Criminal Law

Publicizing names of accused in possession cases is public shaming

The decision by Almaguin Highlands Ontario Provincial Police to publish the names of people charged with possession of marijuana amounts to nothing less than “public shaming,” says Toronto criminal lawyer Joseph Neuberger.

Neuberger, partner at Neuberger & Partners LLP, weighs in on the issue after OPP Staff Sgt. Stacey Whaley recently told the North Bay Nipissing News that the names were included alongside corresponding marijuana possession charges on news releases because “it’s public information,” and police wants the media "to publish the names because we want it to sting a little more than a $500 fine.”

Neuberger describes the tactic as something from the “Middle Ages” and emphasizes that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty.

“It’s hardly appropriate and in fact counter-productive to people who are integrated into society and doing well,” he tells the newspaper. “If the person charged has no criminal record and a minimal amount, the charge could be withdrawn."

Neuberger says possession charges vary depending on how much of a substance an individual is caught possessing.

“There was a movement to decriminalize charges under 30 grams,” Neuberger says. “But it did not come to fruition.

“If caught with under 30 grams, most of the time it is diverted."

When it comes to federal prosecutors, they have their own policies, Neuberger says.

“If the person charged has no criminal record and a minimal amount, the charge could be withdrawn,” he says. “When it’s over 30 grams, you can see the prosecution becomes more serious. They might get conditional discharge and probation.”

Jail-time might only be seen when a person is charged with larger amounts for the purpose of trafficking.

Medicinal marijuana is a different story, Neuberger says.

“Some people are caught using cannabis that do not have authorization,” he says. People using marijuana for medicinal purposes have to establish legitimate reasons for its use, which can feel like jumping through a set of hoops.

“We should try and have a more holistic view of this. If someone is caught with minimal use with no pre-existing criminal record, I do not see why we need to stigmatize anybody. I really think we need to stop and see where we’re going with marijuana charges.”

Neuberger said marijuana is rarely, if not ever, a factor in violent acts, including murder.

“Alcohol is sometimes a factor,” he says. “And alcohol is legal.”

In 2012, the state of Colorado legalized marijuana under certain conditions and the debate about this issue continues in Canada.

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