Bail conditions must be knowingly violated in order for conviction, Supreme Court rules

The Supreme Court of Canada is seen Friday April 25, 2014 in Ottawa. The Supreme of Court of Canada has sided with a man who was convicted of failing to comply with police checks while out on bail. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

A person accused of breaching bail must knowingly or recklessly violate conditions in order to be found guilty of straying from them, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled.

In its unanimous decision Thursday, the high court ordered a new trial for Chaycen Michael Zora, who was convicted of failing to comply with police checks while out on bail.

Zora was charged with a number of drug offences in British Columbia and released on condition he obey a curfew and be at his front door within five minutes of police or a bail supervisor checking on him.

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Twice in one week in October 2015, police rang Zora’s doorbell but he did not answer.

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Zora was charged with two counts of breaching his curfew and two counts of failing to meet the condition to answer the door.

He was acquitted of the alleged curfew-breach charges as the judge was not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Zora had been outside of his house at the time. However, Zora was fined $920 after being found guilty on the two counts of failing to appear at the door for curfew compliance checks.

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Zora had said it was difficult to hear the doorbell from where he slept, and that he was undergoing methadone treatment and withdrawal from his heroin addiction, which made him very sleepy.

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Zora had no further problems complying after changing where he slept in his home and setting up an audio-visual system to help alert him to future police checks.

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He unsuccessfully challenged his convictions for the police-check violations in the B.C. Court of Appeal, prompting his appeal to the Supreme Court.

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The high court said a conviction for breaching bail has profound implications for the liberty of the accused, including imprisonment even if the individual is acquitted of the underlying charge.

“A new trial is needed to address whether Mr. Zora knowingly or recklessly breached his conditions,” Justice Sheilah Martin wrote on behalf of the court.

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