Toronto, July 09, 2014
The Supreme Court of Canada has stated clearly that men accused of sexual assault cannot have access to unrelated records of the women who accuse them as a matter of course, in its decision today in Quesnelle.
The Barbra Schlifer Clinic was an intervener in the case.
The court was asked to determine whether this private information will now be handed over as a matter of course, regardless of the complainant’s constitutional rights or the irrelevance or dubious reliability of the documents.
We are thrilled with the unanimous decision that found in favour of our position, that highly private and potentially prejudicial police records about complainants (such as suicidal 911 calls or reports of sexual assault that have nothing to do with the accused) will not now be automatically produced to accused men without consideration of the complainants’ equality and privacy rights.
Women who experience multiple inequalities, such as women with mental and physical disabilities, Aboriginal women, poor women, street-involved women and childhood sexual assault survivors, are significantly more vulnerable to sexual assault, often by multiple perpetrators. They are also more likely to be “heavily documented” by state institutions, including police, in a myriad of circumstances.
Justice Andromache Karakatsanis wrote for a unanimous court, “Privacy is not an all or nothing right. Individuals involved in a criminal investigation do not forfeit their privacy interest for all future purposes “.
Women’s fears that their private information will be disclosed to the men who have abused them has always been, and continues to be a major reason for not reporting sexual assault. This is true for the women that the Barbra Schlifer Clinic (the “Clinic”) serves, and is confirmed by the experience of sexual assault front-line service providers across the country. Women are reluctant to endure re-victimization through exposure and scrutiny of their personal lives and private records, particularly in a criminal justice system where gendered and race based biases and stereotypes still permeate the investigation, prosecution and adjudication of sexual assault.
The Barbra Schlifer Clinic offers legal help, counselling and language interpretation to women who have experienced violence.
For more information please contact Executive Director, Amanda Dale at 416-323-9149, Ext: 244.