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JURISDICTION - Courts - Provincial and territorial courts - Trial courts - Over offence

Thursday, November 23, 2017 @ 12:28 PM  


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Appeal by Sciascia from a judgment of the Court of Appeal for Ontario which affirmed his convictions for dangerous operation of a motor vehicle and failing to stop for the police. Sciascia was tried by an Ontario Court of Justice (OCJ) judge for dangerous operation of a motor vehicle and assaulting a police officer with a weapon, both criminal offences under the Criminal Code. In the same proceeding, he was also tried for failing to stop for the police and failing to report property damage resulting from his operation of a motor vehicle, both provincial regulatory offences under the Highway Traffic Act. The trial judge found Sciascia guilty on the charges of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle and failing to stop for the police. On appeal, Sciascia argued for the first time that the OCJ judge lacked jurisdiction to conduct a joint trial on the criminal and provincial charges and that his trial was therefore a nullity. The Superior Court judge found that there was a sufficient factual nexus between the charges. Considering Sciascia’s consent to a joint trial and the absence of any prejudice, she also concluded that it was in the interests of justice to try the charges together in a single proceeding. The Court of Appeal for Ontario dismissed Sciascia’s appeal of the Superior Court judgment. It found that the OCJ judge lacked jurisdiction to hold a joint trial in this context, but held that the error could be cured by applying the procedural proviso under s. 686(1)(b)(iv) of the Criminal Code and the proviso under s. 120(1)(b)(iii) of the Provincial Offences Act (POA).

HELD: Appeal dismissed. Conducting a joint trial was permissible. No provision in the relevant statutes prohibited an OCJ judge from conducting a joint trial of criminal and provincial offences. Permitting a joint trial of provincial charges and summary conviction criminal charges was consistent with the intent of both the Criminal Code and the POA. The procedural regimes established under the POA aimed to reduce complexity and enhance efficiency of provincial offence prosecutions. Where a particular incident or course of events gave rise to both provincial charges and summary conviction criminal charges, as in the present case, the flexibility to hold a joint trial could only serve to further the objectives of the relevant provincial and federal statutes. Where the objective of efficiency was better served by conducting a joint trial than by holding separate trials, it would pervert the true spirit and objectives of the POA to blindly enforce strict separation. Applying the test set out in Clunas, there was a clear factual nexus between the provincial charges and the summary conviction criminal charges, as they related to the same course of events. Moreover, in the absence of any prejudice, and given Sciascia’s express consent, it was clearly open to the OCJ judge to find that it was in the interests of justice to hold a joint trial. He did not err in exercising his discretion to do so in the circumstances.

R. v. Sciascia, [2017] S.C.J. No. 57, Supreme Court of Canada, Abella, Moldaver, Karakatsanis, Wagner, Gascon,Côté and Rowe JJ., November 23, 2017. Digest No. TLD-November202017012SCC