Mandatory minimum senteces for sexual offences are continuing to fall. The mandatory minimum sentence of one year in jail for sexual interference when the Crown proceeds by indictment has previuosly been declared unconstitutional in many cases Now, the mandatory minimum of 90 days in jail has beem struck down.
The offence of sexual interference applies to situations in which there is any touching of a minor in a sexual manner. This can include masturbation, oral sex or intercourse. Section 151 of the Criminal Code states that every person who, for a sexual purpose, touches, directly or indirectly, with a part of the body or with an object, any part of the body of a person under the age of sixteen years is guilty of an indictable offence. It does not matter if the minor consented to the activity, except in limited circumstances where the accused is close in age to the minor (see our blog entry on "Age of Consent"). Nor does it matter if the minor instigated the touching so long as the accused had a sexual purpose when taking part. In some cases, it may be possible to argue that the touching was not for a sexual purpose, such as a situation where a parent is giving bath to a child. However, in the vast majority of cases the defence will be based on an argument that the Crown has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that any sexual activity took place. The focus at trial will be to attack the credibility and reliability of the allegations. A discussion of what is involved in mounting such a defence can be found in out blog entry "The I Didn't Do It Defence to a Sexual Assault Charge."
If you have been charged with a sexual offence, the consequences of a conviction can be serious. In all but the most minor of offences, some form of jail sentence is likely to be imposed. The length of the sentence can vary. In cases of date rape, the sentence is likely to be between two and five years. In cases of ongoing abuse of children, particularly if there are more than one victim, the sentence can be much higher than five years.
For certain sexual offences against young people, such as sexual interference, it is a defence in some circumstances to be mistaken about their age. In order for this defence to be valid, an accused person must take all reasonable steps to ascertain the age of the complainant. So, what does "all reasonable steps" actually mean? The Supreme Court of Canada provided some guidance in the recent case of R. v. George.
The age of consent for sexual activity in Canada is set out in the Criminal Code. As a general rule, a person cannor consent to sexual activity until they are 16 years old. As a result, if you have sexual relations with someone who is not yet 16 years old it is no defence that he or she consented to the activity. However, there are exceptions.
You were charged with a criminal offence, such as sexual interference, and released on bail; however, it does not feel like liberty as the conditions on the bail recognizance are incredibly strict. Some examples of strict bail conditions are: house arrest except while in the presence of your surety; limitations on your ability to see family; a curfew; or a condition denying you the ability to go to school or work. These restrictions can be very difficult and limiting for accused persons to go about living their lives. Some would equate the conditions to being in custody; however, bail is not jail.
A recent Superior Court decision in Ottawa (in a case conducted by Bayne Sellar Boxall partner Mark Ertel) is a good example of how the analysis of mandatory minimum sentences plays out in Court [R. v. Laviolette, 2016 ONSC 782]. In that case, the offender was found guilty of touching a 15 year old girl for a sexual purpose. Section 151 of the Criminal Code prohibits that conduct. It is commonly known as "sexual interference." Sexual interference covers a very wide range of conduct. In some cases sentences traditionally ranged from 0-90 days for less invasive, fleeting touching whereas lengthy penitentiary terms of 5 years and even more were imposed in more serious cases where the conduct was more intrusive and/or happens repeatedly over an extended period of time.