Her Majesty the Queen v. Abbas Sheikh
(Quebec) (Criminal) (As of Right)
Criminal law - Verdict - Unreasonable verdict - Evidence - Circumstantial evidence - Witness - Whether majority erred in law in concluding that trial judge’s verdict was unreasonable - Whether majority erred in law in their treatment of testimony of alleged accomplice.
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In the Court of Québec, the respondent, Mr. Sheikh, was convicted on a count of fraud over $5,000, which is an indictable offence under s. 380(1)(a) of the Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46. According to the prosecution’s theory, the respondent had fraudulently initiated a civil proceeding against an alleged accomplice who had relied on false loans to claim repayment to the detriment of the Fédération des producteurs acéricoles du Québec.
The Quebec Court of Appeal, for reasons written by Vauclair J.A. and concurred in by Bich J.A., allowed the respondent’s appeal, set aside the guilty verdict and ordered that a verdict of acquittal be entered. The majority explained that the reasoning of the trial judge, who had stated that she believed neither the filed documents indicating the existence of a loan nor the testimony of the alleged accomplice who confirmed its existence, was problematic. It was inconsistent with the fundamental principle of the presumption of innocence to the effect that the accused has nothing to prove and that it is up to the prosecution to establish the elements of the alleged offence beyond a reasonable doubt. The majority also stressed that the examination of the alleged accomplice had been conducted in a highly questionable manner. Schrager J.A., dissenting, would have dismissed the appeal on the basis that the verdict was not unreasonable. In his view, the trial judge had based her reasoning on ample evidence in rejecting the defence’s theory that the loan of money was very real and constituted a transaction of intermediaries for private lenders. In addition, the accomplice’s testimony was relevant and did not show a propensity for criminality. The prosecution was entitled to hear that witness, but was not required to back his assertion that the loan was not a ruse.
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