NHL Players Charged with Sexual Assault in London, Ontario – What is defined as Sexual Assault in Canada and what is the burden of proof?
Recently four (4) NHL Players were charged with sexual assault in London, Ontario, Canada. While likely criminal prosecution will not occur in the United States, the case has made headlines here in the United States. One (1) of the players charged is Philadelphia Flyer’s Goalie, Carter Hart. Hart along with three (3) other professional hockey players were charged with an alleged sexual assault which occurred in 2018, when they were a part of Team Canada in the World Junior Championship. The team went on to win the championship.
Civil vs. Criminal Liability
The alleged victim in the case did pursue the action civilly and Hockey Canada, the organization, responsible for the team settled a lawsuit with the alleged victim who claimed that she was sexually assaulted by eight (8) members of the team after a party celebrating their Gold Medal win at the 2018 World Championship.
Despite the civil settlement, authorities within Canada continued to look into the allegations and launched an investigation in 2022, which commentate in the current charges against these professional hockey players.
How is Sexual Assault Defined in Canada?
While all players, through their retained criminal defense lawyers, have maintained their innocence. The matter will not move forward with prosecution.
All these players are charged with what is known as indictable offenses under Canadian Law. Indictable offenses or crimes are similar to felony offenses in crimes in the United States. Examples of indictable crimes in Canada include theft over $5,000.00, breaking and entering, aggravated sexual assault, and murder.
Under Canadian law sexual assault occurs of a person is touched in any way that interferes with their sexual integrity. This includes kissing, touching, intercourse, and any other sexual activity without his or her consent.
How Serious is Sexual Assault in Canada?
Under Canadian law sexual assault is what is known as a hybrid offense which allows the Court to proceed with the charge as an indictable offense or by summary conviction. A conviction for an indictable offense or crime is much more serious than a summary conviction.
Under Canadian law if a person is guilty of sexual assault and the prosecution (the Crown) proceeds with the prosecution the person faces a maximum of ten (10) years of prison. Under a summary conviction the accused faces up to eighteen (18) months in jail. If the victim is under the age of sixteen (16).
What is the burden of proof in this case?
In Canada, the Crown Prosecutor is the equivalent of an Assistant District Attorney or Prosecutor in States like Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The burden of proof in a Canadian Court is similar to the United States and in the Canadian system was known as reasonable doubt is something where less than absolute certainty is required but more then probability of guilt is necessary.
In most situations in summary convictions result in penalties, fines, and short jailed terms.
It is unknown at this point the severity of the allegations made against these professional hockey players for potential plea negotiations in the event they do not wish to proceed with the Trial.