File No 32085

IpsofactoJ.com: International Cases [2008] Part 10 Case 12 [SCC]


SUPREME COURT OF CANADA

Coram

F.H.

- vs -

Ian H. McDougall

McLACHLIN CJ

LEBEL J

DESCHAMPS J

FISH J

ABELLA J

CHARRON J

ROTHSTEIN J

2 OCTOBER 2008


Judgment

Rothstein J

(delivered the judgment of the court)

  1. The Supreme Court of British Columbia found in a civil action that the respondent, Ian Hugh McDougall, a supervisor at the Sechelt Indian Residential School, had sexually assaulted the appellant, F.H., while he was a student during the 1968-69 school year. A majority of the British Columbia Court of Appeal allowed the respondent’s appeal in part, and reversed the decision of the trial judge. I would allow the appeal to this Court and restore the judgment of the trial judge.

    I.  Facts

  2. The Sechelt Indian Residential School was established in 1904 in British Columbia. It was funded by the Canadian government and operated by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. F.H. was a resident student at the school from September 1966 to March 1967 and again from September 1968 to June 1974. Ian Hugh McDougall was an Oblate Brother until 1970 and was the junior and intermediate boys’ supervisor at the school from 1965 to 1969.

  3. The school building had three stories. Dormitories for junior and senior boys were located on the top floor. A supervisors’ washroom was also located on the top floor and was accessible through a washroom for the boys. The intermediate boys’ dormitory was on the second floor. McDougall had a room in the corner of that dormitory.

  4.  F.H. claims to have been sexually assaulted by McDougall in the supervisors’ washroom when he was approximately ten years of age. At trial, he testified that McDougall sexually abused him on four occasions. The trial judge set out  his evidence of these incidents at paras. 34-38 of her reasons ([2005] B.C.J. No. 2358 (QL), 2005 BCSC 1518):

    As to the first occasion, F.H. had been in the dormitory with others. The defendant asked four boys to go upstairs to the main washroom where they were to wait before going to the supervisors’ washroom for an examination. F.H. was the last to go into the washroom to be examined. When he went in, he was asked to remove his pyjamas and while facing the defendant, he was checked from head to toe. His penis was fondled. The defendant then turned him around, asked him to bend over and put his finger in his anus. He removed his clothing, grabbed F.H. around the waist, pulled him onto his lap and raped him. The defendant had put the cover of the toilet down and was using it as a seat. After the defendant ejaculated, he told the plaintiff to put on his pyjamas and leave the room.

    F.H. was shocked. He did not cry or scream, nor did he say anything. When he went to the main communal washroom, he could see that he was bleeding. The next morning, he noticed blood in his pyjamas. He went downstairs to the boys’ washroom and changed. The bloody pyjamas were rinsed and placed in his locker.

    The second incident was approximately two weeks after the first. F.H. was in the dormitory getting ready for bed when the defendant asked him to go to the supervisors’ washroom so he could do an examination. There were no other boys present. F.H. was asked to remove his pyjamas and again, he was raped. He went to the communal washroom to clean himself up. In the morning, he realized that his pyjamas were bloody. As it was laundry day, he threw his pyjamas in the laundry bin with the sheets.

    The third incident occurred approximately one month later. F.H. testified that once again he was asked to go to the supervisors’ washroom, remove his pyjamas and turn around. Again, the defendant grabbed him by the waist and raped him. He was bleeding, but could not recall whether there was blood on his pyjamas.

    The fourth incident occurred approximately one month after the third. As he was getting ready for bed, the defendant grabbed him by the shoulder and took him upstairs to the supervisors’ washroom. Another rape occurred.

  5. F.H. did not tell anyone about the assaults until approximately the year 2000. He and his wife were having marital difficulties. She had learned of his extra‑marital affair. He testified that because of the problems in his marriage he felt he had to tell his wife about his childhood experience. At his wife’s recommendation, he sought counselling.

  6. F.H. commenced his action against the respondents on December 7, 2000, approximately 31 years after the alleged sexual assaults. In British Columbia there is no limitation period applicable to a cause of action based on sexual assault and the action may be brought at any time (see Limitation Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 266, s. 3(4)(l)).

    II. Judgments Below

    A. British Columbia Supreme Court, [2005] B.C.J. No. 2358 (QL), 2005 BCSC 1518

  7. F.H.’s action was joined with the action of R.C., another former resident of the school who made similar claims against the same parties. The parties agreed to have a trial on the following discrete issues of fact (para. 1):

    1. Was either plaintiff physically or sexually abused while he attended the school?

    2. If the plaintiff was abused

      1. by whom was he abused?

      2. when did the abuse occur? and

      3. what are the particulars of the abuse?

  8. The trial judge, Gill J., began her reasons by noting that the answer to the questions agreed to by the parties depended on findings as to credibility and reliability. Few issues of law were raised.   She referred to H.F. v. Canada (Attorney General), [2002] B.C.J. No. 436 (QL), 2002 BCSC 325, in which the court stated that in cases involving serious allegations and grave consequences, the civil standard of proof that is “commensurate with the occasion” applied (para. 4).

  9. The trial judge then went on to review the testimony of each plaintiff,  McDougall and others who worked at the school or were former students. McDougall denied the allegations of sexual abuse and testified that he could not recall ever strapping F.H. He also denied ever conducting physical examinations of the boys and gave evidence that boys were not taken into the supervisors’ washroom.

  10. In determining whether F.H. was sexually assaulted, the trial judge dealt with the arguments of the defence that  F.H.’s evidence was neither reliable nor credible. Gill J. rejected the defence position that F.H.’s inability to respond to certain questions should lead to an adverse conclusion regarding the reliability of his evidence. She found F.H.’s testimony credible while acknowledging that the commission of the assaults in the manner described by F.H. would have carried with it a risk of detection. Gill J. also rejected the contention of defence counsel that F.H.’s motive to lie must weigh heavily against his credibility. Rather she agreed with counsel for F.H. that the circumstances surrounding his disclosure were not suggestive of concoction.

  11. The trial judge pointed out areas of consistency and inconsistency between F.H.’s testimony and that of the other students at the school. She also noted that there were significant discrepancies in the evidence given by F.H. as to the frequency of the abuse. At trial, F.H. said there were four incidents. On previous occasions, he said the abuse occurred every two weeks or ten days. Despite these inconsistencies, the trial judge concluded F.H. was a credible witness and stated that his evidence about “the nature of the assaults, the location and the times they occurred” had been consistent (para. 112). She concluded that F.H. had been sexually abused by McDougall, the sexual assaults being four incidents of anal intercourse committed during the 1968-69 school year.

