Supreme Court Judgments

Decision Information

Decision Content

 

                                                 SUPREME COURT OF CANADA

 

 

Citation:  R. v. Khelawon, [2006] 2 S.C.R. 787, 2006 SCC 57

 

Date:  20061214

Docket:  30857

 

Between:

Her Majesty the Queen

Appellant

and

Ramnarine Khelawon

Respondent

‑ and ‑

Attorney General of British Columbia and

Criminal Lawyers’ Association (Ontario)

Interveners

 

Coram: McLachlin C.J. and Binnie, LeBel, Deschamps, Fish, Abella and Charron JJ.

 

 

Reasons for Judgment:

(paras. 1 to 110)

 

 

Charron J. (McLachlin C.J. and Binnie, LeBel, Deschamps, Fish and Abella JJ. concurring)

______________________________


R. v. Khelawon, [2006] 2 S.C.R. 787, 2006 SCC 57

 

Her Majesty The Queen                                                                                  Appellant

 

v.

 

Ramnarine Khelawon                                                                                    Respondent

 

and

 

Attorney General of British Columbia and

Criminal Lawyers’ Association (Ontario)                                                     Interveners

 

Indexed as:  R. v. Khelawon

 

Neutral citation:  2006 SCC 57.

 

File No.:  30857.

 

2005:  December 16; 2006:  December 14.

 

Present:  McLachlin C.J. and Binnie, LeBel, Deschamps, Fish, Abella and Charron JJ.

 

on appeal from the court of appeal for ontario

 


Criminal law — Evidence — Hearsay — Admissibility — Trial judge admitting deceased complainants’ hearsay statements to police into evidence — Whether statements admissible under principled exception to hearsay rule —  Factors to be considered in determining whether hearsay statements sufficiently reliable to be admissible. 

 

In 1999, C, a cook who worked at a retirement home, found S, a resident of the home, badly injured in his room.  His belongings were packed in garbage bags.  S told C that the accused, the manager of the home, had beaten him and threatened to kill him if he did not leave the home.  C took S to her apartment and cared for him for a few days.  She then brought S to a doctor.  The doctor testified that he found three fractured ribs and bruises that were consistent with S’s allegation of assault but which also could have resulted from a fall.  The next day, C took S to the police and S gave a videotaped statement alleging that the accused had assaulted him and threatened to kill him.  The statement was not under oath but S answered “yes” when asked if he understood it was important to tell the truth and that he could be charged if he did not tell the truth.  Medical records seized from the retirement home described S as “angry”, “aggressive”, “depressed” and “paranoid”, and revealed that he had been treated for paranoid psychosis and depression.  At trial, a psychiatrist who testified at the voir dire concluded that S had the capacity to communicate evidence and understood at the time he made his statement to the police that it was important to tell the truth.  The defence argued that C influenced S to complain out of spite because the accused previously had terminated C’s employment.

 


The police attended the retirement home where more residents complained that they had been assaulted by the accused.  The accused was charged in respect of five complainants but, by the time of the trial, four complainants, including S and D,  had died of causes unrelated to the alleged assaults and the fifth was no longer competent to testify.  Only one complainant had testified at the preliminary inquiry.  The central issue at trial was whether the complainants’ hearsay statements should be received in evidence.  The trial judge admitted some of the hearsay based in large part on the striking similarity between the statements.  The trial judge ultimately found videotaped statements given by S and D to the police sufficiently credible to found convictions for aggravated assault and uttering a death threat in respect of S, as well as assault causing bodily harm and assault with a weapon in respect of D.  The accused was acquitted on the remaining counts.  On appeal, a majority of the Court of Appeal excluded all of the hearsay statements and acquitted the accused on all charges.  The dissenting judge would have upheld the convictions in respect of S.  The Crown appealed as of right from the acquittals in respect of S and was denied leave to appeal from the acquittals in respect of D.

 

Held:  The appeal should be dismissed and the acquittals affirmed.

 


Hearsay evidence is presumptively inadmissible unless an exception to the hearsay rule applies, primarily because of a general inability to test its reliability.  The essential defining features of hearsay are the fact that the out‑of‑court statement is adduced to prove the truth of its contents and the absence of a contemporaneous opportunity to cross‑examine the declarant.  Hearsay includes an out‑of‑court statement made by a witness who testifies in court if the statement is tendered to prove the truth of its contents.  In some circumstances, hearsay evidence presents minimal dangers and its exclusion rather than its admission would impede accurate fact finding.  Hence over time a number of traditional exceptions to the exclusionary rule were created by the courts.  Hearsay evidence that does not fall under a traditional exception may still be admitted under the principled approach if indicia of reliability and necessity are established on a voir dire.  The reliability requirement is aimed at identifying those cases where the concerns arising from the inability to test the evidence are sufficiently overcome to justify receiving the evidence as an exception to the general exclusionary rule.  The reliability requirement will generally be met by showing (1) that there is no real concern about whether the statement is true or not because of the circumstances in which it came about; or (2) that no real concern arises from the fact that the statement is presented in hearsay form because, in the circumstances, its truth and accuracy can nonetheless be sufficiently tested by means other than contemporaneous cross‑examination.  These two principal ways of satisfying the reliability requirement are not mutually exclusive categories and they assist in identifying the factors that need to be considered on the admissibility inquiry. [2‑3] [35] [37] [42] [49] [61‑63] [65]

 


The trial judge acts as a gatekeeper in making the preliminary assessment of the threshold reliability of a hearsay statement and leaves the ultimate determination of its worth to the fact finder.  The factors to be considered on the admissibility inquiry cannot be categorized in terms of threshold and ultimate reliability.  Rather, all relevant factors should be considered including, in appropriate cases, the presence of supporting or contradictory evidence.  Comments to the contrary in previous decisions of this Court, including R. v. Starr, [2000] 2 S.C.R. 144, 2000 SCC 40, should no longer be followed. In determining admissibility, the court should adopt a more functional approach focussed on the particular dangers raised by the hearsay evidence sought to be introduced and on those attributes or circumstances relied upon by the proponent to overcome those dangers.  Whether certain factors will go only to ultimate reliability will depend on the context.  In each case, the inquiry  is limited to determining the evidentiary question of admissibility.  Corroborating or conflicting evidence may be considered in the admissibility inquiry in appropriate cases.  When the reliability requirement is met on the basis that the trier of fact has a sufficient basis to assess the statement’s truth and accuracy, there is no need for the trial judge to inquire further into the likely truth of the statement.  When reliability is dependent on the inherent trustworthiness of the statement, the trial judge must inquire into those factors tending to show that the statement is true or not.  [2] [4] [92‑93]

 

In determining the question of threshold reliability, the trial judge must be mindful that hearsay evidence is presumptively inadmissible.  The trial judge’s function is to guard against the admission of hearsay evidence which is unnecessary or the reliability of which is neither readily apparent from the trustworthiness of its contents nor capable of being meaningfully tested by the ultimate trier of fact.  If the proponent of the evidence cannot meet the twin criteria of necessity and reliability, the general exclusionary rule prevails.  In the context of a criminal case, the accused’s inability to test the evidence may impact on the fairness of the trial, thereby giving the rule a constitutional dimension.  As in all cases, the trial judge has a residual discretion to exclude admissible hearsay evidence where its prejudicial effect is out of proportion to its probative value. [2‑3]

 


R. v. Khan, [1990] 2 S.C.R. 531, and R. v. Smith, [1992] 2 S.C.R. 915, are examples where the reliability requirement was met because the circumstances in which hearsay statements came about provided sufficient comfort in their truth and accuracy.  R. v. B. (K.G.), [1993] 1 S.C.R. 740, and R. v. Hawkins, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 1043, provide examples where threshold reliability was based on the presence of adequate substitutes for traditional safeguards relied upon to test the evidence.   Similarly, in R. v. U. (F.J.), [1995] 3 S.C.R. 764, the striking similarities between the complainant’s prior inconsistent out‑of‑court statement and the accused’s independent statement were so compelling that the very high reliability of the complainant’s statement rendered its substantive admission necessary. [67‑68] [73] [82] [86] [88]

 

S’s videotaped statement to the police was inadmissible.  Although S’s death before trial made his hearsay statement necessary, the statement was not sufficiently reliable to overcome the dangers it presented.  The circumstances in which it came about did not provide reasonable assurances of inherent reliability.  A number of serious issues arise including:  whether S was mentally competent; whether he understood the consequences of making his statement; whether he was influenced by C; whether his statement was motivated by dissatisfaction about the management of the home; and, whether his injuries were caused by a fall.  S’s unavailability for cross‑examination posed significant limitations on the accused’s ability to test the evidence and on the trier of fact’s ability to properly assess its worth.  While the presence of a striking similarity between statements from different complainants could well provide sufficient cogency to warrant the admission of hearsay evidence in an appropriate case, the statements made by the other complainants in this case posed even greater difficulties and could not be substantively admitted to assist in assessing the reliability of S’s allegations.  The admission of the evidence risked impairing the fairness of the trial.  Furthermore, S’s evidence could have been taken before his death in the presence of a commissioner and the accused or his counsel thereby preserving both the evidence and the rights of the accused. [7] [108]

 


Cases Cited

 

Modified:  R. v. Starr, [2000] 2 S.C.R. 144, 2000 SCC 40; explained: R. v. Khan, [1990] 2 S.C.R. 531; R. v. Smith, [1992] 2 S.C.R. 915; R. v. U. (F.J.), [1995] 3 S.C.R. 764; R. v. B. (K.G.), [1993] 1 S.C.R. 740; R. v. Hawkins, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 1043; discussed:  R. v. C. (B.) (1993), 12  O.R. (3d) 608; Idaho v. Wright, 497 U.S. 805 (1990); referred to:  R. v. Abbey, [1982] 2 S.C.R. 24; R. v. O’Brien, [1978] 1 S.C.R. 591; R. v. Mapara, [2005] 1 S.C.R. 358, 2005 SCC 23; Dersch v. Canada (Attorney General), [1990] 2 S.C.R. 1505; R. v. Rose, [1998] 3 S.C.R. 262; R. v. Mills, [1999] 3 S.C.R. 668; R. v. Wilcox (2001), 152 C.C.C. (3d) 157, 2001 NSCA 45; R. v. Czibulka (2004), 189 C.C.C. (3d) 199.

 

Statutes and Regulations Cited

 

Canada Evidence Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. C‑5, s. 16 .

 

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, s. 7 .

 

Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C‑46, ss. 709  to 714 .

 

Authors Cited

 

Paciocco, David M.  “The Hearsay Exceptions:  A Game of ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’”, in Special Lectures of the Law Society of Upper Canada 2003:  The Law of Evidence.  Toronto:  Irwin Law, 2004, 17.

 

Wigmore, John Henry.  Evidence in Trials at Common Law, vol. III, 2nd ed.  Boston:  Little, Brown, 1923.

 


APPEAL from a judgment of the Ontario Court of Appeal (Rosenberg, Armstrong and Blair JJ.A.) (2005), 195 O.A.C. 11, 194 C.C.C. (3d) 161, 26 C.R. (6th) 1, [2005] O.J. No. 723 (QL), setting aside the accused’s convictions.  Appeal dismissed.

 

John S. McInnes and Eliott Behar, for the appellant.

 

Timothy E. Breen, for the respondent.

 

Alexander Budlovsky, for the intervener the Attorney General of British Columbia.

 

Louis P. Strezos and Joseph Di Luca, for the intervener the Criminal Lawyers’ Association (Ontario).

 

The judgment of the Court was delivered by

 

Charron J.

 

1.         Overview

 


1                                   This appeal turns on the admissibility of hearsay statements under the principled case-by-case exception to the hearsay rule based on necessity and reliability. In particular, guidance is sought on what factors should be considered in determining whether a hearsay statement is sufficiently reliable to be admissible.  This Court’s decision in R. v. Starr, [2000] 2 S.C.R. 144, 2000 SCC 40, has generally been interpreted as standing for the proposition that circumstances “extrinsic” to the taking of the statement go to ultimate reliability only and cannot be considered by the trial judge in ruling on its admissibility.  The decision has generated much judicial commentary and academic criticism on various grounds, including the difficulty of defining what constitutes an “extrinsic” circumstance and the apparent inconsistency between this holding in Starr and the Court’s consideration of a semen stain on the declarant’s clothing in R. v. Khan, [1990] 2 S.C.R. 531, the declarant’s motive to lie in R. v. Smith, [1992] 2 S.C.R. 915, and most relevant to this case, the striking similarities between statements in R. v. U. (F.J.), [1995] 3 S.C.R. 764.

