The Liberal government has tabled Bill C-75 under the guise of shortening time to trial and suggesting that somehow this legislation will protect Charter rights in Canada.
One of the ways they suggest that times will be shortened is by eliminating the availability of preliminary hearings for most offences. This move completely ignores the reality that only a small portion of matters actually proceed to preliminary hearing and that those that do will often resolve following such hearing. By eliminating preliminary hearings the legislation removes a valuable right to discovery for persons charged with a criminal offence and has the potential to result in a far greater number of pre-trial motions thereby having the opposite effect that the government intends.
Also contained in the bill is a provision to allow some police evidence to be admitted in trial through affidavits without the need for the police to testify. One does not have to search the cases very long to see the potential for gross miscarriages of justice to occur as a result. Our trial system is one based on the right to face the case presented against them and to be able to examine and cross-examine witnesses. With the number of incidences of police misconduct that have been shown to occurr the ability to have officers evidence go into evidence at trial by affidavit seems to further limit an individuals right to a fair trial and assumes that an officer in infallible.
The tabled provisions dealing with jury selection and challenges to potential jurors is a step back in time and ignores the problem it attempts to solve. The issue of a lack of diversity on juries is not solved by the elimination of challenges, it is solved by ensuring that the pool of prospective jurors is representative of the society in general in the first place, as opposed to the overrepresentation of some particular groups that we currently see.
Bill C-75 while having some positives, such as restoring discretion to judges with regards to the victim fine surcharge, is an attack on the rights of citizens and further empowers the state. On initial review this writer questions whether anyone who actually practices criminal law, either on the side of the crown or defence, was actually consulted on this knee-jerk legislation.