  12. In relation to the issue of physical abuse, the trial judge limited herself to deciding whether the plaintiffs had proved that they were strapped while at school. To answer this question, the trial judge reviewed the evidence of McDougall and the testimony of another Brother employed at the school as well as the testimony of several of F.H.’s fellow students. She concluded that strapping was a common form of discipline and that it was not used only in response to serious infractions. She concluded that F.H. was strapped by McDougall an undetermined number of times while at the school.

  13. With respect to the claims made by R.C., the trial judge found that he had not proven that he had been sexually assaulted, but found that he had been strapped by a person other than McDougall.

    B. British Columbia Court of Appeal (2007), 68 B.C.L.R. (4th) 203, 2007 BCCA 212

  14. The decision of the Court of Appeal was delivered by Rowles J.A., with Southin J.A. concurring. Ryan J.A. dissented. 

    (1)  Reasons of Rowles J.A.

  15. Rowles J.A. concluded that McDougall’s appeal  from that part of the order finding that  he had sexually assaulted F.H. should be allowed; however his appeal from that part of the order finding that  he had strapped F.H. should be dismissed.

  16. Rowles J.A. found that it was obvious that the trial judge was aware of the case authorities that have considered the standard of proof to be applied in cases where allegations of morally blameworthy conduct have been made, i.e. proof that is “commensurate with the occasion”. However, in her view, the trial judge was bound to consider the serious inconsistencies in the evidence of F.H. in determining whether the alleged sexual assaults had been proven to the standard “commensurate with the allegation”. She found that the trial judge did not scrutinize the evidence in the manner required and thereby erred in law.

  17.   In allowing the appeal in respect of the sexual assaults alleged by F.H., Rowles J.A. was of the opinion that in view of the state of the evidence on that issue, no practical purpose would be served by ordering a new trial.

    (2)  Concurring Reasons of Southin J.A.

  18. In  her concurring reasons, Southin J.A. discussed the “troubling aspect” of the case – “how, in a civil case, is the evidence to be evaluated when it is oath against oath, and what is the relationship of the evaluation of the evidence to the burden of proof?” (para. 84).

  19. Southin J.A. held that it was of central importance that the gravity of the allegations be forefront in the trier of fact’s approach to the evidence. It was not enough, in  her view, to choose the testimony of the plaintiff over that of the defendant. Instead, “[t]o choose one over the other .... requires .... an articulated reason founded in evidence other than that of the plaintiff” (para. 106). Moreover, Southin J.A. found that Cory J.’s rejection in R v W.(D.), [1991] 1 S.C.R. 742, of the “either/or” approach to evaluating evidence of the Crown and the accused as to the conduct of the accused in criminal cases also applied to civil cases.

  20. In the end, she could not find in the trial judge’s reasons a “legally acceptable articulated reason for accepting the plaintiff’s evidence and rejecting the defendants’ evidence” (para. 112).

    (3)  Dissenting Reasons of Ryan J.A.

  21. While sharing the concerns of the majority about “the perils of assigning liability in cases where the events have occurred so long ago”, Ryan J.A. disagreed with the conclusion that the trial judge did not apply the proper standard of proof to her assessment of the evidence (para. 115).

  22. Ryan J.A. noted that the trial judge set out the test  –  a standard of proof commensurate with the occasion – early in her reasons. “Having set out the proper test, we must assume that she properly applied it, unless her reasons demonstrate otherwise” (para. 116).

  23. In the view of Ryan J.A., alleging that the trial judge misapplied the standard of proof to her assessment of the evidence was to say that the trial judge erred in her findings of fact. To overturn the trial judge’s findings of fact, the appellate court must find that the trial judge made a manifest error, ignored conclusive or relevant evidence or drew unreasonable conclusions from it.

  24. Ryan J.A. was of the view that the trial judge had made no such error. The trial judge had acknowledged the most troubling aspect of F.H.’s testimony – that it was not consistent with earlier descriptions of the abuse – and decided that at its core, the testimony was consistent and truthful. The inconsistencies were not overlooked by the trial judge.

  25. Having found no error in the reasons for judgment, Ryan J.A. was of the view that the Court of Appeal should have deferred to the conclusions of the trial judge. Accordingly, she would have dismissed the appeal.

    III. Analysis

    A.  The Standard of Proof

    (1) Canadian Jurisprudence

  26. Much has been written as judges have attempted to reconcile the tension between the civil standard of proof on a balance of probabilities and cases in which allegations made against a defendant are particularly grave. Such cases include allegations of fraud, professional misconduct, and criminal conduct, particularly sexual assault against minors. As explained by L. R. Rothstein, R. A. Centa, and E. Adams, in “Balancing Probabilities: The Overlooked Complexity of the Civil Standard of Proof” in Special Lectures of the Law Society of Upper Canada 2003: The Law of Evidence (2003), 455, at p. 456:

  27. ....These types of allegations are considered unique because they carry a moral stigma that will continue to have an impact on the individual after the completion of the civil case.

  28. Courts in British Columbia have tended to follow the approach of Lord Denning in Bater v Bater, [1950] 2 All E.R. 458 (C.A.). Lord Denning was of the view that within the civil standard of proof on a balance of probabilities “there may be degrees of probability within that standard”(p. 459), depending upon the subject matter. He stated at p. 459:

  29. It does not adopt so high a degree as a criminal court, even when it is considering a charge of a criminal nature, but still it does require a degree of probability which is commensurate with the occasion.

  30. In the present case the trial judge referred to H.F. v Canada (Attorney General), at para. 154, in which Neilson J. stated:

  31. The court is justified in imposing a higher degree of probability which is “commensurate with the occasion”  ....

  32. In the constitutional context, Dickson C.J. adopted the Bater approach in R v Oakes, [1986] 1 S.C.R. 103. In his view a “very high degree of probability” required that the evidence be cogent and persuasive and make clear the consequences of the decision one way or the other. He wrote at p. 138:

  33. Having regard to the fact that s. 1 is being invoked for the purpose of justifying a violation of the constitutional rights and freedoms the Charter was designed to protect, a very high degree of probability will be, in the words of Lord Denning, “commensurate with the occasion”. Where evidence is required in order to prove the constituent elements of a s. 1 inquiry and this will generally be the case, it should be cogent and persuasive and make clear to the Court the consequences of imposing or not imposing the limit.

  34. However, a “shifting standard” of probability has not been universally accepted. In Continental Insurance Co. v Dalton Cartage Co., [1982] 1 S.C.R. 164, Laskin C.J. rejected a “shifting standard”. Rather, to take account of the seriousness of the allegation, he was of the view that a trial judge should scrutinize the evidence with “greater care”. At pp. 169-71 he stated:

  35. Where there is an allegation of conduct that is morally blameworthy or that could have a criminal or penal aspect and the allegation is made in civil litigation, the relevant burden of proof remains proof on a balance of probabilities ....

    ....

