Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Perimeter Security Coming to Alberta Courthouses

Starting with the Edmonton Law Courts building and the Calgary site of the Court of Appeal on April 10, 2006 , and following up in the summer of 2007 with the new Calgary mega-courthouse and other circuit points, anyone entering a courthouse in Alberta will be subject to a drastically stepped-up security screening.

Law Society of Alberta - Court Security

I have chosen the word "drastically" because at present, persons entering courthouses in the Province are simply not screened at all.

There will be a "fast track" lane with reduced security measures for judges, lawyers, court staff, police officers and emergency personnel, but these individuals will have to produce proper identification or be forced to wait in the full-screening line.

Perhaps this is a necessary or if not necessary at least a prudent step to take, but I can't help but think that we are succumbing to the very fears that terrorist interests have been preying upon by deciding to take this step.

It is not as though there is no security under the current system...armed Court and Protection Services (CAPS) officers were present in almost every courtroom, and are never far away if needed. Not to mention that in criminal and traffic courts in particular the concentration of police officers is often astounding.

So far, we have been able to avoid much of the "culture of fear" that has developed in the U.S. following September 11th, but this new measure may be a significant step away from the openness and freedom that we have enjoyed as Canadians.

On a practical note, it will be interesting to see how well these "airport-type" security measures are administered...particularly when one considers the number of people who will have to get into the Calgary mega-courthouse every day at about the same time.

The already time-consuming and often inefficient court process may just get a whole lot worse, leading to many more citizens being frustrated and disappointed from their experiences with the justice system.

And ironically, aren't people who are incredibly frustrated with the justice system the ones who would be most likely to be a security threat in the first place?

Friday, March 24, 2006

No Appeal of Escort Licensing Case

Alberta Justice will not appeal Justice Sullivan's ruling from last month that Doug Eastaugh was not guilty of various prostitution-related offences due to "officially induced error" - that is, he thought he was not breaking the law because he was licensed and in compliance with the City of Calgary's bylaw governing escort agencies.

Calgary Herald - No Appeal

This decision leaves the City of Calgary in a bit of a quagmire...likely requiring them to go back to the drawing board on their legislation. Previously, City officials commented that Sullivan's decision was a criminal case and that they considered the bylaw would continue to be enforced as is.

The problem with this reasoning is that there is now Court of Queen's Bench authority which by necessary implication questions the jurisdictional validity of the by-law.

If municipal legislation operates so as to nullify criminal responsibility for activity that would otherwise be caught by the Criminal Code, then the bylaw is improperly infringing on the jurisdiction of criminal law-making powers of the Federal Government.

Perhaps the true test for the City will come if escort agencies start refusing to re-new their licenses or even ask for refunds of the $3,600.00 license fees they have already paid...claiming that they cannot be made to follow an unlawful by-law.

I suppose we'll all have to wait and see where this thing goes from here.

Friday, March 17, 2006

First Offender Jailed for Internet Harrassment

While this case appears to be a particularly bad set of facts in terms of the types of things this victim had to endure, it does demonstrate the serious approach that the courts are prepared to take when it comes to individuals using technology for criminal purposes.

CBC News - Cyberstalker Gets 1 Year in Jail

In some respects, one wonders if offenders are not over-punished given the fact that the further use of technology COULD have made the offence more serious than it actually was...consider Judge Cioni's comments:

"In a case like this, where electronic means are used to attack a person, one wonders where the end of the road is in society today,"

Monday, March 13, 2006

Sex Offenders Must Prove Their Way to SOIRA Exemption

Today, the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled on what a convicted sex offender must do to qualify for the exemption from the Sex Offender Information Registration Act found in s. 490.012 (4) of the Criminal Code.

In the unanimous decision in R. v. Redhead, 2006 ABCA 84

R. v. Redhead

the Court concluded that the focus must be on determining whether the impact of a SOIRA order on an offender would be grossly disproportionate to the benefit to the public interest and that the offender must call evidence of such impact otherwise no exemption is available:

...Patently, the impact on anyone who is subject to the reporting requirements of a SOIRA order is considerable. But absent disproportional impact, the legislation mandates that anyone convicted of a prescribed offence is subject to the prescribed reporting period.

[34] This Court has held that the failure of an offender to adduce evidence of the impact of a DNA order on his or her privacy and security mandates the issuance of the order: R. v. Isbister (2002), 303 A.R. 22, 2002 ABCA 54. Similarly, an offender has the onus to adduce evidence of the impact of a SOIRA order on him or her when seeking an exemption.

[35] In both cases before this Court, the trial judges erred in overlooking the lack of evidence of the impact of a SOIRA on the offender.


[44] If the exception in s. 490.012(4) is so narrow that the SOIRA order is effectively mandatory, then the exception becomes meaningless: Have, supra at para. 17. However, in the absence of evidence of the impact of such an order on the offenders, it is impossible to assess whether such impact would be grossly disproportionate to the public interest.