a perfect red maple leaf is one of the few left on the tree, against a pastel blue sky

Inconstant Moon takes place in Canada, and so naturally the legal system is Canadian.

Historically Canada is similar to the United States in many ways, and traditionally Canadians have had no trouble feeling at home watching American movies and television. Canadian movie and television productions often take this into account, and in many productions Canada stands in for the United States, or the setting is carefully kept neutral, in hopes that not saying where where it is, the audience won’t be confined to the Canadian ‘ghetto’, rather it can be sold in the US because Americans will watch it, too.

Back when I began learning my craft, working on television crime dramas, I spent a good deal of time reading both legal codes, as the requirement was often that the law had to be close enough on both sides of the border to keep it neutral, and thus assure the largest possible audience.

Because of this kind of thinking, American cultural media has long dominated Canadian. The ironic part of it is that over time a great many Canadians have learned a great deal about American jurisprudence with very little understanding of our own. Many of us don’t realize there are differences in the legal systems of our two countries, and think that we have the same rights and legal system. During Ethan’s interrogation I tried to get across the fact that Ethan believed himself entitled to have a lawyer present during questioning. When ordinarily law abiding Canadians find themselves of interest to law enforcement, it would be disconcerting to become aware of the fact that our legal system follows its own rules.

Red and blue lights flashing as a police car is parked behind the car it has pulled over on a lonely road at nightHere I am talking exclusively about English Canada, which, like the US, has a legal system patterned on the British, although both evolved differently. The province of Quebec is different in that it’s legal system is derived from the Napoleonic Law of France. The language and culture gap between English and French Canada has resulted in a vibrant French film and television industry in Quebec, whose citizens are necessarily less confused by movies and television regarding the laws that govern them. One of my favorite films is the fabulous Bon Cop Bad Cop, which positively revels in la difference.

Although provincial law is different regionally, Federal Law is the same across the country. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or RCMP is the police force that handles federal crime. Provincial laws are enforced by provincial police forces, or urban forces. Bylaws are handled at the municipal level by bylaw enforcement officers.

Our government has been very progressive in posting information, including legislation like the Canadian Criminal Code online.

lawyers and advertising

It used to be that legal ethics prevented Canadian lawyers from advertising their services, beyond directory listings and signage. Anything more was considered “ambulance chasing” and not only frowned on but prevented by the professional rules of conduct.

That is no longer true, and even Canadian lawyers can sometimes be seen advertising on television. Higher on the lawyer food chain, the advertising, or marketing, will be of higher quality and necessarily more subtle, which is why it seemed appropriate for the Molony and Mulroney to have an entire floor of its pretentious office tower devoted to “Marketing”.

For more information, CanLaw: The Rules Have Changed on Lawyer Advertising.

the right to remain silent

In the United States they have the “Miranda” warning, named after a court decision which defined the police warning and in Canada we have the The Brydges Decision and the Right to Counsel: A Review of Case Law

Although Canadian “Right to Counsel” cautions are based on the Brydges decision, they are variable.  Canada does not have  a uniform police caution like the Americans, our police cautions vary, which is considered acceptable as long as the caution covers the points set out and reflect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This is why in Canada we talk about our civil liberties as “Charter rights” where Americans have “constitutional rights”.

Canadians enjoy the right to remain silent, but unlike our American neighbors, our system diverges from theirs in that invoking this right is not in and of itself cause to stop an interrogatory interview.

Canadians are also allowed to avail ourselves of legal council, but when we are under arrest there is no provision to allow our lawyer to hold our hand during questioning.

I am, of course, not a lawyer; so don’t take my word on any of this. 🙂

The word court cast into the ornate doorway over Toronto's "Old City Hall" which today is entirely used as a court house.