    There is necessarily a matter of judgment involved in weighing evidence that goes to the burden of proof, and a trial judge is justified in scrutinizing evidence with greater care if there are serious allegations to be established by the proof that is offered.

    ....

    I do not regard such an approach (the Bater approach) as a departure from a standard of proof based on a balance of probabilities nor as supporting a shifting standard. The question in all civil cases is what evidence with what weight that is accorded to it will move the court to conclude that proof on a balance of probabilities has been established.

  36. In Ontario Professional Discipline cases, the balance of probabilities requires that proof be “clear and convincing and based upon cogent evidence” (see Heath v College of Physicians & Surgeons (Ontario) (1997), 6 Admin. L.R. (3d) 304 (Ont. Ct. (Gen. Div.)), at para. 53).

    (2) Recent United Kingdom Jurisprudence

  37. In the United Kingdom some decisions have indicated that depending upon the seriousness of the matters involved, even in civil cases, the criminal standard of proof should apply. In R (McCann) v Crown Court at Manchester, [2003] 1 A.C. 787, [2002] UKHL 39, Lord Steyn said at para. 37:

  38. .... I agree that, given the seriousness of matters involved, at least some reference to the heightened civil standard would usually be necessary: In re H (Minors) (Sexual Abuse: Standard of Proof), [1996] AC 563, 586 D‑H, per Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead. For essentially practical reasons, the Recorder of Manchester decided to apply the criminal standard. The Court of Appeal said that would usually be the right course to adopt. Lord Bingham of Cornhill has observed that the heightened civil standard and the criminal standard are virtually indistinguishable. I do not disagree with any of these views. But in my view pragmatism dictates that the task of magistrates should be made more straightforward by ruling that they must in all cases under section 1 apply the criminal standard.

  39. Yet another consideration, that of “inherent probability or improbability of an event” was discussed by Lord Nicholls in In re H (Minors) (Sexual Abuse: Standard of Proof), [1996] A.C. 563 (H.L.), at p. 586:

  40. .... the inherent probability or improbability of an event is itself a matter to be taken into account when weighing the probabilities and deciding whether, on balance, the event occurred. The more improbable the event, the stronger must be the evidence that it did occur before, on the balance of probability, its occurrence will be established.

  41. Most recently in In re B (Children), [2008] 3 W.L.R. 1, [2008] UKHL 35, a June 11, 2008 decision, the U.K. House of Lords again canvassed the issue of standard of proof. Subsequent to the hearing of the appeal, Mr. Southey, counsel for the Attorney General of Canada, with no objection from other counsel, brought this case to the attention of the Court.

  42. Lord Hoffmann addressed the “confusion” in the United Kingdom courts over this issue. He stated at para. 5:

  43. Some confusion has however been caused by dicta which suggest that the standard of proof may vary with the gravity of the misconduct alleged or even the seriousness of the consequences for the person concerned. The cases in which such statements have been made fall into three categories. First, there are cases in which the court has for one purpose classified the proceedings as civil (for example, for the purposes of article 6 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) but nevertheless thought that, because of the serious consequences of the proceedings, the criminal standard of proof or something like it should be applied. Secondly, there are cases in which it has been observed that when some event is inherently improbable, strong evidence may be needed to persuade a tribunal that it more probably happened than not. Thirdly, there are cases in which judges are simply confused about whether they are talking about the standard of proof or about the role of inherent probabilities in deciding whether the burden of proving a fact to a given standard has been discharged.

  44. The unanimous conclusion of the House of Lords was that there is only one civil standard of proof. At para. 13, Lord Hoffmann states:

  45. .... I think that the time has come to say, once and for all, that there is only one civil standard of proof and that is proof that the fact in issue more probably occurred than not.

    However, Lord Hoffmann did not disapprove of application of the criminal standard depending upon the issue involved. Following his very clear statement that there is only one civil standard of proof, he somewhat enigmatically wrote, still in para. 13:

    .... I do not intend to disapprove any of the cases in what I have called the first category, but I agree with the observation of Lord Steyn in McCann’s case, at p. 812, that clarity would be greatly enhanced if the courts said simply that although the proceedings were civil, the nature of the particular issue involved made it appropriate to apply the criminal standard.

  46. Lord Hoffmann went on to express the view that taking account of inherent probabilities was not a rule of law. At para. 15 he stated:

  47. I wish to lay some stress upon the words I have italicised [“to whatever extent is appropriate in the particular case”]. Lord Nicholls [In re H] was not laying down any rule of law. There is only one rule of law, namely that the occurrence of the fact in issue must be proved to have been more probable than not. Common sense, not law, requires that in deciding this question, regard should be had, to whatever extent appropriate, to inherent probabilities.

  48. In re B is a child case under the United Kingdom Children Act 1989. While her comments on standard of proof are confined to the 1989 Act, Baroness Hale explained that neither the seriousness of the allegation nor the seriousness of the consequences should make any difference to the standard of proof to be applied in determining the facts. At paras. 70-72, she stated:

  49. My Lords, for that reason I would go further and announce loud and clear that the standard of proof in finding the facts necessary to establish the threshold under section 31(2) or the welfare considerations in section 1 of the 1989 Act is the simple balance of probabilities, neither more nor less. Neither the seriousness of the allegation nor the seriousness of the consequences should make any difference to the standard of proof to be applied in determining the facts. The inherent probabilities are simply something to be taken into account, where relevant, in deciding where the truth lies.  

    As to the seriousness of the consequences, they are serious either way. A child may find her relationship with her family seriously disrupted; or she may find herself still at risk of suffering serious harm. A parent may find his relationship with his child seriously disrupted; or he may find himself still at liberty to maltreat this or other children in the future.

    As to the seriousness of the allegation, there is no logical or necessary connection between seriousness and probability. Some seriously harmful behaviour, such as murder, is sufficiently rare to be inherently improbable in most circumstances. Even then there are circumstances, such as a body with its throat cut and no weapon to hand, where it is not at all improbable. Other seriously harmful behaviour, such as alcohol or drug abuse, is regrettably all too common and not at all improbable.

    (3) Summary of Various Approaches

  50. I summarize the various approaches in civil cases where criminal or morally blameworthy conduct is alleged as I understand them:

    1. The criminal standard of proof applies in civil cases depending upon the seriousness of the allegation;

    2. An intermediate standard of proof between the civil standard and the criminal standard commensurate with the occasion applies to civil cases;

    3. No heightened standard of proof applies in civil cases, but the evidence must be scrutinized with greater care where the allegation is serious;

    4. No heightened standard of proof applies in civil cases, but evidence must be clear, convincing and cogent; and

    5. No heightened standard of proof applies in civil cases, but the more improbable the event, the stronger the evidence is needed to meet the balance of probabilities test.