 


2                                   As a general principle, all relevant evidence is admissible.  The rule excluding hearsay is a well-established exception to this general principle.  While no single rationale underlies its historical development, the central reason for the presumptive exclusion of hearsay statements is the general inability to test their reliability.  Without the maker of the statement in court, it may be impossible to inquire into that person’s perception, memory, narration or sincerity.  The statement itself may not be accurately recorded.  Mistakes, exaggerations or deliberate falsehoods may go undetected and lead to unjust verdicts.  Hence, the rule against hearsay is intended to enhance the accuracy of the court’s findings of fact, not impede its truth-seeking function.  However, the extent to which hearsay evidence will present difficulties in assessing its worth obviously varies with the context.  In some circumstances, the evidence presents minimal dangers and its exclusion, rather than its admission, would impede accurate fact finding.  Hence, over time a number of exceptions to the rule were created by the courts.  Just as traditional exceptions to the exclusionary rule were largely crafted around those circumstances where the dangers of receiving the evidence were sufficiently alleviated, so too must be founded the overarching principled exception to hearsay.  When it is necessary to resort to evidence in this form, a hearsay statement may be admitted if, because of the way in which it came about, its contents are trustworthy, or if circumstances permit the ultimate trier of fact to sufficiently assess its worth.  If the proponent of the evidence cannot meet the twin criteria of necessity and reliability, the general exclusionary rule prevails.  The trial judge acts as a gatekeeper in making this preliminary assessment of the “threshold reliability” of the hearsay statement and leaves the ultimate determination of its worth to the fact finder.

 

3                                   The distinction between threshold and ultimate reliability reflects the important difference between admission and reliance.  Admissibility is determined by the trial judge based on the governing rules of evidence.  Whether the evidence is relied upon to decide the issues in the case is a matter reserved for the ultimate trier of fact to decide in the context of the entirety of the evidence.  The failure to respect this distinction would not only result in the undue prolongation of admissibility hearings, it would distort the fact-finding process.  In determining the question of threshold reliability, the trial judge must be mindful that hearsay evidence is presumptively inadmissible.  The trial judge’s function is to guard against the admission of hearsay evidence which is unnecessary in the context of the issue to be decided, or the reliability of which is neither readily apparent from the trustworthiness of its contents, nor capable of being meaningfully tested by the ultimate trier of fact.  In the context of a criminal case, the accused’s inability to test the evidence may impact on the fairness of the trial, thereby giving the rule a constitutional dimension.  Concerns over trial fairness not only permeate the decision on admissibility, but also inform the residual discretion of the trial judge to exclude the evidence even if necessity and reliability can be shown.  As in all cases, the trial judge has the discretion to exclude admissible evidence where its prejudicial effect is out of proportion to its probative value.

 


4                                   As I will explain, I have concluded that the factors to be considered on the admissibility inquiry cannot be categorized in terms of threshold and ultimate reliability.  Comments to the contrary in previous decisions of this Court should no longer be followed.  Rather, all relevant factors should be considered including, in appropriate cases, the presence of supporting or contradictory evidence.  In each case, the scope of the inquiry must be tailored to the particular dangers presented by the evidence and limited to determining the evidentiary question of admissibility.

 

5                                   In May 1999, five elderly residents of a retirement home told various people that they were assaulted by the manager of the home, the respondent, Ramnarine Khelawon.  At the time of trial, approximately two and a half years later, four of the complainants had died of causes unrelated to the assaults, and the fifth was no longer competent to testify.  Only one of the complainants had testified at the preliminary inquiry.  The central issue at trial was whether the hearsay statements provided by the complainants had sufficient threshold reliability to be received in evidence.  Grossi J.  held that the hearsay statements from each of the complainants were sufficiently reliable to be admitted in evidence, based in large part on the “striking” similarity between them.  He ultimately found Mr. Khelawon guilty of the offences in respect of two of the complainants, Mr. Skupien and Mr. Dinino, and acquitted him on the remaining counts.  Mr. Khelawon was sentenced to two and a half years of imprisonment for the offences relating to Mr. Skupien and an additional two years for the offences related to Mr. Dinino.

 


6                                   On appeal to the Court of Appeal for Ontario, Rosenberg J.A. (Armstrong J.A. concurring) excluded all statements and acquitted Mr. Khelawon.  Blair J.A., in dissent, would have upheld the convictions in respect of Mr. Skupien only.  The Crown appeals to this Court as of right, seeking to restore the convictions relating to Mr. Skupien.  The Crown also sought but was denied leave in respect of the charges relating to Mr. Dinino.

 


7                                   In my view, Mr. Skupien’s videotaped statement to the police was inadmissible.  Although Mr. Skupien’s death before the commencement of the trial made it necessary to resort to his evidence in this form, the statement was not sufficiently reliable to overcome the dangers it presented.  The circumstances in which it came about did not provide reasonable assurances of inherent reliability.  To the contrary, they gave rise to a number of serious issues including:  whether Mr. Skupien was mentally competent, whether he understood the consequences of making his statement, whether he was influenced in making the allegations by a disgruntled employee who had been fired by Mr. Khelawon, whether his statement was motivated by a general dissatisfaction about the management of the home, and whether his injuries were caused by a fall rather than the assault.  In these circumstances, Mr. Skupien’s unavailability for cross-examination posed significant limitations on the accused’s ability to test the evidence and, in turn, on the trier of fact’s ability to properly assess its worth.  The statements made by other complainants posed even greater difficulties and could not be substantively admitted to assist in assessing the reliability of Mr. Skupien’s allegations.  In all the circumstances, particularly given that the Crown’s case against Mr. Khelawon was founded on the hearsay statement, the admission of the evidence risked impairing the fairness of the trial and should not have been permitted.  As Rosenberg J.A. aptly noted, the admission of the evidence under the principled approach to the hearsay rule is not the only way the evidence of witnesses who may not be available for trial may be preserved.  Sections 709  to 714  of the Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46 , expressly contemplate this eventuality and provide a procedure for the taking of the evidence before a commissioner in the presence of the accused or his counsel thereby preserving both the evidence and the rights of the accused.

 

8                                   For reasons that follow, I would therefore dismiss the appeal and affirm the acquittals.

 

2.         Background

 

9                                   Mr. Khelawon was charged with aggravated assault on Teofil Skupien and threatening to cause him death.  He was also charged with aggravated assault and assault with a weapon on Atillio Dinino, and assault causing bodily harm on three other complainants.  The offences were alleged to have occurred during the month of May 1999 and, at the time, all the complainants were residents at the Bloor West Village Retirement Home.  Mr. Khelawon was the manager of the retirement home and his mother was the owner.  As indicated earlier, none of the complainants was available to testify at trial.  Hence, the central issue concerned the admissibility of their hearsay statements made to various people.  There were 10 statements in total, four of which consisted of videotaped statements made to the police.  The trial, held before Grossi J. without a jury, proceeded essentially as a voir dire into the admissibility of the evidence, with counsel agreeing that it would not be necessary to repeat the evidence about any statements later ruled admissible.  None of the statements fit within any traditional exception to the hearsay rule.  Their admissibility, rather, was contingent upon the Crown meeting the twin requirements of necessity and reliability under the principled approach to the hearsay rule, as established in Khan, Smith and, later, Starr.

 


10                               The charges concerning Mr. Skupien are the only matters before this Court. I will therefore summarize the evidence concerning Mr. Skupien’s statements  in more detail.  I will also describe the circumstances surrounding the taking of the statements from the other complainants to the extent that it is relevant to dispose of this appeal. The Crown sought to introduce three statements made by Mr. Skupien:  the first to an employee of the retirement home, the second to the doctor who treated him for his injuries, and the third to the police.  Only the latter was admitted at trial.  I will describe each statement in turn.

 

2.1       Mr. Skupien’s Statement to Ms. Stangrat

 

11                               Mr. Skupien was 81 years old and, at the time of the events in question,  he had lived at the Bloor West Village Retirement Home for four years.  Mr. Skupien’s initial complaint was made to one of the employees at the retirement home, Joanna Stangrat.  Ms. Stangrat, also known under several other names, was a cook who had been working at the retirement home for a few months.  She had come to know Mr. Skupien because he would often visit the kitchen and would sometimes walk her to the subway at the end of her shifts.  Ms. Stangrat played a prominent role in the case concerning Mr. Skupien.  In part, it was the theory of the defence at trial that she had influenced Mr. Skupien and the other complainants in making their complaints out of spite because Mr. Khelawon had given her a notice of termination a few weeks earlier. 

 


12                               On May 8, 1999, Ms. Stangrat noticed that Mr. Skupien did not come to breakfast.  She went to check on him in his room and found him lying on his bed.  His face was red and there was blood around his mouth.  When she got closer to him she saw bruising on his eye and nose.  His eyes were swollen.  When Mr. Skupien saw her, he asked her to come in and close the door.  He appeared to be in shock and very shaky.  Ms. Stangrat noticed two full green garbage bags on the floor.  She closed the door and asked him what had happened and what was in the green garbage bags.  Mr. Skupien told her what had happened the previous evening.  He also showed her bruises on his upper left chest area.

 

13                               Mr. Skupien told Ms. Stangrat that he had to leave before twelve o’clock that day because “Tony”, the name Mr. Khelawon went by, would come back and kill him.  Mr. Skupien described to Ms. Stangrat how Mr. Khelawon had come into his room in anger at about 8:00 p.m. the previous evening, and had punched him repeatedly in the face and ribs.  After beating him up, Mr. Khelawon had packed the clothes into the green garbage bags and left them on the floor.  Ms. Stangrat asked Mr. Skupien why Mr. Khelawon would attack him in this way.  He told her that Tony was angry because Mr. Skupien had been going to the kitchen when he had no reason to go there.  When the assault ended, Mr. Khelawon threatened Mr. Skupien that either he moved out of the home by noon the next day or he would return and kill him.  Mr. Skupien asked her what he should do.  Ms. Stangrat told him she would phone her daughter to come and get him and that he should stay in his room until she was finished her duties for the day.

 

14                               Ms. Stangrat arranged for Mr. Skupien to stay at her daughter’s home later that day, and then to her apartment.  Mr. Skupien was in pain but he was scared and did not want to see a doctor at that time.  Ms. Stangrat kept Mr. Skupien at her apartment where she and a friend of hers alternated caring for him.  A few days later, Mr. Skupien agreed to go to the doctor.  Ms. Stangrat and her friend took him to see Dr. Pietraszek.

 

2.2       Mr. Skupien’s Statement to the Treating Physician


 

15                               On May 12, 1999, Dr. Pietraszek examined Mr. Skupien.  He found visible bruising to Mr. Skupien’s face as well as bruises to his back and on the left side of his chest and noted that Mr. Skupien appeared to be in pain while breathing.  X-rays revealed that he had suffered fractures to three ribs.  Dr. Pietraszek testified that Mr. Skupien told him he had been hit in the face and body with something that was either a cane or a pipe.  He denied any suggestion that Ms. Stangrat had related the story but acknowledged that she was present and may have helped him in describing what had happened.  Dr. Pietraszek considered that the injuries were consistent with Mr. Skupien’s account of how they were caused.  He also testified that the injuries could have resulted from a fall.

