The case focused on the required level of fault for the offence of failing to comply with bail conditions. Previously, some courts in Canada, including in Alberta, had found that a judge could convict if the Accused ought to or should have known they were breaching their conditions. This is what is known as an objective standard of fault.
In the Zora case, a unanimous Supreme Court of Canada found that a judge must consider whether the Accused before her actually knew he was breaching his conditions. This takes into consideration the unique circumstances of an Accused, such as mental illness, poverty, addictions, and other factors that may make an Accused person less able to follow court orders. The court adopted this more strict requirement, known as a subjective standard of fault. This standard better protects the presumption of innocence and will hopefully reduce the number of people wrongfully convicted of this kind of offence.
Beyond this legal issue, the Court also addressed the importance of the constitutional right in Canada to reasonable bail and the duty of judges at bail hearings to carefully consider what bail conditions are appropriate and whether certain difficult conditions are setting people up for failure while on release.
The Supreme Court of Canada referred to Peter Sankoff’s seminal textbook on criminal law (Manning, Mewett & Sankoff, Criminal Law, 5th Edition) in deciding the case.