Canadian criminal defendants could soon be facing the prospect of unidentified witnesses as well as their spouses testifying against them at trial if the Conservative government’s “Victims Bill of Rights” is passed.
Currently under consideration in the House of Commons, the proposed legislation known as Bill C-32 includes provisions that seem less about victims’ rights and more about changing long-standing rules of evidence that protect the rights of the accused. While most of the bill does in fact focus on providing crime victims with additional rights such as providing them with more case information regarding perpetrators or making it easier for vulnerable witnesses to testify, two suggested changes to the Criminal Code and the Canada Evidence Act contained in the bill seem wholly unrelated to “victims’ rights”.
Bill C-32 would amend the Criminal Code to allow judges to permit anonymous testimony, should it be requested by either the witness or Crown attorneys on their behalf. It would be up to a judge to decide whether a witness could testify anonymously, and whether the accused has the right to know the identity of their accuser.
Ottawa criminal defence lawyer Bruce Engel says that being unable to identify a witness and thus fully explore their background and the veracity of their testimony can jeopardize Canadians’ right to a fair trial. “This regime flies in the face of an accused’s right to face his or her accuser.”
Compelling Spousal Testimony
The bonds of marriage are also effected by Bill C-32. It would change “spousal immunity,” a long-standing legal principle which allows a spouse to refuse to testify against their significant other in a criminal trial. The bill could dramatically increase the number of situations in which a spouse may be forced to testify.
Currently, the Canada Evidence Act permits a spouse to refuse to testify in certain exceptional circumstances. However, in situations where a spouse is not a victim, the effect of the pending bill could lead to a spouse providing damning testimony against their will.
“These proposals raise a number of concerns that might offend the principles of fundamental justice and could provide the basis for constitutional challenges in the future,” says Engel.
Whether these proposals become law remains to be seen. All Canadians should be concerned about any changes to the law that could compromise their constitutional right to a fair trial.
Ottawa Criminal Defence Firm Engel & Associates Defends Against Even The Most Complicated Charges
Criminal lawyers Bruce Engel and Elena Davies have represented individuals and businesses charged with hundreds of different offences throughout Canada for more than two decades. From the start of a criminal investigation to the close of a trial, we will take a balanced and forceful approach to your defence. We have the experience and know-how to effectively navigate the constantly changing justice system in Canada.