Steven Skurka is a Toronto-based criminal lawyer
Trial of Toronto police officer: During a period in the United States when there is a robust debate about police accountability in cases of lethal force, a Toronto police officer will proceed to a jury trial on a charge of second-degree murder and attempted murder. The officer, James Forcillo, is charged in relation to the fatal shooting of teenager Sammy Yatim on an empty streetcar in the summer of 2013. A cellphone video captured the scene of the shooting in which nine shots were fired and Mr. Yatim was ordered to drop a knife. It is rare for a police officer to be charged with murder in the course of his duties and highly unusual for any defendant to face charges of murder and attempted murder in relation to the same person. The trial will likely focus on the training and appropriate response of the police to the situation that confronted officer Forcillo at the time of the shooting.
Assisted suicide: The Supreme Court of Canada will decide in the appeal of Carter v. Canada if physician assisted suicide for the terminally ill is a constitutionally protected right with safeguards in place to prevent its abuse. The Carter appeal will be a test of the boundaries of the country's humane values. Can there be a valid justification to force an adult who is in grievous pain and dying to continue to suffer rather than receive the medical assistance being sought to hasten death? The court will likely follow the path of a number of European countries and a couple of U.S. states and create a carefully balanced model that introduces a limited right to assisted suicide.
Minimum sentencing: A critical feature of the Harper government's law and order policy has been the resort to mandatory minimum sentences that remove the sentencing discretion of judges. In the appeal of R. v. Nur, the Supreme Court of Canada will decide if a law requiring a three year minimum sentence for possessing a loaded prohibited firearm is cruel and unusual punishment and should be struck down under the Charter of Rights. In legal terms, the nation's highest court will examine if a three year sentence could ever represent a grossly disproportionate sentence for a person charged with the offence such as the "'otherwise law-abiding responsible gun owner"' cited by the Ontario Court of Appeal in its decision in the case. The larger message of the court's decision will be interpreted as its willingness to vitiate a core element of the Harper government's criminal reform agenda.
Jian Ghomeshi: The former CBC radio host of Q, will appear in court for his preliminary hearing on four charges of sexual assault and one charge of overcome resistance by choking. The case has generated a blast of Internet and media coverage and generated discussion about the adequacy of the country's criminal justice system's response to complaints of sexual violence as well as the erosion of the presumption of innocence in high profile cases with emotionally charged allegations. The case will finally land in a courtroom where the complainants will testify with a publication ban in place and the process will properly begin of Mr. Ghomeshi being tried on the merits of the case.
Mike Duffy: The most closely watched trial of 2015 will involve a case of alleged political corruption that is anticipated to draw as witnesses officials of government at the highest level of the country. The trial of Mike Duffy, the suspended Senator, will unfold in an Ottawa courtroom before a Superior Court judge. Mr. Duffy is facing 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery that include allegations relating to false residence and travel expense claims he made as a Senator and a $90,000 payment Mr. Duffy received from the Prime Minister's then chief of staff to repay one of his questionable expense claims during a swirling public controversy. Mr. Duffy's defence will likely highlight the lack of clarity of Senate rules in claiming expenses and the dubious allegation that the $90,000 payment was a bribe when he was the only person charged. The evidence adduced at the Duffy trial may affect the 2015 federal election and possibly impact its timing.