Canadians have shut themselves in and the rest of the world out as the pandemic takes hold. We really are in this together. A special report on the COVID-19 crisis.
But what about justice for the accused—the innocent-until-proven-guilty? On a typical day in Canada, according to Statistics Canada data, there are 15,000 adults in remand—meaning they are detained while awaiting trial or sentencing. That’s about 50 per cent more than the number in sentenced custody, according to 2017-18 data. “Most people sleeping in a jail cell tonight haven’t been convicted of anything,” says Howard Sapers, Canada’s former federal correctional investigator. “They are awaiting trial and were denied bail.”
They’ll wait longer—despite the Supreme Court of Canada’s R v. Jordan decision of 2016, which ruled that provincial court trials should occur within 18 months, while those in superior courts should happen within 30 months. The high court clearly specified in Jordan that the timelines would not apply in the case of “discrete events and exceptional circumstances.” As a result, says Ottawa-based defence lawyer Michael Spratt, no decisions are likely to be thrown out under Jordan while the coronavirus spreads: “There can be no more unexpected and exceptional event than a global pandemic.”