    (4) The Approach Canadian Courts Should Now Adopt

  51. Like the House of Lords, I think it is time to say, once and for all in Canada, that there is only one civil standard of proof at common law and that is proof on a balance of probabilities. Of course, context is all important and a judge should not be unmindful, where appropriate, of inherent probabilities or improbabilities or the seriousness of the allegations or consequences. However, these considerations do not change the standard of proof. I am of the respectful opinion that the alternatives I have listed above should be rejected for the reasons that follow.

  52. Since Hanes v Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Co., [1963] S.C.R. 154, at pp. 158-64, it has been clear that the criminal standard is not to be applied to civil cases in Canada. The criminal standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt is linked to the presumption of innocence in criminal trials. The burden of proof always remains with the prosecution. As explained by Cory J. in R v Lifchus, [1997] 3 S.C.R. 320, at para. 27:

  53. First, it must be made clear to the jury that the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt is vitally important since it is inextricably linked to that basic premise which is fundamental to all criminal trials: the presumption of innocence. The two concepts are forever as closely linked as Romeo with Juliet or Oberon with Titania and they must be presented together as a unit. If the presumption of innocence is the golden thread of criminal justice, then proof beyond a reasonable doubt is the silver and these two threads are forever intertwined in the fabric of criminal law. Jurors must be reminded that the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crime rests with the prosecution throughout the trial and never shifts to the accused.

  54. By contrast, in civil cases, there is no presumption of innocence. As explained by J. Sopinka, S. N. Lederman and A. W. Bryant, The Law of Evidence (2nd ed. 1999), at p. 154:

  55. .... Since society is indifferent to whether the plaintiff or the defendant wins a particular civil suit, it is unnecessary to protect against an erroneous result by requiring a standard of proof higher than a balance of probabilities.

    It is true that there may be serious consequences to a finding of liability in a civil case that continue past the end of the case.   However, the civil case does not involve the government’s power to penalize or take away the liberty of the individual.

  56. An intermediate standard of proof presents practical problems. As expressed by L. Rothstein et al., at p. 466:

  57. As well, suggesting that the standard of proof is “higher” than the “mere balance of probabilities” leads one inevitably to inquire what percentage of probability must be met?  This is unhelpful because while the concept of “51% probability”, or “more likely than not” can be understood by decision-makers, the concept of 60% or 70% probability cannot.

  58. Put another way, it would seem incongruous for a judge to conclude that it was more likely than not that an event occurred, but not sufficiently likely to some unspecified standard and therefore that it did not occur. As Lord Hoffmann explained in In re B at para. 2:

  59. If a legal rule requires a fact to be proved (a “fact in issue”), a judge or jury must decide whether or not it happened. There is no room for a finding that it might have happened. The law operates a binary system in which the only values are zero and one. The fact either happened or it did not. If the tribunal is left in doubt, the doubt is resolved by a rule that one party or the other carries the burden of proof. If the party who bears the burden of proof fails to discharge it, a value of zero is returned and the fact is treated as not having happened. If he does discharge it, a value of one is returned and the fact is treated as having happened.

    In my view, the only practical way in which to reach a factual conclusion in a civil case is to decide whether it is more likely than not that the event occurred.

  60. To suggest that depending upon the seriousness, the evidence in the civil case must be scrutinized with greater care implies that in less serious cases the evidence need not be scrutinized with such care. I think it is inappropriate to say that there are legally recognized different levels of scrutiny of the evidence depending upon the seriousness of the case. There is only one legal rule and that is that in all cases, evidence must be scrutinized with care by the trial judge.

  61. Similarly, evidence must always be sufficiently clear, convincing and cogent to satisfy the balance of probabilities test. But again, there is no objective standard to measure sufficiency. In serious cases, like the present, judges may be faced with evidence of events that are alleged to have occurred many years before, where there is little other evidence than that of the plaintiff and defendant. As difficult as the task may be, the judge must make a decision. If a responsible judge finds for the plaintiff, it must be accepted that the evidence was sufficiently clear, convincing and cogent to that judge that the plaintiff satisfied the balance of probabilities test.

  62. Finally there may be cases in which there is an inherent improbability that an event occurred. Inherent improbability will always depend upon the circumstances. As Baroness Hale stated in In re B at para. 72:

  63. .... Consider the famous example of the animal seen in Regent’s Park. If it is seen outside the zoo on a stretch of greensward regularly used for walking dogs, then of course it is more likely to be a dog than a lion. If it is seen in the zoo next to the lions’ enclosure when the door is open, then it may well be more likely to be a lion than a dog.

  64. Some alleged events may be highly improbable. Others less so. There can be no rule as to when and to what extent inherent improbability must be taken into account by a trial judge. As Lord Hoffmann observed at para. 15 of In re B:

  65. .... Common sense, not law, requires that in deciding this question, regard should be had, to whatever extent appropriate, to inherent probabilities.

    It will be for the trial judge to decide to what extent, if any, the circumstances suggest that an allegation is inherently improbable and where appropriate, that may be taken into account in the assessment of whether the evidence establishes that it is more likely than not that the event occurred. However, there can be no rule of law imposing such a formula.

    (5) Conclusion on Standard of Proof

  66. In the result, I would reaffirm that in civil cases there is only one standard of proof and that is proof on a balance of probabilities. In all civil cases, the trial judge must scrutinize the relevant evidence with care to determine whether it is more likely than not that an alleged event occurred.

  67. I turn now to the issues particular to this case.

    B. The Concerns of the Court of Appeal Respecting Inconsistency in the Evidence of F.H.

  68. The level of scrutiny required in cases of sexual assault was central to the analysis of the Court of Appeal. According to Rowles J.A. at para. 72, one of the issues was “whether the trial judge, in light of the standard of proof that had to be applied in a case such as this, failed to consider the problems or troublesome aspects of [F.H.]’s evidence”. The “troublesome aspects” of F.H.’s evidence related to, amongst others, inconsistencies as to the frequency of the alleged sexual assaults as between F.H.’s evidence on discovery and at trial, as well as to an inconsistency between the original statement of claim alleging attempted anal intercourse and the evidence given at trial of actual penetration.

  69. In the absence of support from the surrounding circumstances, when considering the evidence of F.H. on its own, the majority of the Court of Appeal concluded that the trial judge had failed to consider whether the facts had been proven “to the standard commensurate with the allegation” and had failed to “[s]crutinize the evidence in the manner required and thereby erred in law” (para. 79).

  70. As I have explained, there is only one civil standard of proof – proof on a balance of probabilities. Although understandable in view of the state of the jurisprudence at the time of its decision, the Court of Appeal was in error in holding the trial judge to a higher standard. While that conclusion is sufficient to decide this appeal, nonetheless, I think it is important for future guidance to make some further comments on the approach of the majority of the Court of Appeal.

