In the News

Scrapping preliminary hearings ‘not going to solve’ problem of court delays

It was the speech that felt like a slap in the face to criminal defence lawyers. Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, speaking to the Empire Club of Canada in Toronto last month, said he had written to his federal counterpart asking for reforms to the Criminal Code that would greatly limit the use of preliminary hearings as a way to speed up the justice system. […] Defence lawyers point out the actual percentage may be even lower because the data do not distinguish between hearings that are scheduled and held versus scheduled, but not held — for example, an accused person showing up for the first day of the preliminary hearing, but who ends up pleading guilty instead. Of the 9,179 completed adult criminal cases that involved a preliminary inquiry in 2014-2015, about 80 per cent were completed before the 30-month ceiling in Superior Court that was set by the Supreme Court in Jordan. “Preliminary hearings are a low-hanging fruit that provides a political solution and the appearance of action,” said Ottawa defence lawyer Michael Spratt. “(Naqvi’s) letter was a political letter, it’s why it was released publicly. I have no doubt that Minister Naqvi has ways to communicate discretely his concerns with (Wilson-Raybould), but he didn’t do that this time. “If he really wanted to write to the federal government to provide real solutions, he could have asked for speedier action on reforms to minimum sentences, to restore elements of conditional sentences. He could have urged the federal government to decriminalize marijuana while we wait for this long-anticipated legislation.” Read Jacques Gallant’s full story: Toronto... read more

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

Why It’s So Hard to Fire Bad Cops in Ontario

Last week, the Ottawa police confirmed they were investigating comments a local officer had left on an Ottawa Citizen article about artist Annie Pootoogook. Screencaps published by APTN show Sergeant Chris Hrnchiar brushed off Pootoogook’s death, writing, “It’s not a murder case… typically many Aboriginals have very short lifespans, talent or not.” “Much of the aboriginal population in Canada is just satisfied being alcohol or drug abusers,living in poor conditions… it’s not society’s fault,” Hrnchiar wrote in another comment. Ottawa lawyer Michael Spratt recently told VICE that he was doubtful Hrnchiar would face consequences,arguing that the police service”is infected by this sort of systemic racism.” And the presence of racism in policing is a fact proven by some of the country’s best journalists and acknowledged by Canada’s highest-ranking police officer. Read Stephen Spencer Davis’s full article:... read more

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
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