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Location justice: Why sexual assault cases in Toronto are less likely to go to trial

Cynthia Mulligan | posted Monday, Apr 24th, 2017

CTCN-Sex-Assault-Stats-GFX-MAP-A

Roslyn Talusan doesn’t believe she received justice after she was sexually assaulted.

She said she went to Toronto Police after the man she had been dating refused to wear a condom the first time they had intercourse, and even though she said she asked him to stop numerous times he didn’t. Detectives charged him with sexual assault but months later the Crown told her there wasn’t a good prospect of a conviction.

“I know that I was raped,” TaIusan said, “I experienced a trauma, I’ve been living with it for two years.”

“They said ‘ok we’re going to withdraw the charge’ and I cried, I cried in the room with them,” she continued.

According to numbers from the Ministry of the Attorney General, obtained exclusively by CityNews, Talusan only had about a 50 per cent chance her case would proceed after a Crown attorney took the file.

Records detailing every sexual assault case in Ontario that made it to court over the past five years paint a startling picture of discrepancies.

For example, in Toronto more sex assault cases are dropped by the Crown either before or during a trial than any other large jurisdiction in the province. Almost half (48 per cent) have been withdrawn or stayed since 2012.

Timmins has the lowest average for dropping sex assault cases at 22 per cent. London and Guelph sit at 35 per cent and Brampton averages 37 per cent.

Ottawa has a 26 per cent withdrawal rate, which suggests Talusan’s Toronto case was almost twice as likely to be dropped than if it had happened in the capital.

“Why would it matter where you live?” she asked. “It’s not like the pain or trauma is different if you live in the suburbs than if you live in the city.”

CTCN Sex Assault Stats GFX MAP B

More startling discrepancies

Toronto also has one of the lowest trial rates for sex assault cases in the province at 25 per cent.

Ottawa, Milton, Sarnia and Windsor all have among the highest, with more than 40 per cent of alleged survivors having their cases heard before a judge.

Sex assault suspects in Toronto are among the least likely to plead guilty. On average 12 per cent of Toronto cases end with guilty pleas.

Kitchener has the highest guilty plea rate at 37 per cent. The provincial average is 19 per cent.

For the specific statistics in your jurisdiction over the last five years, click here to see our interactive map.

Disturbing questions

Is there a discrepancy from jurisdiction to jurisdiction on how sex assault cases are handled in the court? And if so, why?

“The simple one word answer is silos. Each Crown attorney’s office has a unique culture,” criminal lawyer and former Crown David Butt told CityNews. “Crown attorneys are encouraged to be independent because we don’t want political interference but out of that independence comes different ways of doing business.”

Lawyer Jacob Jesin, who has spent much of his career defending sex assault suspects, said cases are treated differently depending on where the alleged assault took place.

“Ask any defense lawyer. They’ll agree there are some jurisdictions that take a different approach, some perhaps more inclined to prosecute things a little further,” he explained.

CTCN Sex Assault Stats GFX MAP A

Why are sexual assault cases dropped?

A case may be withdrawn or stayed for many reasons, including lack of evidence and alleged survivors refusing to testify.

“It’s no secret for a sex assault survivor the justice process is, frankly, horrifically inhospitable. So yes, I think there’s attrition because sex assault survivors don’t feel that it’s worth the trauma,” Butt said.

Backlogs in Toronto’s court system could also mean cases are being triaged and vetted more aggressively.

“Setting dates for trials almost a year into the future, (the) Crown has to look at everything on plate and say ‘these are cases where we are more likely to get a conviction,’” Jesin added.

CTCN Sex Assault Stats GFX MAP C

Explaining the range of guilty plea rates

Butt said there isn’t one simple explanation for the variety in guilty plea rates.

“Again it’s a complicated question. Could be a culture in a Crown office that accepts fewer guilty pleas and offers fewer bargains. If you have almost twice as many cases going to trial in other jurisdictions, and it’s clearly not a margin of error or insignificant blip, that is a fundamental structural problem,” he explained.

The way police handle their investigations may also be a factor because it’s up to individual officers to decide whether to lay charges.

For the specific statistics in your jurisdiction over the last five years, head to our interactive map.

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