R. v. Vetrovec (1982), 41 N.R. 606 (SCC)

MLB headnote and full text

R. v. Vetrovec; R. v. Gaja

Indexed As: R. v. Vetrovec; R. v. Gaja

Supreme Court of Canada

Laskin, C.J.C., Martland, Ritchie, Dickson, Beetz, Estey, McIntyre, Chouinard and Lamer, JJ.

May 31, 1982.


The two accused were convicted by a judge and jury of conspiracy to traffic in heroin. The appeals were dismissed by the British Columbia Court of Appeal. The accused appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada on the issue of the correctness of the trial judge’s charge to the jury on the issue of corroboration of the testimony of an accomplice.

The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the appeal and held that the trial judge’s instructions did not prejudice the accused.

Courts – Topic 79

Stare decisis – Authority of judicial decisions – Prior decisions of same court – Supreme Court of Canada – The Supreme Court of Canada held that it could depart from its own prior decisions as well as decisions of the Privy Council and the House of Lords – See paragraph 40.

Criminal Law – Topic 5505

Evidence of accomplices – General principles – The Supreme Court of Canada abolished the requirement that the trial judge instruct the jury that it is dangerous to convict on the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice – After reviewing and disapproving of the traditional rationale for the rule, the court stated that the law of corroboration is unduly and unnecessarily complex and technical – The court held that an accomplice should be treated like any other witness and that it should be left to the trial judge’s discretion whether to warn the jury that any witness’ testimony should be confirmed by other evidence.

Cases Noticed:

R. v. Baskerville, [1916] 2 K.B. 658, disapproved [para. 3].

Director of Public Prosecutions v. Hester, [1972] 3 All E.R. 1056, consd. [paras. 13, 15, 38].

R. v. Kirsch and Rosenthal, [1981] 1 S.C.R. 440; 38 N.R. 163, refd to. [para. 14].

R. v. McNamara et al. (1981), 56 C.C.C.(2d) 193 (Ont. C.A.), refd to. [para. 14].

Director of Public Prosecutions v. Kilbourne, [1973] 1 All E.R. 440 (H.L.), consd. [paras. 15, 39].

R. v. Warkentin, Hanson and Brown, [1977] 2 S.C.R. 355; 9 N.R. 301, consd. [paras. 15, 37].

R. v. Murphy and Butt, [1977] 2 S.C.R. 603; 9 N.R. 329, consd. [paras. 15, 33].

Davies v. D.P.P., [1954] 1 All E.R. 507 (H.L.), refd to. [para. 17].

R. v. Farler (1837), 8 Car. & P. 106, consd. [para. 19].

R. v. Mullins (1848), 3 Cox C.C. 526, consd. [para. 22].

Tidds Trial (1820), 33 How. St. Tr. 1338, consd. [para. 25].

R. v. Kelso (1953), 105 C.C.C. 305 (Ont. C.A.), consd. [para. 28].

D.D.P. v. Boardman, [1975] A.C. 421 (H.L.), consd. [para. 39].

Reference re Agricultural Products Act, [1978] 2 S.C.R. 1198; 19 N.R. 361, refd to. [para. 40].

A.V.G. Management Science Ltd. v. Barwell Development Ltd., [1979] 2 S.C.R. 43; 24 N.R. 554, refd to. [para. 40].

R. v. Bullyment (1979), 46 C.C.C.(2d) 429 (Ont. C.A.), appld. [para. 45].

Authors and Works Noticed:

Heydon, The Corroboration of Accomplices, [1973] Crim. L.R. 264, 281 [paras. 10, 26].

Joy, Evidence of Accomplices (1836), p. 14 [para. 22].

Law Reform Commission of Canada, Report on Evidence [paras. 9, 29].

English Criminal Law Revision Committee, 11th Report on Evidence 1972, Cmnd. 4991, paras. 183-185 [para. 9].

Schiff, Evidence in the Litigation Process (1978), vol. 1, p. 607 [para. 11].

Wakeling, Corroboration in Canadian Law (1977), p. 103 [para. 10]; bibliography [para. 29].

Wigmore on Evidence [paras. 19, 20, 31].


H.A.D. Oliver and Randy Walker, for the appellant Vetrovec;

R.J. Allan, for the appellant Gaja;

L. Harris MacDonald, Q.C., for the respondent.

This case was heard on May 20, 1981, at Ottawa, Ontario, before LASKIN, C.J.C., MARTLAND, RITCHIE, DICKSON, BEETZ, ESTEY, McINTYRE, CHOUINARD and LAMER, JJ., of the Supreme Court of Canada.

On May 31, 1982, DICKSON, J., delivered the following judgment for the Supreme Court of Canada:


R. v. Vetrovec

[1982] 1 SCR 811

Supreme Court of Canada
Reading Time:
24 minutes
Beetz, Chouinard, Dickson, Estey, Lamer, Laskin, Martland, McIntyre, Ritchie 

: The appellants were charged, with seven others, with conspiracy to traffic in heroin between September 1, 1974, and May 26, 1976, at the City of Vancouver and elsewhere in Canada. After a long and complicated trial lasting over one hundred days, and a charge to the jury which lasted six days, both accused were convicted. Vetrovec was sentenced to 16 years imprisonment, Gaja to life imprisonment. Appeals to the British Columbia Court of Appeal were dismissed.

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