Jul 24, 2015

Handguns: The cause of so much devastation

R. v. Woodcock, 2015 ONCA 535 (CanLII)

Louis Woodcock apparently liked to carry around a handgun. On Boxing Day 2006 he allegedly was doing so on Yonge Street in Toronto. The Crown alleged he handed it to JSR who engaged in a shootout with other men. One of them shot and killed Jane Creba. Woodcock was charged with murder. He was convicted of manslaughter. He appealed:2015 ONCA 535.

On appeal Woodcock advanced three grounds.

First, Woodcock alleged that the trial judge erred in relation to expert evidence. Two points were raised. One, that the evidence should not have been admitted as it was “common sense”. The trial judge rejected this position:

I am satisfied that this evidence is necessary to give the jury the tools to appreciate the evidence. It would not be surprising if most or all of the jurors will have never handled a handgun, much less carried an illegal firearm. Such an object is not an ordinary household object with which most persons can be presumed to be familiar. [Cited @12]

The Court of Appeal agreed.

Two, that the expert should not have been allowed to view the video in re-examination. Initially the trial judge ruled that the expert could not view the video in the presence of the jury and offer an opinion on it. However, during cross-examination defence counsel raised the video and challenged the expert on it. In light of this, the trial judge’s decision to allow it to be played in re-examination was reasonable.

Second, Woodcock alleged that the trial judge erred in her charge on causation. In essence, he alleged there was no direction on the issue of causation. In addressing this issue the court noted that it has previously considered the theory of causation in R v JSR2008 ONCA 544. The court then reviewed the charge given by the trial judge and held that it was sufficient; in doing so, the court cited, with approval, the following portion of the charge by the trial judge:

The Crown submits that this was, in effect, a mutual shootout, and that the issue of who fired the first shot is of no moment and only reflects who reacted the fastest. The Crown submits that Jane Creba died as a result of a decision by both the accused and Jeremiah Valentine to participate in a shootout on Yonge Street, and that the conduct of the accused in firing, or passing a gun so [J.S.R.] could fire it, was a contributing cause of the death. [Cited @22].

This theory of liability, together with the conduct of the accused (if accepted by the jury, as it apparently was) – which included carrying the handgun used by JSR and handing it to him – was sufficient to support the conviction.

Woodcock is another ruling in a long list of rulings on the prosecutions related to the killing of Jane Creba. It also emphasizes the generous approach to causation that courts are taking in cases of firearm related killings. This is appropriate and necessary. Handguns are designed for the purpose of killing (or at least seriously wounding) other human beings; that is their sole purpose. Those who choose to illegal carry such deadly weapons in our communities and brandish or provide them to others must be held responsible for the foreseeable consequences thereof. The convictions of Woodcock and others – even though they were not the ones that actually shot Jane – are appropriate and just.