Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"Victim" is not an appropriate usage prior to a finding of guilt

R. v. J.V., [2002] O.J. No. 1027 (Hill J):
79     Senior Crown counsel, Mr. Carruthers, agreed that the use of the word "victim" in the prosecutor's recitation of the facts relating to the outstanding robbery charge faced by J.V. was improper. While the term appears in Part XVI of the Code, i.e. s. 515(4.1), in-court use of the expression vis-à-vis the accused, prior to a finding of guilt, is obnoxious to the presumption of innocence: see Seaboyer v. The Queen; Gayme v. The Queen (1991), 66 C.C.C. (3d) 321 (S.C.C.) at 333 per L'Heureux-Dubé J.

R. v. Seaboyer; R. v. Gayme, [1991] 2 S.C.R. 577:
135     An introductory note of more than passing importance is the use of terminology in these reasons. A woman who has been sexually assaulted may be referred to, in reported decisions, as the "prosecutrix", the "alleged victim" or the "complainant". The use of the term prosecutrix stems from the historical fact that the victim of the assault was responsible for [page648] bringing a civil suit in order that her injury could be redressed. Presently, it is the state that initiates and directs the prosecution of such offences; nevertheless this phrase may still be employed. As the phrase is clearly archaic and has pejorative connotations, I will avoid its usage. A more difficult choice presents itself regarding the characterization of a sexually assaulted woman as "complainant" or "alleged victim". In my view these descriptions are also problematic, the former in its harshness (especially in this context) and the latter in its presumption that the woman has nothing to complain of. The latter description is, however, accurate in that, in law, one cannot be the victim of the assaultive conduct of an accused until the accused has been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In this sense, the phrase is accurate (excepting of course those cases where an assault occurred but the accused successfully pleads the defence of honest but mistaken belief in consent). Due, however, to its over inclusiveness and presumptive character, I will avoid using the term "alleged victim" in these reasons. While "complainant" suffers from many of the same defects as the previous terms, it is nevertheless the least infirm of the three and, thus, I will use it throughout these reasons.

Belnavis, [1998] O.J. No. 6374 (Atwood):

57     Mr. Justice Belzil, in B.J.M., [1997] A.J. No. 891, stated at page 160:
The Supreme Court of Canada has stated clearly that a criminal trial involves the search for the truth. It is important to bear in mind, in my view, that there is no criminal nexus between the accused and the complainant unless and until the Crown proves the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, the complainant is not a victim unless the Crown proves beyond a reasonable doubt that she is a victim. Moreover, even if it is proven that the complainant is a victim, the accused is not the perpetrator unless and until the Crown proves so beyond a reasonable doubt.
Stymiest (B.C.C.A.), [1993] B.C.J. No. 181:

1 comment:

Bill Longstaff said...

This is legal sophistry. If a woman is strangled, stabbed and shot in the head, is she not legally a victim until someone is convicted of the crime? A victim is a victim is a victim.