Pot Pardons in Canada

As of October 17, 2018, marijuana is legal in Canada. This is seen as a huge step forward by many Canadians who felt the harms that came with using the drug were about equivalent to the harms caused by alcohol or cigarette consumption. When a law against possession of a controlled substance is overturned, it creates an interesting question for the legal system: what do you do with all of the people who were convicted of possession before it was legal?

Pardons, formally known as record suspensions, are one way you can mitigate the effects of a criminal record. Record suspensions are used for citizens who have demonstrated good behaviour over the years after a crime has been committed; there are a host of different qualifiers to allow you to apply for a pardon, but if you meet all of them, including the payment of a fee and a five year good behaviour waiting period, you can apply for one. When a pardon is granted, your criminal record isn’t erased; rather, it removes the record from the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) database. That means when employers run a criminal record check through the database, your criminal record will not appear (though exceptions exist for offenses of a sexual nature).

The government is considering using pardons as a tool to help rectify the imbalance between the former criminality of marijuana use and its newfound legality. The tools they are considering is a form of streamlined pardon process; namely, that the five-year waiting period will be waived, as will all of the associated fees. Contrary to what many believe, this legislation is not on the books; it’s being considered by the government, likely to be introduced early next year. That means it may be to your advantage to wait before applying for the pardon; it’s not clear to exactly what offenses the expedited pardon laws might apply. While they are likely to allow expedited pardons for simple possession, it may be less likely that they will do the same for marijuana related DUI charges, as smoking marijuana and driving is still illegal under the Criminal Code. Possession over 30 grams may have been seen as possession with intent to distribute, and may thus be ineligible for the pardon, but we’ll have to wait for the law to know for sure.

Some politicians are calling for the federal government to instead allow criminal records of those convicted of marijuana possession to have their records expunged instead of pardoned; expungement is a more extreme version of the pardon which totally eliminates the record of a criminal conviction from all databases. The federal government allows expungement in the case of historical injustices; they have argued that the laws against marijuana use were not unjust. Others have argued that because convictions were primarily levied against Black and Indigenous people, they are unjust; again, we’ll have to wait to see what the new legislation says.

If you were convicted of marijuana possession in the past, or are charged with marijuana related offenses today, a criminal lawyer can help; an experienced DUI lawyer can be especially useful if charged with driving related marijuana offenses.

The Basics of Canadian Law

Canada’s system of laws is integral to our national identity; the laws we create help shape the culture of our nation, balancing our notions of freedom and responsibility. Canada’s law-making philosophy is “Peace, Order and Good Governance”, which has come to be seen as equivalent to our neighbor to the South’s “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”; it’s obvious that the law is very important to Canadians.

There are three branches of government, broadly defined as legislative, executive and judicial; their function, in order, is to create laws, to administer laws and to interpret law. This means that politicians and their staff might be called legislators; indeed, they often dwell in the Legislative Building. The executive branch might include the Canada Revenue Agency and other government agencies; the judicial branch includes lawyers, judges and other legal professionals.

Canada’s law is further divided into three levels: municipal, provincial/territorial, and federal. These three levels are all responsible for different elements of governance; your municipal government will handle transportation and infrastructure within your city, as well as the collection of property taxes and other municipal fees. There is no municipal court, as municipalities exist at the will of the provincial government. The provincial and territorial level, then, take care of their own domains; infrastructure within the province, property and civil rights, prisons, health care and education are all within the purview of this level of government. Provincial governments, like municipal governments, will have their own branch of law enforcement, usually by contracting the RCMP. They do not, however, have the right to make criminal law; the Criminal Code is exclusively the realm of the federal government. The federal government also levies federal taxes, pays equalization payments, and takes care of many social services, banking law, defense and other issues of national concern.

The court system of Canada is split between the federal and provincial/territorial governments. Generally speaking, a given court case will start in a provincial court, known sometimes as the lowest court. These courts deal with small claims, most criminal offenses, and some elements of family law (but not divorce/marriage law). The next level is known as the Superior Court; it might also be called the Supreme Court, or the Court of the Queen’s Bench. These Courts deal with large claims, serious criminal offenses, and divorce cases. The Court of Appeals is the final provincial court, which, appropriately enough, deals with appeals that have gone past the Superior Court.

