FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Overturning of conviction signals need for mandatory judicial education in sexual assault
Thursday, July 20, 2017 – The Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic is disheartened by today’s decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice overturning the guilty verdict in the sexual assault trial of Mustafa Ururyar.
The trial judge convicted Mr. Ururyar on July 21, 2016. Both Ms. Gray and Mr. Ururyar testified at trial. After extensive cross-examination, the judge found Ms. Gray’s account of the sexual assault to be credible and was satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the assault had occurred as she described it. The Superior Court’s decision to allow Mr. Ururyar’s appeal of this verdict and set aside his conviction on grounds related solely to deficiencies in the trial judge’s explanation for his conclusions represent a failure in the system for Ms. Gray.
“One of the barriers to reporting sexual assault is that survivors must relive the rape in agonizing detail again and again. When a conviction is overturned because the trial judge was found to have made errors in his reasons, the burden falls on the survivor to put herself through yet another trial, most often without the support of ongoing therapy or legal representation. It is an enormous, invasive and time-consuming burden and one which prevents survivors from moving on with their lives and focusing on their families, jobs or studies,” says Deepa Mattoo, the Barbra Schlifer Clinic’s Director of Legal Services.
The Barbra Schlifer Clinic intervened in the appeal on the limited issue of the restitution order the trial judge made following Mr. Ururyar’s conviction, ordering him to pay for a portion of the legal fees Ms. Gray incurred to participate in the trial. Part of the financial harm directly caused by sexual assault includes the cost of legal advice for survivors. “Turning to legal counsel for support and advice is one avenue through which survivors cope with the direct emotional, psychological, and practical harms of sexual assault and are empowered to report,” says Joanna Birenbaum, co-counsel for the Clinic.
“The Superior Court’s decision today to not address the restitution order reflects a need for a more systemic solution,” says Birenbaum. “While there is no guarantee that a restitution order for legal fees will be made in any individual future case, the lower court’s order is an important recognition of the critical need for legal representation for sexual assault survivors in our criminal justice system. Ms. Gray has stated repeatedly that the best thing she did in enduring the criminal trial process was to retain her own counsel. Survivors need access to publicly funded legal advice and representation. Legal support should not be available only to those with financial means nor should survivors risk the outlay of funds for legal services in the off-chance that the perpetrator will be ordered to pay. An order, which, in any event, may be difficult or impossible to enforce.”
Today’s decision comes as Canada openly wrestles with its record on sexual assault. The outpouring of narratives of survivors from all walks of life has led to an unprecedented flurry of federal and provincial initiatives to address the acknowledged failure of the justice system to deliver on its promise.
The trial decision and the decision of the Superior Court overturning the conviction both underscore the need for mandatory judicial education in sexual assault cases for Ontario Court and Superior Court judges.“Ultimately, both the trial and appeal decisions make clear that sexual assault myths have no place in our justice system. Judges should be encouraged, in every case, to name and reject discriminatory reasoning that arises in the cases before them, and to do so clearly and transparently in their judgments. Mandatory judicial education is essential to ensuring that judges have the tools and knowledge necessary to do this in a way that allows justice to be done and to be seen to be done while fulfilling the courts’ important public education role in the process,” says Pam Hrick a Stockwoods LLP lawyer who acted as co-counsel for the Clinic in its intervention.
The Clinic is the only community-based site for the provincial pilot program offering free Independent Legal Advice to women survivors of sexual assault. The expansion of this program is one concrete way in which more women can access the support they need, when they need it most. The Clinic will continue to play its part in the daily struggles of survivors to find their pathways to what justice means to them, and to hold our legal systems accountable to the experiences of the women who seek protection from harm, restitution for wrongs and remedy for rights that have been violated.
About Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic
The Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic is a specialized clinic for women experiencing violence, established in the memory of Barbra Schlifer – an idealistic young lawyer whose life was cut short by violence on the night of her call to the bar of Ontario on April 11, 1980. In her memory, the Clinic is a multi-disciplinary, frontline service provider that assists 4,000 women a year to build lives free from violence through counselling, legal representation, and language interpretation. Since it was founded in 1985, the Clinic has assisted more than 60,000 women.
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To speak with Deepa Mattoo, Pam Hrick or Joanna Birenbaum please contact:
Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic
416-323-9149 ext. 228