If you’d already spent almost five years in prison and were given the choice between paying a $5 million fine or spending one more day in prison, which would you choose? That is the question at the heart of a constitutional challenge in which the CCF is intervening to support the ancient right to trial by jury.
It was also the question posed by two recent cases, the appeals of which were heard together by the Alberta Court of Appeal as Peers v Alberta Securities Commission and Aitkens v Alberta Securities Commission. The appellants had been charged under various provisions of the Alberta Securities Act, which attracted a maximum punishment of five years less a day plus a fine of up $5 million.
The Charter guarantees a right to “trial by jury where the maximum punishment is imprisonment for five years or a more severe punishment.” (Section 11(f), emphasis added). The appellants argued that a sentence of five years less day plus a $5 million fine is a “more severe punishment” than a five-year sentence without a fine. The Alberta Court of Appeal disagreed, ruling that the appellants had no Charter right to a jury trial. But thankfully, the Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear the appellants’ appeals. The Supreme Court of Canada has previously recognized that “the right of trial by jury is not only an essential part of our criminal justice system but also is an important constitutional guarantee of the rights of the individual in our democratic society.”
It is the CCF’s position that an offence authorizing imprisonment of five years less one day combined with a fine of up to $5 million has a greater impact on the liberty and security interests of offenders than an offence authorizing no more than five years in prison. It is, therefore, a “more severe” punishment and persons so charged have a right to a jury trial. And it is for that reason we are intervening in this case. We cannot let government bodies sidestep this important constitutional legal protection.
Read the CCF’s submission here.
Read the CCF’s full release here.
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