Federal Courts deal with a wide range of issues not covered by the other courts, including intellectual property law, citizenship claims and provincial disputes. There are also specialized branches of federal courts which deal with specific disputes, such as the Tax Court or the Court Martial. Appeals from the Federal Courts go to the Federal Court of Appeals; all appeals which cannot be rectified by other courts and are considered legitimate arrive at the Supreme Court of Canada, the highest-level court in the country.

The law is complex, but understanding the branches and levels can help anyone better navigate its murky waters. The best way of learning the law is by looking to a professional; if you’ve been charged with a crime, there are recognized criminal lawyers in Winnipeg ready to help you.


All About Lie Detectors

You’ve heard of polygraph tests, often called lie detectors; the police hook you up to a machine, it monitors your blood pressure, respiration, pulse and other physical responses, and you’re asked a series of questions. Depending on how your physical responses change when you answer the questions, the machine will be able to tell whether or not you’re lying…or so the story goes. As it turns out, lie detectors are not nearly as reliable as popular culture might have you believe.

The value of polygraph tests is debated between scientists, but mainly believe them to be mostly pseudoscience, with one psychologist going so far as to compare it to throwing a suspected witch into a river. The core problem with lie detection is that there’s no one set of physiological responses you can expect when someone lies; one liar might start sweating, while another goes completely dry. Some people become exceptionally nervous when they lie, while others stay cool as cucumbers; experienced liars might have no problem at all “fooling” a lie detector. Some people will even thinking arousing thoughts when giving true answers, because the symptoms of arousal and nervous excitement are often similar, physiologically speaking. Yet another problem with the lie detector is how often it gives false positives; the test is said to be decent at detecting lies, but quite bad at detecting honesty, which is incredibly problematic for the justice system.

It’s understandable, then, to wonder at whether or not the results from a polygraph are admissible in court; the system seems quite unreliable, after all! The answer is quite straightforward: no, the results of a polygraph test are not admissible as evidence in a criminal court. This was made clear in the ruling of a Supreme Court case, R. v. Béland; interestingly enough, the ruling was more based on procedural rules than the unreliability of lie detector evidence. Without delving too deeply into the details, the ruling was made because polygraph results were deemed confusing, unnecessary, and were deemed to violate rules of evidence.

The first way polygraphs violate standards is that the results of an “honest” polygraph test serve only to bolster the credibility of a given party’s witness; this is known as oath-helping, and is against the rules. Another rules violation is that having someone say “They told me the same thing they’re telling the court” can’t make a witness more credible; the polygraph tester would essentially be acting as that person, so the evidence is inadmissible. Yet another violation is that you can establish your reputation, but you can’t refer to specific acts that establish character, i.e. “The proof that I’m not a liar is that I passed the polygraph test”. Finally, the court assumes the ability of the judge and jury to establish how honest a witness is being; expert testimony should only be used to establish facts that are otherwise unknowable.

While the results of a polygraph test aren’t admissible, anything you say to the police might be admissible as evidence in court, including what you say during a polygraph test. A recognized Winnipeg criminal lawyer will help you understand your right, and how to proceed to make the best case for yourself, if you are charged with a criminal offense.

What are My Rights When Police Stop Me?

Do I Need to Say Anything to the Police?

You need to produce your identification, insurance and vehicle registration if requested by the police and comply with their demands for a saliva sample, sobriety test, and/ or a blood or urine sample. Other than complying with these things and identifying yourself, you do not need to speak to the police. This means that if they ask you questions, like whether you have smoked marijuana, you do not need to answer.

If you are arrested, you have the right to remain silent and do not need to speak to the police. In Canada, even if you tell police you are using your right to silence they may continue to ask you questions. You do not need to say anything.

It is a criminal offence to lie to the police about your identity or in a statement. Simply stay silent. If you are unsure whether you need to say anything, ask to call a lawyer.

Can They Search My Car?

If you are stopped at the side of the road, police can look in your car like any other person could. This means looking through your windows, possibly with a flashlight if it is dark. Police can see anything left in plain sight in your vehicle, like a bong or bag of cannabis.

Police cannot search your car unless they believe a crime was committed and that items connected to that crime are in your car. If the police believe there is something in your car, they cannot search unless they have a warrant, or believe exigent circumstances are present. Exigent circumstances means that police believe that they must search your car now because they are concerned for their safety, the public’s safety, or think evidence would be destroyed. Your car may be impounded until the police have a search warrant. Then they would search your car for evidence. This can include searching inside any bags left in your car.

Police may try to get your consent to search your car, trunk, or to look inside of any bags in your car. You do not need to give them consent.

