'Believe the victim' has no place in courts, judge says in sexual assault ruling

August 10, 2017
Article Source
The Globe and Mail

In the latest acquittal related to a high-profile Canadian sexual-assault case, a judge has found three Toronto male police officers not guilty of forcing sex on a heavily intoxicated woman, and argued that the rising movement to "believe the victim" has no place in the courts.

The complainant, a female parking-enforcement officer, testified that she had been so drunk or drugged that she couldn't move or speak during the January, 2015, incident, which occurred in a hotel room. But Ontario Superior Court Justice Anne Molloy said she could not rely on the complainant's testimony, which she found inconsistent, implausible at times and contradicted by – on the key issue of her capacity to consent – video recordings and a toxicologist.

"Although the slogan 'Believe the victim' has become popularized of late, it has no place in a criminal trial," Justice Molloy wrote in a 45-page ruling released Wednesday. She said the assumption that sexual-assault complainants tell the truth imposes a presumption of guilt on the accused.

The trial seemed to echo other highly publicized sexual-assault cases of the past 18 months. Like the acquittal last year of former CBC broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi, in which a judge found the three complainants lacked truthfulness and reliability, it put a spotlight on the complainant's narrative of events. (The Twitter hashtag #ibelievesurvivors spread after Mr. Ghomeshi was found not guilty; NDP Leader Tom Mulcair was among those who used it.) The issue of capacity to consent while drunk was also front and centre in the acquittal this winter of a Halifax taxi driver.

Justice Molloy's ruling also was similar to two Superior Court rulings in Alberta and Ontario in the past nine months, in which convictions were overturned on the basis that trial judges had been unfair to accused men.

Kim Stanton, legal director of the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, said Justice Molloy's ruling is the latest evidence that the criminal-justice system is failing victims of sexual assault.

"It's just so obvious over the last while that what we have isn't working," she said in an interview. "The difficulty with a decision like this is a chilling effect it has on survivors, because it does appear very difficult to get a conviction."

Read more: 'Believe the victim' has no place in courts, judge says in sexual assault ruling