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

‘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

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

BLOG

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

The state of our jails

It has been two years since the United Nations adopted crucial revisions to the international standards on the treatment of prisoners. The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) forcefully called on member states to respect prisoners’ inherent dignity, allow access to medical care, protect vulnerable inmates and ensure access to legal representation. Importantly, the Mandela Rules recognize that rehabilitation and reintegration of persons deprived of their liberty should be one of the most essential aims of any criminal justice system. Canada was a co-sponsor of the Mandela resolution. After his release from prison in 1990, Mandela observed, “No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens but its lowest ones.” As a criminal defence lawyer, I have been inside our jails. I have represented scores of people, most of whom were the most vulnerable members of our society, who have been incarcerated. I know our nation. Canada is failing to live up to the United Nations resolution it co-sponsored. Canada is failing to respect basic principles of humane treatment to prisoners. Canada is failing its obligation to keep society safe. We should be ashamed. But first let’s take a step back and look at our provincial jails where most inmates have not been convicted of any crimes and are legally presumed to be innocent. As I’ve written about before, our provincial jails are over-crowded Dickensian hellscapes. Often, three people are confined in a small cell built for two people. The odd man out sleeps on... read more

The Problem with the Liberal’s Pot Bill

The rollout of the Liberals’ Cannabis Act was a grim affair. It seems that never more grudgingly has a government followed through on an election promise. There was no talk of personal freedom or harm-based principles and little recognition of the lives ruined through criminal prohibition. It was all about the easier-to-sell political narrative of keeping our kids safe. I mean for god’s sake, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s go-to pot guy, former police chief Bill Blair, spoke about kids buying pot from gangsters in stairwells. The only thing this showed was that Blair does not know anything about how to buy weed (hint: most kids hit up their friend’s big brother or their hippie neighbour first). But after electoral reform, modest deficits and a dozen other broken promises, the Liberals did not have much choice but to legalize marijuana. Breaking their pot promise would have had their credibility go up in smoke. So, marijuana will soon be legal in Canada and our kids will all be safe again — kind of. Let’s start with the good news before I harsh your buzz. If this legislation passes, no longer will it be a criminal offence for adults to possess 30 grams or less of pot in a public place. And we can all grow up to four plants without risking jail time. And even kids who illegally possess a joint or two will not face the life-long stigmatization of criminal justice sanctions. This is all fantastic and makes perfect sense given that marijuana is a relatively harmless substance. Consenting adults should be able to engage in activities that do not harm others... read more

Liberals pick only low-hanging justice fruit with Bill C-39

This month, the Liberal government took swift and decisive action against zombie laws found lurking in Canada’s Criminal Code. Except their actions were not swift, decisive or principled but instead a half-hearted grab at only the lowest hanging justice fruit. Let’s first take a step back and look at the problem. As I wrote almost exactly a year ago, there is hidden in plain sight, right at the beginning of the Criminal Code, one of our law’s most laughable presumptions: Ignorance of the law by a person who commits an offence is not an excuse for committing that offence. In other words, we assume that every person in Canada knows not just the letter of the law but also the centuries’ worth of judicial interpretation that informs our criminal justice system. The Criminal Code is a big book full of antiquated laws, unconstitutional provisions and unjust policies. Criminal law is a blunt tool that has been overused by successive generations of politicians as a lazy way to deal with complex social problems. The result has been generalized and systemic criminalization of poverty, mental illness and addiction. But at the same time, Canada’s criminal laws are also overly specific — apparently, it is not sufficient to criminalize theft but every possible variation of theft: theft of oysters, theft of telecommunication service, theft of motor vehicle, theft of cattle and theft of mail. The code also contains antiquated and absurd laws. It is illegal to fraudulently practise witchcraft or sorcery — legitimate witchcraft is perfectly fine. It is also a crime to sell, distribute or produce any comic book or work of art that depicts... read more

To Plea or Not to Plea

The plea bargain is a deal with the devil — at least according to many members of the public. The public may be right, but the real question is: Just who is the devil in the plea bargain equation? Let’s first take a step back and go over some basics. In 1975, the Law Reform Commission of Canada defined a plea bargain as “any agreement by the accused to plead guilty in return for the promise of some benefit.” The essence of any plea bargain is a quid pro quo. So the quid: The accused gives up their constitutional right to be presumed innocent and waives their right to a trial. In other words, the accused relieves the state of the heavy obligation of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. After all, there is only one guarantee in criminal law — if you plead guilty you will be found guilty. And the quo: The accused receives the benefit of reduced charges, or less jail time or some measure of certainty about the ultimate sentence. But it is not just the accused and the prosecution who benefit from guilty pleas. Plea bargaining is an essential lubricant in the justice system. Recently, in R. v. Anthony-Cook, the Supreme Court of Canada described plea agreements as “vitally important to the well-being of our criminal justice system,” without which the justice system would “eventually collapse under its own weight.” So, everyone wins — unless you are the innocent accused who is induced into pleading guilty. The Criminal Code recognizes the fundamental importance that all admissions of guilt are fully voluntary. Before a court can accept a guilty... read more

INSTITUTIONAL BIAS FAVOURING CROWN ATTORNEYS PREVENTING LEVEL PLAYING FIELD

There have long been whispers in the criminal defence bar that Ontario’s judicial appointment process is broken. Since June 13, 2017, when Ottawa area MP Yasir Naqvi took the reins as Ontario’s attorney general, 70 per cent of his appointments to the bench have been drawn from the Crown’s office. Over the last eight months 17 judges have been appointed to the Ontario Court of Justice — 12 of those appointments were Crown attorneys and five were defence counsel. That does not seem like a level playing field. But this is not a new problem special to Naqvi — it has been this way for decades. Don’t get me wrong — Crown attorneys can and do make fantastic judges. Some of my very favourite judges are former Crown attorneys and they have proven to be smart, fair, compassionate and a pleasure to appear before. But the simple numbers cast doubt on what at first blush appears to be a rigorous and independent provincial judicial application and review process. In Ontario aspiring judges must submit 14 copies of their application packageto an independent committee which reviews and interviews the candidates and provides a ranked list to the attorney general who then makes his picks. The independent committee is made up of a mix of members from the bench, bar and general public and its composition is legislatively required to reflect the diversity of Ontario’s population, including gender, geography, racial and cultural minorities. And the committee is not stacked with Crowns or provincial bagmen and it currently includes David M. Humphrey — a respected criminal defence lawyer. Also, I have a bit... read more