BC Sexual Assault Civil Claims Legal Update

Two judgements were released this week by the BC Supreme Court dealing with issues relating to civil claims arising in the context of alleged sexual assaults.  The first case dealt with improper statements during closing arguments to a jury, the second with disclosure of records relating to a criminal prosecution.
In the first case (RK v. BR) the 17 year old Plaintiff became intoxicated at a party.   The Plaintiff “stopped at his best friend’s home to see if he could spend the night“:.    His friend was not home but his friend’s father let him spend the night.  The defendant (the father) “sexually assaulted the plaintiff later that night.”
The Plaintiff sued for damages and selected trial by Jury.   The Defendant admitted to the assault and during the course of the trial conceded that the Plaintiff was entitled to some damages.  The question was what amount was appropriate.
During closing arguments the Plaintiff’s lawyer made statements to the Jury that the Defendant objected to.  Particularly the Plaintiff’s lawyer  “questioned the defendant’s decision to stay in the courtroom while the plaintiff testified. He suggested the jury could infer the defendant had remained in court to intimidate the plaintiff, or to draw pleasure from seeing his victim again. He also suggested the jury could infer that the defendant had been grooming the plaintiff for a sexual encounter. Plaintiff’s counsel also suggested to the jury that the plaintiff would see the defendant’s face whenever he made love.”
The Defendant argued that these comments were inappropriate and inflammatory and asked that the judge dismiss the Jury.    Mr. Justice Brown reluctantly granted the motion.  In doing so he provided the following reasons:

[25]         Considering all the circumstances and applying the above framework to the case at bar, I find that the impugned portions of counsel’s submissions were highly prejudicial. First of all, the submission that the plaintiff will see the defendant’s face every time he makes love for the rest of his life has no foundation in the evidence. It was a highly speculative statement, with the sole purpose of inflaming the jury against the defendant. Counsel for the plaintiff says the statement did have a basis in the evidence because the plaintiff testified that he remembered the assault a couple of times a week, sometimes upon waking. He says Dr. Pulleyblank’s evidence that similar situations could trigger painful memories is a further factual basis for his argument.

[26]         This argument is unconvincing. The evidence counsel relies on does not support the inference he asked the jury to draw; especially given evidence from the plaintiff that directly contradicts this statement. The plaintiff testified that since the assault he has had a positive sexual experience. There was also evidence that the plaintiff’s symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder have diminished over time. To suggest the plaintiff would see the defendant’s face every time he made love for the rest of his life was more than mere rhetoric verging on the extravagant; it was a highly inflammatory statement that had no basis in the evidence.

[27]         Likewise, counsel’s statement that the defendant groomed the plaintiff for a sexual encounter by inviting him to sleep over and providing him with alcohol has no basis in the evidence. Counsel says the basis for it lies in several statements made during trial. He relies on the statement of the plaintiff’s mother that two or three months earlier the defendant had phoned to ask if the plaintiff could sleep over. Counsel for the plaintiff also points to the plaintiff’s testimony that the defendant sometimes bought beer for his son and his friends. He also relies on the defendant’s testimony that in his youth he arranged consensual sexual acts with other males by asking them to ‘sleep over’. He says these statements, taken together, provide a basis for the jury to draw an inference that the defendant was grooming the plaintiff for a sexual encounter.

[28]         The evidence does not provide a foundation for the statement that the defendant was grooming the plaintiff. There is no evidence the assault was premeditated. The defendant admitted he had called the plaintiff’s mother at an earlier time, but this was at his son’s request and to let the plaintiff’s mother know it was all right for the plaintiff to sleep over. The plaintiff’s arrival on the defendant’s doorstep that evening was clearly unplanned. Again, the sole purpose of this statement was to inflame the minds of the jury against the defendant. It was improper and amounts to misconduct.

[29]         Counsel’s comments on the defendant’s presence in the courtroom were also inflammatory and prejudicial, and amount to misconduct, especially in light of the exchange of letters between the parties prior to trial. A party has a right to be in a courtroom. To suggest otherwise is improper. Even more improper is the suggestion that the defendant remained in court to intimidate or leer at the plaintiff. The defendant expressed a willingness to absent himself from the courtroom to spare the plaintiff’s feelings. Casting aspersions on a party for exercising his right to be present is misconduct. Suggesting a lack of empathy for remaining in court when counsel knew he had received a letter from the counsel for the defendant specifically offering to absent himself if doing so would make the plaintiff feel more comfortable is also misconduct.

