Supreme Court to Decide Constitutionality of Rape-Shield Law

(Toronto, October 10, 2000) On October 12, 2000, the Supreme Court of Canada will release its decision in the Ontario case, R. v. Darrach. The Women's Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres, the DisAbled Women's Network Canada, and the National Action Committee on the Status of Women ("the Coalition") intervened when the Court heard this case on February 23, 2000.

This sexual assault case involves a constitutional challenge to several provisions of the Criminal Code enacted in 1992, known at the time as Bill C-49. At that time, LEAF participated in the drafting and consultation process which revamped the criminal law on sexual assault. The new provisions contained two major amendments: a redefinition of "consent"; and strict limitations on the admission and use of a woman's past sexual history to discredit her.

In 1997, the Coalition intervened before the Ontario Court of Appeal and was successful in persuading the Court to uphold all of Bill C-49 as constitutional. In his appeal to the Supreme Court, Andrew Darrach has narrowed the scope of the case to where it now deals only with past sexual history.

The Coalition believes that the use of a woman's sexual past as evidence in a sexual assault trial is an attack upon her dignity that is unique to sexual assault cases. The use of this kind of evidence is directly linked to the nature of sexual assault which is at root an attack upon women's equality.

The Coalition argued that the current Criminal Code provisions bring rules in sexual assault cases in line with general laws of evidence, are fair to accused persons, and respect the right of all women to equal protection of the law.

Carissima Mathen (LEAF Director of Litigation/Counsel) and Elizabeth Thomas(Counsel) were counsel for the Coalition. Carissima Mathen will be available for comment on Thursday, October 12th.

Contact: Carissima Mathen, LEAF Director of Litigation and Counsel 
(416) 595-7170 ext. 229

Women's Legal Education and Action Fund 
415 Yonge Street, Suite 1800, Toronto, ON M5B 2E7 
Telephone (416) 595-7170   Fax (416) 595-7191