New & Notable: Looking for Principles in all the Wrong Places

Singh drove while her blood-alcohol concentration was over 80. Singh’s only argument at trial was that the timing of the breath samples did not comply with the as soon as practicable requirement of section 258(1)(C)(ii).  The only time period in question was the 28 minutes that elapsed between the taking of the first and second samples. Singh argued that this time period exceeded the statutory minimum of 15minutes without any evidence to explain the delay.  The trial judge rejected this argument and held that there was no requirement for the Crown to explain every minute. Singh was convicted and appealed.

The summary conviction appeal judge allowed the appeal and expressly declined to apply the binding decision of the Court of Appeal in Vanderbruggen, 2006 CanLII 9039 (CA) because it “was not a case about unexplained delay between samples.”

The Ontario Court of Appeal restored the conviction and in so doing offered some interesting comments about how binding decisions of the Court must be read: R v Singh, 2014 ONCA 293 (CA).

First, “care must be taken to avoid reading unwarranted jurisprudential principles into a decision of the court rendered in” a brief endorsement” [@para 12]

To illustrate this point the Court pointed to the trial judge’s reliance on the Court of Appeal’s endorsement in Bulger. That decision was a four sentence oral endorsement which “does not articulate any proposition of law” [@para 11] nor does it contain “a recitation of the facts that would enable a reader to understand the overall circumstances of the case” [@para 10].

Second, the purpose of such a brief endorsement is “to simply pronounce a decision for parties who, having been present in court during the argument of the appeal, will understand the thrust of the court's reasoning”[@para 12]

Third, “[w]hen the court intends to articulate jurisprudential principles for the first time, it does so in a written judgment” [@para 12].

By way of example the Court highlighted Vanderbruggen as just such a case [@para 12].

The Court of Appeal concluded that the:

(…) trial judge drew and applied the correct principles from paras. 12-13 of Vanderbruggen. The requirement that the samples be taken “as soon as practicable” does not mean “as soon as possible”. It means nothing more than that the tests should be administered within a reasonably prompt time in the overall circumstances. A trial judge should look at the whole chain of events, keeping in mind that the Criminal Code permits an outside limit of two hours from the time of the offence to the taking of the first test. The "as soon as practicable" requirement must be applied with reason.

It is worth repeating that the Crown is not required to call evidence to provide a detailed explanation of what occurred during every minute that the accused is in custody. These provisions of the Criminal Code were enacted to expedite the trial process by facilitating the introduction of reliable evidence to prove an accused’s blood-alcohol level. Interpreting these provisions to require an exact accounting of every moment in the chronology from the time of the offence to the second test runs counter to their purpose. As Rosenberg J.A. said in Vanderbruggen, at para. 12, "The touchstone for determining whether the tests were taken as soon as practicable is whether the police acted reasonably" [@paras 14-15].