R. v. R.D.S. (1997), 161 N.S.R.(2d) 241 (SCC);

    477 A.P.R. 241

MLB headnote and full text

[French language version follows English language version]

[La version française vient à la suite de la version anglaise]


Temp. Cite: [1997] N.S.R.(2d) TBEd. SE.004

R.D.S. (appellant) v. Her Majesty The Queen (respondent) and The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, The National Organization of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women of Canada, The African Canadian Legal Clinic, The Afro- Canadian Caucus of Nova Scotia and The Congress of Black Women of Canada (intervenors)


Indexed As: R. v. R.D.S.

Supreme Court of Canada

Lamer, C.J.C., La Forest, L’Heureux- Dubé, Sopinka, Gonthier, Cory, McLachlin, Iacobucci and Major, JJ.

September 26, 1997.


A 16 year old African Canadian youth was charged with assaulting a police officer, assaulting a police officer with intent to prevent the lawful arrest of another person and resisting a police officer in the lawful execution of his duty. The youth and the officer were the only witnesses. The trial judge acquitted the youth. The Crown appealed, claiming that generalized com­ments by the trial judge respecting police officers misleading the court, overreacting and the “prevalent attitude of the day” of white police officers to blacks demonstrated a reasonable apprehension of bias.

The Nova Scotia Supreme Court allowed the appeal and ordered a new trial. The court stated that notwithstanding the trial judge’s thorough review of the facts and the findings of credibility which preceded the impugned comments, the comments demon­strated a reasonable apprehension of bias. The youth appealed.

The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, Freeman, J.A., dissenting, in a judgment reported 145 N.S.R.(2d) 284; 418 A.P.R. 284, dismissed the appeal. The summary conviction appeal judge applied the correct test respecting bias and committed no error of law. The youth appealed.

The Supreme Court of Canada, Lamer, C.J.C., Sopinka and Major, JJ., dissenting, allowed the appeal and restored the acquit­tal. The Crown failed to prove a reasonable apprehension of bias.

Courts – Topic 691

Judges – Disqualification – Bias – Rea­son­able apprehension of bias – A trial judge acquitted a black youth of assault charges against a police officer – Only the officer and the youth testified – Their testimony was diametrically opposed – The trial judge ruled favourably on the youth’s credibility, accepting his evidence that he was doing nothing and that the officer told him to shut up or he would be arrested – How­ever, in response to a Crown submission that there was no rea­son to attack the officer’s credibility, the trial judge com­mented that, inter alia, the officer “prob­ably” overreacted, which was consistent with the “prevalent attitude of the day” – The trial judge did not say that the officer misled the court, but noted that officers were known to do that in the past – There was no evidence that the officer was biased or racist – The Supreme Court of Canada held that there was no reason­able appre­hension of bias – A reasonable and informed person observing the entire trial and hearing the reasons would not con­clude that the officer misled the court or overreacted on the basis of racial dynamics – Such person would not per­ceive that credibility was prejudged on the basis of generalizations – The trial judge’s earlier findings on credibility were not tainted by the subsequent unfortunate and unnecessary comments – See paragraphs 82 to 100; 124 to 134.

Courts – Topic 691

Judges – Disqualification – Bias – Rea­son­able apprehension of bias – The Supreme Court of Canada stated that actual bias need not be proved – The test was would a reasonable and right-minded person, fully informed of all relevant cir­cumstances (including the social reality forming the background of the case) per­ceive a real likelihood or probability of bias – Mere suspicion was not enough – The bias thres­hold was high – Whether a judge should consider social context depended upon the particular facts and circumstances of each case – Absent evi­dence, social context such as generali­zations (e.g., police in Halifax overreact when dealing with black youths) should be avoided in assessing credibility – Relying on generalizations not linked to the wit­ness created the danger of a percep­tion that credibility findings were based on the generalization, not the truthfulness of the witness – See paragraphs 49 to 75, 158.

Cases Noticed:

R. v. Wald et al. (1989), 94 A.R. 125; 47 C.C.C.(3d) 315 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 17].

Newfoundland Telephone Co. v. Board of Commissioners of Public Utilities (Nfld.), [1992] 1 S.C.R. 623; 134 N.R. 241; 95 Nfld. & P.E.I.R. 271; 301 A.P.R. 271, refd to. [para. 32].

Idziak v. Canada (Minister of Justice), [1992] 3 S.C.R. 631; 144 N.R. 327; 59 O.A.C. 241, refd to. [para. 33].

