CDAS is pleased to advise its members of its successful intervention at the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Zora, 2020 SCC 14, a watershed case dealing with the law of bail.
CDAS was represented at the Supreme Court by Matthew Nathanson and Chantelle van Wiltenburg, in consultation with Tony Paisana and Jeff Campbell Q.C. (now Judge Campbell of the B.C. Provincial Court).
The main issue in Zora was the mental element for the offence of breaching bail. The British Columbia Court of Appeal had held the mens rea was objective. CDAS took the position that it was subjective. The Supreme Court of Canada agreed with CDAS.
The significance of Zora extends far beyond the mens rea issue. The Court affirmed the fundamental importance of restraint when imposing bail conditions. It also offered practical guidance to judges conducting bail hearings.
In what will be a seminal decision for decades to come, the Court accepted all three of CDAS’s arguments.
First, that overreach within the bail system disproportionately affects vulnerable, marginalized people, such as those suffering from addiction, mental illness and poverty. Second, that the consequences flowing from breach convictions extend far beyond the sentence actually imposed, affecting future bail and sentencing proceedings (see R v Lacasse). Third, that bail judges must exercise an independent gatekeeping function, and remain vigilant in ensuring overly broad or unduly restrictive bail conditions are not imposed.
Zora will substantially affect how bail is administered in British Columbia and across Canada. It will serve as an important safeguard against undue deprivations of liberty and will afford significant protection for vulnerable members of the community.
CDAS is proud to have been a part of this important development in the law.