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Supreme Court upholds conviction of Maple Ridge man who assaulted Langley woman

Case has implications for many appeals in sexual assault cases
The Supreme Court of Canada is pictured in Ottawa on Friday, March 3, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

WARNING: This story discusses some details of a sexual assault

A Maple Ridge man’s conviction for sexually assaulting a Langley woman in 2017 has been re-instated by the Supreme Court of Canada, after an earlier Appeal Court ruling that had ordered a new trial.

Christopher James Kruk, from Maple Ridge, and Edwin Tsang, in a separate and unrelated case, both had their convictions overturned by B.C. Court of Appeal judges.

The Supreme Court chose to hear both cases together, as both involved the question of how judges deal with credibility, reliability, and how common sense can be used by judges when they consider witness testimony.

At stake in the case has been an emerging rule among appeal court judges about “ungrounded common-sense assumptions.”

Courts have been rejecting convictions when judges make assumptions about human behaviour which are “not grounded in the evidence,” according to a summary of the Supreme Court’s decision.

Both cases were appealed to the nation’s highest court by Crown prosecutors, arguing that judges’ conclusions should not be a reason to overturn a conviction unless those conclusions were based on obviously wrong or inapplicable reasoning, or where the judge’s reliance on that assumption was the “overriding” factor in the case.

All seven Supreme Court justices agreed with the Crown’s appeal.

The Kruk conviction stems from a May 26, 2017 sexual assault, when Kruk was 34 years old.

Kruk met the victim, who cannot be identified by name, in Gastown. She had gone to a party with friends, become intoxicated at the event, and then been separated from her friends and become lost. Kruk found her crying on the sidewalk after 11:30 p.m.

He offered to get her home safely, but a cab driver balked at taking her to her Langley home alone while she was seriously intoxicated.

Instead, she passed out or fell asleep at Kruk’s Maple Ridge home.

The victim testified at the trial that she woke up to find Kruk having sex with her, and that she tried and failed to push him off. Kruk denied having sex with the woman.

In the first trial, the judge gave a number of reasons for finding Kruk guilty. But the appeal court focused on just one of those – the trial judge found it was “extremely unlikely” that a woman could be mistaken about the feeling of penile penetration.

The appeal court found that there was a “body of evidence” on which the judge could have convicted Kruk, but that his reasoning in that single statement was grounds for a new trial.

“He did not make a finding that was tethered to the evidence. Instead, he engaged in speculative reasoning,” Justice Leonard Marchand wrote in the Court of Appeal ruling.

The Supreme Court ruling strengthens the ability of judges to use common sense interpretations, and also draws a firm line between common sense and the prohibition against relying on myths and stereotypes when assessing evidence from victims of sexual assaults.

The ruling touches on the fact that both court rulings and legislation have, over the course of the last 40 years, attempted to stop stereotypes “that women, as a group, were less worthy of belief and did not deserve legal protection against sexual violence.”

Appeals such as those for Kruk and Tsang have argued that judges making common-sense assumptions about the accused was in the same category as stereotypes about rape victims.

“The appeals before this court are therefore part of a body of recent jurisprudence that seeks to transform how credibility and reliability findings in sexual assault cases are reviewed on appeal,” said the Supreme Court ruling, written by Justice Sheilah Martin for the majority of judges.

The appeals rest on what was an emerging consensus in the courts against ungrounded common-sense assumptions, and classifies any use of those assumptions as an error of law. It also makes a link between rejecting biases about sexual assault victims, and any assumptions made about other witnesses, including the accused.

The Supreme Court justices firmly rejected these ideas.

It is possible for a judge to make improper and incorrect assumptions about an accused person, wrote Martin. But not all assumptions are errors of law.

In Kruk’s case, the judges zeroed in on the reasoning the Court of Appeal rejected.

“Viewing the reasons as a whole and in context, the trial judge did not reject the defence theory because of an assumption that no woman would be mistaken, but rather because he accepted the complainant’s testimony that she, herself, was not mistaken,” Justice Sheilah Martin wrote. “The trial judge’s conclusion was grounded in his assessment of the complainant’s testimony and no palpable and overriding errors were made.”

All seven judges ruling on the case found that the convictions should be re-instated, with six of the justices filing a concurring opinion written by Martin. Justice Malcolm Rowe also agreed, but wrote a separate opinion based on different legal reasoning.

Kruk and Tsang are now expected to face sentencing for their attacks.

PREVIOUSLY: New trial ordered for Maple Ridge man accused of sexually assaulting Langley woman

Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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