 

2.3       Mr. Skupien’s Videotaped Statement to the Police

 


16                               The following day, on May 13, 1999, Ms. Stangrat took Mr. Skupien to the police.  Detective Karpow took his complaint.  He observed bruising to the left side of Skupien’s face, in the eye area.  He arranged for Mr. Skupien to give a videotaped statement.  Both Detective Karpow and Constable John Birrell were present.  The statement was not given under oath; however, Mr. Skupien was asked if he understood that it was very important that he tell the truth and that if he did not tell the truth “[he] could be charged with that”.  Mr. Skupien answered “Yes” to both questions.  After a few other preliminary questions, he was asked what his complaint was.  Mr. Skupien described how, on May 7, 1999, Tony came to his room and said:  “enough is enough”.  He then began beating him by slapping and punching him in the face, the ribs and all over, telling him not to go into the kitchen.  He said that if he did not leave, he would come by 12 o’clock the next day and shoot him.  Mr. Skupien then went on at some length to make several complaints about the general management of the retirement home until Detective Karpow brought him back to the matter at hand by asking him further questions about the incident and the events that followed.  Mr. Skupien was generally responsive to the officer’s questions.

 

17                               After the interview was completed, Mr. Khelawon was arrested.

 

2.4       Further Investigation

 

18                               Ms. Stangrat gave the police a list of other people that she thought they should speak to at the retirement home.  The next day, on May 14, 1999, several police officers attended the home to seek these people out.  Because there were no markings on the doors, the police had to search through the residence, speaking to residents and nursing staff.  When some of the people were located, they were found to be “unresponsive” and no meaningful interviews could be conducted with them.  Others, however, were able and willing to speak.  The police would identify themselves as police, then ask the residents how things were going at the home and if anything had happened to them that they wanted to talk about.  The police arranged to take videotaped statements from those who wanted to speak to them.  These included three of the other complainants, Mr. Dinino, Ms. Poliszak and Mr. Grocholska.  The fourth complainant, Mr. Peiszterer, could not communicate with the police; however, his son provided a videotaped statement.

 

2.5       Medical Records

 


19                               On May 15, 1999, Detective Karpow attended at the retirement home and met with Dr. Michalski, a physician who attended regularly at the home to see the residents. On May 18, 1999, the police returned to the home and seized the medical records and a journal containing nursing notes.

 

20                               Documentation from Mr. Skupien’s file revealed that he had been living in an apartment before suffering a stroke in February 1995.  He was transferred to the retirement home in April 1995.  A report dated April 13, 1995 noted his condition after the stroke.  He suffered occasional periods of confusion, could not go outside on his own, needed help with meal preparation and banking, and had to be reminded to take his medication, but was able to perform all self-care tasks.

 

21                               Dr. Michalski’s file noted frequent contact with Mr. Skupien during his stay at the retirement home.  From time to time, he was described as “depressed”, “aggressive”, “angry”, and “paranoid”.  A diagnosis of paranoid psychoses was made in June 1998 and medication was prescribed.  In July 1998, “some improvement in paranoia” was noted.  In August 1998, he was described as “angry, hostile” and his dosage was increased.  In August 1998, he was described as “confused”.  The possibility of dementia was first noted. In September 1998, he was diagnosed with “depression” and prescribed medication.  In September 1998, improvement with the depression was noted, and although apparently “eliminated” in January 1999, depression was again noted in February 1999.  The notes also reflect a number of complaints of fatigue, weakness and dizziness.

 

2.6       Expert Evidence on the Voir Dire

 


22                               Dr. Susan Lieff, a geriatric psychiatrist, was qualified to provide opinion evidence on the voir dire with respect to Mr. Skupien’s capacity to understand the importance of telling the truth and communicate evidence.  She also provided an opinion with respect to Mr. Dinino.  Her opinion was based solely on her review of the videotaped interviews and medical records.  With regard to Mr. Skupien, Dr. Lieff testified that the videotape did not reveal any impaired judgment, delusions or hallucinations, or intellectual pathology.  He seemed to comprehend what was asked and responded appropriately.  In Dr. Lieff’s view, Mr. Skupien’s affirmative answer “Yes”, when advised of the need to be truthful, reflected a clear understanding.  Dr. Lieff did not consult with Dr. Michalski but took issue with his diagnosis of “dementia”.  In her opinion, the symptoms observed by Dr. Michalski were more  likely side-effects of the anti-psychotic medication he was taking at the time.  Dr. Lieff concluded that Mr. Skupien understood that it was important to tell the truth and that he had the capacity to communicate evidence.

 

3.         Trial Judge’s Ruling on Admissibility

 


23                               As a preliminary issue, the trial judge ruled that the four complainants who had given videotaped statements were competent at the time within the meaning of s. 16  of the Canada Evidence Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-5 , which he interpreted as requiring that “witnesses must know the importance of telling the truth and must be able to communicate the evidence”.  In support of this finding, the trial judge relied on his own viewing of the videotapes and on Dr. Lieff’s opinion evidence.  (The mental capacity of the hearsay declarant is a relevant factor on an inquiry into the statement’s admissibility as it may impact on the reliability of the hearsay statement; however, it is important to note that s. 16  has no application here.  Section 16  sets out the threshold competency requirement for receiving the testimony of a witness in court.  The threshold is a low one and the witness’s testimony, if received, is then subject to cross‑examination in the usual way, including on any relevant matter concerning the witness’s mental state.  The inquiry into the admissibility of a hearsay statement may require more extensive probing into the declarant’s mental competency at the time of making the statement when there is no opportunity to cross-examine the declarant.)

 

24                               After determining the s. 16  issue, the trial judge considered the necessity criterion.  Although certain questions were raised at trial as to whether this criterion was met with respect to some of the complainants’ statements, none of the issues concerned Mr. Skupien and hence need not be reviewed here.

 

25                               Finally, the trial judge turned to the question of threshold reliability.  He determined that all videotaped statements to the police met the reliability requirement. In support of this finding, he noted that there was “nothing untoward in the police procedure in taking the statements” and, although three of the complainants’ statements were taken at the retirement home, rather than at the police station, he found that the “circumstances of taking the statements [were] as formal and solemn as could be expected in the situation”.  He noted that there was “no animosity directed at the accused” by the complainants in their statements other than voicing their complaint.  The complainants “appeared forthright”, they were “not evasive”, and they did not “attempt to overstate their injuries”.  There were no “exceedingly leading” questions and, to the extent that there was leading, it went to weight rather than admissibility.  All the statements were contemporaneous or made shortly after the events that they described.  They knew their assailant well and there was no realistic alternative suspect.  Further, both Mr. Skupien and Mr. Dinino had corroborating injuries.

 


26                               The crux of the trial judge’s ruling, however, appears to have been his application of the decision of this Court in U. (F.J.) in which the complainant’s out‑of‑court statement was admitted on the ground of its “striking similarity” with the accused’s statement concerning the same events.  Throughout his reasons, the trial judge made repeated references to the similarity between the statements and concluded that “the cumulative combination of similar points renders the overall similarity between the statements sufficiently distinctive to reject coincidence as a likely explanation”.  While he found that the oral statements were also “sufficiently similar to fit the principle in R. v. U. (F.J.)”, he held, citing para. 217 in Starr as authority, that “to admit them would be oath-helping in that I have the video statements”.

 

27                               In the trial judge’s view, the only real hearsay danger raised by the admission of the statements was the absence of cross-examination but, citing Smith  as authority, he concluded that reliable evidence should not be excluded for this reason alone.  The public interest in “the elderly receiving good care” allowed him “to take video statements together to bolster the complainants’ credibility”.  He therefore ruled the videotaped statements admissible and the oral statements inadmissible.

 

28                               At the conclusion of the trial, Grossi J. ultimately found only two of the videotaped statements sufficiently credible to found a conviction, those of Mr. Dinino and Mr. Skupien.  Since this appeal concerns the admissibility ruling only, it is not necessary to review the reasons for conviction.  It is common ground between the parties that if Mr. Skupien’s statements are inadmissible, the convictions must be set aside and the appeal dismissed.

 

4.         Court of Appeal for Ontario (2005), 195 O.A.C. 11


 

29                               Mr. Khelawon appealed his convictions on the ground that the trial judge erred in admitting the videotaped statements.  The Court of Appeal was unanimous in finding that Mr. Dinino’s statement was not sufficiently reliable to warrant admission. A majority of the court found that Mr. Skupien’s statement was also inadmissible due to its unreliability.

 

30                               All three justices interpreted the trial judge’s reasons as holding that without the similarity among the statements of the various complainants, none met the requirement of reliability and would therefore have been inadmissible (Rosenberg J.A., at para. 90; Blair J.A., at para. 29).  The court therefore focussed on this aspect of the evidence and, indeed, the source of the disagreement between the majority and the dissent was whether the similarity of the statements was a permissible consideration in assessing reliability under the principled approach.

 


31                               Rosenberg J.A., writing for the majority, held that the principle from U. (F.J.) could be applied only where the statements relate to the same event, and in most cases would be applied only where the declarant is available for cross‑examination (para. 114).  Here, the statements related to different incidents.  Although a trier of fact might conclude, using similar fact reasoning, that the same person committed all of the crimes, this is an issue going to ultimate reliability, not threshold reliability (para. 115).  Only the latter is relevant in determining admissibility.  In addition, Rosenberg J.A. held that the comparator statements must also be substantively admissible, because the final decision as to the likelihood of coincidence or collusion rests with the trier of fact (para. 128), and it would be odd for the trier of fact to be assessing ultimate reliability without access to “the very piece of evidence that convinced the trial judge that the statement was reliable” (para. 130).  Grossi J.’s decision, therefore, was an impermissible expansion of the principle in U. (F.J.).  Rosenberg J.A. also held, at para. 92, that such an expansion was inconsistent with the statement of Iacobucci J. in Starr, at para. 217, that “corroborating . . . evidence” should not be considered in determining threshold reliability.

 

32                               In dissent, Blair J.A. held that the central notion underpinning the U. (F.J.) “exception” was that absent collusion, prior knowledge, or improper influence, “striking similarities between statements belie coincidence and therefore bolster the reliability of the statement under consideration” (para. 44).  While he held that the absence of cross‑examination remained a factor to be weighed in assessing threshold reliability, he was of the view that its absence, in and of itself, was not an impediment to the principled application of the U. (F.J.) exception.  He also found that the exception could apply where the statements related to different events, stating that, for the purpose of finding threshold reliability, he could see no “logical difference” between statements concerning the same accused “doing the same thing on the same occasion” and “the same accused doing the same thing on different occasions” (para. 48), drawing on the rationale for similar-fact reasoning, since both involve admitting evidence on the basis of the “improbability of coincidence” (para. 49).  Finally, he found that a finding that the comparator statements are not substantively admissible should not exclude them from the reliability analysis, pointing out that otherwise reliable statements could be held inadmissible for a variety of reasons, including a finding that they were not necessary (para. 53).

 


33                               On the basis of these conclusions, Blair J.A. held that the trial judge had not erred in considering the similarity among the statements in determining their threshold reliability.  He then went on to apply “the U. (F.J.) exception” to the statements at issue on appeal, and held that although the videotaped statement of Mr. Dinino was inadmissible, the videotaped statement of Mr. Skupien was.

 

5.         Rule Against Hearsay

 

5.1       General Exclusionary Rule

 

34                               The basic rule of evidence is that all relevant evidence is admissible.  There are a number of exceptions to this basic rule.  One of the main exceptions is the rule against hearsay:  absent an exception, hearsay evidence is not admissible.  Hearsay evidence is not excluded because it is irrelevant — there is no need for a special rule to exclude irrelevant evidence.  Rather, as we shall see, it is the difficulty of testing hearsay evidence that underlies the exclusionary rule and, generally, the alleviation of this difficulty that forms the basis of the exceptions to the rule.  Although hearsay evidence includes communications expressed by conduct, I will generally refer to hearsay statements only.

