It’s that time of year again. Judges and lawyers have returned to court sporting freshly bronzed bodies, and Ontario’s RIDE program has tucked away the bulk of its breathalysers until the summer cottage season. A perfect time to transition from reflections of the past to contemplation of the future. And so I bring you my second annual Crime & Punishment Predictions. (If you’re wondering how plausible a prognosticator this Prutschi fellow is, you may peruse my previous perennial predictions here: http://www.slaw.ca/2011/02/07/crime-punishment-in-2011/).
5. A Return to the 11(b) Crisis
For nearly a decade appellate courts have been discreetly warning their trial-level cousins that the guidelines for tolerable trial delay at both the Provincial and Superior Courts are supposed to be inching downwards. The rationale is obvious: since the crisis of long-delayed trials first identified way back in Askov, many years have passed but the expectation of a steadily declining backlog has failed to materialize. Ontario is stumbling along with its ‘Justice on Target’ plan that has seen improvements in some jurisdictions offset by missteps in others. Dramatic changes to the Criminal Code discussed below will also pile on more trials to a system already heaving on the verge of collapse. I expect to see substantial litigation surrounding trial delay in 2012.
4. Reefer Madness
A majority of the Canadian public remains blissfully convinced that Canada is soft on minor marijuana charges. With current and former Vancouver mayors arguing very publically for legalization, you can’t blame Joe Public for thinking cops don’t care much about weed, but you may be in for an unpleasant New Year’s surprise. In addition to draconian new sentencing provisions tucked into the Omnibus crime bill for small grow-ops, in Ontario I have noticed a very significant uptick in the number of individuals being charged for simple possession of tiny amounts of pot. While these charges are still being almost universally diverted at an early stage, previously the unstated policy on the part of police officers seemed to be to simply seize the goods from those caught with a couple of joints. Now, for reasons unclear to me, charges are in fact being laid.
3. White Collars and Prison Jumpsuits
Whatever you may think of the “occupy” movement you can’t deny that the so-called “99%” are eager to beat down the mansion doors of the so-called “1%”. The poster-children for all the evil that embodies the one-percenters are white-collar fraudsters. Our southern neighbours have long bemoaned Canada’s comparatively soft sentences in this area and the omnibus crime bill squarely takes aim at correcting that perception. A spate of new aggravating factors to be considered on sentencing relate directly to fraud cases and a two-year mandatory minimum jail sentence will be imposed on anyone convicted of a fraud involving $1,000,000 or more. A number of police task forces and crown attorney units have recently been formed specifically to tackle commercial frauds and they will be looking to make good on their mandates in 2012.
2. Constitutional Challenges to the Tory Crime Agenda
Love it or hate it, get-tough-on-crime is back in vogue. More than any other development in 2012, the sweeping changes enacted by the omnibus crime bill will undoubtedly be repeatedly targeted by defence lawyers all across Canada. Mandatory minimum sentencing provisions for certain drug offences look especially ripe for a constitutional challenge, particularly when they are applied to the mentally ill, those with drug addictions, or aboriginal offenders. I expect we will see a burst of inconsistent lower court judgments early in the new year followed by some significant appellate decisions in the spring. A date with the Supreme Court in Ottawa seems certain eventually but that’s a road that may take us into 2013.
1. Bankrupting the Justice System
Guess what eliminating 2-for-1 pre-trial credit, increased mandatory minimum jail sentences, and tougher parole laws add up to? 2012 will be the first full year we see the real price of ‘getting-tough-on-crime’ and be prepared for some serious sticker shock. The substantial shifts enacted by the government go beyond the cost of building a few more jails. In addition to all the extra time offenders will spend in prison, an unintended consequence of these provisions is to substantially disincentivize early guilty pleas. An accused who was previously eligible for a lenient sentence or who had racked up considerable pre-sentence custody could throw in the towel and make peace with Her Majesty but is now encouraged to take a shot at trial even where he assesses his own chances of winning the case as poor – if you’re getting slammed by a mandatory minimum whether you plead guilty or not, you may as well spin the wheel of justice and see what happens. Already strained budgets for police, legal aid, crowns, corrections, probation and parole will feel the sting. The feds have seated everyone at a very expensive dinner table but they appear to have ducked out the side door having only covered a third of the cheque. Provinces and municipalities will be left washing dishes in the kitchen to pay off the rest of this tab.