Greens will not allow mega-trial bill to proceed without due consideration

Demonstrating that  one MP can make a difference in Parliament, Green Party Leader and MP for  Saanich-Gulf Islands, Elizabeth May, is denying unanimous consent in the House  of Commons to fast-track changes to the Criminal Code without committee  hearings.

The  legislation would affect how so-called “mega-trials” – criminal proceedings  involving numerous defendants and charges – are conducted. The changes would  particularly target cases involving alleged terrorism or organized crime.   The Green Party has consulted renowned civil rights lawyer Clayton Ruby  for an expert opinion on the legislation.

“I’m concerned that this Bill  imports US style justice for no good purpose. A good example is the clause which  states jurors should be referred to in court by a number rather than name.  This  is fear based, and I am rather proud of the fact that in Canada we have jurors  who without fear stand and deliver their verdict, for which they are openly  responsible.  I’ve never seen a case of jury threatening in 40 years at the  Bar,” said Mr. Ruby.

The Green Party Leader has specific  concerns around the encouragement of preferred (or direct) indictments in the  Bill.  A preferred indictment means the Crown has decided to deprive the accused  of the step of a preliminary inquiry to determine there is enough evidence to  justify a trial.  Currently the accused can apply to be released on bail at the  end of a preliminary hearing, or if an indictment is preferred, immediately  after that happens. Under the proposed law, that chance of release from custody  is lost. “A preliminary enquiry allows the accused to test the evidence and to  cross-examine key Crown evidence before a trial. The strength of a prosecution  case may change at this stage,” said Ms. May.  “These are very specific changes  that could have larger implications and need to be examined in  committee.”

“Although  there is definitely a need to address these issues in order to speed these  trials, there are elements to these proposed changes which have the potential to  undermine fundamental principles of our justice system. We need to hear expert  testimony on these issues before we proceed,” said Ms. May.  “In  general, it is simply bad precedent to rush through legislation without hearing  from any witnesses.”

There is  pressure to pass the legislation quickly following the dismissal of proceedings  against 31 alleged members of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang in Quebec when  the judge ruled the trial would take too long.

“There is  an old legal adage that  hard cases make bad law.  The government is rushing because 31  Hells Angels were let out of jail. This bill does not put them back in jail,” said Ms. May. “It may not speed trials as much as people hope, and we don’t want  to compromise future criminal trials. We cannot afford to move rashly on an  issue of this importance.”