Can They Search Me?

Police can do a pat down search of your body either upon arrest, or before arrest if they believe that their own safety is at risk. This is done for their safety to ensure that you do not have any weapons or things that could harm anyone. If police feel any hard objects, they may ask you to take those objects out of your pocket.

When Do I Get to Call a Lawyer?

When you are initially stopped, either by the police or at a traffic stop, you do not have the right to call a lawyer. You must comply with an oral fluid test if they ask without consulting a lawyer. If you refuse and the police charge you, then you may speak to a lawyer.

If police request a DRE, or a blood or urine sample, then you have the right to talk to a lawyer.

If police arrest you, and take you into custody, then you have the right to talk to a lawyer.

If you do not know your lawyer’s phone number, police can assist you in getting your lawyer’s phone number. If your lawyer cannot be reached, or if you do not have a lawyer, you can tell the police you want to speak with a lawyer and they can arrange for you to speak with Legal Aid. You can also call a private lawyer who you can hire later if you wish.

Criminal Offences and Penalties for Driving While Impaired – Part 3

Drug Impaired Driving Cause Bodily Harm

If you drive impaired and cause harm or injury to another person, the maximum sentence is 10 years imprisonment.

You will also be subject to a driving suspension. Your first conviction is a 5 year suspension. The second conviction is a 10 year suspension. The third and following convictions within 10 years results in a lifetime suspension. A licence suspension means you cannot drive any type of vehicle on or off road for the suspension period. You will also get 15 demerits on your Driver Safety Rating. You will be subject to a $50 licence reinstatement charge through MPI if you wish to drive again after your suspension is over. Your vehicle can be impounded at your expense for at least 60 days. You may be required to complete a course at the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba (AFM) at your own expense if you receive a 3 month suspension, or a combination of any 2 suspensions in a 10 year period.

If you must drive for work or personal reasons, you may appeal your driving suspension to the Licence Suspension Appeal Board who can give you conditional driving privileges.

Offenders may also have their vehicle seized by the police. Upon conviction, the vehicle is not returned to you.

Drug Impaired Driving Cause Death

If you drive impaired and cause the death of another person, the maximum sentence is life imprisonment. You will also be subject to a driving suspension. Your first conviction is a 5 year suspension. The second conviction is a 10 year suspension. The third and following convictions within 10 years results in a lifetime suspension.

A licence suspension means you cannot drive any type of vehicle on or off road for the suspension period. You will also receive 15 demerits on your Driver Safety Rating. You will be subject to a $50 licence reinstatement charge through MPI if you wish to drive again after your suspension is over. Your vehicle can be impounded at your expense for at least 60 days. You may be required to complete a course at Addictions Foundation of Manitoba (AFM) at your own expense if you receive a 3 month suspension, or a combination of any 2 suspensions in a 10 year period.

If you must drive for work or personal reasons, you may appeal your driving suspension to the Licence Suspension Appeal Board who can give you conditional driving privileges.

Offenders may also have their vehicle seized by the police. Upon conviction, the vehicle is not returned to you.

Refusal to Provide a Sample

Refusing to provide a saliva, blood, or urine sample is a criminal offence. This means that refusing to do an oral fluid screening test will result in a criminal charge.

Your first conviction for refusal results in a 2 year driving suspension. The second conviction has a 7 year suspension. The third conviction has a 10 year suspension. Four or more convictions within 10 years has a lifetime driving suspension.

Refusal to give a sample, or do a physical coordination test, can result in an immediate suspension of your licence for 3 months. A licence suspension means you cannot drive any type of vehicle on or off road for the 3 month period. You will be subject to a $50 licence reinstatement charge through MPI if you wish to drive again after your suspension is over. Your vehicle can be impounded at your expense for at least 60 days if you refuse to provide a sample, and refuse to participate in a physical coordination test. You may be required to complete a course at Addictions Foundation of Manitoba (AFM) at your own expense if you receive a 3 month suspension, or a combination of any two suspensions in a 10 year period.

If you must drive for work or personal reasons, you may appeal your driving suspension to the Licence Suspension Appeal Board who can give you conditional driving privileges.

Criminal Offences and Penalties for Driving While Impaired – Part 2

Important Things About Impaired Driving in Canada

What are the Criminal Penalties for Impaired Driving?

A hybrid offence means that the Crown can choose whether to make your charge summary of indictable. A summary offence usually carries lesser penalties than an indictable offence.

