Quebec Appeal Court throws out sexual assault conviction after judge's 'unfortunate' comment

The Quebec Court of Appeal has thrown out a sexual assault conviction after it found a comment by the lower court judge, based on "prejudices and stereotypes" about young men, "irremediably compromised" the trial's fairness.

Panel of justices found lower court judge's remark about young men based on 'prejudices and stereotypes'

Quebec's Court of Appeal overturned a sexual assault conviction, finding that a lower court judge made comments based on 'prejudices and stereotypes' about young men. (CBC)

The Quebec Court of Appeal has thrown out a sexual assault conviction after it found a lower court judge's "unfortunate comment" based on "prejudices and stereotypes" about young men compromised the trial's fairness.

The lower court judge refused to believe that a young man who unexpectedly encountered a couple engaged in sexual activity could simply walk away without watching or participating.

"For any normal young man, it is an exciting scene to look at," Quebec court Judge Manon Ouimet wrote in her decision that convicted Tim Robbins of sexual assault in 2015.

It was this specific comment that derailed the entire case and led to Robbins' conviction being tossed earlier this month.

Differing accounts

The case dates back to 2008, when Robbins was a 21-year- old student at the Royal Military College Saint-Jean, in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.

He and two fellow students, Josh Deschamps and a woman who's the alleged victim in the case, were at a hotel in Montreal for the weekend.

Robbins and Deschamps were both eventually convicted of sexual assault. Deschamps has already served his sentence. However, Robbins appealed his conviction.

Robbins and the alleged victim agreed on certain points in their testimony. 

They agreed there was heavy drinking that night. 

They agreed that Robbins had consensual intercourse with the alleged victim hours before the alleged assault occurred. 

And they agreed that the alleged victim and Deschamps were later kissing in an elevator that night at the hotel.

But their testimonies differed significantly when it came to what happened in the hotel bathroom where the alleged assault happened.

Accused says he was brushing his teeth

According to the alleged victim, she found herself in the bathroom with both Robbins and Deschamps at the end of the evening. She alleged both men held her down and sexually assaulted her.

Robbins told a different story.

He testified that the three did indeed end up in the hotel bathroom that night, but he says he was just there to brush his teeth. 

He said at a certain point while he was doing that the alleged victim started to perform oral sex on Deschamps.

Robbins testified at that point he left the bathroom and went to bed.

Comment from judge derails case

The lower court judge didn't buy Robbins' story.

"The Court does not believe that [Robbins] quickly left the bathroom when Josh was having sex with [the alleged victim]. For any normal young man, it is an exciting scene to look at," Ouimet wrote.

The judge's error irremediably compromised the fairness of the trial, regardless of the strength of the evidence.- Quebec Court of Appeal decision

In their decision, the three justices on the Quebec Court of Appeal panel took issue with Ouimet's comments, saying she shouldn't make assumptions about Robbins' behaviour based solely on his age and gender.

"The comments are unfortunate. They use prejudices and stereotypes, which is an error in law," reads the Appeal Court ruling.

The justices felt that Ouimet should have based her decision solely on the evidence.

"The judge's error irremediably compromised the fairness of the trial, regardless of the strength of the evidence [presented] by the Crown," the written decision continues.

"It's sad, but it cannot be otherwise," it concludes.

The Appeal Court set aside Robbins' conviction, dismissed the charges and ordered a new trial.

The Crown now has three options:  it can appeal this latest decision to the Supreme Court of Canada; it can proceed with a new trial, or it can drop the case altogether.