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

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

BLOG

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

Let’s Talk about Mental Health

This month Manitoba’s Criminal Review Board granted Will Baker an absolute discharge – and then the theatrical outrage hit the political fan, because Baker is better known as Vince Li, the man responsible for a gruesome and widely publicised 2008 killing on a Greyhound bus. But Baker was not really responsible. Baker suffers from schizophrenia. At his trial both the Crown and defence counsel agreed that his actions were driven by mental illness and that he should not be found guilty of the gruesome murder. You see, in Canada we exact punishment, vengeance and retribution against those who commit serious violent offences. But we do not punish people who don’t know right from wrong and because of mental illness cannot appreciate the nature and consequences of their actions. In Canada, people who have illnesses like Baker receive treatment and live under restrictions until they no longer pose a risk to the public. Baker did not get off scot-free. For years following the finding of not criminally responsible, Baker was confined to a secure mental health centre and received intense treatment. Each year a group of judges, physiologists, doctors, experts and members of the public reviewed his case. Gradually Baker was given more and more liberty – first escorted visits to the community, then day passes and eventually the right to live on his own. Baker passed each test – he took his medication, followed the conditions and ultimately the review board of community members, experts, doctors and lawyers found that he no longer posed a threat to the community. It was only after nine years of intense and successful treatment that Baker was granted... read more