LEAF intervenes to defend the rights of sexual assault complainants

Joshua Boyle is charged with 19 criminal offences, including assault, sexual assault with a weapon, and forcible confinement of his wife, Caitlyn Coleman. His trial before Justice Doody of the Ontario Court of Justice in Ottawa is ongoing. In April, Boyle’s lawyers brought an application pursuant to Canada’s “rape shield” laws (s. 276 of the Criminal Code) seeking permission from the court to cross-examine Coleman about her prior sexual history with Boyle. The judge granted the order. Coleman subsequently asked a higher court to “quash” this order on the basis that Justice Doody had made significant errors of law when he granted the order in the first place.  In response, Boyle’s lawyers challenged whether Coleman – as a third party to the prosecution – could seek this type of review.

LEAF intervened in the proceedings to defend the right of sexual assault complainants to seek such a review where the original court 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 also sought to provide assistance to the court in understanding the history and framework of Canada’s “rape shield” laws, which 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 to protect the integrity of the trial process by excluding irrelevant and misleading evidence. LEAF reminded the court that sexual assault is a gendered crime, in that the overwhelming majority of victims are women, and that the problematic use of rape myths in sexual assault proceedings impairs the ability of Canadian women and girls to achieve full social equality.

Caitlin Coleman’s application was argued before Justice Laliberte on May 15th in Ottawa. The decision is currently under reserve.

Read LEAF’s factum here