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Monthly Archives: May 2016

Brantford Superior Courthouse

One of Brantford’s Best-Kept Secrets Reveals Some Secrets of Its Own

If you’re going to court in Brantford you might be going to one of two places: the Ontario Court of Justice, on Queen Street, or the Superior Court of Justice, on Wellington Street. The Brantford Superior Courthouse is an older building – one that has been renovated several times in the years that it has served the Brantford community. It is much more than just a courthouse: this building is an important reminder of Brantford’s legal history, and houses documents that let us take a look back in time. But more on that later …

First, The Basics on the Brantford Superior Courthouse

The Brantford Superior Courthouse is home to the Brant Law Association, established in 1853, with just 10 members at the time. The original building is still in use, though with some notable updates. Its most recent renovation was in 2007, when the building received both heritage restorations and expansions.

This building, like many other courts, includes a library where the books range from recent publications, to volumes that have been in the library for over a century. Looking through these books is a trip though history, and sheds a lot of light on both the evolution of Canadian law, and the evolution of lawyering in Canada.

The Brantford Superior Courthouse building is also the site of the Brantford Jail, which has capacity for 83 inmates.

The Tower

One of the courthouse’s most striking features is its tower. When inside the building, there is surprisingly no mention of the tower at all. Though the tower can still be accessed, it is closed to the public. We were lucky to be able to go in and explore: following a secret spiral staircase there is a landing with a ladder, and up that ladder, there is a landing with another ladder, which leads to a third and final landing. At the very top are windows with great views – and the occasional resident bat.

Did you know …

  • The Brant Law Association is the oldest law association in the province.
  • The original membership fee for the Brant Law Association was £25, equivalent to almost $4000 in present currency.
  • The library at the Brantford Superior Court of Justice is only on its fifth ever librarian. Impressive, considering the library has been around for 163 years!
  • The library’s still contains the original 1855 minute book, which includes information from meetings, and appointments to committees, among other information.




brantford superior courthouse  counsel tables

Main Courtroom

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Murder Manslaughter: What are the Differences?

Murder Manslaughter: Introduction

Murder manslaughter are serious charges – charges that often make it to the media when they occur. Because these situations are so widely-reported, most people have some understanding of what murder and manslaughter entail, and can identify that the main difference between the two is intent. However, there are more distinctions as specified by the Criminal Code.

In the Criminal Code, both murder and manslaughter fall under the umbrella category of homicide. Homicide is the killing of one person by another. For a homicide of any kind to be prosecuted in Canada, it must be culpable, that is, the accused must be found at fault.

Differences Between Murder Manslaughter

The principal difference between murder manslaughter is intent.

Manslaughter refers to a situation where one person unintentionally causes the death of another. There are two main categories for manslaughter: unlawful act and criminal negligence. In unlawful act manslaughter,  the accused commits an act that results in the death of another person, without intent to cause that death. Criminal negligence manslaughter refers to situations where the accused’s reckless actions or failure to act result in the death of another person, but the death of that person was not the intended result of the action or failure to act.

Murder requires intent, which can be ascertained by proving that the act was planned and deliberate. Manslaughter does not carry these requirements, and a manslaughter charge implies that the Crown does not believe that the accused planned or intended to kill the deceased.

One further difference between the two offences is in sentencing. The Criminal Code specifies that life sentences must be awarded for first and second degree murder. For manslaughter, the Code states that a life sentence can be awarded, but not that it must be awarded.

What is Second Degree Murder?

Second-degree murder is defined in the Criminal Code as “all murder that is not first-degree murder”. Typically, this describes situations where the accused killed the victim during a time of high stress or emotional intensity.


Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46, ss. 234, 236.




Cayuga Courthouse Tour –

The Hidden and Not-So-Hidden History of Cayuga’s Courthouse

It may be a surprise that Cayuga, a town of less than 2000 people, has its own courthouse, and that the Cayuga courthouse has been in continuous use for the past 166 years. Built in 1850, the courthouse has been continuously renovated, most recently to replace an exterior wall and add landscaping. Perhaps the most notable of the renovations happened in 1922, when the courthouse had to be rebuilt almost entirely following a severe fire.