 

5.2       Definition of Hearsay

 


35                               At the outset, it is important to determine what is and what is not hearsay.  The difficulties in defining hearsay encountered by courts and learned authors have been canvassed before and need not be repeated here:  see R. v. Abbey, [1982] 2 S.C.R. 24, at pp. 40-41, per Dickson J.  It is sufficient to note, as this Court did in Starr, at para. 159, that the more recent definitions of hearsay are focussed on the central concern underlying the hearsay rule:  the difficulty of testing the reliability of the declarant’s assertion.  See, for example, R. v. O’Brien, [1978] 1 S.C.R. 591, at pp. 593‑94.  Our adversary system puts a premium on the calling of witnesses, who testify under oath or solemn affirmation, whose demeanour can be observed by the trier of fact, and whose testimony can be tested by cross-examination.  We regard this process as the optimal way of testing testimonial evidence.  Because hearsay evidence comes in a different form, it raises particular concerns.  The general exclusionary rule is a recognition of the difficulty for a trier of fact to assess what weight, if any, is to be given to a statement made by a person who has not been seen or heard, and who has not been subject to the test of cross-examination.  The fear is that untested hearsay evidence may be afforded more weight than it deserves.  The essential defining features of hearsay are therefore the following:  (1) the fact that the statement is adduced to prove the truth of its contents and (2) the absence of a contemporaneous opportunity to cross-examine the declarant.  I will deal with each defining feature in turn.

 

5.2.1    Statements Adduced for Their Truth

 


36                               The purpose for which the out-of-court statement is tendered matters in defining what constitutes hearsay because it is only when the evidence is tendered to prove the truth of its contents that the need to test its reliability arises.  Consider the following example.  At an accused’s trial on a charge for impaired driving, a police officer testifies that he stopped the accused’s car because he received information from an unidentified caller that the car was driven by a person who had just left a local tavern in a “very drunk” condition.  If the statement about the inebriated condition of the driver is introduced for the sole purpose of establishing the police officer’s grounds for stopping the vehicle, it does not matter whether the unidentified caller’s statement was accurate, exaggerated, or even false.  Even if the statement is totally unfounded, that fact does not take away from the officer’s explanation of his actions.  If, on the other hand, the statement is tendered as proof that the accused was in fact impaired, the trier of fact’s inability to test the reliability of the statement raises real concerns. Hence, only in the latter circumstance is the evidence about the caller’s statement defined as hearsay and subject to the general exclusionary rule.

 

5.2.2    Absence of Contemporaneous Cross-Examination

 

37                               The previous example, namely where the witness tells the court what A told him, is the more obvious form of hearsay evidence.  A is not before the court to be seen, heard and cross-examined.  However, the traditional law of hearsay also extends to out-of-court statements made by the witness who does testify in court when that out-of-court statement is tendered to prove the truth of its contents.  This extended definition of hearsay has been adopted in Canada:  R. v. B. (K.G.), [1993] 1 S.C.R. 740, at pp. 763-64; Starr, at para. 158.  It is important to understand the rationale for treating a witness’s out-of-court statements as hearsay.

 

38                               When the witness repeats or adopts an earlier out-of-court statement, in court, under oath or solemn affirmation, of course no hearsay issue arises.  The statement itself is not evidence, the testimony is the evidence and it can be tested in the usual way by observing the witness and subjecting him or her to cross-examination.  The hearsay issue does arise, however, when the witness does not repeat or adopt the information contained in the out-of-court statement and the statement itself is tendered for the truth of its contents.  Consider the following example to illustrate the concerns raised by this evidence.

 


39                               In an out-of-court statement, W identifies the accused as her assailant.  At the trial of the accused on a charge of assault, W testifies that the accused is not her assailant.  The Crown seeks to tender the out-of-court statement as proof of the fact that the accused did assault W.  In these circumstances, the trier of fact is asked to accept the out-of-court statement over the sworn testimony of the witness.  Given the usual premium placed on the value of in-court testimonial evidence, a serious issue arises as to whether it is at all necessary to introduce the statement.  In addition, the reliability of that statement becomes crucial.  How trustworthy is it?  In what circumstances did W make that statement?  Was it made casually to friends at a social function, or rather, to the police as a formal complaint?  Was W aware of the potential consequences of making that statement, did she intend that it be acted upon?  Did she have a motive to lie?  In what condition was W at the time she made the statement? Many more questions can come to mind on matters that relate to the reliability of that out-of-court statement.  When the trier of fact is asked to consider the out-of-court statement as proof that the accused in fact assaulted W, assessing its reliability may prove to be difficult.

 

40                               Concerns over the reliability of the statement also arise where W does not recant the out-of-court statement but testifies that she has no memory of making the statement, or worse still, no memory of the assault itself.  The trier of fact does not see or hear the witness making the statement and, because there is no opportunity to cross‑examine the witness contemporaneously with the making of the statement, there may be limited opportunity for a meaningful testing of its truth.  In addition, an issue may arise as to whether the prior statement is fully and accurately reproduced. 

 


41                               Hence, although the underlying rationale for the general exclusionary rule may not be as obvious when the declarant is available to testify, it is the same — the difficulty of testing the reliability of the out-of-court statement.  The difficulty of assessing W’s out-of-court statement is the reason why it falls within the definition of hearsay and is subject to the general exclusionary rule.  As one may readily appreciate, however, the degree of difficulty may be substantially alleviated in cases where the declarant is available for cross-examination on the earlier statement, particularly where  an accurate record of the statement can be tendered in evidence.  I will come back to that point later.  My point here is simply to explain why, by definition, hearsay extends to out-of-court statements tendered for their truth even when the declarant is before the court.

 

5.3       Hearsay Exceptions:  A Principled Approach

 

42                               It has long been recognized that a rigid application of the exclusionary rule would result in the unwarranted loss of much valuable evidence.  The hearsay statement, because of the way in which it came about, may be inherently reliable, or there may be sufficient means of testing it despite its hearsay form.  Hence, a number of common law exceptions were gradually created.  A rigid application of these exceptions, in turn, proved problematic leading to the needless exclusion of evidence in some cases, or its unwarranted admission in others.  Wigmore urged greater flexibility in the application of the rule based on the two guiding principles that underlie the traditional common law exceptions:  necessity and reliability (Wigmore on Evidence (2nd ed. 1923), vol. III, _ 1420, at p. 153).  This Court first accepted this approach in Khan and later recognized its primacy in Starr.  The governing framework, based on Starr, was recently summarized in R. v. Mapara, [2005] 1 S.C.R. 358, 2005 SCC 23, at para. 15:

 

(a)   Hearsay evidence is presumptively inadmissible unless it falls under an exception to the hearsay rule. The traditional exceptions to the hearsay rule remain presumptively in place.

 


(b)   A hearsay exception can be challenged to determine whether it is supported by indicia of necessity and reliability, required by the principled approach. The exception can be modified as necessary to bring it into compliance.

 

(c)   In “rare cases”, evidence falling within an existing exception may be excluded because the indicia of necessity and reliability are lacking in the particular circumstances of the case.

 

(d)   If hearsay evidence does not fall under a hearsay exception, it may still be admitted if indicia of reliability and necessity are established on a voir dire.

 

43                               In this case, we are concerned with the admission of evidence under item (d).  In particular, the courts below were divided over two main questions:  (1) what factors must be considered in deciding whether the evidence is sufficiently reliable to be admitted; and (2) whether the “exception” recognized by this Court in U. (F.J.) can be extended to the facts of this case.  I will comment first on the second question.

 

44                               In my view, the discussion over whether the “U. (F.J.) exception” applies here exemplifies the concern expressed in U. (F.J.) itself, that the “new approach to hearsay does not itself become a rigid pigeon-holing analysis (para. 35).  In U. (F.J.), there was a similar debate over whether the B. (K.G.) exception to the rule against the substantive admission of prior inconsistent statements extended to circumstances where the reliability of the complainant’s statement was based, not so much on the circumstances in which it came about as was the case in B. (K.G.), but on its striking similarity to a statement made by the accused.  Lamer C.J. explained how his decision in B. (K.G.) was an application of the principled approach to hearsay, and how “[i]n addition . . . a threshold of reliability can sometimes be established, in cases where the witness is available for cross-examination, by a striking similarity between two statements” (para. 40).  He concluded his analysis by anticipating that yet other situations may arise.  He stated the following (at para. 45):


 

I anticipate that instances of statements so strikingly similar as to bolster their reliability will be rare.  In keeping with our principled and flexible approach to hearsay, other situations may arise where prior inconsistent statements will be judged substantively admissible, bearing in mind that cross-examination alone provides significant indications of reliability.  It is not necessary in this case to decide if cross-examination alone provides an adequate assurance of threshold reliability to allow substantive admission of prior inconsistent statements.

 

45                               As I will discuss later, both B. (K.G.) and U. (F.J.) highlight the particular concerns raised in cases of prior inconsistent statements.  However, following Lamer C.J.’s own words of caution against “rigid pigeon-holing analysis”, it is my view that neither B. (K.G.) nor U. (F.J.) should be interpreted as creating categorical exceptions to the rule against hearsay based on fixed criteria.  The majority judgment in B. (K.G.) itself leaves room for appropriate substitutes for the criteria it sets out.  Further, to interpret these cases as creating new categories of exceptions would not be in keeping with the flexible case-by-case principled approach.  We would simply be replacing the traditional set of exceptions with a new and (for the time being) less ossified one. Rather, these cases provide guidance — not fixed categories — on the application of the principled case-by-case approach by identifying the relevant concerns and the factors to be considered in determining admissibility.

 


46                               I will review B. (K.G.) and U. (F.J.) in this light as well as some other relevant decisions from this Court.  Since the issues raised on this appeal relate to the assessment of reliability, my analysis will be focussed on that criterion.  However, as I will explain, necessity and reliability should not be considered in isolation.  One criterion may impact on the other.  For example, as we shall see, in some cases the need for the evidence may, in large part, be based on the fact that the hearsay statement is highly reliable and the fact-finding process would be distorted without it.  However, before I discuss the factors relating to reliability, I want to say a word on the overarching principle of trial fairness.

 

5.4       Constitutional Dimension:  Trial Fairness

 

47                               Prior to admitting hearsay statements under the principled exception to the hearsay rule, the trial judge must determine on a voir dire that necessity and reliability  have been established.  The onus is on the person who seeks to adduce the evidence to establish these criteria on a balance of probabilities.  In a criminal context, the inquiry may take on a constitutional dimension, because difficulties in testing the evidence, or conversely the inability to present reliable evidence, may impact on an accused’s ability to make full answer and defence, a right protected by s. 7  of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms : Dersch v. Canada (Attorney General), [1990] 2 S.C.R. 1505.  The right to make full answer and defence in turn is linked to another principle of fundamental justice, the right to a fair trial:  R. v. Rose, [1998] 3 S.C.R. 262.  The concern over trial fairness is one of the paramount reasons for rationalizing  the traditional hearsay exceptions in accordance with the principled approach.  As stated by Iacobucci J. in Starr, at para. 200, in respect of Crown evidence:  “It would compromise trial fairness, and raise the spectre of wrongful convictions, if the Crown is allowed to introduce unreliable hearsay against the accused, regardless of whether it happens to fall within an existing exception.”

 


48                               As indicated earlier, our adversary system is based on the assumption that sources of untrustworthiness or inaccuracy can best be brought to light under the test of cross-examination.  It is mainly because of the inability to put hearsay evidence to that test, that it is presumptively inadmissible.  However, the constitutional right guaranteed under s. 7  of the Charter  is not the right to confront or cross-examine adverse witnesses in itself.  The adversarial trial process, which includes cross‑examination, is but the means to achieve the end.  Trial fairness, as a principle of fundamental justice, is the end that must be achieved.  Trial fairness embraces more than the rights of the accused.  While it undoubtedly includes the right to make full answer and defence, the fairness of the trial must also be assessed in the light of broader societal concerns:  see R. v. Mills, [1999] 3 S.C.R. 668, at paras. 69-76.  In the context of an admissibility inquiry, society’s interest in having the trial process arrive at the truth is one such concern.