R. v. Curragh Inc. et al., [1997] 1 S.C.R. 537; 209 N.R. 252; 159 N.S.R.(2d) 1; 468 A.P.R. 1, refd to. [para. 33].

R. v. Gushman, [1994] O.J. No. 813 (Gen. Div.), refd to. [para. 36].

Blanchette v. C.I.S. Ltd., [1973] S.C.R. 833, refd to. [para. 40].

R. v. R.W., [1992] 2 S.C.R. 122; 137 N.R. 214; 54 O.A.C. 164; 74 C.C.C.(3d) 134; 13 C.R.(4th) 257, refd to. [para. 41].

Huerto v. College of Physicians and Sur­geons (Sask.) (1996), 141 Sask.R. 3; 114 W.A.C. 3; 133 D.L.R.(4th) 100 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 42].

R. v. Valente, [1985] 2 S.C.R. 673; 64 N.R. 1; 14 O.A.C. 79; 49 C.R.(3d) 97; 23 C.C.C.(3d) 193, refd to. [para. 44].

R. v. Généreux, [1992] 1 S.C.R. 259; 133 N.R. 241, refd to. [para. 44].

Liteky v. United States (1994), 114 S.Ct. 1147, refd to. [para. 45].

R. v. Bertram, [1989] O.J. No. 2123 (H.C.), refd to. [para. 46].

R. v. Stark, [1994] O.J. No. 406 (Gen. Div.), refd to. [para. 46].

R. v. Parks (C.) (1993), 65 O.A.C. 122; 15 O.R.(3d) 324 (C.A.), leave to appeal denied, [1994] 1 S.C.R. x; 175 N.R. 321; 72 O.A.C. 159, refd to. [para. 47].

King v. Sussex Justices, Ex parte McCarthy, [1924] 1 K.B. 256, refd to. [para. 50].

Committee for Justice and Liberty Foundation et al. v. National Energy Board et al., [1978] 1 S.C.R. 369; 9 N.R. 115, refd to. [para. 51].

R. v. Elrick, [1983] O.J. No. 515 (H.C.), refd to. [para. 51].

R. v. Lin, [1995] B.C.J. No. 982 (S.C.), refd to. [para. 51].

R. v. Camborne Justices, Ex parte Pearce, [1954] 2 All E.R. 850 (D.C.), refd to. [para. 52].

Metropolitan Properties Co. (F.G.C.) Ltd. v. Lannon, [1968] 3 All E.R. 304; [1969] 1 Q.B. 577 (C.A.), refd to. [paras. 52, 146].

R. v. Gough (R.B.), [1993] 2 W.L.R. 883; 155 N.R. 81 (H.L.), refd to. [para. 52].

R. v. Smith & Whiteway Fisheries Ltd. (1994), 133 N.S.R.(2d) 50; 380 A.P.R. 50 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 57].

R. v. Lavallee, [1990] 1 S.C.R. 852; 108 N.R. 321; 67 Man.R.(2d) 1; 55 C.C.C.(3d) 97; 76 C.R.(3d) 329; [1990] 4 W.W.R. 1, refd to. [para. 63].

R. v. Wilson (R.) (1996), 90 O.A.C. 386; 29 O.R.(3d) 97 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 66].

R. v. Glasgow (M.) (1996), 93 O.A.C. 67 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 66].

White v. R., [1947] S.C.R. 268, refd to. [para. 68].

R. v. Brouillard, [1985] 1 S.C.R. 39; 57 N.R. 168, refd to. [para. 70].

Inquiry pursuant to s. 13(2) of the Terri­torial Court Act, Re, [1990] N.W.T.R. 337, refd to. [para. 77].

R. v. Teskey (L.M.) (1995), 167 A.R. 122 (Q.B.), refd to. [para. 77].

Pirbhai et al. v. Pirbhai, [1987] B.C.J. No. 2685 (C.A.), leave to appeal denied [1988] 1 S.C.R. xii; 88 N.R. 238, refd to. [para. 78].

Foto v. Jones (1974), 45 D.L.R.(3d) 43 (Ont. C.A.), refd to. [para. 79].

Lippé et autres v. Québec (Procureur général) et autres, [1991] 2 S.C.R. 114; 128 N.R. 1; 39 Q.A.C. 241, refd to. [para. 105].

Ruffo (Juge) v. Conseil de la magistrature et autres, [1995] 4 S.C.R. 267; 190 N.R. 1, refd to. [para. 105].

United States v. Morgan (1941), 313 U.S. 409, refd to. [para. 106].

