Today, we’re launching our new resource for lawyers who represent survivors of sexual assault in criminal court proceedings. In response to critical recommendations we heard from survivors and those working in the justice system, we have put together a toolkit for navigating section 276 and 278 Criminal Code matters for complainant counsel in criminal proceedings.
The legal toolkit sets out the law surrounding the admissibility of evidence of a survivor’s past sexual activity and the production of third-party records for criminal proceedings. It also provides an overview of the evolution of this complex area of law, practical advice for advancing these sexual assault cases, and guidance on developing a trauma-informed practice.
The disclosure of private records and introduction of evidence about one’s sexual history can be a devastating intrusion into the lives of survivors of sexual assault and can in and of itself act as a barrier to reporting sexual assault or accessing counselling and other support services.
Survivors of sexual assault should not have to worry about whether accessing treatment may undermine their right to justice.
Third-party records production and the introduction of prior sexual activity can also be one of the main parts of the criminal justice process where harmful myths and stereotypes are relied on to undermine the survivor’s credibility and reliability.
This toolkit provides guidance to lawyers on how to vigorously challenge myths and stereotypes and advocate for the narrowest disclosure and admission of a survivor’s private records and evidence of sexual history.
While many survivors will not pursue justice and healing through the Canadian criminal justice system, those who choose to report sexual assault must receive the highest standard of legal representation, particularly when it comes to their right to privacy.
This toolkit is a much-needed resource for lawyers representing survivors in criminal justice proceedings, but we know our work is not done!
We are excited to announce that we will be continuing our work to support legal education in this area with a series of webinars generously hosted through Courthouse Libraries and funded by the Province of BC.
The first webinar in the series, A Panel Discussion: Navigating section 276 and 278 Criminal Code matters for complainant counsel in criminal proceedings, will feature a one-hour panel discussion followed by a one-hour Q&A with the presenters. Attendees are strongly encouraged to read the accompanying toolkit in advance of the webinar and come prepared with questions.
Date: Tuesday, May 19, 2020
Time: 4:30-6:30 PM
Panelists: Colleen Elden, Gloria Ng, Myrna McCallum
Since 2017, West Coast LEAF has been working alongside YWCA Metro Vancouver, and many dedicated organizations and individuals, on a project aimed at dismantling the barriers to reporting sexual assault.
In 2018, we hosted a symposium bringing together dozens of justice system actors—lawyers, former justices, police officers, front-line service providers, RCMP, and legal scholars—where we heard about the many limitations of the justice system that create challenges for survivors of sexual assault in accessing healing and justice. Among the limitations was a consensus that there is a lack of of training available to justice system actors on handling sexual assault complaints.
Also in 2018 we released our report, We Are Here: Women’s Experiences of the Barriers to Reporting Sexual Assault, in which we heard from survivors of sexual assault themselves about the ways in which myths and stereotypes continue to permeate the legal system and undermine survivors’ safety, confidentiality, and access to justice.
It was the recommendations we heard from survivors and the justice system actors that led to the creation of this toolkit. We are indebted to the many dozens of people who made significant contributions to this project, including the courageous survivors who shared their stories with us.