  71. Rowles J.A. was correct that failure by a trial judge to apply the correct standard of proof in assessing evidence would constitute an error of law. The question is how such failure may be apparent in the reasons of a trial judge. Obviously in the remote example of a trial judge expressly stating an incorrect standard of proof, it will be presumed that the incorrect standard was applied. Where the trial judge expressly states the correct standard of proof, it will be presumed that it was applied . Where the trial judge does not express a particular standard of proof, it will also be presumed that the correct standard was applied (R v Burns, [1994] 1 S.C.R. 656, at p. 664, per McLachlin J. (as she then was)):

  72. Trial judges are presumed to know the law with which they work day in and day out.

    Whether the correct standard was expressly stated or not, the presumption of correct application will apply unless it can be demonstrated by the analysis conducted that the incorrect standard was applied. However, in determining whether the correct standard has indeed been applied, an appellate court must take care not to substitute its own view of the facts for that of the trial judge.

  73. An appellate court is only permitted to interfere with factual findings when “the trial judge [has] shown to have committed a palpable and overriding error or made findings of fact that are clearly wrong, unreasonable or unsupported by the evidence” (H.L. v Canada (Attorney General), [2005] 1 S.C.R. 401, 2005 SCC 25, at para. 4 (emphasis deleted), per Fish J.). Rowles J.A. correctly acknowledged as much (para. 27). She also recognized that where there is some evidence to support an inference drawn by the trial judge, an appellate court will be hard pressed to find a palpable and overriding error. Indeed, she quoted the now well-known words to this effect in the judgment of Iacobucci and Major JJ. in Housen v Nikolaisen, [2002] 2 S.C.R. 235, 2002 SCC 33, at para. 27 of her reasons (para. 22 of Housen).

  74. Rowles J.A. was satisfied that the trial judge was aware of the standard of proof that had heretofore been applied in cases of moral blameworthiness. At para. 35 of her reasons she stated:

  75. .... From her reasons it is obvious that the judge was aware of the case authorities that have considered the standard of proof to be applied in cases where allegations of morally blameworthy conduct have been made.

    That should have satisfied the Court of Appeal that the trial judge understood and applied the standard of proof they thought to be applicable to this case.

    C. The Inconsistency in the Evidence of F.H.

  76. At para. 5 of her reasons, the trial judge had regard for the judgment of Rowles J.A. in R v R.W.B. (1993), 24 B.C.C.A. 1, at paras. 28-29, dealing with the reliability and credibility of witnesses in the case of inconsistencies and an absence of supporting evidence. Although R v R.W.B. was a criminal case, I, like the trial judge, think the words of Rowles J.A. (para. 29) are apt for the purposes of this case:

  77. In this case there were a number of inconsistencies in the complainant’s own evidence and a number of inconsistencies between the complainant’s evidence and the testimony of other witnesses. While it is true that minor inconsistencies may not diminish the credibility of a witness unduly, a series of inconsistencies may become quite significant and cause the trier of fact to have a reasonable doubt about the reliability of the witness’ evidence. There is no rule as to when, in the face of inconsistency, such doubt may arise but at the least the trier of fact should look to the totality of the inconsistencies in order to assess whether the witness’ evidence is reliable. This is particularly so when there is no supporting evidence on the central issue, which was the case here.

  78. As Rowles J.A. found in the context of the criminal standard of proof, where proof is on a balance of probabilities there is likewise no rule as to when inconsistencies in the evidence of a plaintiff will cause a trial judge to conclude that the plaintiff’s evidence is not credible or reliable. The trial judge should not consider the plaintiff’s evidence in isolation, but must look at the totality of the evidence to assess the impact of the inconsistencies in that evidence on questions of credibility and reliability pertaining to the core issue in the case.

  79. It is apparent from her reasons that the trial judge recognized the obligation upon her to have regard for the inconsistencies in the evidence of F.H. and to consider them in light of the totality of the evidence to the extent that was possible. While she did not deal with every inconsistency, as she explained at para. 100, she did address in a general way the arguments put forward by the defence.

  80. The trial judge specifically dealt with some of what the Court of Appeal identified as the troublesome aspects of F.H.’s evidence. For example, Rowles J.A. stated at para. 77, that F.H.’s evidence with respect to inspections in the supervisors’ washroom was not consistent with the testimony of other witnesses:

  81. .... There was no corroborative evidence from the witnesses who had been students at the School of other boys having lined up and being examined by McDougall in the supervisor’s washroom so as to lend support to the respondent’s recollection of events. In fact, the defence evidence was to the opposite effect, that is, the boys did not line up outside the staff washroom for any reason or at any time.

  82. However, Gill J. dealt with the washroom inspections as well as the inconsistent recollection of the witnesses regarding these inspections. She also made a finding of fact that inspections were performed and were routine at the school. At para. 106 of her reasons she stated:

  83. It was argued that the evidence of F.H. was not consistent with the evidence of others. No inspections were done in the supervisors’ washroom or in the way that F.H. described. I agree that no other witness described inspections being done in the supervisors’ washroom. However, evidence about inspections was given by defence witnesses. I have already referred to the evidence of Mr. Paul. I accept that inspections were done in the manner he described. The boys were sometimes inspected on shower days and supervisors regularly checked to ensure that they had washed themselves thoroughly. Admittedly, Mr. Paul did not say that the defendant had conducted such examinations, but he described the inspections as a routine of the school. In fact, Mr. Paul’s evidence is not consistent with the evidence of the defendant, who stated that the only examination of the boys was for head lice and it was done by the nurse.

  84. In this passage of her reasons, the trial judge dealt with the inconsistency between the evidence of F.H. and other witnesses. She also considered McDougall’s testimony in light of other evidence given by witnesses for the defence. From the evidence of Mr. Paul she concluded that examinations were routinely carried out. She found that Mr. Paul’s evidence about examinations was not consistent with that of McDougall who had testified that examinations were only for head lice and were carried out by the nurse. The necessary inference is that she found McDougall not to be credible on this issue.

  85. The majority of the Court of Appeal was also concerned with the testimony of F.H., that each time he was sexually assaulted by McDougall, he would go upstairs from his dorm to the supervisors’ washroom. At para. 77 of her reasons, Rowles J.A. stated:

  86. However, [F.H.] was a junior boy rather than an intermediate one at the relevant time and his dorm would have been on the top floor. Based on the evidence of where the boys slept, [McDougall] could not have taken [F.H.] “upstairs” from his dorm.

    Counsel for F.H. points out that in his evidence at trial, F.H. testified that he was an intermediate boy when the sexual assaults occurred and that as an intermediate boy he would have to go upstairs to the supervisors’ washroom. Although there was contradictory evidence, there was evidence upon which F.H. could have been believed.