R. v. Bartle (K.), [1994] 3 S.C.R. 173; 172 N.R. 1; 74 O.A.C. 161; 92 C.C.C.(3d) 289; 33 C.R.(4th) 1, refd to. [para. 117].

Moge v. Moge, [1992] 3 S.C.R. 813; 145 N.R. 1; 81 Man.R.(2d) 161; 30 W.A.C. 161; 43 R.F.L.(3d) 345, refd to. [para. 118].

R. v. Smith (M.) and Thompson (J.) (1991), 109 N.S.R.(2d) 394; 297 A.P.R. 394 (Co. Ct.), refd to. [para. 121].

Nova Scotia (Minister of Community Services) v. S.M.S. et al. (1992), 110 N.S.R.(2d) 91; 299 A.P.R. 91 (Fam. Ct.), refd to. [para. 121].

R. v. Burns (R.H.), [1994] 1 S.C.R. 656; 165 N.R. 374; 42 B.C.A.C. 161; 67 W.A.C. 161; 89 C.C.C.(3d) 193; 29 C.R.(4th) 113, refd to. [para. 124].

Statutes Noticed:

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 1982, sect. 7, sect. 11(d) [para. 33]; sect. 27 [para. 35].

Authors and Works Noticed:

Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book 3, p. 361 [para. 106].

Canadian Judicial Council, Commentaries on Judicial Conduct (1991), p. 12 [paras. 59, 70, 109].

Cardozo, Benjamin N., The Nature of the Judicial Process (1921), pp. 12, 13, 167 [para. 108].

Devlin, Richard, We Can’t Go On Together With Suspicious Minds: Ju­dicial Bias and Racialized Perspective in R. v. R.D.S. (1995), 18 Dal. L.J. 408, pp. 408, 409 [para. 59]; 414 [para. 124]; 417 [para. 106]; 438, 439 [para. 43].

Nedelsky, Jennifer, Embodied Diversity and Challenges to Law (1997), 42 McGill L.J. 91, p. 107 [para. 116].

Nova Scotia, Royal Commission on the Donald Marshall, Jr., Prosecution (1989), generally [para. 89].

Omatsu, Maryka, The Fiction of Judicial Impartiality, [1997] C.J.W.L. 1, p. 1 [para. 59].

Paciocco, David M., and Stuesser, Lee, The Law of Evidence (1996), p. 277 [para. 113].


Burnley A. Jones and Dianne Pothier, for the appellant;

Robert E. Lutes, Q.C., for the respondent;

Yola Grant and Carol Allen, for the intervenors, Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund and National Organi­zation of Immigrant and Visible Minori­ty Women of Canada;

April Burey, for the intervenors, African Canadian Legal Clinic, Afro-Canadian Caucus of Nova Scotia and Congress of Black Women of Canada.

Solicitors of Record:

Dalhousie Legal Aid Service, Halifax, N.S., for the appellant;

Attorney General of Nova Scotia, Halifax, N.S., for the respondent;

Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, Toronto, Ontario, for the intervenors, Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund and National Organi­zation of Immigrant and Visible Minori­ty Women of Canada;

African Canadian Legal Clinic, Toronto, Ontario, for the intervenors, African Canadian Legal Clinic, Afro-Canadian Caucus of Nova Scotia and Congress of Black Women of Canada.

This appeal was heard on March 10, 1997, before Lamer, C.J.C., La Forest, L’Heureux-Dubé, Sopinka, Gonthier, Cory, McLachlin, Iacobucci and Major, JJ., of the Supreme Court of Canada.

The judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada was delivered in both official lan­guages on September 26, 1997 and the fol­lowing opinions were filed:

Cory, J. (Iacobucci, J., concurring) – see paragraphs 1 to 100;

L’Heureux-Dubé and McLachlin, JJ. – see paragraphs 101 to 134;

Gonthier, J. (La Forest, J., concurring) – see paragraph 135;

Major, J. (Lamer, C.J.C., and Sopinka, J., concurring), dissenting – see para­graphs 136 to 160.


R. v. R.D.S.

(1997), 161 N.S.R.(2d) 241 (SCC)

Supreme Court of Canada
Reading Time:
58 minutes
Cory, Gonthier, Iacobucci, L’Heureux- Dubé, La Forest, Lamer, Major, McLachlin, Sopinka 

Cory, J.
: In this appeal, it must be de­termined whether a reasonable apprehension of bias arises from comments made by the trial judge in providing her reasons for ac­quitting the accused.

I. Facts

More Insights