Being convicted of the summary conviction offence of 2 nanograms (ng) but less than 5 ng of THC per millilitre (ml) of blood carries a maximum $1,000 fine and a minimum 1 year driving prohibition in the Highway Traffic Act.

Being convicted of either hybrid offence of (1) having 5 ng or more of THC per ml of blood or (2) having a combination of 50 mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, and 2.5 ng or more of THC per 1 ml of blood, carries different mandatory sentences depending on whether it is your first, second, or third offence. All of these penalties are the minimum you must be charged with. Depending on the circumstances of the offence, you can be sentenced to pay a higher fine, have a longer driving prohibition, and serve more jail time.

A first conviction for either (1) having 5 ng or more of THC per ml of blood or (2) having a combination of 50 mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, and 2.5 ng or more of THC per 1 ml of blood, carries a mandatory minimum $1,000 fine and a 1 year driving prohibition. A second conviction has a mandatory minimum of 30 days imprisonment and a 5 year driving prohibition. Third and more convictions have a mandatory minimum of 120 days imprisonment and a 10 years to life driving prohibition. These are the minimums you can be charged with. Depending on the circumstances of the offence and your previous driving history, you can be charged with more. For example, your driving prohibition may be higher under the Highway Traffic Act if you have prior convictions of driving offences. Depending on your record, these additional prohibitions can range from 1 year to a lifetime.

In addition to these mandatory sentences, you can have probation added to your sentence with certain conditions added like a curfew, not attend a certain location, no contact with a certain person, and not consume drugs or alcohol.

Costs and surcharges will be charged to you for each criminal offence you are convicted of. They are an additional 30% plus $2 of the fine given to you by the judge. For example, if you fined $1,000 by the judge, an additional $302 would be added for a total fine of $1,302. You can either pay the fine, or work off the fine by doing community service worth through the Fine Option Program. Some offences may not be able to be worked off, such as a Highway Traffic Act offence or parking tickets.

If you are convicted of two or more Criminal Code driving offences within 5 years, you can have your vehicle seized. These offences can include: operation while impaired; driving with a blood alcohol level over 0.8, refusing to supply a breath or blood sample; driving while disqualified; dangerous operation of a vehicle; flight from police and failure to stop at an accident. Upon conviction, your vehicle is not returned to you.

Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) may impose additional penalties to those of the courts.

What are the Penalties with Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) for Impaired Driving?

If you are suspected by police of being under the influence of any drug you can receive an immediate 24 hour roadside licence suspension. This means that if you fail a physical coordination test, or test positive on an oral fluid screening test, your driver’s licence will be invalid for 24 hours.

If you fail an oral fluid screening test as a novice driver you may be fined $113, and failing a supervising driver can have a fine of $672.

If you fail a physical coordination test or Drug Recognition Evaluation (DRE), you are subject to a Tiered Administrative Licence Suspension. These suspensions range from 72 hours to 60 days depending on how many previous suspensions you have received within a 10 year period. This suspension will result in 5 demerits on your Driver Safety Rating. You may also be subject to Driver Improvement and Control Intervention, a warning letter, further suspension, or completion of an Impaired Driver Assessment. In addition, you will receive an immediate licence suspension.

Refusal to provide a blood sample, perform a DRE, or perform a physical coordination test, will receive an immediate 3 month Administrative Licence Suspension. This will result in 5 demerits and a payment to reinstate your licence.

If you must drive for work or personal reasons, you may appeal your driving suspension to the Licence Suspension Appeal Board who can give you conditional driving privileges.

Penalties imposed by MPI are separate from those imposed by the justice system.

Can I Drive While High on Drugs other than Cannabis?

Along with the regulations of THC, any detectable level of other impairing drugs such as LSD, methamphetamine, LSD, 6-MAM (heroine), Ketamine, Phencyclidine, and Psilocybin and Psilocin (magic mushrooms) is a criminal offence.

You may have up to 5mg/L of GHB in your blood, as the human body produces small amounts of this chemical naturally.

Having any amount of these drugs in your system, or more than 5mg/L of GHB, carries penalties for first, second, and subsequent convictions. The first conviction carries a mandatory minimum $1,000 fine. The second conviction a mandatory minimum of 30 days imprisonment. The third and following convictions have a mandatory minimum of 120 days imprisonment.

