R v S (RD)

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R v S (RD)
Supreme Court of Canada
Hearing: March 10, 1997
Judgment: September 26, 1997
Full case name R.D.S. v. Her Majesty The Queen
Citations [1997] 3 S.C.R. 484
161 N.S.R. (2d) 241
Docket No. 25063
Prior history Judgment for the Crown in the Court of Appeal for Nova Scotia.
Ruling The appeal should be allowed.
Court Membership
Chief Justice: Antonio Lamer
Puisne Justices: Gérard La Forest, Claire L'Heureux-Dubé, John Sopinka, Charles Gonthier, Peter Cory, Beverley McLachlin, Frank Iacobucci, John C. Major
Reasons given
Majority Cory J., joined by Iacobucci J.
Concurrence Gonthier J., joined by La Forest J.
Concurrence L'Heureux-Dubé and McLachlin JJ.
Dissent Major J., joined by Lamer C.J. and Sopinka J.

R v S (RD) [1997] 3 S.C.R. 484, is a leading Supreme Court of Canada decision on establishing the rules for determining reasonable apprehension of bias in the court system by judges, and establishing limits to the application of social context in judging. The case was argued by Burnley "Rocky" Jones of Halifax, N.S.


On October 17, 1993, in the city Halifax, Nova Scotia, a black youth was arrested, allegedly for assaulting the police officer Stienburg while he was attempting to arrest another individual. The police officer claimed that the youth ran into him with his bike attempting to free the individual the police officer already had handcuffed. The youth, on the other hand, alleges that he stopped his bike to see what the police officer was doing, as a crowd had amassed at the scene. The youth recognised the individual being arrested and asked him repeatedly if he should call his mother, not once addressing the officer. Hearing the youth, the officer threatened to arrest him. When the youth continued to talk the police officer arrested him.


At the trial level, Judge Corinne Sparks acquitted the youth, for the reason that the only evidence was the testimony of the officer and the youth, and both had reasonable credibility. In the end of her judgement she added,

"I believe that probably the situation in this particular case is the case of a young police officer who overreacted. And I do accept the evidence of Mr. S. that he was told to shut up or he would be under arrest. That seems to be in keeping with the prevalent attitude of the day."

The last phrase became the focus of all the appeals to follow. Judgements needs to be based solely on the evidence while the phrase suggests some preconceived notions.

It was determined at the trial and appeal level that there was an "apprehension of bias" on the part of Judge Sparks.

However, the Supreme Court of Canada allowed the appeal and restored Judge Sparks' acquittal of RDS. The Court noted that

A judge who happens to be black is no more likely to be biased in dealing with black litigants, than a white judge is likely to be biased in favour of white litigants. All judges of every race, colour, religion, or national background are entitled to the same presumption of judicial integrity and the same high threshold for a finding of bias. (para. 115)

A high standard must be met before a finding of reasonable apprehension of bias can be made. Troubling as Judge Sparks’ remarks may be, the Crown has not satisfied its onus to provide the cogent evidence needed to impugn the impartiality of Judge Sparks. Although her comments, viewed in isolation, were unfortunate and unnecessary, a reasonable, informed person, aware of all the circumstances, would not conclude that they gave rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias. (para. 158)

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