About the Issue

For over 50 years CCLA has worked to achieve a criminal justice system that is fair, impartial and respects Canadian’s rights.  This work focuses on some of the most foundational rights in a democracy: the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty; the right to a fair trial; the right to reasonable bail; the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment; and the right to silence.  CCLA believes that any restrictions on liberty should be as minimal as possible and criminal law should be used as a last resort. Punishment cannot be cruel and unusual and sentences for crimes must reflect the specific circumstances of each individual case.

Why This Matters

Each year hundreds of thousands of Canadians are charged with a criminal offence.  They will face one of the most coercive forms of power: the state’s power to investigate crime, charge individuals with wrongdoing, prosecute, and deprive people of their liberty.  Our basic rights and freedoms within the criminal justice system must be respected in order to ensure that people are not punished and imprisoned unjustly, and that where injustices occur there is meaningful remedy.

Our Work

CCLA regularly appears before courts of all levels in precedent-setting cases involving fundamental rights in the criminal justice system.  Over the past few years this has included constitutional challenges to mandatory minimum sentences, over-broad criminal laws, legal doctrines that threaten the presumption of innocence and the right to silence, remedies for wrongful convictions and police investigative tactics that lead to false confessions.  We also appear regularly before parliamentary committees and in other public forums to comment on the constitutionality and policy considerations that should be taken into account in criminal justice law reforms.  CCLA has also produced several ground-breaking research and policy reports on critical emerging issues in the criminal justice system, including reports highlighting concerns regarding police record checks and a report on the excessive and increasing reliance on pre-trial detention and problems in Canada’s bail system.  

Our Impact

CCLA’s work and our principled positions on ensuring basic rights and fairness in the criminal justice system has been repeatedly referenced in public discussions, the media, legislatures and the courts. Our interventions in appellate cases have shaped precedent-setting court decisions, and we regularly appear before parliamentary committees to urge sensible, fair and evidence-based criminal justice policies.

In Focus

Everyone in Canada has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and to access reasonable bail if they are accused of a crime. Despite a falling crime rate, however, the pre-trial detention rate in Canada has nearly tripled in the past 30 years. Currently the majority of people detained in provincial and territorial jails are legally innocent, waiting for their trial or a determination of their bail. 2005 marked the first time in Canadian history that our provincial prisons were primarily being used to detain people prior to any finding of guilt, rather than after they had been convicted and sentenced.  CCLA’s ground-breaking report on bail in Canada highlights a number of worrisome trends in the operation of bail across the country, and argues that the Canadian government needs to take urgent action to ensure the bail system returns to legal and constitutional compliance. Read more here.  

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