 


49                               The broader spectrum of interests encompassed in trial fairness is reflected in the twin principles of necessity and reliability.  The criterion of necessity is founded on society’s interest in getting at the truth.  Because it is not always possible to meet the optimal test of contemporaneous cross-examination, rather than simply losing the value of the evidence, it becomes necessary in the interests of justice to consider whether it should nonetheless be admitted in its hearsay form.  The criterion of reliability is about ensuring the integrity of the trial process.  The evidence, although needed, is not admissible unless it is sufficiently reliable to overcome the dangers arising from the difficulty of testing it.  As we shall see, the reliability requirement will generally be met on the basis of two different grounds, neither of which excludes consideration of the other.  In some cases, because of the circumstances in which it came about, the contents of the hearsay statement may be so reliable that contemporaneous cross-examination of the declarant would add little if anything to the process.  In other cases, the evidence may not be so cogent but the circumstances will allow for sufficient testing of evidence by means other than contemporaneous cross‑examination.  In these circumstances, the admission of the evidence will rarely undermine trial fairness.  However, because trial fairness may encompass factors beyond the strict inquiry into necessity and reliability, even if the two criteria are met, the trial judge has the discretion to exclude hearsay evidence where its probative value is outweighed by its prejudicial effect.

 

6.         The Admissibility Inquiry

 

6.1       Distinction Between Threshold and Ultimate Reliability: A Source of Confusion

 

50                               As stated earlier, the trial judge only decides whether hearsay evidence is admissible.  Whether the hearsay statement will or will not be ultimately relied upon in deciding the issues in the case is a matter for the trier of fact to determine at the conclusion of the trial based on a consideration of the statement in the context of the entirety of the evidence.  It is important that the trier of fact’s domain not be encroached upon at the admissibility stage.  If the trial is before a judge and jury, it is crucial that questions of ultimate reliability be left for the jury — in a criminal trial, it is constitutionally imperative.  If the judge sits without a jury, it is equally important that he or she not prejudge the ultimate reliability of the evidence before having heard all of the evidence in the case. Hence, a distinction must be made between “ultimate reliability” and “threshold reliability”.  Only the latter is inquired into on the admissibility voir dire.

 

51                               The distinction between threshold and ultimate reliability has been made in a number of cases (see, for example, B. (K.G.) and R. v. Hawkins, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 1043), but we are mainly concerned here with the elaboration of this principle in Starr.  In particular, the following excerpt from the Court’s analysis has been the subject of much of the discussion and commentary (at paras. 215 and 217):

 


In this connection, it is important when examining the reliability of a statement under the principled approach to distinguish between threshold and ultimate reliability.  Only the former is relevant to admissibility:  see Hawkins, supra, at p. 1084.  Again, it is not appropriate in the circumstances of this appeal to provide an exhaustive catalogue of the factors that may influence threshold reliability.  However, our jurisprudence does provide some guidance on this subject.  Threshold reliability is concerned not with whether the statement is true or not; that is a question of ultimate reliability.  Instead, it is concerned with whether or not the circumstances surrounding the statement itself provide circumstantial guarantees of trustworthiness.  This could be because the declarant had no motive to lie (see Khan, supra; Smith, supra), or because there were safeguards in place such that a lie could be discovered (see Hawkins, supra; U. (F.J.), supra; B. (K.G.), supra).

 

                                                                   . . .

 

At the stage of hearsay admissibility the trial judge should not consider the declarant’s general reputation for truthfulness, nor any prior or subsequent statements, consistent or not.  These factors do not concern the circumstances of the statement itself.  Similarly, I would not consider the presence of corroborating or conflicting evidence.  On this point, I agree with the Ontario Court of Appeal’s decision in R. v. C. (B.) (1993), 12 O.R. (3d) 608; see also Idaho v. Wright, 497 U.S. 805 (1990).  In summary, under the principled approach a court must not invade the province of the trier of fact and condition admissibility of hearsay on whether the evidence is ultimately reliable.  However, it will need to examine whether the circumstances in which the statement was made lend sufficient credibility to allow a finding of threshold reliability. [Underlining added.]

 

52                               The Court’s statement that “[t]hreshold reliability is concerned not with whether the statement is true or not” has created some uncertainty.  While it is clear that the trial judge does not determine whether the statement will ultimately be relied upon as true, it is not so clear that in every case threshold reliability is not concerned with whether the statement is true or not.  Indeed, in U. (F.J.), the rationale for admitting the complainant’s hearsay statement was based on the fact that “the only likely explanation” for its striking similarity with the independent statement of the accused was that “they were both telling the truth” (para. 40).

 


53                               Further, it is not easy to discern what is or is not a circumstance “surrounding the statement itself”.  For example, in Smith, the fact that the deceased may have had a motive to lie was considered by the Court in determining threshold admissibility.  As both Rosenberg J.A. and Blair J.A. point out in their respective reasons, “in determining whether the declarant had a motive to lie, the judge will necessarily be driven to consider factors outside the statement itself or the immediately surrounding circumstances” (para. 97).

 

54                               Much of the confusion in this area of the law has arisen from this attempt to categorically label some factors as going only to ultimate reliability.  The bar against considering “corroborating or conflicting evidence”, because it is only relevant to the question of ultimate reliability, is a further example.  Quite clearly, the corroborative nature of the semen stain in Khan played an important part in establishing the threshold reliability of the child’s hearsay statement in that case.

 

55                               This part of the analysis in Starr therefore requires clarification and, in some respects, reconsideration.  I will explain how the relevant factors to be considered on an admissibility inquiry cannot invariably be categorized as relating either to threshold or ultimate reliability.  Rather, the relevance of any particular factor will depend on the particular dangers arising from the hearsay nature of the statement and the available means, if any, of overcoming them.  I will then return to the impugned passage in Starr, dealing more specifically with the question of supporting evidence since that reference appears to have raised the most controversy. 

 

6.2       Identifying the Relevant Factors:  A Functional Approach

 

6.2.1    Recognizing Hearsay

 


56                               The first matter to determine before embarking on a hearsay admissibility inquiry, of course, is whether the proposed evidence is hearsay.  This may seem to be a rather obvious matter, but it is an important first step.  Misguided objections to the admissibility of an out-of-court statement based on a misunderstanding of what constitutes hearsay are not uncommon.  As discussed earlier, not all out-of-court statements will constitute hearsay.  Recall the defining features of hearsay.  An out‑of‑court statement will be hearsay when:  (1) it is adduced to prove the truth of its contents and (2) there is no opportunity for a contemporaneous cross‑examination of the declarant.

 

57                               Putting one’s mind to the defining features of hearsay at the outset serves to better focus the admissibility inquiry.  As we have seen, the first identifying feature of hearsay calls for an inquiry into the purpose for which it is adduced.  Only when the evidence is being tendered for its truth will it constitute hearsay.  The fact that the out‑of-court statement is adduced for its truth should be considered in the context of the issues in the case so that the court may better assess the potential impact of introducing the evidence in its hearsay form.

 

58                               Second, by putting one’s mind, at the outset, to the second defining feature of hearsay — the absence of an opportunity for contemporaneous cross-examination of the declarant, the admissibility inquiry is immediately focussed on the dangers of admitting hearsay evidence.  Iacobucci J. in Starr identified the inability to test the evidence as the “central concern” underlying the hearsay rule.  Lamer C.J. in U. (F.J.) expressed the same view but put it more directly by stating:  “Hearsay is inadmissible as evidence because its reliability cannot be tested” (para. 22).

 


6.2.2    Presumptive Inadmissibility of Hearsay Evidence

 

 

59                               Once the proposed evidence is identified as hearsay, it is presumptively inadmissible.  I stress the nature of the hearsay rule as a general exclusionary rule because the increased flexibility introduced in the Canadian law of evidence in the past few decades has sometimes tended to blur the distinction between admissibility and weight.  Modifications have been made to a number of rules, including the rule against hearsay, to bring them up to date and to ensure that they facilitate rather than impede the goals of truth seeking, judicial efficiency and fairness in the adversarial process. However, the traditional rules of evidence reflect considerable wisdom and judicial experience.  The modern approach has built upon their underlying rationale, not discarded it.  In Starr itself, where this Court recognized the primacy of the principled approach to hearsay exceptions, the presumptive exclusion of hearsay evidence was reaffirmed in strong terms.  Iacobucci J. stated as follows (at para. 199):

 

By excluding evidence that might produce unfair verdicts, and by ensuring that litigants will generally have the opportunity to confront adverse witnesses, the hearsay rule serves as a cornerstone of a fair justice system.

 

6.2.3    Traditional Exceptions

 


60                               The Court in Starr also reaffirmed the continuing relevance of the traditional exceptions to the hearsay rule.  More recently, this Court in Mapara reiterated the continued application of the traditional exceptions in setting out the governing analytical framework, as noted in para. 42 above. Therefore, if the trial judge determines that the evidence falls within one of the traditional common law exceptions, this finding is conclusive and the evidence is ruled admissible, unless, in a rare case, the exception itself is challenged as described in both those decisions.   

 

6.2.4    Principled Approach: Overcoming the Hearsay Dangers

 

61                               Since the central underlying concern is the inability to test hearsay evidence, it follows that under the principled approach the reliability requirement is aimed at identifying those cases where this difficulty is sufficiently overcome to justify receiving the evidence as an exception to the general exclusionary rule.  As some courts and commentators have expressly noted, the reliability requirement is usually met in two different ways:  see, for example, R. v. Wilcox (2001), 152 C.C.C. (3d) 157, 2001 NSCA 45; R. v. Czibulka (2004), 189 C.C.C. (3d) 199 (Ont. C.A.); D. M. Paciocco,  “The Hearsay Exceptions:  A Game of ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’”, in Special Lectures of the Law Society of Upper Canada 2003: The Law of Evidence (2004), 17, at p. 29.

 

62                               One way is to show that there is no real concern about whether the statement is true or not because of the circumstances in which it came about.  Common sense dictates that if we can put sufficient trust in the truth and accuracy of the statement, it should be considered by the fact finder regardless of its hearsay form.  Wigmore explained it this way:

 

There are many situations in which it can be easily seen that such a required test [i.e., cross-examination] would add little as a security, because its purposes had been already substantially accomplished.  If a statement has been made under such circumstances that even a sceptical caution would look upon it as trustworthy (in the ordinary instance), in a high degree of probability, it would be pedantic to insist on a test whose chief object is already secured. [_ 1420, p. 154]

 


63                               Another way of fulfilling the reliability requirement is to show that no real concern arises from the fact that the statement is presented in hearsay form because, in the circumstances, its truth and accuracy can nonetheless be sufficiently tested. Recall that the optimal way of testing evidence adopted by our adversarial system is to have the declarant state the evidence in court, under oath, and under the scrutiny of contemporaneous cross-examination.  This preferred method is not just a vestige of past traditions. It remains a tried and true method, particularly when credibility issues must be resolved.  It is one thing for a person to make a damaging statement about another in a context where it may not really matter. It is quite another for that person to repeat the statement in the course of formal proceedings where he or she must commit to its truth and accuracy, be observed and heard, and be called upon to explain or defend it.  The latter situation, in addition to providing an accurate record of what was actually said by the witness, gives us a much higher degree of comfort in the statement’s trustworthiness.  However, in some cases it is not possible to put the evidence to the optimal test, but the circumstances are such that the trier of fact will nonetheless be able to sufficiently test its truth and accuracy.  Again, common sense tells us that we should not lose the benefit of the evidence when there are adequate substitutes for testing the evidence.

 

64                               These two principal ways of satisfying the reliability requirement can also be discerned in respect of the traditional exceptions to the hearsay rule.  Iacobucci J.  notes this distinction in Starr, stating as follows:

 

For example, testimony in former proceedings is admitted, at least in part, because many of the traditional dangers associated with hearsay are not present.  As pointed out in Sopinka, Lederman and Bryant, supra, at pp. 278-79:

 


. . . a statement which was earlier made under oath, subjected to cross‑examination and admitted as testimony at a former proceeding is received in a subsequent trial because the dangers underlying hearsay evidence are absent.

 

Other exceptions are based not on negating traditional hearsay dangers, but on the fact that the statement provides circumstantial guarantees of reliability.  This approach is embodied in recognized exceptions such as dying declarations, spontaneous utterances, and statements against pecuniary interest.  [Emphasis added by Iacobucci J.; para. 212.]

