This case concerned whether a judge’s comments referencing racism by police officers, showed bias or the appearance of bias by the judge.
LEAF, in partnership with the National Organization of Immigrant Visible Minority Women of Canada (NOIVMWC), intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada.
R.D.S., a young Black man, faced criminal charges after allegedly interfering with the arrest of another youth. At trial, R.D.S. and the police officer who testified presented very different stories of what had occurred. The Youth Court judge acquitted R.D.S., finding that his testimony raised a reasonable doubt. After acquitting R.D.S., the judge made comments acknowledging racism among some police officers. At the time of the trial, the judge was the only Black judge in Nova Scotia.
The Crown appealed to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, arguing that these comments raised a reasonable apprehension of bias. The Court ordered a new trial on that basis. The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal upheld the decision. R.D.S. appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
LEAF and NOIVMWC argued that, in interpreting judicial notice and judicial bias, the Court needed to take into account the social reality of racism, and acknowledge the racial and gender dynamics of the case. To give effect to equality, courts needed to consider the social context in which a case had arisen. Acknowledging that context did not in itself constitute bias. Indeed, to ignore social context would show bias.
A majority of the Supreme Court allowed R.D.S.’s appeal, and restored his acquittal. While judges needed to be neutral, that did not mean that they needed to discount their life experiences. The majority split, however, in their views of the judge’s comments. Two of the judges felt that the comments were close to the line, while four felt that they appropriately reflected the evidence and the context in which the case arose.
LEAF is grateful to Yola Grant and Carol Allen, counsel in this case, as well as Carole Brown, Ottawa agent for LEAF and NOIVMWC.
Download the factum here.
Read the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision here.
Our records are imperfect, but we are doing our best to update them – if you were involved with LEAF on this case but your name is not reflected here, please email us at [email protected].