[30]         Counsel’s submission significantly prejudiced the defendant. The submission was relatively short. Taking all of Mr. McLeod’s inflammatory and improper statements together, I concluded that if I were to try to disabuse the jury of these matters I would simply re-emphasize them in the jurors’ minds. If I instructed the jury to disregard these portions of counsel’s brief submission entirely, my comments would likely rebound against anything he had said and against the plaintiff’s case. I concluded that I could not right the scales of the resulting prejudices with instructions anywhere close to neutral again. I must ensure there is no prejudice to either side. I do not see how any corrective judicial comments could do anything but suggest that counsel had misled the jury, intentionally or not.

[31]         A judge discharges a jury with great reluctance. In this case, the jury was well constituted. They were attentive. At the beginning of the trial, I carefully explained their important role in the judicial system in British Columbia and the confidence placed in them. Discharging a jury in these circumstances embarrasses the court and, more importantly, tends to undermine public confidence in the justice system.

[32]         However, given the circumstances, and considering the potential prejudice, no less to the plaintiff’s case then to the defendant’s, it would be unfair to continue with the jury in the circumstances. The only appropriate response was to discharge the jury with the regrets and thanks of the court.

[33]         The defendant’s application to dismiss the jury and continue by judge alone is granted.

________________________________________________________________________________________________

The second case released this week addressed the ability of a party to have the BC Supreme Court order production of materials relating to criminal charges arising from allegations of sexual abuse.

In this case (The British Columbia College of Teachers v. British Columbia (Attorney General) ) a former teacher was “criminally charged with sexually offending against a child.“.  In the course of the prosecution a preliminary inquiry was held and the alleged victim testified.   The Attorney General stayed the prosecution before trial.

The BC College of Teachers wanted to access a copy of the transcript of the preliminary inquiry evidence to use against the former teacher in “disciplinary proceedings“.   The former teacher opposed this.

Madam Justice Griffin ordered that the records be produced and provided the following reasons:

[41]         In an analogous context of considering an ongoing publication ban, the Court of Appeal of this province considered that a trial judge’s analysis should not be based on whether a benefit to the administration of justice could be gained by the publication of redacted information, but rather, should be based on whether a serious danger could be avoided by declining to provide the information: Global BC, A Division of Canwest Media Inc. v. British Columbia, 2010 BCCA 169 at para. 72.

[42]         Here, so long as the information is provided in a way that protects the identity of the complainant and thereby maintains the publication ban, there is no danger to be avoided by declining to allow the sought-after information to be provided.  To put it another way, I do not consider that the administration of justice will be harmed if the preliminary inquiry transcript is produced to the College in a way that continues to protect the identity of the complainant.

[43]         I am therefore persuaded that this is a case where I ought to exercise my inherent jurisdiction to allow for production of a transcript of the preliminary inquiry to the College, in such a way as to continue to maintain the publication ban pursuant to s. 486.4(2).

[44]         In the circumstances of this case, I grant the following declaratory relief:

(a)      the publication ban imposed under s. 539(1) of the Code in relation to Abbotsford Provincial Court Registry file No. 60526, no longer applies, and thus does not apply to any request by the College for a copy of the transcript of the evidence that was taken at the preliminary inquiry; and

(b)      the continuing publication ban imposed under s. 486.4(2) of the Code will not be violated if the Crown redacts all information that could identify the child complainant from the transcript of the evidence that was taken at the preliminary inquiry in Abbotsford Provincial Court Registry file No. 60256 and produces the redacted transcript to the College for its use in disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Sidhu.

BC Civil Sexual Assault Claims, civil procedure, Disclosure of criminal transcripts in civil trial, Jury Trials, Madam Justice Griffin, Mr. Justice Brown, RK v. BR, The British Columbia College of Teachers v. British Col

Contact

If you would like further information or require assistance, please get in touch.

ERIK
MAGRAKEN

Personal Injury Lawyer

When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

“Work hard, be kind and enjoy the ride!”
Erik’s Philosophy

Disclaimer