Given that the courthouse is significantly older than many other court facilities in southern Ontario, many common courthouse features are absent, and in their place are a multitude of characteristics that make the Cayuga courthouse truly one of a kind. You won’t find video link facilities or elevators at the courthouse. But you will find spiral staircases, solid wood panels for decor, and clues that the courthouse may have had a sinister past.

A Curse?

The story goes that in the 1930s, a man was hanged at the present site of the courthouse. Steadfastly maintaining his innocence, with his last words, the man cursed the town to never grow or develop again. Following his hanging, the man was reportedly exonerated.

Urban myth or not, the population of Caygua has remained the same for the last hundred years.

Cayuga Courthouse Basement

We were very graciously given a tour of the Cayuga courthouse’s basement, one of the restricted and seldom-visited areas within the courthouse. The basement presently in limited use, mostly as a storage facility. It extends underneath most of the building, and has several access points. We used a spiral staircase descending from the custody area.

The ceilings in the basement are low, the walls are exposed rock, and cobwebs abound. This is likely one area of the building that has not seen any renovations (or very many visitors) in recent times. It’s eerily quiet.

There are cells in the basement, as well, some of which are measure about one metre by one metre, allowing only room to stand. Going down into the basement with company was an exciting experience, but going down into the basement alone would probably be much more spooky.

Did you know …

  • The Cayuga courthouse is the home of the Haldimand Law Association, which serves Brant, Haldimand, and Norfolk Counties.
  • The courthouse used to be a jail. Some of the custody facilities are still in use for for the temporary housing of individuals who are in jail but must attend at their court dates.
  • The Cayuga courthouse was also the site of several public hangings back in its jail days. Several unclaimed bodies were even buried on courthouse grounds, however, the bodies are certainly no longer there after recent landscaping renovations.
cayuga courthouse

Cayuga Courthouse exterior.

cayuga courthouse library

Cayuga Courthouse law library.



R Brown, Behind Bars: Inside Ontario’s Heritage Gaols, (Toronto: Natural Heritage Books, 2006) at pages 18-20.


Ontario Inmates Win $85 000 in Lockdown Ruling

If you’ve been involved with the local criminal justice system, you may have heard of the frequent lockdown issues affecting several southern Ontario jails, including Maplehurst Correctional Complex, located in Milton. As Milton is one of the areas Smordin Law serves, we have been cognizant of this issue for a long time. Until recently however, there had not been much action to resolve this issue.

What is a Lockdown and Why Are They Significant in This Case?

A lockdown is when extra security measures are implemented in a correctional facility. These measures include removing privileges such as the freedom to move around the jail, and access to programming. Lockdowns can be implemented when the jail needs to be searched, but have recently been used as a method of supervising inmates when the jail is short-staffed. As the inmates’ movement is restricted, they are easier to supervise.

lockdown detention centreThe issue is that lockdowns severely restrict inmate rights, including access to basic hygiene facilities, and telephone calls to lawyers. Restricting access to a lawyer is especially problematic, for two reasons, The first, is
that it can needlessly lengthen criminal proceedings, as obtaining instructions and information is more difficult. The second, is that many inmates in jail have not yet been found guilty, and are only in custody because they have either not had a bail hearing, or were denied bail. Therefore, they are being punished before the allegations against them have been proven.

Inmates Take Action

The short-staffing issues at Maplehurst date back to 2002, and instead of addressing the staffing issue, the jail has been implementing lockdowns more and more frequently. The issue has been documented in the media from time to time, most recently in a series of stories about inmate hunger strikes at the Toronto South Detention Centre. In addition, inmates have been turning to legal action.

Two inmates, both of whom have not yet been convicted, recently successfully sued the Ministry of the Attorney General over these frequent lockdowns, and were awarded a collective $85 000. Justice Douglas Gray ruled against the government, and found that the inmates’ constitutional rights had been violated.

Though the Ministry of the Attorney General is still able to file an appeal against this ruling, it is a landmark case for prisoners’ rights, that could have reverberations across the country.






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