Senators ask for clarification of Supreme Court decision


The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs

Senators ask for clarification of Supreme Court decision

December 1, 2016

Ottawa – The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs says the Supreme Court of Canada should clarify a recent decision in light of many recent court rulings to stay charges that took too long to come to trial.

The committee is wrapping up a comprehensive study on delays in Canada’s criminal justice system. Rather than include the recommendation in its upcoming report, the committee felt compelled to call on the Attorney General of Canada to request clarification from the court regarding the so-called transitional provisions included in its July decision in the case of R. v. Jordan.

That decision set a limit to complete cases of 30 months in superior court and 18 months in provincial court, subtracting defence delays, after which charges must be stayed on the grounds that the accused’s Charter rights have been violated.

Although the court said the transitional provisions were intended to prevent thousands of cases already before the courts from being thrown out by applying a new standard, rather than the law that existed at the time, there have been numerous cases halted in recent weeks, including at least two murders.

The committee heard evidence earlier this month from Chief Justice Neil Wittmann of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, who testified the transitional guidelines are not clear.

“I haven't heard anybody who knows exactly what that transition of reliance means,” Chief Justice Wittman told the committee during a hearing on November 3, 2016.

In addition, Ontario Superior Court Justice Julianne Parfett, who halted a murder trial in Ottawa recently, wrote in her decision: “While the new framework is relatively simple to apply, the transitional guidelines are not.”

The committee, in asking for a clarification of the Supreme Court’s decision, said it is deeply concerned about the impact on victims and on the public perception of the justice system when serious charges are stayed without trial.

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Sonia Noreau
Media Relations Coordinator
Senate of Canada