Elan Rotating Header Image

criminal law

Hot off the press: Defending Yourself: Theft Under $5,000


This revised booklet (formerly What to Do If You Are Charged with Theft Under $5,000) features a whole new look, an easy-to-read format, and strong visuals. The reorganized content includes a new flowchart that shows when various LSS publications can help at each stage of the criminal court process. The focus of this publication is how to prepare your defence for the charge of “theft under.”

This publication is the first in the new Defending Yourself series which will eventually replace the entire What to Do If You Are Charged series. Each Defending Yourself booklet is meant to be used together with the LSS booklet Representing Yourself in a Criminal Trial, and can be conveniently tucked inside that booklet’s new cover pocket.

Although this publication replaces What to Do If You Are Charged with Theft Under $5,000 (2011), that edition (and the French translation) are still legally accurate.

Hot off the press: If You Are Charged with a Crime

ifYouAreChargedWithACrimeThis revised brochure has an attractive new design, a larger format, and expanded content. If You Are Charged with a Crime outlines what someone needs to know if charged with a criminal offence. It describes the first steps in the court process, the different options that may be available, and how to get legal aid or other legal help.


Hot off the press: Representing Yourself in a Criminal Trial

This revised edition has a new look and additional content. The booklet is intended for an accused person who pleads not guilty to a summary offence. Its redesigned, two-column format improves readability, and the addition of more cross-references helps readers navigate through the information. The booklet now includes a glossary and a flowchart of the LSS criminal publications that can help the accused before he/she goes to court. It also contains a checklist to guide the accused through a trial, flow charts of the court process before and at the trial, and a sample letter to Crown counsel.

Vancouver’s Downtown Community Court turns four

Downtown Community Court (DCC) is celebrating its fourth anniversary today!

In the four years it’s been around, DCC has partnered with legal aid and social and health services organizations to help offenders successfully resolve their issues.

DCC is about testing new ways to reduce crime and improve public safety. It deals with offenders more quickly through a more co-ordinated and informed response. It focuses on reducing the harm done to the community by crime.

Sentences are designed to help offenders:

  • address the circumstances that caused them to commit the crime in the first place, and
  • make long-term changes to their behaviour that will keep them from reoffending.

This means that sentences can, and often do, include health and social services programs and community service to pay the community back for the damage done.

The DCC is run in partnership with many organizations, including the Legal Services Society, the Ministries of Justice and Social Development, Vancouver Coastal Health, BC Housing, the Vancouver Police Department, and more.

Find out more about the DCC on their website. Or see some examples of the cases they’ve seen in their newsletter.

My day in BC’s First Nations Court

Picture courtesy of Courthouse Libraries BC

A few months ago I had the opportunity to sit in on a session at BC’s First Nations Court (FNC). It was an experience I won’t soon forget.

Despite working for legal aid for a while now, I don’t have much experience with courtrooms. I realize it’s not like Law and Order in real life, but that doesn’t stop me from hearing the theme song whenever I pass by the courthouse. So, the FNC was a splash of cold (refreshing!) water.

The first thing you notice when you enter the room is that it’s not your traditional court set up. Instead of facing off against each other, the judge, Crown counsel, defendant, and others sit around a horseshoe-shaped conference table. This alternate setting is representative of the court as a whole.

FNC can be used by anyone who self-identifies as Aboriginal — status or non-status, First Nations, Metis, or Inuit, living on or off reserve — and who has or will plead guilty to, or has been found guilty of, a crime. The court is there only for sentencing and follow-up. It takes a more holistic and restorative approach to justice, one that respects and values Aboriginal culture and supports Aboriginal communities. (Editor’s note: FNC may also hear cases related to child protection in some circumstances.)

This means the judge, Crown counsel, community members, and family work with the individual and the lawyer to find a healing plan — a plan to address the root causes of the crime and help the accused, the community, and the victim move on. Succeeding as a result of a healing plan is not a sure thing, however. You have to show real commitment to improving yourself and taking part in the program to take advantage of FNC.

For example, one of the cases I saw was a young man who had pleaded guilty to assaulting his step-father. He explained that his step-father had been abusive to him and his mother in the past. One night, after an argument, he assaulted his step-father. As he explained what had happened, he displayed genuine regret over his actions. He then went on to talk about how he was attending anger management sessions.

