Jacob Hoggard's appeal of sexual assault conviction heard by Ontario appeal court

TORONTO — Canadian musician Jacob Hoggard's appeal of his sexual assault conviction was heard at Ontario's top court on Wednesday, as the former Hedley frontman sought a new trial.

Hoggard was sentenced to five years behind bars in October 2022 after being found guilty of sexual assault causing bodily harm against an Ottawa woman, an offence the presiding judge called a "particularly degrading rape."

The musician was granted bail hours after being sentenced, pending his appeal in the case.

Documents filed by Hoggard's lawyers with the Court of Appeal for Ontario said he is appealing his conviction on four grounds, including that the trial judge erred by admitting the evidence of Lori Haskell, a clinical psychologist, on the neurobiology of trauma.

They also argued the trial judge wrongly permitted the Crown to argue that the expert's evidence supported the credibility of the woman Hoggard was found to have sexually assaulted.

"This arrow cuts right into the heart of the issue in this case," Gerald Chan, one of Hoggard's lawyers argued in court Wednesday. "This is not a peripheral part of the trial. This is not related to tangential pieces of evidence."

The trial judge allowed the psychologist, over the objections of the defence, to give the jury a generic "science" lesson on the neurobiology of trauma as long as she did not link the evidence to the complainants, who she did not assess, Hoggard's lawyers said in court documents.

"Dr. Haskell testified that experiencing a traumatic event can cause memory to fragment and lack coherent narrative. The relevance of this evidence, however, assumed the existence of the very traumatic events at issue in the trial — namely, the alleged sexual assaults," they argued.

"Unless the jury assumed Hoggard was guilty, Dr. Haskell’s evidence was irrelevant. It should never have been admitted."

The legal team further argued that the trial judge delivered an "impermissibly imbalanced" jury charge regarding inconsistencies in the woman's testimony compared to those in Hoggard's testimony – they argued the judge gave the jury the misimpression that the woman and Hoggard had an equal number of inconsistencies when "in reality J.B. had more."

The Crown argued in court documents that the psychologist's evidence was properly admitted at trial, and the trial judge pared down the expert evidence on the neurobiology of trauma to the "established science" that the defence did not challenge on cross-examination.

"It was relevant not to bolster credibility but to help the jury assess counter-intuitive behaviour that may be misunderstood owing to myths and stereotypes. It was necessary because the scientific explanation behind these behaviours is beyond laypersons’ ability to understand," the Crown wrote.

"Without it there was a risk the complainants’ evidence would be unfairly discounted. Although not a neurobiologist, Dr. Haskell had extensive neurobiology of trauma training and teaching experience. Any potential for prejudice was addressed through paring down the evidence’s scope, the opportunity for cross-examination and providing custom mid-trial and final jury instructions."

The Crown – which has asked that the appeal be dismissed – also argued that instructions to the jury on prior inconsistent statements was balanced and fair to Hoggard.

At trial, Hoggard was found guilty of sexual assault causing bodily harm against an Ottawa woman and acquitted of the same charge against a teenage fan. He was also found not guilty of sexual interference, a charge that refers to the sexual touching of someone under 16, in relation to the teen.

The Crown alleged at trial that Hoggard groped the teen after a Hedley show in Toronto in April 2016, then violently raped her in a Toronto-area hotel room later that year after she turned 16. They alleged Hoggard then violently raped the Ottawa woman in a downtown Toronto hotel in November 2016.

Hoggard – who had pleaded not guilty to all charges – acknowledged having sex with both complainants, but denied sexually assaulting them. As a result, the case turned on the issue of consent.

The musician whose band, Hedley, rose to fame after he came in third on the reality show Canadian Idol in 2004, was charged in 2018.

The band went on an indefinite hiatus when allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced. Its last show was in Kelowna, B.C., on March 24, 2018.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 19, 2024.

The Canadian Press