Innocent until proven guilty isn’t just a popular phrase, it’s enshrined in our Constitution.
Under Section 11 (d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, “any person charged with an offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.”
This is intended to ensure people facing charges are given due process.
So when federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh spoke to reporters about the recent sexual misconduct accusations levelled against the now former leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, Patrick Brown, he didn’t mince words, leaving some caucus members surprised.
“If you are asking me when I was a lawyer in a legal lens, there is a discussion or presumption of innocence — but that is strictly about the procedures in court,” Singh said Thursday, as reported by Huffington Post Canada.
“When it comes to creating a just society, we need to look at the reality that we have to believe survivors if we want to tackle violence against women, if we want to shift a culture that for too long women have been silent about the ongoing violence that they experienced in their lives,” he added.
Therein lies the conundrum: should we believe all alleged victims of sexual misconduct, even without evidence or due process? Should we accept the claims of alleged survivors as factual, even if the complainants are anonymous?
The accusers against Brown never revealed their identity in the CTV News report published Wednesday.
“CTV News has agreed to protect the identities of the women who have come forward,” the news outlet said in their story. CBC News also spoke to a female complainant about her accusation against Brown and “agreed not to identify the woman due to the sexual nature of her complaint.”
Brown denied the claims made against him by the two unnamed women.
“I reject these accusations in the strongest possible terms,” Brown said Wednesday in response. Hours later, he resigned from his position as party leader.
Deputy Ontario Progressive Conservative leaders Sylvia Jones and Steve Clark released a statement Thursday on the matter, in which they said they cannot continue with Brown as party leader.
“Mr. Brown is entitled to a legal defense and due process, but he cannot lead us into an election as a result of these allegations,” the statement read. “The Ontario PC Party unequivocally upholds the principle that a safe and respectful society is what we expect and deserve. We need to move forward to eradicate sexual violence and harassment across the province.”
Some celebrities have weighed in on the allegations made against public figures, which began with accusations against film producer Harvey Weinstein and continued with the #MeToo campaign.
“I don’t agree with people being accused of something and not having due process, I think that’s bad,” singer Elton John told CNN on Wednesday regarding this issue.
HBO’s Last Week Tonight host John Oliver shared his own take on the controversy while speaking to actor Dustin Hoffman during a film discussion in December 2017. Hoffman has also been accused of sexual misconduct.
“Do you believe this stuff that you read?” Hoffman asked. “I believe what she wrote, yes,” Oliver replied, referring to the actor’s accuser. When Hoffman asked why, Oliver responded: “Because there’s no point in her lying.”
Oliver’s sentiment, similar to that of Singh, perpetuates a survivor-focused approach to accusations: a society that believes alleged victims may entice those covered by a veil of fear to share their own harrowing accounts.
Brown’s sister, Stephanie Brown, shared her views on the allegations against her brother in a Facebook post Friday. “What happened to my brother was disgusting,” she wrote.
“Those who know me would characterize me as a strong feminist but making false allegations does not help the feminist cause. Applauding accusers who remain nameless ghosts to bolster political capitol — pathetic,” she added.
Singh told reporters he thought the allegations made against Brown were “very heinous,” adding, “despite the fact they’re allegations, they’re serious enough that it was not appropriate for him to continue.”
But, what do you think? Do you believe people should be presumed innocent until proven guilty? Was Singh’s view of the allegations off base? Be sure to vote in our poll above and let us know what you think in the comment section below.