Sexual assault case highlights legal loophole

A recent sexual assault case in an Ottawa courtroom has exposed a gap in Canada’s sexual assault laws. The judge ruled that a man who had sex with his wife without consent was not guilty of sexual assault, since the prosecutor had failed to establish that the man knew his behaviour was criminal. The couple immigrated to Canada and were allegedly unaware of sexual assault laws.

This is a very troubling case since the law was amended in 1983 to ensure that sexual assault includes assault against a spouse. We are living in a time where spouses cannot legally assault their partner, however this court ruling came to the same conclusion it would have 100 years ago.

This case is particularly jarring because it wasn’t a matter of whether or not there was non-consensual sex; it was a question of his knowledge of the law. The judge stated that “the accused probably had sex with his wife on many occasions without her specific consent.” This was not enough to prove the man a criminal since the prosecutor did not prove mens rea. This is clearly a loophole. It was established that his wife told him to stop but since he said he didn’t know it was wrong to force himself on her, in the eyes of the law, he was found not guilty.

So many of us are proud to throw around the word consent to demonstrate what upstanding members of society we are. Now, more than ever, our culture discusses consent and claims to fight sexual violence, yet it still happens. Statistics Canada reported that in 2014 there were 636,000 self-reported incidents of sexual assault. How does this happen if the notion of consent is essential to us as Canadians? Something doesn’t add up.

Consent is now a part of rudimentary education in Ontario elementary schools. What is puzzling about this is that in a world where almost everyone knows the word, our courts still have trouble implementing it.

Understanding the simple concept of consent and the laws around sexual assault are important. but once we understand it, how do we ensure everyone follows it?

Consent is not just a word. It is not only something a student repeats in their first few weeks of university, or someone unfamiliar with Canadian values claims they don’t know. We need to have those uncomfortable conversations. To contribute to a safer environment we need to hold accountable those who do wrong. It must be taught and practiced from the top down. If the most powerful man in the world has no concern for consent, then no one else will. Consent is definitely not something that only affects women and understanding consent must be the cornerstone to a future without sexual violence.