After he spoke, his mother told everyone about his childhood and her relationship with the step-father. It was powerful to watch; at one point, she began to cry, which caused her son to cry. I don’t think there was a single person in the room who didn’t experience some chest-tightening.

After she had spoken, the rest of the participants were given a chance to speak. At every session of the court, a council of elders also attends to give support. A few of the elders stood up to offer information on different programs that they thought might help him deal with his issues.

This session wasn’t the end for him, however. The judge ordered that he come back in a month to report on his progress and finalize his healing plan. I’m pretty sure that I’ll be back too.

You can find more information on First Nations Court, as well as about Aboriginal legal issues and services, by visiting www.legalaid.bc.ca/aboriginal.

Nate Prosser is the online outreach coordinator at LSS.

Hot off the press: What to Do If You Are Charged with a Drinking and Driving Offence

What to Do If You Are Charged with a Drinking and Driving Offence has been reprinted with minor revisions. This booklet is for people who have been charged with a federal criminal offence and want to defend themselves in court. The booklet does not cover the new drinking and driving penalties under the BC Motor Vehicle Act. The What to Do If Charged series is available in print and online.

Hot off the press: How to Appeal booklets

How to Appeal bookletsHow to Appeal Your Conviction has been reprinted with minor revisions. This booklet is intended for people who may or may not be in custody, but have to conduct an appeal without the help of a lawyer. The booklet contains a sample factum and affidavit, and removable blank forms that the applicant can use.

How to Appeal Your Sentence has been reprinted with minor revisions. This booklet is intended for people who may or may not be in custody, but have to conduct an appeal without the help of a lawyer. The booklet contains a sample affidavit and removable blank forms that the applicant can use.

Hot off the press: Three titles in the What to Do If Charged series

What to Do If You Are Charged with Assault

What to Do If You Are Charged with Possession of Property Under $5,000 Obtained by Crime

What to Do If You Are Charged with Theft Under $5,000

These reprinted booklets are for people who want to plead not guilty and plan to represent themselves in court because they aren’t covered by legal aid and can’t afford a lawyer. Each booklet describes how to defend yourself and what the prosecutor must prove to find you guilty. These three booklets have been reprinted with minor updates and are available both in print and online. Other publications in this series involve the breach of a court order, drinking and driving, mischief, and possession of an illegal drug.

Changes to the pardons program

The government of Canada has made significant changes to the pardons program. People can apply for a pardon if they were convicted of a criminal offence, completed a sentence, and demonstrated that they were law-abiding citizens for a certain number of years. If they are pardoned, their criminal records are kept separate and apart from other criminal records. A pardon can make it easier to apply for a job, seek custody of children, apply to immigrate, rent an apartment, travel outside the country, or carry out many other activities.

Here are some of the recent changes:

  • Summary offences are the most minor types of offences under the Criminal Code of Canada. For these offences, there is still a 3-year waiting period after the sentence has been completed, but evidence of good behaviour is now also required.
  • A Schedule 1 offence is an offence under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act that is considered minor enough to be tried as a lesser, or summary, offence. For these offences, the previous 3-year waiting period is now 5 years.
  • For sexual offences and section 752 serious personal injury offences, the previous 5-year waiting period is now 10 years.
  • For other indictable offences, there is still a 5-year waiting period.

Please see the Justice BC website for more information about types of offences.

The Parole Board of Canada website has fact sheets that explain when people can apply for pardons, how to apply, and other important information. There are nine steps to applying for a pardon. The Parole Board provides step-by-step instructions and application forms.

Hot off the press: Speaking to the Judge Before You Are Sentenced

Speaking to the Judge Before You Are Sentenced has been revised and redesigned as an easy-to-read brochure. This brochure outlines the possible sentences for someone who pleads guilty or who a judge finds guilty at trial, and now includes information for Aboriginal people regarding their Gladue rights and what this means for sentencing, as well as information about First Nations Court. The brochure also describes what the convicted person can do to prepare to speak to the judge, and what he or she can say to the judge, before the judge decides on a sentence.