Excerpted from article by Michael Spratt, for CBC News Posted: Jan 30, 2018 4:00 AM ET
Michael Spratt is a partner at the Ottawa criminal law firm Abergel Goldstein & Partners. He has served as a director of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association and vice president of the Defence Counsel Association of Ottawa
“Let me let you in on a little secret: the presumption of innocence is a legal construct. Yes, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms says that people are presumed innocent – if they have been charged with an offence.
Protection from the power of the state
You see, the presumption of innocence operates in our courts of law to protect people charged with crimes from the power of the state to deprive them of their liberty. It does not operate to immunize political leaders from scrutiny.
In short, the presumption of innocence is a procedural protection to ensure fairness – not a moral imperative. This is why we do not automatically convict and sentence a self-admitted murderer whose crime is clearly captured on video. Even where guilt is plainly obvious, proper procedures must be followed and the prosecution must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. But the presumption of innocence does not mean someone is factually blameless until proven otherwise.
To insist on the strict application of the presumption of innocence in everyday life is an absurd and insidious act of complicity to the realities exposed by the #MeToo movement. In no other aspect of our daily lives do we employ the presumption of innocence or apply a burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The presumption of innocence should not be used as an excuse to disregard common sense.”