Supreme Court upholds sexual assault conviction in case involving teens, alcohol

OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the conviction of a youth found guilty of sexually assaulting another teenager in a case involving alcohol and capacity to consent.

In its ruling Friday, the high court also affirmed the constitutionality of a provision that denies young people automatic rights of appeal available to adults convicted of indictable offences.

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A 15-year-old boy was convicted of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl during a beach party in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough in 2016.

The two teenagers, friends from school, were drinking at the party and had intercourse a short distance from a bonfire.

The girl told police she did not remember the sexual activity.

In his defence, the boy said the girl had asked for sex and he thought she was able to give consent.

One of the girl's friends arrived at the party later and found her severely intoxicated, but key to the case was how soon after the sexual encounter she had made the discovery.

The trial judge found the girl was not capable of consenting to sex and that the boy, beyond a reasonable doubt, knew or was wilfully blind to this fact.

The ruling was upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal. However, one judge would have allowed the appeal and set aside the conviction.

The youth, who cannot be identified publicly, then took his case to the Supreme Court, which granted leave to appeal.

In its decision Friday, the high court concluded the verdict in the case was reasonable.

In writing for a majority of the court, Justice Rosalie Abella said the trial judge's grounds for finding the boy guilty of sexual assault "are model trial reasons: rigorous and thoughtfully explained."

Adults have an automatic right to appeal to the Supreme Court when there is a dissent in the court of appeal on a question of law, or when the appeal court enters a finding of guilt on a Crown appeal from an acquittal at trial.

A majority of the Supreme Court found that denying these rights to young people under the Youth Criminal Justice Act was constitutionally valid.

Writing for four of five justices who took this position, Chief Justice Richard Wagner said the provision in question can deny the Crown, not just the young person, an automatic right of appeal.

He added that, given the particular costs for young people, an automatic oral hearing and an in-depth review of the record by a full panel "will not serve their interests in every case."

Wagner also rejected the notion that young people’s access to the Supreme Court had lagged behind, saying it "is not borne out by any evidence in the record before us."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2021.

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