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Supreme agenda

Canada's highest court has its work cut out for itself in the new year

Canada’s highest court has its work cut out for itself in the new year

Alleged honour killers, weed traffickers, and ex-pats fighting for the right to vote are among those who will have their cases heard by Canada’s Supreme Court when it resumes in January.

And it will do so with a new judge on the bench — Malcolm Rowe is the first person from Newfoundland and Labrador to hold such a position.

VICE News outlines the issues that will preoccupy the highest court in the country while everyone else is hibernating.

Kicking out a marijuana trafficker  

One of the first cases revolves around Thanh Tam Tran, a Vietnamese man with permanent resident status in Canada who was found guilty in 2012 for operating a massive marijuana grow-op with nearly 1,000 plants, and stealing $100,000 worth of electricity to support it.

The issue confronting the Supreme Court, however, has to do with deportation. When Tran committed his crimes, he was facing up to seven years in jail. But the law was changed just before he was actually convicted so that he would have faced a harsher sentence — one that would have automatically made Tran, a permanent resident, unable to continue living here under Canada’s immigration laws.

The court is being asked to consider whether his crimes should be viewed through what the sentencing law was when he committed them, or what it was changed to at the time of his sentencing.

Canada’s federal department of public safety wants to kick him out of Canada, arguing in the lower court that Tran is a criminal who isn’t remorseful for his actions. Tran argues that he should be allowed to stay because he’s called Canada home for more than 22 years and that sending him back to Vietnam would harm his five children and their mother who all live in British Columbia.

Weed and warrants

Another weed case on the docket also involves a BC man, Frederick Clark, who was charged with producing and trafficking marijuana after more than 700 plants were seized during an early morning raid at a home near Kelowna in 2011. But the telewarrant police obtained to enter the home in the first place, originally to investigate concerns over electricity theft, was ruled invalid by the lower court because the application for it should have been made in person and not over the phone. Further, that judge ruled that the justice officer helped the police officer in preparing the telewarrant application.

Because the invalid warrant was deemed to have violated Clark’s constitutional right against unreasonable search and seizure, all charges against him were dropped. However, the warrant was found valid on appeal, and the Supreme Court is tasked with deciding the matter once and for all.

Alleged honour killing abroad

In March, the court will hear an extradition case involving the mother and uncle of Jaswinder Sidhu, a woman who was stabbed and killed in Punjab in 2000. Her mother Malkit and her uncle Surjit Badesha are accused by Indian authorities of orchestrating her “honour killing” by hiring a hit man from Canada in retaliation for her marrying a poor rickshaw driver and not the wealthier man they preferred. The Indian government wants the pair extradited to face their day in court. However, they are appealing the extradition order that was granted by the previous Conservative justice minister in 2014 on the grounds that they will face gross human rights abuses should they end up in an Indian jail.

A BC court rendered a split ruling earlier this year that set aside the minister’s extradition decision. One judge wrote: “In my view, there is a valid basis for concern that the applicants will be subjected to violence, torture and/or neglect if surrendered.” The judge added that the minister of justice should be wary of India’s promises to protect the rights of the mother and uncle if they are extradited.

Ex-pats who still want to vote

Even though Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has proposed to reverse a number of voting restrictions implemented by the previous Conservative government, including allowing Canadians living abroad to vote in federal elections, the Supreme court is still set to hear the case of two ex-pats challenging the old law.

Under the current law, Canadians who have lived abroad for more than five years — around 1.4 million or so — are not allowed to vote in federal elections. An Ontario court upheld the law, and so the plaintiffs sought to have the highest court overturn it in their favor, especially as it’s unclear whether the Liberals’ proposed legislation will make it through Parliament.

“The appellants are highly vulnerable to any change in policy on protecting the right to vote of non-resident Canadians by future governments,” the plaintiffs, led by former Canadian Forces member Gillian Frank who resides in the U.S., wrote in submissions to the court.

However the government is arguing that the court should adjourn the hearing for a year to allow Parliament to consider the new legislation.

Cover: Photo by Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

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