The Ontario Court of Appeal’s April 17, 2014 decision in R. v. Singh provided guidance on the precedential value of short endorsements, noting that great caution must be taken before using such short endorsements to stand for broad, generally applicable legal principles.

The case arose in the impaired driving context. The accused submitted that the police had not complied with a statutory requirement to take a second breath sample “as soon as practicable”, after allowing fifteen minutes to elapse after the first sample. The Provincial Court judge, relying on the Ontario Court of Appeal decision of R. v. Vanderbruggen, did not accept this argument. The summary conviction appeal judge allowed the appeal, holding that the facts bore more similarity to R. v. Bugler, a four-sentence oral endorsement of the Ontario Court of Appeal, which held that a trial judge was entitled to find that a 40-minute delay between breath samples called for a better explanation than the police had provided in that case. Both Bugler and Vanderbruggen had been followed with some regularity in the Provincial Court and the Superior Court.

Juriansz J.A. granted leave to appeal the summary conviction appeal judge’s decision. He then wrote in pertinent part:

[12]      While all decisions of this court are binding, care must be taken to avoid reading unwarranted jurisprudential principles into a decision of the court rendered in an endorsement as brief as in Bugler. Such endorsements are intended primarily to simply pronounce a decision for parties who, having been present in court during the argument of the appeal, will understand the thrust of the court’s reasoning. When the court intends to articulate jurisprudential principles for the first time, it does so in a written judgment. Vanderbruggen is such a case. This court has expressed this caution before. See the remarks of Osborne J.A. at para. 36 of R. v. Timminco Ltd./Timminco Ltée, (2001), 54 O.R. (3d) 21 (C.A.):

Reasons of this court given by “endorsement” are mainly directed to the immediate parties. Endorsements, like all judgments of this court, have precedential value but they should not be construed to support broad overarching principles which are not specifically addressed in them.

Juriansz J.A. unsurprisingly chose to follow Vanderbruggen. He thus allowed the appeal and restored the conviction imposed by the trial judge.