesn’t mean he’s going to rule the same way every time, but it’s only fair for you to know that.” She instructed the clerk to check Boxall’s availability, but he was booked. In the end, McChesney was given a chance to consult with duty counsel and the matter was set aside to Sept. 26. It’s unusual for a judge to give that kind of advice to an accused, but in this case it was appropriate, said Ottawa criminal lawyer Michael Spratt. The court must ensure the process is fair when people represent themselves, he said. Read the full article: Ottawa... read more

Library patrons allowed to surf porn, Ottawa mom discovers

A family trip to the local library left an Ottawa woman and her two daughters shaken after they observed a man watching hardcore pornography at a public computer terminal. What surprised Jennifer St. Pierre even more, however, was to find out that the man was perfectly within his rights. […] Ottawa criminal lawyer Michael Spratt warns the matter may be more complicated than drawing a line between what’s legal and what’s not, because the material is being viewed in a public place. “Viewing hardcore but legal pornography in a public place, visible to members of the public including children, may be considered to be an indecent act, which can be punishable by up to two years in jail,” Spratt said. Read the full article: CBC... read more

Judges to preside over bail hearings at two courthouses

A provincial court pilot project that has judges presiding over bail hearings at two of Ontario’s busiest courthouses has lawyers once again questioning the role of justices of the peace. In an effort to speed the court process, the Ontario Court of Justice announced last week that judges would take over bail hearings at College Park in Toronto as well as the Ottawa courthouse. […] Ottawa criminal defence lawyer Michael Spratt said that there were times when it could take up to a week to get a bail hearing at the courthouse in that city, “which is unacceptable,” but it could take months, if not more than a year, to get a trial date. “The role of justices of the peace should be examined,” he said. “I think there should be an acknowledgement that justices of the peace play an important role in the justice system . . . , but I think there should be no scared cows about what that role actually should be. “If you take a step back and think about it, it is rather shocking that you would rather have people without legal degrees, without the type of experience that judges by definition need to have, making decisions about police searching your house and about whether someone remains in custody or is released pending trial.” Spratt said that a complete re-orientation of the justice system is required in order to reduce court delays, including examining the use of the criminal law in dealing with people who are in poverty, or have mental issues and addictions. Read the full article: Toronto... read more

‘I was in shock’: Ottawa mom sparks debate over pornography in librarie

The Criminal Code applies inside a library just as it does anywhere else, so accessing or distributing child pornography or obscene materials (as defined by law) can be immediately reported to the police by library staff. The Criminal Code also includes provisions that target public indecency or public mischief, explained criminal lawyer Michael Spratt, which could potentially be used to crack down on users who access pornography in public areas, particularly those frequented by children. But, Spratt cautioned, it’s also important to consider freedom of speech and access to information issues. Rushing to lay charges may not be the most effective approach in every situation. “This is not a black and white area; As much of the law is, it’s a grey area,” he said. “The Criminal Code is a very poor and blunt tool to bring about social change or enact social policy.” Read the full article: Global... read more

Proposed pot law too harsh on young people, lawyer argues

The federal government’s plan to legalize pot could land an 18-year-old in jail for sharing a joint with a slightly younger friend, according to an Ottawa criminal lawyer who submitted his concerns to a House of Commons committee. “This bill doesn’t distinguish between a criminal selling illicit marijuana to a high school kid, and an 18-year-old who passes a joint to their 17-year-old friend,” said Michael Spratt, a partner at the law firm Abergel Goldstein and Partners. “That person could face 14 years in jail.” Read the full article: CBC... read more

Legalizing marijuana won’t extinguish black market, House committee hears

OTTAWA — The Liberal government’s plan to have marijuana legalized by July 2018 won’t wipe out the black market for some time, and could come with other unintended consequences, the committee of MPs studying the legislation heard Monday. […] Criminal lawyer Michael Spratt told the committee that Bill C-45 is “an unnecessary complex piece of legislation that leaves intact the criminalization of marijuana in too many circumstances.” For example, Spratt highlighted that under the proposed law, an 18-year-old who passes a joint to a 17-year-old friend would be breaking the law, as would an adult who lets their home-grown plant grow one centimetre taller than the law allows. “This continued criminalization is inconsistent with a rational and evidence-based criminal justice policy and will only serve to reduce some of the positive impacts of this bill,” Spratt said. Spratt also raised concerns over the constitutionality of ticketing provisions in the bill, which give police forces the ability to issue tickets for minor violations, like possessing just over the 30-gram legal limit. The bill says that if the ticket is paid on time, the court record would be kept private, but not if the fine is not paid. Spratt says this disadvantages the poor. “If you are poor and can’t pay a fine you are further stigmatized through a public record,” said Spratt. “It’s quite likely that this ticketing provision in Bill C-45 will be found to violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” he said. Read the full article: CTV... read more