Much has already been made of the Liberal government’s pledge to legalize marijuana, and parliamentary debate has yet to even begin.
But one element of the massive legislative effort that has received less scrutiny is a pledge to implement mandatory roadside tests for intoxication — the common breathalyzer test for alcohol, and the still-unproven oral swab test for THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana.
Bill C-46, the legislation updating the Criminal Code’s impaired driving sections, reads that a police officer may, in their “lawful exercise of powers under an Act of Parliament or an Act of a provincial legislature or arising at common law … by demand, require the person who is operating a motor vehicle to immediately provide the samples of breath.”
Ever since the Supreme Court put a hard cap on trial delays, and the subsequent slew of stays of proceedings in a variety of high-profile cases, there’s been a spirited debate over where to point the finger: At the top court for fumbling the file? At Ottawa, for its lackadaisical response? Or at the Crown, for failing to prioritize serious offences?
The finger pointing has correlated with a rise in attention over the impact of R. v. Jordan, the case that led the supreme justices to shoulder the prosecution with an obligation to conclude the trial within 18 months, 30 for serious offences, barring certain circumstances.
A high-profile case in Montreal is the most recent one to shine the light, where the prosecution of a man accused of brutally murdering his wife was stayed because it passed the 30 month ceiling — a delay caused largely by the prosecution’s push to upgrade second-degree charges to first-degree, contended the accused’s counsel, Joseph La Leggia.
Justin Trudeau’s plan to legalize marijuana is coming down the pipes, as soon as this week.
You could be forgiven for wondering what, exactly, took the prime minister so long — he’s had a set of clear recommendations since December — but, if reports are to be believed, it will be more than a year before the actual legislation comes into force.
That leaves Canada with more than 12 months before the arrests and prosecutions of marijuana users and dealers comes to an end. Stuck, in other words, with a system that “does not work,” according to Trudeau’s own campaign document: A system which “does not prevent young people from using marijuana and too many Canadians end up with criminal records for possessing small amounts of the drug.”
So the question now is: Will the courts allow it?
In its landmark search and seizure ruling in R. v. Spencer, the Supreme Court was unanimous that real-time requests made by police to link Canadians’ IP addresses with basic subscriber information required a warrant, except in exigent circumstances. At least that appeared to be the obvious conclusion.
“Some degree of anonymity is a feature of much internet activity and depending on the totality of the circumstances, anonymity may be the foundation of a privacy interest that engages constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure,” the court wrote, in declaring a warrantless access regime being used by Canadian police to be unconstitutional.
But new documents suggest that Ottawa is entertaining a somewhat different read of that court decision.
A background document, obtained under access to information laws from Public Safety Canada, reads that “the Court stated that where [basic subscriber information] can reveal a person’s ‘personal choices or lifestyles,’ which may be compared to the ‘biographical core information’ protected under s.8 of the Charter, a reasonable law, warrant, or exigent circumstances are required for that information to be obtained lawfully.”
The federal budget proposes to spend $55 million over five years to hire new judges, aimed mostly at Alberta and Yukon, to speed up the trial process in Canada.
The prospect that scores of charges being thrown out due to trial delays caused by an over-burdened court system has been top-of-mind since the Supreme Court handed down its ruling last year in R. v. Jordan, setting a ceiling on delays at trial.
In fact, dozens of cases have been stayed, with Crown counsel shouldering the blame for not bringing cases forward fast enough. Lawyers across the country have called for a hike in spending to hire more judges, help legal aid, and streamline the court administration process.
Justin Ling is an Ottawa journalist who covers law and politics.