(September 11, 2020) When a woman labelled with an intellectual disabilities disclosed sexual assault and the case went to trial, the defence counsel argued the complainant’s evidence was unreliable, because her disability made her answers were easily influenced by others. The trial judge did not accept these the defence argument and convicted the accused of sexually assaulting the complainant.
The accused appealed to the Court of Appeal—arguing that the trial judge had failed to adequately explain why he found the complainant reliable—and won.
A coalition of leading equality organizations—LEAF, DisAbled Women’s Network Canada (“DAWN”), and ARCH Disability Law Centre (“ARCH”)—appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada and on July 28th delivered their written submissions in R. v. Slatter.
They argued that “a substantive equality analysis requires the Court to make assessments based on the actual abilities and individual circumstances of women with disabilities (such as their ability to describe what happened), as opposed to generalizations about disabilities.”
“We are witnessing a massive erosion of substantive equality rights for people with disabilities that we have witnessed in the context of this pandemic with health policy makers and health professionals triaging resources in a way that negatively impacts women with disabilities,” said Bonnie Brayton, national executive director of DAWN. “This intervention to the Supreme Court is important to protect focus on the actual capacities of a woman, not an expert’s idea of it. When the courts side with the ‘experts’ and not the rights-holder we are down the wrong side of the slippery slope.”
Megan Stephens, executive director and general counsel at LEAF says joining forces with DAWN and ARCH will help ensure the Supreme Court of Canada understands the broader implications of the majority decision of the Court of Appeal.
“Women labelled with intellectual disabilities are disproportionately subjected to sexual violence and already face significant hurdles in accessing justice. The majority decision, if left to stand, could impose yet another barrier to justice by way of a more onerous reliability assessment rooted in generalizations and stereotypes.”
The hearing for this case is tentatively scheduled for November 6, 2020.
Also related to LEAF
LEAF expresses solidarity with the family of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, August 27, 2020