 

65                               Some of the traditional exceptions stand on a different footing, such as admissions from parties (confessions in the criminal context) and co-conspirators’ statements:  see Mapara, at para. 21.  In those cases, concerns about reliability are based on considerations other than the party’s inability to test the accuracy of his or her own statement or that of his or her co-conspirators.  Hence, the criteria for admissibility are not established in the same way.  However, in cases where the exclusionary rule is based on the usual hearsay dangers, this distinction between the two principal ways of satisfying the reliability requirement, although not by any means one that creates mutually exclusive categories, may assist in identifying what factors need to be considered on the admissibility inquiry.

 


66                               Khan is an example where the reliability requirement was met because the circumstances in which the statement came about provided sufficient comfort in its truth and accuracy.  Similarly in Smith, the focus of the admissibility inquiry was also on those circumstances that tended to show that the statement was true.  On the other hand, the admissibility of the hearsay statement in B. (K.G.) and Hawkins was based on the presence of adequate substitutes for testing the evidence.  As we shall see, the availability of the declarant for cross-examination goes a long way to satisfying the requirement for adequate substitutes.  In U. (F.J.), the Court considered both those circumstances tending to show that the statement was true and the presence of adequate substitutes for testing the evidence.  U. (F.J.) underscores the heightened concern over reliability in the case of prior inconsistent statements where the trier of fact is invited to accept an out-of-court statement over the sworn testimony from the same declarant.  I will briefly review how the analysis of the Court in each of those cases was focussed on overcoming the particular hearsay dangers raised by the evidence.

 

6.2.4.1   R. v. Khan, [1990] 2 S.C.R. 531

 

67                               As stated earlier, Khan is an example where the reliability requirement was met because the circumstances in which the statement came about provided sufficient comfort in its truth and accuracy.  The facts are well known.  Khan involved a sexual assault on a very young child by her doctor.  The child was incompetent to testify.  The child’s statements to her mother about the incident were inadmissible under any of the traditional hearsay exceptions. However, the child’s statement had several characteristics that suggested the statement was true.  Those characteristics answered many of the concerns that one would expect would be inquired into in testing the evidence, had it been available for presentation in open court in the usual way.  McLachlin J., in the following oft-quoted statement, summarized them in this way:

 

I conclude that the mother’s statement in the case at bar should have been received.  It was necessary, the child’s viva voce evidence having been rejected.  It was also reliable.  The child had no motive to falsify her story, which emerged naturally and without prompting.  Moreover, the fact that she could not be expected to have knowledge of such sexual acts imbues her statement with its own peculiar stamp of reliability.  Finally, her statement was corroborated by real evidence.  [p. 548]

 


The facts also revealed that the statement was made almost immediately after the event. That feature removed any concern about inaccurate memory.  The fact that the child had no reason to lie alleviated the concern about sincerity.  Because the statement was made naturally and without prompting, there was no real danger that it came about because of the mother’s influence.  Most importantly, as stated in the above excerpt, the event described was one that would ordinarily be outside the experience of a child of her age giving it a “peculiar stamp of reliability”.  Finally, the statement was confirmed by a semen stain on the child’s clothing.  These characteristics each went to the truth and accuracy of the statement and, taken together, amply justified its admission. The criterion of reliability was met.  There is nothing controversial about the factors considered in Khan, except for the supportive evidence of the semen stain. I will come back to that point later.

 

6.2.4.2   R. v. Smith, [1992] 2 S.C.R. 915

 

68                               In Smith, this Court’s inquiry into the circumstantial guarantees of reliability was also focussed on those circumstances that tended to show that the statement was true.

 

69                               Smith was charged with the murder of K.  The Crown’s evidence included the testimony of K’s mother about four telephone calls K made to her on the night of the murder.  Defence counsel did not object to this evidence.  Smith was convicted at trial.  The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and ordered a new trial on the ground that the phone calls were hearsay, and only the first two were admissible for the purpose of establishing K’s state of mind. In refusing to apply the curative proviso, the Court of Appeal found that the hearsay had been used to place Smith with K at the time of her death, thereby “buttressing certain identification evidence of questionable reliability” (pp. 922-23).  The Crown appealed to this Court.

 


70                               After ruling that the state of mind, or “present intentions” exception did not apply to the phone calls, Lamer C.J. went on to elaborate on and then apply the approach outlined in Khan.  After quoting extensively from Wigmore on the underlying rationale for the hearsay rule and its exceptions, he elaborated on the reliability prong of the principled analysis and stated as follows (at p. 933):

 

If a statement sought to be adduced by way of hearsay evidence is made under circumstances which substantially negate the possibility that the declarant was untruthful or mistaken, the hearsay evidence may be said to be “reliable”, i.e., a circumstantial guarantee of trustworthiness is established.  [Emphasis added.]

 

71                               In determining whether the phone calls were reliable, Lamer C.J. held that the first two were, but the third was not (the fourth was not in issue on appeal to this Court).  With respect to the first two, there was no reason to doubt K’s veracity — “[s]he had no known reason to lie” — and the traditional dangers associated with hearsay — perception, memory and credibility — “were not present to any significant degree” (p. 935).  As we can see, the Court looked at factors that would likely have been inquired into during the course of cross-examination if the declarant had been available to testify and found that these usual concerns were largely alleviated because of the way in which the statements came about.  Hence, the Court concluded that the absence of the ability to cross-examine K should go to the weight given to this evidence, not its admissibility.

 


72                               With respect to the third phone call, however, Lamer C.J. held that “the conditions under which the statement was made do not . . . provide that circumstantial guarantee of trustworthiness that would justify its admission without the possibility of cross‑examination” (p. 935).  First, he held that she may have been mistaken about Smith returning to the hotel, or about his purpose in returning (p. 936).  Second, he held that she might have lied to prevent her mother from sending another man to pick her up.  With respect to this second possibility, Lamer C.J. held that the fact that K had been travelling under an assumed name with a credit card which she knew was either stolen or forged demonstrated that she was “at least capable of deceit” (p. 936).  Again, the Court looked at factors that would likely have been inquired into during the course of cross‑examination if the declarant had been available to testify and concluded that these “hypotheses” showed that the circumstances of the statement were not such as to “justify the admission of its contents” since it was impossible to say that the evidence was unlikely to change under cross-examination (p. 937).  It is important to note that the Court did not go on to determine whether, on its view of the evidence, the declarant was mistaken or whether she had lied — those would be matters for the ultimate trier of fact to decide.  On the admissibility inquiry, it sufficed that the circumstances in which the statement was made gave rise to these issues to bar its admission.

 

6.2.4.3   R. v. B. (K.G.), [1993] 1 S.C.R. 740

 

73                               B. (K.G.) provides an example where threshold reliability was essentially based on the presence of adequate substitutes for the traditional safeguards relied upon to test the evidence.

 


74                               The issue in B. (K.G.) was the substantive admissibility of prior inconsistent statements made by three of B’s friends, in which they told the police that B was responsible for stabbing and killing the victim in the course of a fight.  The three recanted their statements at trial.  (They subsequently plead guilty to perjury.)  The Crown sought to admit the prior statements to police for the truth of their contents. Although the trial judge had no doubt the recantations were false, he followed the traditional common law (“orthodox”) rule that the statements could be used only to impeach the witnesses.  In light of the doubtfulness of the other identification evidence, the trial judge acquitted B.

 

75                               The issue before this Court was whether the orthodox rule in respect of prior inconsistent statements should be maintained.  In reviewing its history, Lamer C.J. noted that, although the prohibition on hearsay was not always recognized as the basis for the rule, similar “dangers” were cited as reasons against admission, namely absence of an oath or affirmation, inability of the trier of fact to assess demeanour, and lack of contemporaneous cross-examination (pp. 763-64).  After reviewing the academic criticism, the views of law reform commissioners, legislative changes in Canada and elsewhere, and developments in the law of hearsay, Lamer C.J. concluded that it was the province and duty of the Court to formulate a new rule (p. 777).  He held that “evidence of prior inconsistent statements of a witness other than an accused should be substantively admissible on a principled basis, following this Court’s decisions in Khan and Smith” with the requirements of reliability and necessity “adapted and refined in this particular context, given the particular problems raised by the nature of such statements” (p. 783).

 


76                               The most important contextual factor in B. (K.G.) is the availability of the declarant.  Unlike the situation in Khan or Smith, the trier of fact is in a much better position to assess the reliability of the evidence because the declarant is available to be cross-examined on his or her prior inconsistent statement.  The admissibility inquiry into threshold reliability, therefore, is not so focussed on the question whether there is reason to believe the statement is true, as it is on the question whether the trier of fact will be in a position to rationally evaluate the evidence.  The search is for adequate substitutes for the process that would have been available had the evidence been presented in the usual way, namely through the witness, under oath or affirmation, and subject to the scrutiny of contemporaneous cross-examination.

 

77                               Since the declarant testifies in court, under oath or affirmation, and is available for cross-examination, the question becomes why there is any remaining concern over the reliability of the prior statement.  As I have indicated earlier, necessity and reliability should not be considered in isolation.  One criterion may have an impact on the other.  The situation in B. (K.G.) is one example.  As noted by Lamer C.J., “[p]rior inconsistent statements present vexing problems for the necessity criterion” (p. 796).  Indeed, the declarant is available as a witness.  Why should not the usual rule apply and the recanting witness’s sworn testimony alone go to the truth of the matter?  After all, is that not the optimal test on reliability — that the witness come forth to be seen and heard, swear or affirm to tell the truth in the formal context of court proceedings, and be subjected to cross-examination?  If a witness recants a prior statement and denies its truth, the default position is to conclude that the trial process has worked as intended — untruthful or inaccurate information will have been weeded out.  There must be good reason to present the prior inconsistent statement as substantive proof over the sworn testimony given in court.

 


78                               As we know, the Court ultimately ruled in B. (K.G.), and the principle is now well established, that necessity is not to be equated with the unavailability of the witness.  The necessity criterion is given a flexible definition.  In some cases, such as in B. (K.G.) where a witness recants an earlier statement, necessity is based on the unavailability of the testimony, not the witness.  Notwithstanding the fact that the necessity criterion can be met on varied bases, the context giving rise to the need for the evidence in its hearsay form may well impact on the degree of reliability required to justify its admission.  As stated by Lamer C.J. in B. (K.G.), where the hearsay evidence is a prior inconsistent statement, reliability is a “key concern” (at pp. 786-87):

 

The reliability concern is sharpened in the case of prior inconsistent statements because the trier of fact is asked to choose between two statements from the same witness, as opposed to other forms of hearsay in which only one account from the declarant is tendered.  In other words, the focus of the inquiry in the case of prior inconsistent statements is on the comparative reliability of the prior statement and the testimony offered at trial, and so additional indicia and guarantees of reliability to those outlined in Khan and Smith must be secured in order to bring the prior statement to a comparable standard of reliability before such statements are admitted as substantive evidence.

 

79                               Lamer C.J. went on to describe the general attributes of in-court testimony that provide the usual safeguards for reliability.  He reviewed at some length the compelling reasons to prefer statements made under oath or affirmation, the value of seeing and hearing the witness in assessing credibility, the importance of having an accurate record of what was actually said, and the value of contemporaneous cross‑examination.  In considering what would constitute an adequate substitute in respect of the prior inconsistent statement, he concluded  (at pp. 795-96) that there will be “sufficient circumstantial guarantees of reliability” to render such statements substantively admissible where

 

(i) the statement is made under oath or solemn affirmation following a warning as to the existence of sanctions and the significance of the oath or affirmation, (ii) the statement is videotaped in its entirety, and (iii) the opposing party . . . has a full opportunity to cross‑examine the witness respecting the statement . . . . Alternatively, other circumstantial guarantees of reliability may suffice to render such statements substantively admissible, provided that the judge is satisfied that the circumstances provide adequate assurances of reliability in place of those which the hearsay rule traditionally requires.

 


80                               To say that a statement is sufficiently reliable because it is made under oath, in person, and the maker is cross-examined is somewhat of a misnomer.  A lot of courtroom testimony proves to be totally unreliable.  However, therein lies the safeguard — in the process that has uncovered its untrustworthiness.  Hence, the presence of adequate substitutes for that process establishes a threshold of reliability and makes it safe to admit the evidence.

