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A reverse onus clause is a provision within a statute that shifts the burden of proof onto the individual specified to disprove an element of the information. Typically, this provision concerns a shift in burden onto a defendant in either a criminal offence or tort claim. For example, the automotive legislation in many countries provides that any driver who hits a pedestrian has the burden of establishing that they were not negligent.
Reverse onus clauses can be seen in the Criminal Code of Canada, where the accused must disprove an imposed presumption. These sorts of provisions are contentious as they almost always violate the presumption of innocence protected under section 11(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The only way that such a provision can survive Charter scrutiny is if it can be justified under section 1.
The Supreme Court of Canada has struck down a number of reverse onus provisions. The first and most famous of them was the striking down of section 8 of the Narcotics Control Act in the decision of R. v. Oakes. The Supreme Court in the decision of R. v. Laba (1994) struck down section 394(1) of the Criminal Code that required a person who sold or purchased rocks containing precious metals to prove that they did so lawfully.
In reaction to the number of shootings in Toronto and as part of his 2006 election campaign, Paul Martin proposed amending s. 515(1) of the Criminal Code so that there would be a reverse onus in bail proceedings for those accused with gun-related crimes.
The English libel law is one example.
The concept of reverse onus is a shift in burden of proof with the presupposition that the applicant (usually prosecution) will be granted their application by the courts. The onus is on the respondent to make a reasonable application of the rule of law with which the application is incompatible.
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