Wednesday: What’s Hot on CanLII

Each Wednesday we tell you which three English-language cases and which French-language case have been the most viewed* on CanLII and we give you a small sense of what the cases are about.

For this last week:

1. R. v. Craig, 2009 SCC 23, [2009] 1 SCR 762

[1] Abella J. — The issue in this appeal is how to apply the forfeiture provisions for offence-related real property under ss. 16(1) and 19.1(3) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, S.C. 1996, c. 19.* Two interpretive approaches are possible. Neither is free from difficulty, but one is, it seems to me, generally fairer than the other.

[2] The first approach views forfeiture orders as an aspect of an interdependent global punishment. This approach, which conceptually combines the forfeiture order with terms of imprisonment or other aspects of a sentence, leads almost inevitably to less jail time for those who have property available for forfeiture than for those who have none, on the theory that the accused has been sufficiently punished through the forfeiture order.

[3] The second approach sees the need for a separate inquiry into whether forfeiture is justified based on a discrete statutory proportionality test. This approach, supported by the structure and wording of the statute, seems to me to be preferable because it avoids the unpalatable possibility of trading property for jail time, and therefore ensures that the legitimate liberty interests of individuals will be protected in a more consistent way. In my view, the loss or retention of liberty should not depend on whether an individual has property available as a sacrificial alternative.

2. Fernandes v. Penncorp Life Insurance Company, 2014 ONCA 615

[92] In the case under appeal, it is common ground between the parties that an objective of the insurance policy was to secure a psychological benefit and that, at the time, the parties reasonably contemplated that a failure to pay benefits could cause the respondent mental distress.

[93] As mentioned, on appeal the appellant concedes that there was some entitlement to mental distress damages but takes issue with the quantum of the award.

[94] In his reasons, the trial judge relied on Fidler and McQueen v. Echelon, noting that these decisions had upheld mental distress damages awards of $20,000 and $25,000 respectively.

3. William Bishop v. Law Society of Upper Canada, 2014 ONSC 5057

[11] The Hearing Panel found that the appellant knowingly assisted with dishonest and fraudulent conduct. The Hearing Panel rejected the appellant’s contention that he made reasonable inquiries about these transactions and was as much a victim of the fraudulent conduct as were the others. Based on a number of facts, many of which I have set out above, the Hearing Panel concluded that the appellant had also been both reckless and wilfully blind to the fact that the transactions were not bona fide. While the Hearing Panel relied on certain admissions that the appellant made during the course of his evidence, the Hearing Panel also stated that they did not otherwise accept the appellant’s evidence.

[12] On appeal, the Appeal Panel found that the Hearing Panel’s conclusions were reasonable ones to reach on the evidence. The Appeal Panel found that there was clear evidence, including the appellant’s own admissions, that he was aware that the transactions were fraudulent.

[13] In my view, the conclusions reached by the Hearing Panel, as affirmed by the Appeal Panel, are unassailable. Perhaps anticipating that eventuality, before this court the appellant changed tack somewhat and submitted that he was duped by his clients and should, consequently, have at most been found guilty of the lesser offence of failing to be on guard against being so duped instead of the more serious offence of participating or knowingly assisting in dishonest or fraudulent conduct. If that conclusion was reached, then the penalty of revocation would clearly be inappropriate.

The most-consulted French-language decision was R. v. Sault Ste. Marie, [1978] 2 SCR 1299

Le critère primordial devant servir à déterminer s’il y a multiplicité devrait être d’ordre pratique et fondé sur la seule justification valide de la règle s’opposant à la multiplicité: l’exigence que l’accusé sache de quoi il est accusé et que l’ambiguïté de l’accusation ne lui nuise pas dans la préparation de sa défense. En l’espèce, il n’y a rien d’ambigu ni d’incertain dans l’accusation. Le paragraphe 32(1) porte sur une seule question, la pollution, et une seule infraction générique a été imputée, en essence «la pollution». Puisqu’il ne s’agit pas d’une accusation multiple, il est inutile d’examiner la question de savoir si un défendeur peut opposer la multiplicité pour la première fois en appel.

En ce qui concerne la question de la mens rea, la distinction entre l’infraction criminelle réelle et l’infraction contre le bien-être public est de première importance. Dans le cas d’une infraction criminelle, la mens rea doit être prouvée et l’élément moral exigé pour qu’il y ait condamnation exclut la simple négligence. Par contre la «responsabilité absolue» entraîne condamnation sur la simple preuve que le défendeur a commis l’acte prohibé; aucun élément moral n’est nécessaire. L’approche correcte est de relever le ministère public de la charge de prouver la mens rea, compte tenu de l’arrêt Pierce Fisheries, 1970 CanLII 178 (CSC), [1971] R.C.S. 5, et de l’impossibilité virtuelle dans la plupart des cas d’infractions réglementaires de prouver l’intention coupable et, de plus, de rejeter la responsabilité absolue et d’admettre la défense de diligence raisonnable. Il est loisible au défendeur de prouver qu’il a pris toutes les précautions nécessaires. Alors que la poursuite doit prouver au-delà de tout doute raisonnable que le défendeur a commis l’acte prohibé, le défendeur doit seulement établir, selon la prépondérance des probabilités, la défense de diligence raisonnable. En conséquence, trois catégories d’infraction sont maintenant reconnues: (premièrement) les infractions dans lesquelles la mens rea, doit être établie; (deuxièmement) les infractions de «responsabilité stricte» dans lesquelles il n’est pas nécessaire d’établir la mens rea mais pour lesquelles la défense de croyance raisonnable à un état de fait inexistant ou la défense de diligence raisonnable seront recevables; et (troisièmement) les infractions de «responsabilité absolue» où il n’est pas loisible à l’accusé de se disculper en démontrant qu’il n’a commis aucune faute. Les infractions criminelles dans le vrai sens du mot tombent dans la première catégorie. Les infractions contre le bien-être public appartiennent à première vue à la deuxième catégorie. Les infractions de responsabilité absolue sont celles pour lesquelles le législateur indique clairement que la culpabilité suit la simple preuve de l’accomplissement de l’acte prohibé.

* As of January 2014 we measure the total amount of time spent on the pages rather than simply the number of hits; as well, a case once mentioned won’t appear again for three months.

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