Monday, May 8, 2017

Soon-to-retire Canadian JAG speaks out

Maj.-Gen. Blaise Cathcart
Judge Advocate General
Canadian Forces
This post is related to the one immediately below. Lawyers Daily, the Canadian legal publication, has this article by Cristin Schmitz about cannabis legalization and the implications for the Canadian Forces. Excerpt:
In an exclusive interview, Maj.-Gen. Blaise Cathcart, the judge advocate general (JAG), said that the expected legalization of marijuana raises safety and other operational concerns for the military leadership, so the CF might have an interest in maintaining a cannabis-related military offence. (Possession of marijuana is currently outlawed, but the military has its own additional offence prohibiting marijuana use by its members). 
“It’s theoretically possible the military — and I have no information on this from [the Chief of the Defence Staff] General [Jonathan] Vance or anybody else — they may want to look at it and still say: ‘Well, it’s important to ... the military as an institution, to still maintain it in some way as an offence,” Cathcart said. “I think legally it would be a huge, uphill battle, but … theoretically they might want to say: ‘Well we’re concerned about marijuana use, even if it’s legalized, and we may want to look for other options there.’ But legally the answer is pretty clear — it’s no longer a prohibited substance once it is legalized."
There's lots more: Lawyers Daily also published an informative interview with Gen. Cathcart generally defending the Canadian military justice system, as well as Q&As giving his views on the occasion of his pending retirement after seven years on the job. These are well worth reading. From the Q&A:
TLD: Would there be any upside to having the defence role at courts martial discharged by civilians rather than lawyers who are members of the military? 
JAG: There’s none that immediately [strike me as] an overwhelming advantage. I think where it comes into it is the debate of potential skill level. On average, there are 65 courts martial a year. And roughly a third of those never actually make it to a full-blown court trial because the charge is withdrawn, or there’s preliminary motions made to dismiss it, stays so there’s not a lot [of cases]. Any provincial court you do 65 trials in a month, so from a maintenance of skills set perspective, if you were to civilianize it and either the Crown continues to pay for it, or people are plugged into the same [civilian] legal aid system, you might get a lawyer who does defence work every day of his or her life and therefore arguably has more knowledge and skills sets versus our four guys who divide up the 65 trials a year. But we already have a bit of that option because the director of defence counsel services has the option to hire civilian counsel. The counter to it is the civilian counsel are not likely, even over protracted periods of time, really to have the knowledge of the military context. For ordinary criminal offences, yes, because that’s what they do anyway. But [not for] some of the unique military offences. And we’ve heard this more often frankly from some of the accuseds feeling not too comfortable with outside counsel.

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