After a trial in the Court of Québec, the appellant, Mikerlson Vernelus, was convicted of possession of a firearm and breach of a recognizance. A vehicle with the appellant and two other individuals in it had been stopped by the police and the appellant had been arrested for possession of cannabis. During the search incident to the arrest, the police had found a firearm in a bag belonging to the appellant. Testing of that weapon had found DNA only from the vehicle’s other occupant. The trial judge rejected the appellant’s testimony, as she did not find it credible. She then held that the defence as a whole did not raise any reasonable doubt as to knowledge, control and possession of the weapon found, including the appellant’s consent. The judge also noted that the fact that the appellant was calm when the weapon was found confirmed his knowledge that the weapon was hidden in his bag, which was under his control.
The Quebec Court of Appeal, for the reasons given by Moore J.A. and concurred in by Pelletier J.A., dismissed the accused’s appeal based on the unreasonableness of the verdict. The majority explained that the offence of possession of a firearm is grounded in control and knowledge. The trial judge had found from the evidence that these elements were established beyond a reasonable doubt, and it was open to her to make such a finding. First, the bag in which the weapon was found was the appellant’s bag, the weapon was not visible from the outside and was in the centre of the bag with clothing around it, and the bag was close to the appellant. These facts established the appellant’s control of the weapon. Second, the judge could infer from these indicia that the appellant knew of the weapon’s presence and thus that he was guilty. The fact that the appellant had not placed the weapon in the bag himself did not matter. The prosecution could establish, and had established here, that the weapon had not been placed in the bag without the appellant’s knowledge. The majority explained that, at the third step of R. v. W.(D.),  1 S.C.R. 742, a possible, speculative inference that amounts to pure conjecture is not sufficient to raise a reasonable doubt.
Schrager J.A., dissenting, would have set aside the judgment and substituted acquittals on the offences of possession of a firearm and breach of a recognizance. In his view, the verdict was unreasonable because the trial judge had misapplied the third step of R. v. W.(D.),  1 S.C.R. 742. In light of the possibility that the firearm had been placed in the bag without the appellant’s knowledge, which was a reasonable inference from the evidence, the appellant had not been given the benefit of the reasonable doubt to which he was entitled because the evidence did not reasonably support the guilty verdict.
Criminal law - Appeals, Evidence, Unreasonable verdict - Criminal law — Appeals — Evidence — Reasonable inference — Verdict — Unreasonable verdict — Whether majority of Quebec Court of Appeal erred in law in holding that trial judge had not made error and had not reached unreasonable verdict by finding that appellant had possession of firearm for which he was charged, even though that inference was not only reasonable one that could be drawn from evidence or from lack of evidence.
(Quebec) (Criminal) (As of Right)
This podcast is created as a public service to promote public access and awareness of the workings of Canada's highest court. It is not affiliated with or endorsed by the Court. The original version of this hearing may be found on the Supreme Court of Canada's website. The above case summary was prepared by the Office of the Registrar of the Supreme Court of Canada (Law Branch).