Author: Stephen Flanagan, Probono Students of Canada (PBSC) Law Student, Dalhousie University
The Presumption of Innocence
Under section 11(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, any person detained and/or charged with an offence has “the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.” With this in mind, nobody should be labelled a criminal until they’ve had their day in court, regardless of whether they’ve been accused of shoplifting, sexual assault or first-degree murder. Section 11(d) is an absolutely essential part of the Canadian constitution and of the Canadian criminal justice system. There is, perhaps, no greater injustice than deeming someone guilty before they’ve had a fair trial and this provision offers constitutional protection against exactly that.
The Charter, unfortunately, does not apply to public opinion. Convictions are often entered, in the public eye, when the initial charges are made public, or even when someone is named as a person of interest. For evidence of this, read the comments section of any online newspaper under an article speaking about a laid charge, or even where evidence has implicated someone in a crime. For example, in a controversial missing persons case in Alberta, the now accused – Douglas Garland – has received a tremendous amount of negative attention.
Garland has now been formally charged, but initially he was named only as a person of interest. At that time, he was detained and later released. The Calgary Sun posted an article on its website explaining his detainment and release. In response to his constitutional release – despite the fact the authorities had clearly concluded that there was not enough evidence to detain him – [...]