In a recent blog, my colleague Sharon Naipaul reviewed the trilogy of 2019 Supreme Court of Canada sexual assault cases and considered how they inform our work as workplace investigators. Although it was in the early 1990s that new procedure under the Criminal Code limited the admissibility of past sexual history evidence at trial, these cases demonstrate that there is still tension with how to use less overt evidence of prior sexual history. This area is problematic as it continues to be plagued by what have been dubbed as the “twin myths.”
In a recent webinar offered at Rubin Thomlinson, titled “Primer on Consent,” we enjoyed a highly informative discussion on consent in the context of sexual assault. Part of that presentation included reference to a trilogy of cases from the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) on the issue of sexual assault and s. 276 of the Criminal Code (“CC”).
The Ontario Court of Appeal recently considered this question in a case involving an appeal from a conviction of sexual assault. The decision is an important one for any workplace investigator faced with assessing someone’s credibility.
Alcohol and work events often don’t mix well. Some know this from personal experience. Others, like us, are called upon to investigate allegations arising from work events at which alcohol and “good times” were flowing freely. It will come as no surprise that, as workplace investigators, the issue of alcohol consumption and intoxication pops up with some frequency in our work.
There are many potentially thorny issues that await an investigator who is asked to make findings about a complainant’s consent to an intimate relationship or to a sexual encounter with a respondent, including the effects of trauma on memory, the potential involvement of intoxication and, of course, grappling with the complicated and nuanced definition of consent itself. The recent Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario decision in N.K. v. Botuik, 2020 HRTO 345, provides a useful illustration of another issue that we might encounter in an investigation that involves a sexual relationship between two employees: distinguishing coerced acquiescence from true consent.
Some of the more difficult cases of sexual harassment that we deal with as workplace investigators are what we call “borderline” cases — where the behaviour at issue straddles that line somewhere between unwelcome and simply misguided. What types of conduct in the workplace are serious enough to qualify as sexual harassment? A recent decision of the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, Prosko v. The District of Taylor and another, highlights some of the challenges these types of cases present.
Recently the Ontario Court of Appeal released its decision in R. v. Sullivan, a case involving the automatism defence. For those who don’t know, this defence can potentially be raised when an individual enters a state of impaired consciousness in which they are capable of acting but have no voluntary control over those actions¹. Through amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada in the mid-90s, the defence of automatism cannot be used for violent offences when the automatism is brought on by self-induced intoxication.
Despite this opening sentence in her decision, Tribunal Chair Juricevic found that the complainant’s allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination were not substantiated.
As a workplace investigator, I am sensitive to the fact that conversations around #MeToo in the workplace have been an evolution; people are not always sure about “where the line is” when assessing whether conduct in the workplace amounts to sexual harassment. The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal recently chimed into this discussion. The decision¹ provides a detailed refresher on the legal test for claims of sexual harassment and draws a line in the sand regarding what is (or is not) considered sexual harassment.