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Category Archive: Rulings

Supreme Court Allows Provinces To Punish Drunk Drivers

The Supreme Court of Canada has recently ruled how much provinces can punish their drunk drivers — striking a balance between keeping roads safe, and presuming the innocence of alleged drunk drivers.

The ruling came about in response to British Columbia’s law against drunk drivers, which is the strictest in the country. There, roadside breath tests allow for police to suspend driver’s licences for 90 days and issue fines of approximately $4,000.

It was argued that B.C.’s penalties fall under criminal law, which is legally problematic because according to the Canadian constitution, only the federal government possesses the authority to exercise criminal law.

Rather than following the Criminal Code to charge drivers who have a blood-alcohol content of over 0.08, B.C. has, for the most part, been using a law it drafted in 2010. This law punishes drunk drivers immediately, resulting in reduced costs to both policing and judicial systems. However, the province does not use this law in extreme cases that involve repeat offenders, or situations when someone is injured or killed.

All provinces have their own rules for drinking and driving beyond what is stipulated in the Criminal Code. In B.C, any driver that has a blood-alcohol content between .05 to 0.08 is considered in the “warn” range, and can have their license immediately suspended for 3, 7, or 30 days, depending on if it is a first-time offence or if the driver is a repeat offender. Any driver who has a blood-alcohol content of above 0.08 faces a 90-day suspension.

The Supreme Court ruled that provinces have the right to do what it takes to keep their roads safe and prevent people from driving drunk. However, the Court imposed limits on provinces’ power and acknowledged that since the B.C. rules run the risk of inadvertently punishing innocent people, drivers can defend themselves against the province’s strict penalties. The Court acknowledged that B.C’s roadside test isn’t as reliable as the breath analysis used in criminal cases.

The ruling will hopefully strike a balance between keeping roads safe and deterring drunk driving, and presuming the innocence of alleged drunk drivers. B.C. had faced criticism for their drunk-driving laws because by punishing outside of courtrooms, the province could be considered to have been preventing alleged drunk drivers from exercising their full rights. Yet many put forth the compelling argument that B.C. has a moral responsibility to keep roads safe and take whatever action necessary punish drunk drivers — indeed, the province claims their law has saved 260 lives.

For more on this story, visit The Globe and Mail.

Featured image source: Toronto Star

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Ontario Court Strikes Down Challenge Against OPP

Early last week, an Ontario court struck down a Charter challenge against the practice of police officers posing as journalists during investigations.

According to Philip Tunley, the lawyer who represented the media groups challenging this practice, Justice Benjamin Glustein’s ruling is disappointing because it makes it difficult to challenge covert but publicly known police practices.

In an application heard this past may, several media groups asked the Superior Court Justice to declare that the practice of police officers posing as journalists violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But that challenge was also struck down because of an inability to prove that the practice affects freedom of speech. A testimony from the Ontario Provincial Police superintendent stated that he was not aware of an undercover OPP officer ever posing as a journalist.

Following last week’s ruling, the media groups are considering an appeal.

Another lawyer, Peter Rosenthal, who represented native activist Shawn Brant, was also disappointed in the ruling. He was particular disappointed in the distinctions made between undercover police officers posing as particular people and plainclothes officers attempting to blend in with their surroundings.

Rosenthal felt that those distinctions are irrelevant when it comes to upholding freedom of speech when a police officer pretends to be a journalist. He worries that people be interviewed by journalists might start to worry that all journalists are undercover police officers.

However, spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General Brendan Crawley says that the investigative techniques used by the Ontario Provincial Police are in accordance with the law and do not violate freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

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Health Canada Approves The Abortion Drug RU-486

Health Canada announced on July 29, 2015 that it has approved the drug RU-486, otherwise known as the abortion pill, for use in Canada. Known as Mifegymiso in Canada, RU-486 will be distributed by Celopharma Inc. and is expected to be for sale as early as winter 2016.

This is a milestone for women’s healthcare in Canada considering that the World Health Organization has Mifegymiso listed as an essential medicine – that is, medicines that are, at a minimum, needed for basic health-care systems. Mifegymiso has already been available in 57 other countries for a number of years already – it has been available in Britain and in France for 25 years and in the United States for 15 years.

The application for the passing of drug RU-486 has been before Health Canada since 2012, according to the president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation (NAF) Canada, Vicki Saporta. There are, however, going to be some limitations to getting this drug in Canada. While other countries allow women to get Mifegymiso from a pharmacist, women in Canada will be required to get a prescription from a doctor before purchasing it.

Mifesgymiso consists of two drugs called mifepristone and misoprostol. Mifepristone blocks the production of hormones that are required to sustain a pregnancy. Misoprostol causes the uterus to contract to expel the fetus and the placenta. In Canada, one pill will be administered to a woman at a doctor’s office. She can then take the following four pills 12 to 24 hours later at home. One to two weeks later, she will go back to her doctor for a follow-up.