  87.  It is true that Gill J. did not deal with F.H.’s inconsistency as to the frequency of the inspections inside the supervisors’ washroom as identified by Rowles J.A. at para. 75:

  88. The respondent also told Ms. Stone that the young boys regularly lined up outside the staff washroom, which they referred to as the “examination room”, every second week in order to be examined. At trial he testified this lining up only happened the first time he was sexually assaulted. Again, this is a substantial change in the respondent’s recounting of events.

    Nor did Gill J. specifically address the change in the allegations of attempted anal intercourse and genital fondling in  the original statement of claim and the  evidence of F.H. at trial of actual penetration. Rowles J.A. stated at para. 76:

    The respondent’s original statement of claim only alleged attempted anal intercourse and genital fondling. There was no allegation about the appellant actually inserting his finger in F.H.’s anus or having forced anal intercourse. The respondent’s evidence at trial was of actual penetration. As the trial judge found, the respondent acknowledged that he had reviewed the statement of claim, including the paragraphs which particularized the alleged assaults, and that he was aware of the difference between actually doing something and attempting to do something.

  89. However, at paras. 46 and 48 of her reasons, Gill J. had recounted these inconsistencies as raised in cross-examination. Her reasons indicate she was aware of the inconsistencies.

  90. As for the inconsistency relating to the frequency of the sexual assaults, Rowles J.A. stated at para. 73:

  91. At his examination for discovery the respondent said that the sexual assaults took place “weekly”, “frequently”, and “every ten days or so” over the entire time he was at the School. The respondent admitted at trial that he had said on discovery that he had told the counsellor, Ms. Nellie Stone, that the sexual assaults by the appellant had taken place over the entire time he was at the School, while he was between the ages of eight and fourteen years. At trial, the respondent testified that the sexual assaults occurred on only four occasions over a period of two‑and‑a‑half months.

    [emphasis added]

  92. Counsel for F.H. points out that F.H.’s evidence was that he was subjected to physical and sexual abuse while he was at the residential school perpetrated by more than one person, that the question to which he was responding mixed both sexual and physical abuse and that the majority of the Court of Appeal wrongly narrowed F.H.’s statement only to assaults perpetrated by McDougall. Counsel says that F.H. was commenting on all of the physical and sexual abuse he experienced at the school which involved more than McDougall and took place over his six years of attendance.

  93. The Court of Appeal appears to have interpreted his evidence on discovery that he was sexually assaulted by McDougall over the entire time he was at the school, while in his evidence at trial it was only four times over two and a half months. Although the evidence is not without doubt, it is open to be interpreted in the way counsel for F.H. asserts and that there was no inconsistency between F.H.’s evidence on discovery and at trial.

  94. As to the frequency of the alleged sexual assaults by McDougall, the trial judge did not ignore inconsistencies in the evidence of F.H. In spite of the inconsistencies, she found him to be credible. At para. 112 of her reasons, she stated:

  95. There are, however, some inconsistencies in the evidence of F.H. As the defence has also argued, his evidence about the frequency of the abuse has not been consistent and there are differences between what he admittedly told Ms. Stone, what he said at his examination for discovery and his evidence at trial. At trial, he said there were four incidents. On previous occasions, he said that this occurred every two weeks or ten days. That is a difference of significance. However, his evidence about the nature of the assaults, the location and the times they occurred has been consistent. Despite differences about frequency, it is my view that F.H. was a credible witness.

  96. The trial judge was not obliged to find that F.H. was not credible or that his evidence at trial was unreliable because of inconsistency between his trial evidence and the evidence he gave on prior occasions. Where a trial judge demonstrates that she is alive to the inconsistencies but still concludes that the witness was nonetheless credible, in the absence of palpable and overriding error, there is no basis for interference by the appellate court.

  97. All of this is not to say that the concerns expressed by Rowles J.A. were unfounded. There are troubling aspects of F.H.’s evidence. However, the trial judge was not oblivious to the inconsistencies in his evidence. The events occurred more than 30 years before the trial. Where the trial judge refers to the inconsistencies and deals expressly with a number of them, it must be assumed that she took them into account in assessing the balance of probabilities. Notwithstanding its own misgivings, it was not for the Court of Appeal to second guess the trial judge in the absence of finding a palpable and overriding error.

  98. With respect, I cannot interpret the reasons of the majority of the Court of Appeal other than that it disagreed with the trial judge’s credibility assessment of F.H. in light of the inconsistencies in his evidence and the lack of support from the surrounding circumstances. Assessing credibility is clearly in the bailiwick of the trial judge and thus heightened deference must be accorded to the trial judge on matters of credibility. As explained by Bastarache and Abella JJ. in R v Gagnon, [2006] 1 S.C.R. 621, 2006 SCC 17, at para. 20:

  99. Assessing credibility is not a science. It is very difficult for a trial judge to articulate with precision the complex intermingling of impressions that emerge after watching and listening to witnesses and attempting to reconcile the various versions of events. That is why this Court decided, most recently in H.L., that in the absence of a palpable and overriding error by the trial judge, his or her perceptions should be respected.

  100. As stated above, an appellate court is only permitted to intervene when “the trial judge is shown to have committed a palpable and overriding error or made findings of fact that are clearly wrong, unreasonable or unsupported by the evidence” (H.L., at para. 4 (emphasis deleted)). The Court of Appeal made no such finding.   With respect, in finding that the trial judge failed to scrutinize F.H.’s evidence  in the manner required by law, it incorrectly substituted its credibility assessment for that of the trial judge.

    D. Palpable and Overriding Error

  101. Notwithstanding that the Court of Appeal made no finding of palpable and overriding error, the Attorney General of Canada submits that the trial judge did indeed make such an error. This argument is based entirely on the inconsistencies in the evidence of F.H. The Attorney General says that in light of these inconsistencies, the trial judge was clearly wrong in finding F.H. credible.

  102. I  do not minimize the inconsistencies in F.H.’s testimony. They are certainly relevant to an assessment of his credibility. Nonetheless, the trial judge was convinced, despite the inconsistencies, that F.H. was credible and that the four sexual assaults alleged to have been committed by McDougall did occur. From her reasons, it appears that the trial judge’s decision on the credibility of the witnesses was made in the context of the evidence as a whole. She considered the layout of the school and the fact that the manner in which F.H. described the assaults as taking place would have carried with it the risk of detection. She also considered whether F.H.’s evidence about inspections taking place in the supervisors’ washroom and the availability of sheets and pyjamas was consistent with evidence of other witnesses. She acknowledged that F.H. had a motive to lie to save his marriage and decided that the circumstances surrounding disclosure were not suggestive of concoction. She also factored into her analysis the demeanor of F.H.: that  “[he] was not a witness who gave detailed answers, often responding simply with a yes or no, nor did he volunteer much information” (para. 110), and that “[w]hen [he] testified, he displayed no emotion but it was clear that he had few, if any, good memories of the school” (para. 113).