Canada’s Supreme Court

There’s a lot of contention in the United States right now over the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court; cries of partisanship are abound on both sides. The United States uses a very public process, Senate hearings, in order to decide on whether or not a nominee gets to sit on the Court; in Canada, the process is quite different. In order to have a fuller understanding of Canadian law, it’s important to learn about the highest court in the land.

A bit of history, to begin. Canada’s court structure is pyramidal in nature; lower court rulings can be appealed until the court of final appeal, the Supreme Court, is reached. For a time since Confederation until 1949, the Supreme Court was not the court of final appeal; instead, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, located in London, England, was the top court. Traditionally, the Privy Council court was the court of final appeal for all British colonies, so the Supreme Court of Canada replacing it at the top of the pyramid was a symbol of Canada’s increasing independence from the British system.

Remnants of the monarchy remain, though they are largely symbolic in nature. As a Constitutional Monarchy, only the Queen has the power to appoint Supreme Court justices; appointments are thus conducted by the Governor General of Canada, who acts in the Queen’s stead. What this amounts to in real terms is that the Prime Minister of Canada, often after consultation with Cabinet and other stakeholders, will direct the Governor General to appoint a particular individual. Provincial and other stakeholders are not necessarily privy to a seat at the table for Supreme Court discussions, a point which has been contentious at times.

The Supreme Court is made up of nine Justices, one of whom is named Chief Justice. These Justices are subject to mandatory retirement age of 75. Three of the nine Justices must come from Québec; this is because Québec uses civil law, which differs from the common law convention found within the rest of Canada. While the other six Justices can ostensibly come from anywhere in Canada, there is a tacit agreement that three will come from Ontario, two from the Prairie provinces and one from the Maritimes; there has never been a Justice from one of the three territories.

The Supreme Court’s rulings cannot be overruled, for the most part; specific rulings that pertain to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms can be overturned by provinces using a specific measure of that Charter known as the notwithstanding clause.

Most cases won’t end up before the Supreme Court; they will instead be resolved in one of the lower Courts in the system. For criminal offences, it’s best to get recognized criminal lawyers in Winnipeg; they can help you plan your case and present it, hopefully without having to go all the way to the ultimate court in the land.

Civil Law vs. Common Law

Quebec is seen as a land apart; it has been called a “nation within Canada” due to the predominance of the French language, it’s different culture and customs, and it’s tumultuous history with the rest of Canada. Another important distinction between Quebec and the rest of the provinces is its use of the civil law, based on the French custom, instead of common law with its precedent in Britain. Criminal law is federally legislated, so matters in the criminal domain are handled by the Crown, regardless of regional customs. On matters of dispute between private parties, however, the law plays out quite differently in Quebec.

Common law is based on precedent. This gives judges a tremendous amount of sway in the legal system; when they rule on a matter, their ruling can be referred to by judges throughout centuries. In civil law, however, there are a series of codified statutes that are used when deciding on a ruling; precedent can be discussed but is by no means compelling enough to settle a case.

The role of judges and lawyers in both systems is quite different as well; common law might be termed adversarial while civil law is inquisitorial. In common law, lawyers for the plaintiff and the defendant gather evidence and present it to the judge and jury, who determine who is guilty based on the balance of probabilities. The judge’s role here is as arbitrator, as well as to determine sentencing. In the civil law system, judges take on the role of inquisitor; they are in charge of investigating the case, finding evidence, and using the code of laws and statutes to determine a charge.

The role lawyers take in each system is thus also quite different. In a common law system, it is the attorneys who are tasked with presenting evidence to the court to make a compelling case; in a civil law system, the judge presents the evidence, and lawyers form narratives and arguments based on the evidence that has been presented to them.

Another distinction between Quebec’s system and the rest of Canada’s is the division between notaries and attorneys. In Quebec, if you are a notary you are forbidden from representing your client in court, and attorneys are forbidden from doing the work of notaries; that’s because notaries are supposed to provide an impartial, conflict-avoiding overview of the law, while attorneys are there to contest in a more adversarial setting.

The distinction between Quebec’s branches of law fall apart when it comes to criminal law because criminal law falls under federal jurisdiction. Criminal law will always have a strong basis in the common-law, precedent based British system. Should you be charged with a criminal offense in Quebec or any other province, you need strong criminal defense representation in order to defend yourself against the charges in a common law system. Navigating the law is extremely complex, and Canada is one of the few countries to have both civil and common law present in the same country, so it’s important to know the nature of the charges laid against you.

