An allegation of sexual assault can have a devastating effect on the accused. Their career, reputation, and relationships could all be ruined, and they might serve time in prison. In this post, we’ll go through what sexual assault means under the Criminal Code of Canada and talk about what you should do if you’ve been falsely accused.
Sexual Assault in Canadian Law
Under the Criminal Code of Canada (The Code), sexual activity is only legal if both parties consent. The Code spells out what does and does not qualify as consent.
There are three categories of sexual assault offences in The Code:
- Sexual assault, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years (14 if the complainant is under 16).
- Sexual assault that involves any of these:
- a weapon, including an imitation weapon, even if they only threaten to use it
- threats to a third party, such as a child, if the person does not comply
- harm to the person being assaulted
- other offenders who participate in the assault
These crimes carry a maximum penalty of 14 years (life imprisonment if the complainant is under 16).
- Aggravated sexual assault, which involves serious or life-threatening injuries. These crimes have a maximum sentence of life in prison.
There are several other sexually based offences in The Code, including sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching, sexual exploitation, and child pornography, along with additional conditions and considerations around culpability and the maximum and minimum punishments, the age of the complainant being the most prominent one.
Why Do People Falsely Allege Sexual Assault?
You may never know why someone has falsely accused you, but there are some common scenarios:
- The person consented to sex at the time but later misrepresents it as an assault.
- You are mistakenly identified as the assailant when in fact, it was someone else.
- There are malicious reasons behind the allegation.
What to Do If You’re Falsely Accused of Sexual Assault
Proceed with these four steps as soon as you become aware that a complaint has been filed:
- Call a lawyer.
Your first instinct will be to deny your guilt and offer a defence by telling your side of the story. You may believe that because the allegations are untrue, what really happened will eventually come to light, and everything will be fine.
Resist this instinct. Your first step in defending yourself is to contact a qualified criminal defence lawyer. No matter how outrageous the accusations against you are, and no matter how good your defence is, you are always better off with a good lawyer guiding your interactions with the criminal justice system.
- Remain silent.
If you’re invited to give a statement to the police or if you’re interrogated about the assault, don’t say anything. Talk to your lawyer first and follow their instructions closely.
- Record everything about the situation as soon as you can.
Memories tend to fade over time, and details will be important, so make a voice memo or write it down immediately. Take screenshots of all your digital interactions with the complainant, including any social media interactions and text messages. If there are digital records of other interactions you had at the time the assault is alleged to have happened, save those as well. Store your records on a secure cloud server as well as on your devices. Make a list of anyone who was present during the alleged assault or who can speak to your whereabouts and activities at the time.
- Listen to your lawyer.
Attend carefully to what your lawyer is telling you, and ask for clarification if there’s something you don’t understand. Do what your lawyer tells you to do. Occasionally their advice may go against what you believe is the right thing or the wise thing to do, but trust that they know how best to mount a defence against a sexual assault allegation.
How Will a Lawyer Defend Me Against a Sexual Assault Accusation?
Every situation involving alleged sexual assault is different, and your lawyer’s strategy may involve various elements. These could include but are not limited to:
- Reviewing the evidence that the police and the Crown have collected. You have a right to know what this evidence is so you can plan your defence.
- Attempting to get the charges dropped. Your lawyer is motivated to get the best outcome for you in the shortest time possible. After reviewing the evidence, your lawyer may find inconsistencies or questionable details that are enough for the charges to be dropped. They will bring these to the attention of the Crown Attorney.
- Attempting to get the charges reduced. With sexual assault charges, the Crown has the option to prosecute the assault either as an indictable offence or as a summary offence. Summary offences are much less serious, so your lawyer will try to convince the Crown Attorney to consider a summary offence charge if the circumstances support it.
- Hiring a private investigator. Depending on the circumstances, your lawyer might get help from a private investigator, who will explore both versions of the alleged assault. This might include going to the sites involved, interviewing potential witnesses and people with you at the time of the alleged assault, and looking into the complainant’s background to identify their motivation for falsely accusing you.
- Preparing a defence. If your case goes to trial, your lawyer will work with you to build the strongest defence. Since cases often come down to the two versions of what happened, your defence might consist of your credibility versus that of the complainant. In that case, your lawyer will work to establish your credibility and call the credibility of the complainant into question using witnesses and other evidence.
The laws related to sexual assault in Canada are straightforward on their face but complex and nuanced in their application and interpretation. If you’re accused of sexual assault, it is vital that you have the counsel of a knowledgeable and experienced lawyer through the process. The criminal defence lawyers at Zamani Law are experts at defending people falsely accused of sexual assault in Canada. We understand the complexities of the relevant laws and the procedures of the justice system in Ontario and can help you navigate your journey through it.
Remember the first rule of being accused of sexual assault: Call a lawyer. Zamani Law is ready to help you today. Contact us now for a free, no-obligation consultation.
Relevant sections of the Canadian Criminal Code: https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/c-46/page-36.html#docCont