 

81                               Lamer C.J. also added an important proviso, to which I will return later, on the trial judge’s discretion to refuse to allow the jury to make substantive use of the statement, even where the criteria outlined above are satisfied when there is any concern that the statement may be the product of some form of investigatory misconduct (pp. 801-2).  Here, although the statements were videotaped, and the witnesses were cross-examined, the statements were not made under oath.  Whether there was a sufficient substitute to warrant substantive admission was sent back to be determined by the trial judge (p. 805).  The appeal was allowed and a new trial ordered.  Cory J. (L’Heureux-Dubé J. concurring) agreed with the result but for different reasons that, for the purpose of our analysis, need not be reviewed here.

 

6.2.4.4   R. v. U. (F.J.), [1995] 3 S.C.R. 764

 


82                               U. (F.J.) brought back to the Court the issue of admissibility of prior inconsistent statements.  In an interview with police, the complainant, J.U., told the interviewing officer that the accused, her father, was having sex with her “almost every day” (para. 4).  She gave considerable details about the sexual activity and also described two physical assaults.  The interviewing police officer later testified that he had attempted to tape the interview, but that the tape recorder had malfunctioned.  He subsequently prepared a summary, based partly on notes and partly on his memory.

 

83                               Immediately after interviewing J.U., the same officer interviewed the accused.  Again, the interview was not taped.  The accused admitted to having sex with J.U. “many times”, describing similar sexual acts and the two physical assaults that J.U. had described (para. 5).  At trial, J.U. recanted the allegations of sexual abuse.  She claimed to have lied at the behest of her grandmother.  The accused denied having told police that he had engaged in sexual activity with J.U.

 

84                               The focus of the discussion before this Court was whether the “rule” in B. (K.G.) applied to this case.  Although the criteria in B. (K.G.) were based on the principled approach in Khan and Smith, it was not clear whether B. (K.G.) established a distinct “rule” for admitting prior inconsistent statements.  Lamer C.J. sought to clarify the relationship between these cases, stating as follows (at para. 35):

 

Khan and Smith establish that hearsay evidence will be substantively admissible when it is necessary and sufficiently reliable.  Those cases also state that both necessity and reliability must be interpreted flexibly, taking account of the circumstances of the case and ensuring that our new approach to hearsay does not itself become a rigid pigeon-holing analysis. My decision in B. (K.G.) is an application of those principles to a particular branch of the hearsay rule, the rule against the substantive admission of prior inconsistent statements.  The primary distinction between B. (K.G.), on the one hand, and Khan and Smith, on the other, is that in B. (K.G.) the declarant is available for cross-examination.  This fact alone goes part of the way to ensuring that the reliability criterion for admissibility is met.  The case at bar differs from B. (K.G.) only in terms of available indicia of reliability.  Necessity is met here in the same way it was met in B. (K.G.):  the prior statement is necessary because evidence of the same quality cannot be obtained at trial.  For that reason, assessing the reliability of the prior inconsistent statement at issue here is determinative.

 


85                               Lamer C.J. went on to determine how the indicia of reliability could be founded on different criteria than those set out in B. (K.G.).  The complainant’s statement to the police was not made under oath.  Nor was it videotaped.  Most importantly, however, the declarant was available for cross-examination, thereby significantly alleviating the usual dangers arising from the introduction of hearsay evidence.  Yet, the same concerns about the reliability of the prior inconsistent statement arose in this case.  The complainant had recanted her earlier allegations.  In the usual course of the trial process, this should be the end of the matter.  Consider, for example, if the complainant had made the earlier allegations about being sexually assaulted by her father to some girlfriends in the context of playing a game of “Truth or Dare” where each player was being encouraged to outdo the previous one by saying or doing something outrageous. It would be difficult to find justification for introducing her casual statement as substantive proof over her sworn testimony that the events never happened.  Hence, the focus must turn on the reliability of the prior inconsistent statement.

 

86                               In B. (K.G.), the Court held that a prior inconsistent statement is sufficiently reliable for substantive admission if it is made in circumstances comparable to the giving of in-court testimony.  In U. (F.J.), the reliability requirement was met rather by showing that there was no real concern about whether the complainant was speaking the truth in her statement to the police.  The striking similarities between her statement and the independent statement made by her father were so compelling that the only likely explanation was that they were both telling the truth.  Again here, the criteria of necessity and reliability intersect.  In the interest of seeking the truth, the very high reliability of the statement rendered its substantive admission necessary.

 

87                               Again here, Lamer C.J. added the following proviso (at para. 49):


 

I would also highlight here the proviso I specified in B. (K.G.) that the trial judge must be satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the statement was not the product of coercion of any form, whether involving threats, promises, excessively leading questions by the investigator or other person in a position of authority, or other forms of investigatory misconduct.

 

6.2.4.5   R. v. Hawkins, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 1043

 

88                               This Court’s decision in Hawkins was concerned mainly with the issue of spousal incompetency.  However, it is also instructive on the application of the principled approach to the hearsay rule.  My remarks here are confined to the latter aspect of the case.  It exemplifies how, in some circumstances, the reliability requirement may be established solely by the presence of adequate substitutes for the safeguards traditionally relied upon to test trial testimony.  As we shall see, again here, the opportunity to cross-examine the declarant was a crucial factor.  Because there were sufficient indicia of reliability so as to afford the trier of fact a satisfactory basis for evaluating the truth of the statement, the Court concluded that the trial judge erred in excluding the statement based on its perceived lack of probative value.

 


89                               Hawkins, a police officer, was charged with obstructing justice and corruptly accepting money.  His then girlfriend, G, testified at his preliminary inquiry.  After testifying the first time, G brought an application to testify again and recanted much of what she had said, with explanations.  By the time of the trial, Hawkins and G were married and therefore G was incompetent to testify under s. 4  of the Canada Evidence Act .  After ruling that the common law rule of spousal incompetency applied, and that G’s testimony at the preliminary inquiry could not be read in at trial under s. 715  of the Criminal Code , the trial judge held that the evidence was not admissible under the principled approach because it was not sufficiently reliable.  Hawkins was acquitted.  The verdict was overturned by majority decision of the Court of Appeal for Ontario. On further appeal to this Court, the appeal was dismissed but for different reasons.  This Court refused to modify the common law rule of spousal incompetency as it was invited to do.  The Court agreed with the trial judge that the common law rule applied, and the testimony could not be read in under s. 715 .  However, a majority of the Court held that the preliminary inquiry testimony could be read in at trial under the principled approach to the admission of hearsay.  The three dissenting judges held that this violated the policy underlying s. 4  and should not be permitted.

 

90                               After determining that the necessity criterion was met, Lamer C.J. and Iacobucci J. (Gonthier and Cory JJ. concurring) addressed reliability.  In the circumstances of this case, it could hardly be said that the complainant’s testimony was inherently trustworthy.  She had given contradictory versions, all under oath.  Rather,  the Court looked for the presence of a satisfactory basis for evaluating the truth of the statement, stating as follows, at para. 75:

 

The criterion of reliability is concerned with threshold reliability, not ultimate reliability. The function of the trial judge is limited to determining whether the particular hearsay statement exhibits sufficient indicia of reliability so as to afford the trier of fact a satisfactory basis for evaluating the truth of the statement.  More specifically, the judge must identify the specific hearsay dangers raised by the statement, and then determine whether the facts surrounding the utterance of the statement offer sufficient circumstantial guarantees of trustworthiness to compensate for those dangers. The ultimate reliability of the statement, and the weight to be attached to it, remain determinations for the trier of fact.  [Emphasis added.]

 


91                               The Court held that, generally, a witness’s testimony before a preliminary inquiry will satisfy the test for threshold reliability, since the fact that it was given under oath and subject to contemporaneous cross-examination in a hearing involving the same parties and mainly the same issues will provide sufficient guarantees of its trustworthiness (para. 76).  In addition, the accuracy of the statement is certified by a written transcript which is signed by the judge, and the party against whom the hearsay evidence is tendered has the power to call the declarant as a witness.  The inability of the trier of fact to observe demeanour was found to be “more than compensated by the circumstantial guarantees of trustworthiness inherent in the adversarial, adjudicative process of a preliminary inquiry” (para. 77).  The fact that the early common law was prepared to admit former testimony under certain circumstances indicated an implicit acceptance of its reliability notwithstanding the lack of the declarant’s presence (para. 78).  Therefore, Lamer C.J. and Iacobucci J. concluded (at para. 79):

 

For these reasons, we find that a witness’s recorded testimony before a preliminary inquiry bears sufficient hallmarks of trustworthiness to permit the trier of fact to make substantive use of such statements at trial.  The surrounding circumstances of such testimony, particularly the presence of an oath or affirmation and the opportunity for contemporaneous cross‑examination, more than adequately compensate for the trier of fact’s inability to observe the demeanour of the witness in court.  The absence of the witness at trial goes to the weight of such testimony, not to its admissibility.

 

Applying this reasoning to the statement at issue, it was found to be reliable (para. 80).

 


92                               Lamer C.J. and Iacobucci J. added that the trial judge had erred in considering the internal contradictions contained in the testimony because these considerations properly related to the ultimate assessment of the actual probative value of the testimony, a matter for the trier of fact.  Although some of the analysis on this last point is couched in terms of categorizing factors as relevant to either threshold or ultimate reliability, an approach which should no longer be adopted, the Court’s conclusion on this point exemplifies where the line should be drawn on an inquiry into threshold reliability.  When the reliability requirement is met on the basis that the trier of fact has a sufficient basis to assess the statement’s truth and accuracy, there is no need to inquire further into the likely truth of the statement.  That question becomes one that is entirely left to the ultimate trier of fact and the trial judge is exceeding his or her role by inquiring into the likely truth of the statement.  When reliability is dependent on the inherent trustworthiness of the statement, the trial judge must inquire into those factors tending to show that the statement is true or not — recall U. (F.J.).

 

6.3       Revisiting Paragraphes 215 and 217 in Starr

 

93                               As I trust it has become apparent from the preceding discussion, whether certain factors will go only to ultimate reliability will depend on the context.  Hence, some of the comments at paras. 215 and 217 in Starr should no longer be followed.  Relevant factors should not be categorized in terms of threshold and ultimate reliability.  Rather, the court should adopt a more functional approach as discussed above and focus on the particular dangers raised by the hearsay evidence sought to be introduced and on those attributes or circumstances relied upon by the proponent to overcome those dangers.  In addition, the trial judge must remain mindful of the limited role that he or she plays in determining admissibility — it is crucial to the integrity of the fact-finding process that the question of ultimate reliability not be pre-determined on the admissibility voir dire.

 

94                               I want to say a few words on one factor identified in Starr, namely “the presence of corroborating or conflicting evidence” since it is that comment that appears to have raised the most controversy.  I repeat it here for convenience:

 


Similarly, I would not consider the presence of corroborating or conflicting evidence.  On this point, I agree with the Ontario Court of Appeal’s decision in R. v. C. (B.) (1993), 12 O.R. (3d) 608; see also Idaho v. Wright, 497 U.S. 805 (1990). [para. 217]

 

95                               I will briefly review the two cases relied upon in support of this statement. The first does not really provide assistance on this question and the second, in my respectful view, should not be followed.

 

96                               In R. v. C. (B.) (1993), 12 O.R. (3d) 608 (C.A.), the trial judge, in convicting the accused, had used a co‑accused’s statement as evidence in support of the complainant’s testimony.  The Court of Appeal held that this constituted an error.  While a statement made by a co-accused was admissible for its truth against the co‑accused, it remained hearsay as against the accused.  The co-accused had recanted his statement at trial.  His statement was not shown to be reliable so as to be admitted as an exception to the hearsay rule against the accused.  Therefore, this case is of no assistance on the question of whether supporting evidence should be considered or not in determining hearsay admissibility.  It simply reaffirms the well-established rule that an accused’s statement is only admissible against its maker, not the co-accused.

