The Docket – Episode 16: In the news and in the courts: violence against women

January 9, 2016

So, over the holiday break I got mad.

The Sudbury Star reported on the case of Precious Charbonneau.  Charbonneau was murdered by her husband Robert Gilbon.  He stabbed her and threw her off a balcony. He murdered her.  Charbonneau was 9 weeks pregnant at the time.  The Star’s reporting simultaneously sanitized Gilbon’s actions calling him a “a dedicated son, brother, uncle and friend, who had a varied and exemplary military career” and ignored the true victim of the crime.

“If Robert were sitting here today, and if Prec were sitting here today, if they were in this room and it was like This is Your Life, they would be hearing the things people are saying about them, especially Robert, and he would be grinning and nodding and laughing inside, because that’s his life. But the last part of his life – how do you think he’d feel about that? I think he would be saying, ‘I’m not sure what happened there. I’d sure like to get that day back.’”

— Sudbury Star, Afghanistan ‘left its mark’ on veteran

I doubt the murdered woman would be ‘grinning and nodding and laughing’. The reporting was so shocking that it was a subject of discussion on Jesse Brown’s CanadaLand podcast.

A day latter I sat down to read Windsor law school professor David Tanovich’s paper “Whack” No More: Infusing Equality into the Ethics of Defence Lawyering in Sexual Assault Cases.

Tanovich’s paper did nothing to calm me.  As a defence lawyer who believes in the presumption of innocence I was shocked.  Tanovich advocates that counsel defending an allegation of sexual assault should be under an ethical obligation to prejudge their client’s case. If the lawyer deems their client guilty they should be ethically precluded from calling the client or any other witness in support of a defence of innocence or from cross-examine the complainant in a manner to make her look like a liar.

Anyone who has watched Netflix’s Making A Murderer knows the danger of a defence lawyers prejudging their client’s guilt.

So, I was mad and conflicted.

How could i reconcile my feelings about the Star’s reporting and Tanovich’s paper?

So I sat down with Naomi Sayers and Anne-Marie McElroy to talk it out.

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