  103. In the end, believing the testimony of one witness and not the other is a matter of judgment. In light of the inconsistencies in F.H.’s testimony with respect to the frequency of the sexual assaults, it is easy to see how another trial judge may not have found F.H. to be a credible witness. However, Gill J. found him to be credible. It is important to bear in mind that the evidence in this case was of matters occurring over thirty years earlier when F.H. was approximately ten years of age. As a matter of policy, the British Columbia legislature has eliminated the limitation period for claims of sexual assault. This was a policy choice for that legislative assembly. Nonetheless, it must be recognized that the task of trial judges assessing evidence in such cases is very difficult indeed. However, that does not open the door to an appellate court, being removed from the testimony and not seeing the witnesses, to reassess the credibility of the witnesses.

    E. Corroboration

  104. The reasons of the majority of the Court of Appeal may be read as requiring, as a matter of law, that in cases of oath against oath in the context of sexual assault allegations, that a sexual assault victim must provide some independent corroborating evidence. At para. 77 of her reasons, Rowles J.A. observed:

  105. There was no corroborative evidence from the witnesses who had been students at the School of other boys having lined up and being examined by McDougall in the supervisor’s washroom so as to lend support to [F.H.]’s recollection of events.

    At para. 79 she stated:

    .... No support for [F.H.]’s testimony could be drawn from the surrounding circumstances.

  106. In her concurring reasons at para. 106, Southin J.A. stated:

  107. .... To choose one over the other in cases of oath against oath requires, in my opinion, an articulated reason founded in evidence other than that of the plaintiff.

  108. The impression these passages may leave is that there is a legal requirement of corroboration in civil cases in which sexual assault is alleged. In an abundance of caution and to provide guidance for the future, I make the following comments.

  109. Corroborative evidence is always helpful and does strengthen the evidence of the party relying on it as I believe Rowles J.A. was implying in her comments. However, it is not a legal requirement and indeed may not be available, especially where the alleged incidents took place decades earlier. Incidents of sexual assault normally occur in private.

  110. Requiring corroboration would elevate the evidentiary requirement in a civil case above that in a criminal case.   Modern criminal law has rejected the previous common law and later statutory requirement that allegations of sexual assault be corroborated in order to lead to a conviction (see Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1970, c. C‑34, s. 139(1), mandating the need for corroboration and its subsequent amendments removing this requirement (Act to amend the Criminal Code in relation to sexual offences and other offences against the person and to amend certain other Acts in relation thereto or in consequence thereof, S.C. 1980‑81‑82‑83, c. 125), as well as the current Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C‑46, s. 274, stipulating that no corroboration is required for convictions in sexual assault cases).   Trial judges faced with allegations of sexual assault may find that they are required to make a decision on the basis of whether they believe the plaintiff or the defendant and as difficult as that may be, they are required to assess the evidence and make their determination without imposing a legal requirement for corroboration.

    F. Is W. (D.) Applicable in Civil Cases in Which Credibility is in Issue?

  111. At paras. 107, 108 and 110 of her reasons, Southin J.A. stated:

  112. It is not enough for the judge to say that I find the plaintiff credible and since he is credible the defendant must be lying.

    What I have said so far is, to me, no more than an application to civil cases of R v W. (D.), [1991] 1 S.C.R. 742.

    ....

    I see no logical reason why the rejection of “either/or” in criminal cases is not applicable in civil cases where the allegation is of crime, albeit that the burden of proof on the proponent is not beyond reasonable doubt but on the balance of probabilities.

  113. W.(D.) was a decision by this Court in which Cory J., at pp. 757-58, established a three-step charge to the jury to help the jury assess conflicting evidence between the victim and the accused in cases of criminal prosecutions of sexual assaults:

    • First, if you believe the evidence of the accused, obviously you must acquit.

    • Second, if you do not believe the testimony of the accused but you are left in reasonable doubt by it, you must acquit.

    • Third, even if you are not left in doubt by the evidence of the accused, you must ask yourself whether, on the basis of the evidence which you do accept, you are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt by that evidence of the guilt of the accused.

  114. These charges to the jury are not sacrosanct but were merely put in place as guideposts to the meaning of reasonable doubt, as recently explained by Binnie J. in R v J.H.S., [2008] 2 S.C.R. 152, 2008 SCC 30, at paras. 9 and 13:

  115. .... Essentially, W. (D.) simply unpacks for the benefit of the lay jury what reasonable doubt means in the context of evaluating conflicting testimonial accounts. It alerts the jury to the “credibility contest” error. It teaches that trial judges are required to impress on the jury that the burden never shifts from the Crown to prove every element of the offence beyond a reasonable doubt.

    ....

    In R v Avetysan, [2000] 2 S.C.R. 745, 2000 SCC 56, Major J. for the majority pointed out that in any case where credibility is important “[t]he question is really whether, in substance, the trial judge’s instructions left the jury with the impression that it had to choose between the two versions of events” (para. 19). The main point is that lack of credibility on the part of the accused does not equate to proof of his or her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

  116. The W.(D.) steps were developed as an aid to the determination of reasonable doubt in the criminal law context where a jury is faced with conflicting testimonial accounts. Lack of credibility on the part of an accused is not proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

  117. However, in civil cases in which there is conflicting testimony, the judge is deciding whether a fact occurred on a balance of probabilities. In such cases, provided the judge has not ignored evidence, finding the evidence of one party credible may well be conclusive of the result because that evidence is inconsistent with that of the other party. In such cases, believing one party will mean explicitly or implicitly that the other party was not believed on the important issue in the case. That may be especially true where a plaintiff makes allegations that are altogether denied by the defendant as in this case. W.(D.) is not an appropriate tool for evaluating evidence on the balance of probabilities in civil cases.

    G. Did the Trial Judge Ignore the Evidence of McDougall?

  118. In an argument related to W.(D.), the Attorney General of Canada says at para. 44 of its factum, that “[s]imply believing the testimony of one witness, without assessing the evidence of the other witness, marginalizes that other witness” since he has no way of knowing whether he was disbelieved or simply ignored.

  119. The Attorney General bases his argument on the well-known passage in Faryna v Chorny, [1952] 2 D.L.R. 354 (B.C.C.A.), which concludes at p. 357:

  120. .... a Court of Appeal must be satisfied that the trial Judge’s finding of credibility is based not on one element only to the exclusion of others, but is based on all the elements by which it can he tested in the particular case.

  121. Thus, the Attorney General contends, at para. 47 of its factum, that:

  122. .... In a civil proceeding alleging a sexual assault, if the trier of fact accepts the plaintiff’s evidence and simply ignores the defendant’s evidence, that conclusion would breach the requirement described in Faryna, that every element of the evidence must be considered.

