Current Legal Issues Worth Attention

1. Sean Fine’s gripping case study on unreasonable delay in the criminal courts: “I know the truth” in the Globe and Mail Focus section, Saturday October 21st.

In July 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Williamson threw out Kenneth Williamson’s convictions for buggery, indecent assault and gross indecency on Byron Ruttan because it had taken 35 months for the case to go to trial. Normally, victims of child sexual abuse are shielded by a court order banning publication of their identity. In August 2017, Mr. Ruttan requested that a judge lift the order so that he could tell his story. The judge agreed.

His story as conveyed to Sean Fine will break your heart. Mr. Ruttan, a fatherless child, was twelve years old at the time of the abuse. Mr. Williamson was his court-appointed big brother, a student at Queens University who later became a teacher. For decades, Mr. Ruttan lived with the effects of the abuse on himself and on his own family (including his children). In 2008, after telling his probation officer what had happened to him so many years before, Ruttan spoke with the police and charges were finally laid against his abuser.

To read why the case took so long to proceed through the courts is to weep. Although his abuser admitted some of the offences and a jury found him guilty of them all, the case is a classic example of how and why the courts repeatedly failed to provide the justice his situation required. I have never read a better rendition of the problem. The story is as searing as the photos taken by Fred Lum which accompany it.

2. Quebec’s Bill 62, forcing women with face coverings to show their faces to give and receive all government services.

By a vote of 66 to 51, the Quebec legislature on October l8th passed Bill 62, An Act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality and… to provide a framework for requests for accommodations on religious grounds… . Unprecedented in North America, the law extends to provincial and municipal services, to public transit, daycare, libraries, medical care, and more. Although popular in the rural areas of Quebec, the new law has aroused a storm of protest in Montreal (where the majority of face-covering women in Quebec live) and throughout the rest of Canada. The debate continues in the press and around dinner tables.

Toronto criminal lawyer David Butt wrote an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail on Friday, October 20th, entitled Quebec ban on face coverings is doomed in court.” His is likely the mainstream legal analysis on the issue, that the law is “a blatant violation of religious freedom guaranteed by the Charter of Rights,” an example of gender discrimination, and more. He explains that any limits which governments impose on such freedom must “be reasonable and carefully tailored to pursue legitimate social objectives” that alleviate some valid harm. Here, what evidence is there of any harm? And the law is vague and so potentially over-reaching that no one knows what it means or how it will be implemented.

So why, he asks, would the Quebec government pass a law which so obviously violates the Charter? Because it is politically useful to cater to majority public opinion, leaving it to the courts “to do the politically unpalatable, but necessary, work of striking down bad laws that violate… minority rights.” He concludes that such political calculation does not excuse the Quebec government which “is catering slavishly to the meanest urges of the voting mob” and encouraging “the infuriatingly persistent social tendency to tell women what their choices mean, and then impose that meaning on them.”

3. Bribery Charges under the Ontario Elections Act thrown out of court.

On October 24th, Judge Howard Borenstein, of the Ontario Court of Justice in Sudbury, acquitted Liberal operatives Patricia Sorbara and Gerry Lougheed of bribery charges under the Ontario Elections Act. He did so on a motion for a directed verdict, before the defence was even called to lead any evidence. As defence counsel Brian Greenspan told the press, “These are rare events. They occur when prosecutions ought not to have brought at the outset… when the law states very, very clearly that there was simply no evidence upon which any reasonable jury could possibly have convicted.” This is a definitive legal result which the opposition parties, who have made considerable political hay over the charges, would prefer to ignore.

Geoffrey Stevens, former managing editor of the Globe and Mail, compared the Sudbury prosecutions to that of Mike Duffy in a piece entitled, “A tale of two senseless and unnecessary political prosecutions,” which will appear tomorrow in the Waterloo Regional Record. I quote: “On the face of it, the two prosecutions… have nothing in common beyond the fact that both involved political figures and allegations of bribery.


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