NAF Canada representatives and doctors state that Mifegymiso is more effective, faster and has a higher success rate than the current medical abortion options for women. OBGYNs and family physicians will need to complete training on the safe use of the drug before prescribing it to women.

For more information, click here to read this CBC article.

Featured image source: Huffington Post


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Supreme Court Legalizes Consumption of Medical Marijuana

The highest court in Canada recently broadened the definition of medical marijuana, unanimously ruling that it can now be consumed by patients in forms such as pills, brownies, teas and oils. Previously, medical marijuana patients were restricted to using marijuana in a “dried” form.

The ruling comes from the federal government’s case against  Owen Smith, a baker for the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club who was arrested in 2009.  Smith was charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking and unlawful possession of marijuana after he was found with over 200 marijuana cookies for the club.

But a British Columbia judge acquitted Smith, ruling that the law he was charged under is unconstitutional and violated Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the right to life, liberty and security of the person. A B.C. Appeal Court affirmed this ruling, maintaining that a person cannot be convicted under an unconstitutional law.

While the federal government had appealed that ruling, the Supreme Court’s decision affirms Smith’s acquittal.

Not everyone is pleased with the Supreme Court’s ruling, though: in a press conference, Health Minister Rona Ambrose said she was “outraged” at the decision.

She stressed that Health Canada is the only body who can “make a drug into a medicine,” and highlighted the need for Health Canada to put marijuana through its regulatory approval process, consisting of a safety review and clinical trials.

For more on this story, click here.

Featured image source: Associated Press

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Polygamy Charge Could Be Thrown Out Against Mormon Man

The leader of fundamentalist Mormon community, Bountiful, in southeastern B.C. has been making headlines while he fights for his alleged right to have several wives. Now, as the case against Winston Blackmore advances, he has asked the court to throw out the polygamy charges against him because he was not given what he calls fair notice.

Blackmore’s lawyer, Joe Arvay, argued in the B.C. Supreme Court, that his client cannot be criminally charged for past acts of polygamy. He is referencing a 2011 case that came to the conclusion that polygamy laws do not violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That decision, says Arvay, served as a guidepost for those practicing polygamy in Canada.

Crown lawyer Karen Horsman contested Arvay’s statement by saying that removing those past acts of polygamy would not bode well for the province of B.C. She did say that Blackmore would be given criminal immunity for the polygamous relationships he is still in that began before 2011.

Arvay did tell the court that all of Blackmore’s 25 marriages took place more than a decade prior to 2011, and then he went on to argue that all of the polygamy charges should be dropped because the government allegedly only settled on a prosecutor who gave them the answers they wanted. He called it shopping for a prosecutor.

In 2007, a prosecutor requested more legal clarity in Blackmore’s case, but instead, several other prosecutors were brought in until one recommended legal action in 2009. Arvay made this same argument in that case, and those charges were thrown out.

The one thing that makes this time around different is the fact that new evidence suggests that girls were being brought across the Canadian-U.S. border to populate polygamous communities.

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Emojis Are Now Admissible Evidence In Court

Language is very fluid on the online realm. The manner in which people express colloquialisms, personal opinions, and emotions are numerous, from online-abbreviations (IRL, LOL, etc.) to memes to the latest trends, emojis.

Emojis themselves are quite varied, as the image used in online or text message conversations (originally known as emoticons) can come in a variety of forms. Smiles to showcase happiness, winks to illustrate sarcasm, red faces to express anger, no matter the form an emoji takes, they’re always used to create a semantic context within a message. For this reason, emojis/emoticons are now recognized as admissible evidence in the court of law.

The validity of emojis as evidence came into question during the trial of Ross W. Ulbricht, the founder of the black market network known as Silk Road, which was used to sell a variety of illegal substances including cocaine and heroin.

During the trial, federal prosecutors were presenting a transcript of one of Ulbricht’s online conversations to the jury, though they entirely omitted the presence of any emojis. After the prosecutors read ““I’m so excited and anxious for our future, I could burst,” Ulbricht’s lawyer noted the absence of the “smiley face” emoji that appeared at the end of the message (this tweet by Sarah Jeong provides a visual aid to the emoji-omission) which was essential in demonstrating his client’s intent.

Presiding judge Katherine B. Forrest agreed with Ulbricht’s lawyer. After the objection was made, Forrest told the jury to always pay heed to any symbols included in a message. As quoted by the NYT, Forrest claimed that an emoji “is part of the evidence of the document.”

The decision to officiate emojis as admissable evidence has created a new standard in legal practices, though the added emotional context did not end up helping Ulbricht’s case. As of last Friday, Ulbricht has been sentenced to life in prison, a decision which certainly had him sporting a 🙁

Featured image courtesy of: zipckr

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Officer Acquitted over Deaths of Unarmed Russell and Williams

Even though Cleveland police officer, Michael Brelo, fired over 15 shots at a car’s two occupants, yet a judge has somehow found him not guilty of voluntary manslaughter and felonious assault.