  123. I agree that it would be an error for the trial judge to ignore the evidence of the defendant and simply concentrate on the evidence submitted by the plaintiff. But that is not the case here.

  124. The trial judge  described the testimony given by McDougall with respect to his vocational beliefs, his subsequent marriage, his role at the school, the routine at the school, the laundry procedure and his denials as to having sexually assaulted either R.C. or F.H.. She also dealt with the defence arguments with respect to the credibility and reliability of the testimony of R.C. and F.H. regarding the sexual assaults. Indeed, she found that R.C. did not prove he was sexually assaulted by McDougall.

  125. In  determining whether McDougall had ever strapped R.C. or F.H., she summarized McDougall’s evidence as follows at para. 131:

  126. As stated, it was the defendant’s evidence that during his years at the school, he administered the strap to only five or six intermediate boys. He did so as punishment for behavior such as fighting or swearing. It was always to the hand and was always done in the dorm. He denied the evidence of Mr. Jeffries that he had frequently disciplined him for the reasons Mr. Jeffries described. He denied going to his grandmother’s home or mocking him about wanting to visit his grandmother. He denied the evidence of F.H.

  127. She also highlighted a contradiction in  McDougall’s testimony at para. 135:

  128. It is also my view that the defendant minimized his use of the strap as a form of discipline. Further, while he testified that no child was ever strapped in his room, when testifying about one specific incident, he said that he brought the boy “upstairs to my room and I administered the strap three times to his right hand”.

    Although McDougall later “corrected himself” to say that he had strapped the boy in the dorm and not in his room, it was open to the trial judge to believe his first statement and not his “correction”.

  129. And as earlier discussed, at para. 106 of her reasons, she pointed out inconsistency between the evidence of McDougall and one of the defence witnesses, Mr. Paul, on the issue of routine physical inspections of the students.

  130. At para. 66 of her reasons for the majority of the Court of Appeal, Rowles J.A. stated:

  131. From the reasons the trial judge gave for finding that the appellant had strapped the respondent, one can infer that the judge did not accept the appellant’s evidence on that issue. Disbelief of a witness’s evidence on one issue may well taint the witness’s evidence on other issues, but an unfavourable credibility finding against a witness does not, of itself, constitute evidence that can be used to prove a fact in issue.

  132. I agree with Rowles J.A. However, the trial judge’s unfavourable credibility findings with respect to McDougall’s strapping evidence together with her belief in Paul’s evidence in preference to that of McDougall with respect to routine physical inspections, indicates that she did not ignore McDougall’s evidence or marginalize him. She simply believed F.H. on essential matters rather than McDougall.

    H.  Were the Reasons of the Trial Judge Adequate?

  133. The Attorney General alleges that the reasons of the trial judge are inadequate. The same argument was not accepted by the Court of Appeal. At para. 61, Rowles J.A. stated:

  134. Generally speaking, if a judge’s reasons reveal the path the judge took to reach a conclusion on the matter in dispute, the reasons are adequate for the purposes of appellate review. To succeed in an argument that the trial judge did not give adequate reasons, an appellant does not have to demonstrate that there is a flaw in the reasoning that lead to the result. In this case, the judge’s reasons are adequate to show how she arrived at her conclusion that the respondent had been sexually assaulted.

    Where the Court of Appeal expresses itself as being satisfied that it can discern why the trial judge arrived at her conclusion, a party faces a serious obstacle to convince this court that the reasons are nonetheless inadequate.

  135. The meaning of adequacy of reasons is explained in R v Sheppard, [2002] 1 S.C.R. 869, 2002 SCC 26. In R v Walker, [2008] 2 S.C.R. 245, 2008 SCC 34, Binnie J. summarized the duty to give adequate reasons:

    1. To justify and explain the result;

    2. To tell the losing party why he or she lost;

    3. To provide for informed consideration of the grounds of appeal; and

    4. To satisfy the public that justice has been done.

  136. However, an appeal court cannot intervene merely because it believes the trial judge did a poor job of expressing herself. Nor, is a failure to give adequate reasons a free standing basis for appeal. At para. 20 of Walker, Binnie J. states:

  137. Equally, however, Sheppard holds that “[t]he appellate court is not given the power to intervene simply because it thinks the trial court did a poor job of expressing itself” (para. 26). Reasons are sufficient if they are responsive to the case’s live issues and the parties’ key arguments. Their sufficiency should be measured not in the abstract, but as they respond to the substance of what was in issue .... The duty to give reasons “should be given a functional and purposeful interpretation” and the failure to live up to the duty does not provide “a free-standing right of appeal” or “in itself confe[r] entitlement to appellate intervention” (para. 53).

  138.   An unsuccessful party may well be dissatisfied with the reasons of a trial judge, especially where he or she was not believed. Where findings of credibility must be made, it must be recognized that it may be very difficult for the trial judge to put into words the process by which the decision is arrived at (see R v Gagnon). But that does not make the reasons inadequate. In R v R.E.M., 2008 SCC 51, released at the same time as this decision, McLachlin C.J. has explained that credibility findings may involve factors that are difficult to verbalize (para. 49):

  139. While it is useful for a judge to attempt to articulate the reasons for believing a witness and disbelieving another in general or on a particular point, the fact remains that the exercise may not be purely intellectual and may involve factors that are difficult to verbalize. Furthermore, embellishing why a particular witness’s evidence is rejected may involve the judge in saying unflattering things about the witness; judges may wish to spare the accused who takes the stand to deny the crime, for example, the indignity of not only rejecting his evidence in convicting him, but adding negative comments about his demeanor. In short, assessing credibility is a difficult and delicate matter, that does not always lend itself to precise and complete verbalization.

    Nor are reasons inadequate because in hindsight, it may be possible to say that the reasons were not as clear and comprehensive as they might have been.

  140.   Rowles J.A. found that the reasons of the trial judge showed why she arrived at her conclusion that F.H. had been sexually assaulted by McDougall. I agree with her that the reasons of the trial judge were adequate.

    IV. Conclusion

  141.   I  am of the respectful opinion that the majority of the Court of Appeal erred in reversing the decision of the trial judge. The appeal should be allowed with costs. The decision of the Court of Appeal of British Columbia should be set aside and the decision of the trial judge restored.


Representations

Allan Donovan, Karim Ramji and Niki Sharma (m/s Donovan & Company, Vancouver), for the appellant.

Bronson Toy (m/s Forstrom Jackson, Vancouver), for the respondent Ian Hugh McDougall.

F. Mark Rowan (m/s Macaulay McColl, Vancouver), for the respondent The Order of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in the Province of British Columbia.

Peter Southey, Christine Mohr and Andrea Bourke (Attorney General of Canada, Toronto), for the respondent Her Majesty The Queen.


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