With 'MeToo,' does political arena need same burden of proof as courtroom?
On Thursday, Ottawa-based criminal defence lawyer Michael Spratt spoke with CTV Power Play host Don Martin about the different evidentiary requirements for courts of law and the court of public opinion.
These are the highlights of that interview:
Should accused politicians be considered innocent until proven guilty?
I think, quite clearly, politics isn’t the same as courtroom procedure. And the same protections that you get when you’re charged with a criminal allegation under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- that presumption of innocence -- doesn’t apply outside of the court in the same way. Having said that, as a society we need to be cognizant of… both the allegations and of the specific situation. There’s obviously a difference between someone coming forward with direct allegations with detail and anonymous allegations delivered through other means.
Must allegations be strong enough to stand up in court?
I think we have to be really careful not to impose the same legal standards that we see in the courtroom on individuals who might want to deal with these allegations… We don’t want to muzzle people who want to come forward with allegations, even if they do so in a way that’s not as direct as some might like.
Should those who come forward be called ‘survivors,’ ‘victims’ or ‘complainants’?
In court, a complainant is a complainant. And a complainant isn’t a victim until there’s been an adjudication, until that presumption of innocence has been displaced beyond a reasonable doubt. When we’re talking about it in society, when we’re engaging in this important conversation, I don’t think it’s appropriate to default to that neutral position. If your sister or your neighbour or your daughter came to you with an allegation like this or a complaint like this, you wouldn’t stand back and put your hands up and say, ‘You know, I’m neutral -- I’m not going to believe you but I’m not going to believe the survivor until we have a fair hearing.’ You would act reasonably given the circumstances. And I think language is important, but also the message conveyed by reactions is important.
What about allegations that seem questionable?
There might be cases that aren’t right or don’t seem right, but I think we have to be careful that in insisting on very strict standards we see in the court, that we don’t become complicit in resisting what is a very important movement.
Can a politician recover from sexual misconduct allegations?
In political life, the damage is done -- and we see that in all manner of political activities. I mean, you drop a football one day and you might not be prime ministerial material the next day. But at the same time, I think we have to have reasonable, rational discussions, and I think through those reasonable discussions, the public is going to be able to have reasonable and rational reactions, depending on the specifics of each particular case.
Can we expect to hear more accusations of sexual misconduct?
I think so. And I think that that is likely a good thing. What we have to be careful of is that we hold onto those important presumptions of innocence, those golden threads that run through our criminal justice system -- we have to hold onto them tight in court. And if we insist on them in our everyday interactions, it might actually have the effect of diluting those protections in court.