R.v. Oakes  S.C.R. 103 Supreme Court of Canada
This commentary discusses when it is acceptable to limit a person’s rights with regards to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter). In section 1 of the charter it states that the rights and freedoms written in the charter are only guaranteed when “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by the law as can be demonstrated justified in a free and democratic society”. In other words there are limits to the freedoms and rights stated in the Charter (that are restricted by the Canadian laws), such as they are not allowed to infringe on other people’s freedoms and rights. This case raises the issue of, to what extent limitations can be placed on a person’s rights and freedoms stated in the Charter, (for the interests/good of society).
However, section 8 of the Narcotic Control Act (NCA, later to be replaced by the Controlled Drug and Substances Act in 1996), conflicts with section 11 (d) of the Charter. In Section 8 of the NCA, if the accused is found in possession of a narcotic substance, they have to defend themselves. They are “given the opportunity” to state that they were not in possession of the narcotic substance for the reason of trafficking. In other words, reverse onus. This is what happened to David Oakes. He was charged with illegally possessing a narcotic, with the intentions of trafficking. The police had found Oakes in possession of eight 1-gram vials of cannabis in the form of hashish oil, and $619.45 in cash. Oakes claimed that he bought the eight gram of cannabis for 150 dollars and that the rest of the money was from workers compensation cheque he cashed. However, the judge found him guilty in possession of a narcotic. However, Oakes then brought in the motion claiming that section 8 of the Narcotic Control Act violated his freedom of rights in section 11 (d) of the Charter. His argument was successful, and at the Court of Appeal, it was deemed that the reverse onus in section 8 of the Narcotic Control Act was unconstitutional. The Crown than appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Analysis & Discussion: Before the Courts made the decision that section 8 violated section 11(d), the Courts had to ask themselves two questions. The first one was whether section 8 of the Narcotic Control Act violated the right that everyone is presumed innocence until proven guilty under section 11 (d) in the Charter of Human Rights and Freedom. The second was that if it did, was section 8 a reasonable justification to violate section 11 (d) of the Charter. In order to determine whether section 8 of the Narcotic Control Act violated section 11 (d) of the Charter, the court decided to take a purposive approach to look at the meaning of section 11 (d) of the Charter. From taking a purposive approach at looking at section 11 (d), the courts decided that it was a “hallowed principle lying at the very heart of criminal law”. That it was related to the concepts of life, liberty and security of the person in question of section 11 (d), and that when people are subjected to serious consequences, these liberties are loss, and major effects occur to the person in question. The courts also took in consideration that this principle is included in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, under the due process clauses of the fifth and fourteenth amendments to the US Constitution, in the European Convention on Human Rights, and in the common law in England. However, the Courts also took into consideration that the Charter rights and freedoms are not absolute. And some time it is necessary to limit the rights and freedoms of one individual, when it clashes against the collective needs of people. Although the Court took into consideration that sometimes the rights of the Charter need to be restricted, for the needs of the collective; it was however not enough to