Trial adjournment in order for the Respondent’s to make a Rowbotham application for state-funded counsel quashed and remitted back to the trial judge. It is insufficient to simply assert a complex constitutional defence, when the charge itself is not serious.
The Respondents are members of the Sipekne’katik First Nation and designated to partake in the Food, Social and Ceremonial fishery for lobster, which permits the fishing of 60 lobsters per day per fisher. The Respondents were charged with two sets of offences pertaining to catching and retaining more than 60 lobsters per day, contrary to s 7 of the Aboriginal Communal Fishing Licenses Regulations. The central issue was whether the trial judge erred in finding that a Rowbotham order was necessary to ensure a fair trial in the circumstances.
The complexity arised from the proposed constitutional defence. As per the air of reality to the defence put forward by the Respondents, there had been no indication of the substance of the defence, only a bare assertion of an Aboriginal or treaty right. There was no direction of how the Aboriginal or treaty rights are allegedly violated by the charges, and therefore impossible to say there was a proposed defence that is factually and legally relevant to the charges. The court on a Rowbotham application cannot simply assume that an Aboriginal person charged with a fisheries offence might have a treaty or Aboriginal rights defence as a basis to order state-funded counsel.
Further, with the bare assertion of an Aboriginal or treaty right, the court would have no way to assess the seriousness or complexity of the proposed defence. The charges were neither serious nor complex. They were straightforward, and there was no prospect of a sentence of imprisonment upon conviction. The only source of complexity was the potential defence to charges that are not, in themselves, serious or complex. Thus, the Respondents did not meet the Rowbotham test, and as such, the trial judge erred in law in finding that a Rowbotham order was necessary to ensure a fair trial.
The Respondents submit the application must be viewed through the prism of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples [“Declaration”]. As the Respondents provided no argument as to why the Declaration would mandate any particular result, as well as the Declaration is not legally binding, it is therefore not relevant on a Rowbotham application. The last argument raised by the Respondents pointed to sections 7 and 11(d) Charter violations. They did not provide authority for their argument that s 7 is engaged by an alleged violation of an Aboriginal or treaty right. As the court in Rowbotham effectively treated sections 7 and 11(d) as a joint guarantee of fair trial rights, the Respondents argument that a Rowbotham order can rest on a violation of section 11(d) alone, misconstrues the language of the decision.