Jian Ghomeshi case could bring more awareness around sexual assault cases, says P.E.I. Crown

The director of P.E.I.'s Crown Attorneys Office, Cindy Wedge, outlined the steps that take place in order to bring a sexual assault case to trial.

'There's nothing worse than the Crown being broadsided in the middle of the trial,' says Cindy Wedge

Cindy Wedge prosecuted sexual assault cases exclusively for five years. (CBC)

The director of P.E.I.'s Crown Attorneys Office, Cindy Wedge, said she hopes the outcome of former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi's trial alleging sexual assault doesn't discourage victims of sexual assault from coming forward.

There's nothing worse than the Crown being broadsided in the middle of the trial.- Cindy Wedge, Director of P.E.I.'s Crown Attorneys Office

"This hasn't changed the cases we would or would not prosecute," she told Mainstreet P.E.I. "The standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt has not changed. The presumption of innocence has not changed."

On Mar. 24, Ghomeshi was acquitted on four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking after the judge said evidence from all three complainants not only suffered from inconsistencies, but was "tainted by outright deception."

Wedge said, if anything, the outcome of the case may lead to more public awareness that "partial truth can be as damaging to credibility as a deliberate lie."

Wedge prosecuted sexual assault cases exclusively for five years, and said it's her area of expertise. She explained the steps that happen in order to bring a case to trial when the complainant is an adult.

1. The victim reports the assault to police

Wedge said if someone does experience sexual assault, they should report it to their nearest police agency. The person will provide a statement on video, describing the situation that happened.

Then, police will conduct a broad-sweeping investigation into the alleged assault, looking for evidence to support the statement.

"The legal test for the police to lay a criminal charge is whether there are legal grounds to believe that an offense has been committed," she said.

2. The complainant is referred to Victim Services

Wedge said as soon as someone makes their statement, they are referred to Victim Services.

After that referral is made, someone from Victim Services will contact the complainant to answer questions they may have.

3. Police bring the case to the Crown

Wedge said typically, before police lay a criminal charge they will bring their investigation to the Crown, for a Crown attorney to review.

"We use a higher test — we use 'Is there a reasonable likelihood of conviction?' before we bring a matter to trial," she said.

4. Charges are laid

If the Crown agrees that the case should proceed, they would discuss the appropriate wording of the charges with police.

5. Preparation for trial

Wedge said a worker from Victim Services is available to answer questions from the complainant throughout the process.

Before the trial, a Crown attorney sits down with the complainant.

"There is a broad range of topics that you talk to the complainant about," said Wedge. "I suspect that every crown has their own system of doing this — I'll tell you how I do it."

She said she explains to the complainant the "two cornerstones to justice" — proof beyond a reasonable doubt and the presumption of innocence.

In other words, she said, "We make full disclosure of the Crown's file to defence, they don't have to tell us anything. We have to present the case and establish the proof. The person who is on trial doesn't have to take the stand. That's all because of the presumption of innocence."

Wedge said after she's explained that, she tells a complainant, "You must be painfully honest with me. You have to tell me everything. If there are things that embarrass you, I still need to know them."

She said she will also often ask a complainant, "What is the worst thing from your perspective that could come out in a trial?" and "How are you going to feel if he is found not guilty?"

"There's nothing worse than the Crown being broadsided in the middle of the trial," said Wedge.

With files from Angela Walker