Content warning: this summary includes mentions of sexual assault in the ‘Facts’ section.
This case concerned the rights of complainants in sexual assault trials, where an accused seeks to cross-examine a complainant on their prior sexual history.
LEAF intervened before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
Joshua Boyle was charged with multiple criminal offences, including assault, sexual assault with a weapon, and forcible confinement of his wife, Caitlyn Coleman. Mr. Boyle’s lawyers brought an application under Canada’s “rape shield” laws seeking permission from the court to cross-examine Ms. Coleman about her prior sexual history with Mr. Boyle. The judge granted the order.
Ms. Coleman asked the Ontario Superior Court to “quash” (set aside) this order, arguing that the trial judge had made significant errors of law when he granted the order. In response, Mr. Boyle’s lawyers challenged whether Ms. Coleman – as a third party to the prosecution – could seek this type of review.
LEAF intervened to defend the right of sexual assault complainants to seek this type of review where the original court has made an error of law on the face of the record, and where their Charter-protected rights to privacy, dignity and equality are at risk. LEAF reminded the court that sexual assault is a gendered crime, in that the overwhelming majority of victims are women. The problematic use of rape myths in sexual assault proceedings impairs the ability of Canadian women and girls to achieve full social equality.
LEAF also outlined the history and framework of Canada’s “rape shield” laws. These laws seek to balance the rights of the accused with the need to encourage the reporting of sexual offenses – by protecting the security and privacy of complainants, and by protecting the integrity of the trial process by excluding irrelevant and misleading evidence.
The Court ruled that complainants do not have the right to ask a higher court to review a judge’s decision allowing them to be cross-examined about her prior sexual history, even where the trial judge has committed an error of law on the face of the record.
LEAF is grateful to Gillian Hnatiw, Julia Wilkes, and Zohar Levy, counsel in this case.
Download the factum here.
Read the Ontario Superior Court of Justice’s decision here.