Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members. It is my honour and privilege to be here.
My name is Laurelly Dale. I'm a criminal defence lawyer of Dale Legal Firm. I've been practising for more than 10 years. I practise in two areas: downtown Toronto and northwestern Ontario, covering the large district of Kenora. I attend today to focus on clause 25 of the proposed amendments in Bill C-51, specifically the amendments to add proposed new sections 278.92, 278.93, 278.94.
I've listened to the testimony of Breese Davies and the Criminal Lawyers' Association. I'm a member of the Criminal Lawyers' Association; however, I attend today as an individual. I'm not here to repeat their submissions. Ms. Davies takes a position that the amendments are overly broad and should be specified. I can indicate that I am in opposition of the proposed amendments in their latest form, entirely.
Our laws are progressive. They must be fair. They must uphold the principles of our supreme laws, namely the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They must not be reduced to social media hashtags. We must not feed into the myth that all complainants of sexual assault are survivors of sexual abuse and therefore are always to be believed.
The amendments that I am here today to discuss have also been referred to as the Ghomeshi amendments. They violate section 7 and section 11(b) and (d) of the charter, ultimately allowing for the conviction of the innocent. Violations occur in a variety of ways. Today I'll focus on the main three.
First are the section 7 and section 11(d) violations to the accused's presumption of innocence and fair trial by declaring these records inadmissible and requiring defence disclosure.
The second major area of concern is the section 7 violations as, for the first time ever, they interject the complainant as a party to the criminal proceedings against the accused. It is the state versus the accused, not the state and the complainant versus the accused. Tied into this is the violation arising from allowing the complainant to be part of this hearing, usurping the very valid reasons for excluding witnesses, and allowing them to make submissions.
The last violation relates to the potential delays that this will ultimately cause, violating the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision in Jordan, upheld by Cody, by creating at the very least an additional three- to four-day pretrial hearing for the accused, and by the addition of the third party.
The onus is on the crown to prove allegations of sex offences. It is its obligation to prove each and every element to the offence. The accused is not required to do anything. The crown attempts to prove its case by putting forth the evidence of the complainant. Sexual assault cases are most often about the credibility of the complainant, as there is no other evidence. Crown evidence of the offence is presented to court on the basis that what the complainant is saying is true. The defence is then allowed the opportunity to test the evidence of the crown and demonstrate that the complainant is not credible.
Testing is through cross-examination and must always be relevant. The accused can then choose to testify or call other evidence. The crown is then able to cross-examine as well. The trier of fact, considering all admissible evidence, makes the decision.
Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould claims that the amendments will boost protections for sex assault victims and ensure trial fairness. I ask how this can be achieved in light of these charter violations. The justice minister indicated in committee last week that the amendments would not create defence disclosure obligations. I ask how this would be possible when this is clearly the procedure set out in the section.
Relevancy and materiality can be canvassed at the time of introducing the material during cross-examination. Why must the accused disclose evidence that he or she wishes to use in cross-examination? We must not water down reasonable doubt in these cases. The presumption of innocence is the cornerstone of our criminal justice system.
Under clause 25, all correspondence in the possession of the accused is presumptively inadmissible unless they can persuade the judge that it should be disclosed in accordance with eight substantive factors. I point out that seven out of eight of these factors are drafted with the purpose of protecting the complainant, and only one references the accused's right to make full answer and defence. I concede this is not a popular perspective, but it's one that must be stated, that the accused is presumed innocent and we must protect their charter rights.
As well, it's important to note in interpreting this section that the information in the possession of defence is communication that's authored by the complainants themselves. This is information that the complainant has intentionally chosen to withhold from the police and the crown attorney that is relevant to the alleged incident.
The Ghomeshi amendment requires defence to give this information to the complainant and the crown ahead of trial. To notify the complainant in advance that defence can expose their dishonesty invites the complainant to come up with a fabricated answer. The amendment serves to allow the complainant to correct their mistakes at the expense of trial fairness to the accused.
In acquitting three accused of sexual assault, in a recent decision in 2017, Ontario Superior Court Justice Molloy in Nyznik states at paragraph 17 the following:
Although the slogan 'Believe the victim' has become popularized of late, it has no place in a criminal trial. To approach a trial with the assumption that the complainant is telling the truth is the equivalent of imposing a presumption of guilt on the person accused of sexual assault and then placing a burden on him to prove his innocence.
The current system works. In the recent case of D.A.E., found at tab 5 of my materials, defence counsel utilized the material in their possession, and based on the totality of evidence, considering that this was utilized during cross-examination, the judge still convicted the accused.
Found at tab 5 is a recent Ontario Superior Court case, where it was held that myths about victims and sex offenders have no place in our criminal justice system. At paragraph 60 the judge states:
I agree with the trial judge that we must be vigilant to reject...stereotypical thinking about the behavior of women. At the same time, we must not adopt...assumptions about men and their tendency to rape.
The public outcry from Ghomeshi should not be used to undermine the presumption of innocence. Trial by media should not invade the rights of the accused.
I'll briefly touch on the second major amendment, as previously stated.
A criminal trial, by its nature, is the state against the individual. No one else is a party to these proceedings in any case. The complainant is not a party to the proceedings. The consequences of a criminal judgment do not apply to them. It is a slippery slope, allowing the complainant to participate in other aspects of the case against the accused, such as crown or judicial pretrials. There is, therefore, a risk that innocent people will be convicted.
Further, it is routine at the commencement of a criminal trial for a judge to make an order excluding witnesses. The reason is obvious. It is essential for the discovery of truth. As Justice Abbey stated in Jenkins:
The general and overriding principle which lies behind an exclusion order is to maintain, to the degree possible, in the search for the truth, the purity of the evidence.
Section 7 of the charter is violated, as this amendment permits the complainant to testify knowing what the evidence is beforehand, undermining the accused's trial fairness. Chapters of cross-examination are revealed, and the opportunity exists to resolve issues with their testimony.
The last violation relates to potential delays this will inevitably cause by creating an additional three- to five-day hearing 60 days in advance of the trial.
As noted at tab 9, the Jordan case is the law upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada that relates to delay that is presumptively unreasonable when it is longer than 18 months at the provincial court level, or 30 months at the superior court level. The resources allotted to the accused are not the same as those allotted to the complainant. It is not known whether, post these amendments, other resources would be available, such as legal aid, and whether these pretrial applications would be funded. I echo the comments of Breese Davies with respect to her concern about imbalance of resources.
Last, in my materials I have included a number of materials relating to the consequences of conviction for sexual assault that must be at the back of minds when considering these amendments as well as wrongful convictions. If accepted, the balance of the trial will be entirely upset. Charter violations will occur, and it will ultimately result in the conviction of innocent people.
Those are my submissions. Thank you.