The judge’s verdict came this Saturday, after Brelo said he had fired at the car’s occupants – Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams — out of fear for his life following a car chase on November 29, 2012. Russell, 43, and Williams, 30, were both unarmed.

Prosecutors said that the car Russell was driving had malfunctioned and begun making noise that resembled gunfire, which initiated the chase. Brelo was among 13 officers who chased Russell for 22 miles before he rammed into a police car in a parking lot of a middle school in East Cleveland.

John P. O’Donnell of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court ruled that the state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Brelo knowingly caused the deaths of Russell and Williams. He said that Brelo had reason to believe that Russell and Williams posed a threat to himself and the public, and that while both were shot fatally, evidence doesn’t prove Brelo’s gunfire killed the pair. Posted below is a mock-up of Timothy Russell’s windshield as it was shown in court.


Officers shot at Russell and Williams over 100 times. Upon reloading his gun, Brelo had climbed onto the hood of Williams’ car and fired 15 additional shots, after the other officers had stopped shooting.

Brelo was indicted in May 2014, and would have received 3 to 11 years in jail per each voluntary manslaughter count if he were convicted. Five other officers face charges.

Brelo is one of several white officers in Cleveland whose force towards black citizens has been scrutinized — 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed while holding a pellet gun last year.

Image source: Reuters

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Bid To Delay Wireless Code of Conduct Rejected

Just yesterday, Canadian wireless service providers’ bid to delay the wireless code of conduct was rejected by the Federal Court of Appeal. The wireless code of conduct was introduced by the CRTC almost two years ago, and it is designed to protect consumers from high roaming charges and contract cancellation fees.

The three big telecom companies that began legal action last July are Rogers Communications, BCE Inc., and Telus. Their appeal was based on the concern that some parts of the code would be retroactively applicable to every one of their customers when it was put in place.

Justice Denis Pelletier, who finalized the Court’s decision, wrote that it is the CRTC’s right to apply the wireless code to contracts that ended before the code was implemented.

When the code is implemented, wireless providers will have to limit fees for things like cancellation, roaming, and exceeding data usage. There will also be restrictions on locking phones. The code will apply to every customer, no matter when their contract began.

The point of this action is to give the consumer more power, and increase dynamism in the telecom market. OpenMedia, who is representing the Canadian public in this case, called yesterday’s decision a major win.

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The Legal Smoking Age is Now 21 in Hawaii


Lawmakers in Hawaii have passed a bill that would make the legal smoking age 21. This measure was taken in order to prevent teenagers from buying cigarettes and to, hopefully, reduce the number of Hawaiians developing a smoking addiction.

The State Department of Health states that 5,600 Hawaiian kids try smoking each year, and 90 per cent of smokers develop their habit before the age of 19. Additionally, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids states that 1,400 people die from tobacco use or exposure in Hawaii every year. According to the Institute of Medicine, this new bill and the new legal smoking age is expected to reduce smoking popularity by about 12 per cent.

Anyone who is caught breaking this law will be fined $10 the first time. Repeated violations would lead to a $50 fine or community service.

Not all lawmakers are on board with this new regulation though, and many are highlighting all the different adult decisions a teen can make at 18. Democratic Senator Gil Riviere voted against the bill and states: “You can sign contracts, you can get married, you can go to war and lose an arm or lose an eye … you come back and you’re 20 years old and you can’t have a cigarette.” Riviere would rather see a ban on smoking for everyone, not just those under the age of 21, to eliminate the health consequences of it. What are your thoughts on Hawaii’s new legal smoking age? Feel free to share your thoughts with us!

Read more about this story here.

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Nova Scotian Sexual Assault Victims May Sue Retroactively


After a group of men came forward claiming they were abused decades ago by a notorious pedophile, amendments to Nova Scotia legislation were introduced and passed. As of Friday, victims of sexual assault in the province can now sue the perpetrators regardless of when the abuse took place.

The men who influenced this change in Nova Scotia legislation claimed that Ernest Fenwick MacIntosh was their abuser, and not only lobbied the provincial government for their right to sue, but also campaigned at the legislature and placed an ad in the newspaper.

Last fall, the government created a bill that would allow sexual assault victims to file a lawsuit without time restrictions. But this legislation only applied to future victims, a mistake which was acknowledged by the government on Friday.

Justice Minister Lena Metlege Diab apologized on behalf of the province, and stated that the new changes were not initially implemented because of a research mistake in her department.

Diab has been criticized before because she has stated that the reason Friday’s amendments weren’t always a part of the bill was because no other province in Canada had this kind of legislation. However, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario do have this kind of legislation.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil stated that there was an analysis done of other provinces’ legislation, but Nova Scotia’s was never updated. McNeil called it a human resource issue within the Department of Justice.

This new legislation also applies to victims of domestic abuse in Nova Scotia.

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