The criminal justice system changed this past week. As has been reported in many media outlets, my friend and colleague (whom I will not name in this post) was arrested at the Brampton courthouse on Thursday, February 12, 2015, and charged with various drug offences. The arrest happened around 10am. The lawyer was handcuffed, held for investigation, and eventually taken outside, while wearing her court attire, into a waiting police cruiser.
Media and witness reports suggest the allegations themselves are quite simple whereby the lawyer provided some clothing (possibly just shoes) to a court officer to be provided to her client to wear during a Superior Court hearing that day. This is a normal course of action for many defence lawyers as the process to provide a person in-custody with clothing at the jail can be a difficult one to navigate. It is suggested that there were drugs found within one of these items.
This will be a nearly impossible case for the Crown to prove. I am confident that the lawyer had zero knowledge of the presence of these drugs. I expect she will be fully exonerated.
The means in which the lawyer was arrested and taken into custody is an embarrassment for the entire legal profession. This was not a case of exigent circumstances. If the police had a concern, they could have conducted their investigation and, if they felt an arrest was necessary, made arrangements to have this lawyer surrender at a police division. Many of my colleagues have clearly stated that this was nothing more than an attempt by Peel Regional Police to embarrass a young defence lawyer and, by extension, the entire defence bar. I echo these comments.
Also ironic is that in recent months we have seen examples of both police officers and celebrities being provided the very same opportunity that this lawyer was not provided. The best example is that of Toronto Police Constable James Forcillo. Forcillo is facing charges of second-degree murder for the shooting death of teenager Sammy Yatim on a Toronto streetcar. Following the death of Yatim, Forcillo was allowed to go home and wait the outcome of the investigation by the province’s Special Investigations Unit. When he was to be charged, a private surrender was arranged, and bail terms were worked out, and Forcillo was able to be released by a Superior Court Justice on the same day of his arrest.
This story became even more disturbing this afternoon when Peel Regional Police published a press release that called into questions many of the circumstances, which have been confirmed by witnesses, surrounding the lawyer’s arrest. The press release can be found here. To be clear, witness reports suggest the claims by the Peel Regional Police are untrue. They are misleading. For a full account on this issue see this article from The Toronto Star and this article from the Toronto Sun. There is little doubt that the lawyer was in her court attire when she was arrested and later taken to the police cruiser. Proper court attire for the Superior Courts includes a black gown, black waistcoat, white shirt, and tabs. In this case the lawyer was likely not wearing her gown when taken to the police cruiser, as it may have been seized by police, but witnesses are clear that she was still wearing her waistcoat and tabs. Whether this constitutes “robes” is inconsequential – she was in court attire. The police also claim she was not handcuffed in her robes and was taken to an unmarked cruiser. Both of these claims have since been called into question.
The opportunity to practice in Her Majesty’s courts and wear the appropriate attire is something afforded only to those who have been admitted to the bar and are licenced to practice law. With this right comes both privilege and responsibility. There is also an expectation that we will behave ethically and honourably. I know this lawyer personally, as do many others, and I am certain that she took her duties as counsel seriously and upheld the high standards of our profession. Her arrest on Thursday dishonoured all of us.