The Consequences of a DUI

Driving under the influence is a terrible idea; you’re putting your own life, and the lives of others, at risk. Every day, an average of 3.5 Canadians are killed by impaired driving.  That’s why Manitoba has steep penalties for drivers with who drive while impaired; by having harsh consequences, the government aims to curb bad behaviour. The legal risks that come with a conviction may be less severe than loss of life, but they can still end up with the convicted person going to jail.

There are a number of immediate consequences that can occur when an individual is pulled over by a police officer under suspicion of impaired driving. When on a breath screening test you register a warn or fail, you have a blood alcohol concentration of equal to or over .05 (if you have a standard driver’s license), you fail a physical coordination test or the officer believes you are too impaired to even begin a physical or breath test, your license can be suspended on the spot.  The time frames of suspension vary significantly depending on circumstance: if the officer deems you incapable of completing the tests, your license will be suspended for 24 hours. Should you get a “warn”, your license will be suspended for 3 days unless there’s someone under 16 years of age in your car, in which case the suspension will be for 7 days. This is assuming it’s the first time you register a warn in the last 10 years; the more often it happens, the longer the suspensions.

Your vehicle can be suspended for even longer under certain circumstances, mainly if your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is found to be over .08, or if you refuse to comply with testing requirements. In these circumstances, the immediate suspension lasts 3 months. When your license is suspended, you cannot drive on or off road, your car may be taken and stored at your expense, and you may be obliged to take an impaired driver’s assessment, again at your expense.

Immediate consequences aside, a criminal conviction for impaired driving can result in fines, long-term and permanent license suspensions, and jail time. There are mandatory minimum penalties of $1000 for first conviction, 30 days jail time for a second conviction and 120 days for subsequent convictions. License suspensions scale up from 1 year to permanently, depending on the frequency and severity of violations of the law. Convictions will also lead to an ignition interlock device being installed in the convicted person’s vehicle, essentially a breathalyzer that stops the car until an alcohol-free breath sample is provided; these devices also retest as you continue down the road.

Immediate suspensions and criminal convictions can come with serious financial and social ramifications; if you feel you’ve been treated unjustly, or are facing such a conviction, an experienced DUI lawyer is the best way to fight the charges. Given how much money you can lose if convicted, it’s well worth it to call for a free consultation.

Differences Between Canadian and US Legal Systems

Have you been listening to Season 3 of Serial? It’s a remarkable season with an exciting premise; journalists hang out in a courtroom in Cleveland and report on the cases that transpire there, in an effort to get the public to better understand how the legal system and court proceedings work. It’s a valiant effort to use real stories to decode an arcane system, and well-worth listening to; you get to better understand how interpersonal dynamics, prior offenses, race, politics and the personal views of judges impact trial outcomes. While listening, it occurred to me that most Canadians learn about the legal system through the lens of media from the United States, which can be problematic because there are marked differences between the two. Here, we highlight some of the differences in an effort to illuminate the inner workings of our own system.

The first thing to know is that while Canada has a unified judicial system, the United States has two parallel systems, one for the states, the other, federal. This is a reflection of the larger share of power states possess compared to provinces; this should come as no surprise if you consider the names of both countries! This means that issues that fall under the domain of state law only have recourse to that state’s Supreme Court; the Federal Supreme Court can only undertake appeals if the matter is related to the United States Constitution.

Another key difference between the court systems is the number of elected judges in the United States. While Canadian judges are appointed, a large portion of US judges are given power by the results of a popular election; according to the New York Times, about 87% of state court judges are elected. There are advantages and disadvantages to a democratically elected judge. On the one hand, elections allow the judicial system to remain arm’s length from the other branches of government; because they aren’t appointed, they don’t have to worry about the consequences of disappointing those who appointed them, and can fight the other branches more easily if they feel a wrong has been committed. The flipside is that the electorate rarely has a nuanced view of the judicial system, and typical mudslinging, promise-making politicking might corrupt the law.

The consequences of breaking the law are also markedly different in each country. The United States trends much more socially conservative than Canada; its punishments for crimes tend to be more severe, the biggest example of which is the death penalty, seen as cruel and unusual by most Canadians. Americans also operate a large number of for-profit prisons and have the largest population of prisoners in the world.

One similarity between the two systems is how difficult they can be to navigate; lawyers are essential to get the best possible outcome on either side of the border. If you or a loved one have been charged with violating Canada’s Criminal Code, you need an effective criminal defense lawyer to defend your interests.