 


97                               Idaho v. Wright, 497 U.S. 805 (1990), is more on point.  In that case, five of the nine justices of the United States Supreme Court were not persuaded that “evidence corroborating the truth of a hearsay statement may properly support a finding that the statement bears ‘particularized guarantees of trustworthiness’” (p. 822).  In the majority’s view, the use of corroborating evidence for that purpose “would permit admission of a presumptively unreliable statement by bootstrapping on the trustworthiness of other evidence at trial, a result we think at odds with the requirement that hearsay evidence admitted under the Confrontation Clause be so trustworthy that cross-examination of the declarant would be of marginal utility” (p. 823).  By way of example, the majority observed that a statement made under duress may happen to be true, but evidence tending to corroborate the truth of the statement would be no substitute for cross-examination of the declarant at trial.  The majority also raised the concern, arising mostly in child sexual abuse cases, that a jury may rely on the partial corroboration provided by medical evidence to mistakenly infer the trustworthiness of the entire allegation.

 

98                               In his dissenting opinion, Kennedy J., with whom the remaining three justices concurred, strongly disagreed with the position of the majority on the potential use of supporting or conflicting evidence. In my view, his reasons echo much of the criticism that has been voiced about this Court’s position in Starr.  He said the following:

 

I see no constitutional justification for this decision to prescind corroborating evidence from consideration of the question whether a child’s statements are reliable.  It is a matter of common sense for most people that one of the best ways to determine whether what someone says is trustworthy is to see if it is corroborated by other evidence.  In the context of child abuse, for example, if part of the child’s hearsay statement is that the assailant tied her wrists or had a scar on his lower abdomen, and there is physical evidence or testimony to corroborate the child’s statement, evidence which the child could not have fabricated, we are more likely to believe that what the child says is true.  Conversely, one can imagine a situation in which a child makes a statement which is spontaneous or is otherwise made under circumstances indicating that it is reliable, but which also contains undisputed factual inaccuracies so great that the credibility of the child’s statements is substantially undermined. Under the Court’s analysis, the statement would satisfy the requirements of the Confrontation Clause despite substantial doubt about its reliability. [pp. 828-29]

 

99                               Kennedy J. also strongly disagreed with the majority’s view that only circumstances surrounding the making of the statement should be considered:

 


The [majority] does not offer any justification for barring the consideration of corroborating evidence, other than the suggestion that corroborating evidence does not bolster the “inherent trustworthiness” of the statements. But for purposes of determining the reliability of the statements, I can discern no difference between the factors that the Court believes indicate “inherent trustworthiness” and those, like corroborating evidence, that apparently do not.  Even the factors endorsed by the Court will involve consideration of the very evidence the Court purports to exclude from the reliability analysis.  The Court notes that one test of reliability is whether the child “use[d] . . . terminology unexpected of a child of similar age.”  But making this determination requires consideration of the child’s vocabulary skills and past opportunity, or lack thereof, to learn the terminology at issue.  And, when all of the extrinsic circumstances of a case are considered, it may be shown that use of a particular word or vocabulary in fact supports the inference of prolonged contact with the defendant, who was known to use the vocabulary in question.  As a further example, the Court notes that motive to fabricate is an index of reliability.  But if the suspect charges that a third person concocted a false case against him and coached the child, surely it is relevant to show that the third person had no contact with the child or no opportunity to suggest false testimony.  Given the contradictions inherent in the Court’s test when measured against its own examples, I expect its holding will soon prove to be as unworkable as it is illogical.

 

The short of the matter is that both the circumstances existing at the time the child makes the statements and the existence of corroborating evidence indicate, to a greater or lesser degree, whether the statements are reliable. If the Court means to suggest that the circumstances surrounding the making of a statement are the best indicators of reliability, I doubt this is so in every instance.  And, if it were true in a particular case, that does not warrant ignoring other indicators of reliability such as corroborating evidence, absent some other reason for excluding it.  If anything, I should think that corroborating evidence in the form of testimony or physical evidence, apart from the narrow circumstances in which the statement was made, would be a preferred means of determining a statement’s reliability for purposes of the Confrontation Clause, for the simple reason that, unlike other indicators of trustworthiness, corroborating evidence can be addressed by the defendant and assessed by the trial court in an objective and critical way.  [References omitted; pp. 833-34.]

 

100                           In my view, the opinion of Kennedy J. better reflects the Canadian experience on this question.  It has proven difficult and at times counterintuitive to limit the inquiry to the circumstances surrounding the making of the statement.  This Court itself has not always followed this restrictive approach.  Further, I do not find the majority’s concern over the “bootstrapping” nature of corroborating evidence convincing.  On this point, I agree with Professor Paciocco who commented on the reasoning of the majority in Idaho v. Wright as follows (at p. 36):

 


The final rationale offered is that it would involve “bootstrapping” to admit evidence simply because it is shown by other evidence to be reliable.  In fact, the “bootstrapping” label is usually reserved to circular arguments in which a questionable piece of evidence “picks itself up by its own bootstraps” to fit within an exception.  For example, a party claims it can rely on a hearsay statement because the statement was made under such pressure or involvement that the prospect of concoction can fairly be disregarded, but then relies on the contents of the hearsay statement to prove the existence of that pressure or involvement [Ratten v. R., [1972] A.C. 378 (P.C.)].  Or, a party claims it can rely on the truth of the contents of a statement because it was a statement made by an opposing party litigant, but then relies on the contents of the statement to prove it was made by an opposing party litigant:  see R. v. Evans, [1991] 1 S.C.R. 869.  Looking to other evidence to confirm the reliability of evidence, the thing Idaho v. Wright purports to prevent, is the very antithesis of “bootstrapping”.

 

7.         Application to This Case

 

101                           Mr. Skupien’s statements to the cook, Ms. Stangrat, to the doctor and to the police constituted hearsay.  The Crown sought to introduce the statements for the truth of their contents.  In the context of this trial, the evidence was very important — indeed the two charges against Mr. Khelawon in respect of this complainant were entirely based on the truthfulness of the allegations contained in his statements.

 

102                           Mr. Skupien’s hearsay statements were presumptively inadmissible.  None of the traditional hearsay exceptions could assist the Crown in proving its case.  The evidence could only be admitted under the principled exception to the hearsay rule.

 

103                           Mr. Skupien’s death before the trial made it necessary for the Crown to resort to Mr. Skupien’s evidence in its hearsay form.  It was conceded throughout that the necessity requirement had been met.  The case therefore turned on whether the evidence was sufficiently reliable to warrant admission.

 


104                           Since Mr. Skupien had died before the trial, he was no longer available to be seen, heard and cross-examined in court.  There was no opportunity for contemporaneous cross-examination.  Nor had there been an opportunity for cross-examination at any other hearing.  Although Mr. Skupien was elderly and frail at the time he made the allegations, there is no evidence that the Crown attempted to preserve his evidence by application under ss. 709  to 714  of the Criminal Code .  He did not testify at the preliminary hearing.  The record does not disclose if he had died by that time. In making these comments, I do not question the fact that it was necessary for the Crown to resort to Mr. Skupien’s evidence in hearsay form. Necessity is conceded.  However, in an appropriate case, the court in deciding the question of necessity may well question whether the proponent of the evidence made all reasonable efforts to secure the evidence of the declarant in a manner that also preserves the rights of the other party.  That issue is not raised here.

 

105                           The fact remains however that the absence of any opportunity to cross‑examine Mr. Skupien has a bearing on the question of reliability.  The central concern arising from the hearsay nature of the evidence is the inability to test his allegations in the usual way.  The evidence is not admissible unless there is a sufficient substitute basis for testing the evidence or the contents of the statement are sufficiently  trustworthy.

 


106                           Obviously, there was no case to be made here on the presence of adequate substitutes for testing the evidence.  This is not a Hawkins situation where the difficulties presented by the unavailability of the declarant were easily overcome by the availability of the preliminary hearing transcript where there had been an opportunity to cross-examine the complainant in a hearing that dealt with essentially the same issues.  Nor is this a B. (K.G.) situation where the presence of an oath and a video were coupled with the availability of the declarant at trial.  There are no adequate substitutes here for testing the evidence.  There is the police video — nothing more.  The principled exception to the hearsay rule does not provide a vehicle for founding a conviction on the basis of a police statement, videotaped or otherwise, without more. In order to meet the reliability requirement in this case, the Crown could only rely on the inherent trustworthiness of the statement.

 


107                           In my respectful view, there was no case to be made on that basis either. This was not a situation as in Khan where the cogency of the evidence was such that, in the words of Wigmore, it would be “pedantic to insist on a test whose chief object is already secured” (_ 1420, at p. 154).  To the contrary, much as in the case of the third statement ruled inadmissible in Smith, the circumstances raised a number of serious issues such that it would be impossible to say that the evidence was unlikely to change under cross‑examination.  Mr. Skupien was elderly and frail.  His mental capacity was at issue — the medical records contained repeated diagnoses of paranoia and dementia. There was also the possibility that his injuries were caused by a fall rather than an assault — the medical records revealed a number of complaints of fatigue, weakness and dizziness and the examining physician, Dr. Pietraszek, testified that the injuries could have resulted from a fall (A.R., vol. II, at p. 259).  The evidence of the garbage bags filled with Mr. Skupien’s possessions provided little assistance in assessing the likely truth of his statement — he could have filled those bags himself.  Ms. Stangrat’s obvious motive to discredit Mr. Khelawon presented further difficulties.  The initial allegations were made to her — Dr. Pietraszek acknowledged in his evidence that when he saw Mr. Skupien, Ms. Stangrat was present and may have helped him by giving some indication of what happened.  The extent to which Mr. Skupien may have been influenced in making his statement by this disgruntled employee was a live issue.  Mr. Skupien had issues of his own with the way the retirement home was managed. This is apparent from his rambling complaints on the police video itself.  The absence of an oath and the simple “yes” in answer to the police officer’s question as to whether he understood that it was important to tell the truth do not give much insight on whether he truly understood the consequences for Mr. Khelawon of making his statement.  In these circumstances, Mr. Skupien’s unavailability for cross-examination posed significant limitations on the accused’s ability to test the evidence and, in turn, on the trier of fact’s ability to properly assess its worth.

 


108                           As indicated earlier, the crux of the trial judge’s finding that the evidence was sufficiently trustworthy was based on the “striking similarities” between the statements of the five complainants.  As Rosenberg J.A., I too would not reject the possibility that the presence of a striking similarity between statements from different complainants could well provide sufficient cogency to warrant the admission of hearsay evidence in an appropriate case.  However, the statements made by the other complainants in this case posed even greater difficulties and could not be substantively admitted to assist in assessing the reliability of Mr. Skupien’s allegations.  For example, the videotaped interview with Mr. Dinino which formed the basis of the second conviction against Mr. Khelawon was nine minutes in length.  It was preceded by a 30‑minute interview with the police.  The police officer had no notes of the initial interview.  Constable Pietroniro acknowledged that it “was very difficult” to get Mr. Dinino to answer questions and that much of the videotape is inaudible.  Constable Pietroniro would generally put to Mr. Dinino what he thought Mr. Dinino was saying and Mr. Dinino would respond “yes” or “yeah”.  Constable Pietroniro agreed that he was making an educated guess as to what Mr. Dinino was saying and that there were some things said by Mr. Dinino that he did not understand.  Quite apart from these difficulties, it is also far from clear on the record on precisely what features the trial judge based his finding that there was a “striking similarity” between the various statements.  However, I do not find it necessary to elaborate on this point.  The admissibility of the other statements is no longer in issue. The Court of Appeal unanimously ruled them inadmissible.

 

109                           I conclude that the evidence did not meet the reliability requirement.  The majority of the Court of Appeal was correct to rule it inadmissible.

 

8.         Conclusion

 

110                           For these reasons, I would dismiss the appeal.

 

Appeal dismissed.

 

Solicitor for the appellant:  Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario, Toronto.

 

Solicitors for the respondent:  Fleming, Breen, Toronto.

 

Solicitor for the intervener the Attorney General of British Columbia:  Ministry of the Attorney General of British Columbia, Vancouver.

 

Solicitors for the intervener the Criminal Lawyers’ Association (Ontario):  Louis P. Strezos and Associate, and Di Luca Barristers, Toronto.

 

 You are being directed to the most recent version of the statute which may not be the version considered at the time of the judgment.