Serious Allegations With Life-Changing Impact

The term “workplace” includes places like offices and retail stores. It also includes colleges and universities, non-profits, and government organizations. When someone is accused of sexual assault in a Toronto workplace, the allegation alone can seriously impact their life. 

When news about the accusation gets out, the person’s reputation is brought into question. Criminal courts may presume innocence until someone is proven guilty, but the court of public opinion often works the other way around. Coworkers and community members may assume guilt and start treating the accused differently before their guilt has been clearly established.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1990 (“OHSA”) states that Ontario employers must investigate complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace. The act also requires employers to create, update, and enforce sexual harassment policies in the workplace. The situation can quickly escalate from the human resources department to calling the police, resulting in criminal charges. 

Someone who has been wrongfully accused of sexual assault may assume the system will exonerate them.  However, this is not always the case, and especially if the accused does not retain a top criminal lawyer to defend them.  These types of serious allegations are life-changing events that need to be taken seriously right away. It is important to protect your rights and your reputation.

Sexual Assault Is Different from Sexual Harassment

Some people use the terms interchangeably, but sexual harassment and sexual assault are not the same thing. 

In some cases, sexual harassment may only violate workplace policies. This may involve sexual misconduct in the workplace, such as inappropriate comments. The OHSA defines workplace sexual harassment as engaging in “vexatious” and “unwelcome” comments or conduct relating to sex or gender. It may also involve unwelcome sexual solicitation by a coworker in a position of power. This is abhorrent behaviour, but it likely does not result in jail time. 

By contrast, sexual assault is a Criminal Code offence in Ontario. It is a crime punishable by lengthy periods of time in prison and other serious consequences.  Sexual crimes may also involve violence and aggression. Broadly speaking, sexual assault is any form of sexual contact imposed on a person without their consent. 

Examples of Sexual Assault in the Workplace

Toronto workplaces fall under the Criminal Code of Canada for levels of sexual assault allegations. This starts with common sexual assault, outlined in Section 271 of the Criminal Code. Section 272 continues to describe sexual assault with a weapon, threats to a third party, or causing bodily harm. Finally, this can escalate to Section 273 for aggravated sexual assault. 

Sexual assault in the workplace can take on many forms. Some examples may include:

  • Fondling or groping of genitals, buttocks, or breasts
  • Unwanted kissing
  • Uninvited massages
  • Other forms of unwanted sexual touching
  • Forced sexual intercourse or attempted rape.

Sexual assault may involve any part of the human body. It is defined as the violation of a person’s sexual integrity. Any sexual act without consent may lead to a conviction. The person charged will face jail time and other severe punishments.

What to Do If You Are Charged with Sexual Assault

Facing allegations of sexual assault in the workplace in Ontario can be very unsettling. You likely have a lot of questions about what it all means. You may not know what to do next. It is crucial to follow these steps to increase the chances of a positive outcome.

  1. Hire a sexual assault defence lawyer right away. The team at Kruse Law has years of extensive experience in this area. We can provide sound legal advice and guide you through this entire process. Together, we can develop a defence plan to fight the allegation.
  2. Describe your account of the events. Share this detailed account with your lawyer and no one else. Help your legal team understand exactly what happened from your point of view. They can then strategize on how best to proceed.
  3. Share witness contact information. Do not reach out to witnesses directly, but think about coworkers who may be able to corroborate your story. Offer this information to your defence lawyer. 
  4. Collect relevant evidence. This may include text messages, emails, and other communications you had with the victim. This can help to paint a fuller picture of the situation. Again, share this only with your lawyer.
  5. Assist your lawyer in their investigation. Follow the advice and guidance of your defence lawyer. They can launch an independent investigation of what transpired.

It is equally important to know what not to do if you are charged with sexual assault.

  1. Do not speak with or provide a statement to the police.   You have the right to remain silent under the common law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Even amidst false allegations, one slip of the tongue can work against your interests and lead to a guilty verdict at trial. 
  2. Do not speak with the alleged victim or any other Crown witnesses. You may be tempted to try to clear up the misunderstanding with them directly. But, much like speaking with the police, a misconstrued remark may hurt your case. It can also be interpreted as obstruction of justice or intimidating the witness.
  3. Do not destroy evidence. A flirty text message or photo may feel like it casts you in an unfavorable light, but destroying it could look even worse, as the courts may feel you are trying to cover it up. This paints you in an even worse light.

Potential Penalties for Sexual Assault in Ontario

In the case of sexual harassment in the workplace, the most common consequence is workplace discipline. The person may need to attend sexual harassment workshops. They could be suspended, demoted, or terminated from their job. There may or not be any criminal charges laid, but their reputation is irreversibly tarnished. This can impact future employment and other opportunities.  However, depending on the severity of the sexual harassment, it may result in a criminal harassment charge under s. 264 of the Criminal Code.   Unwanted behaviour that reasonably causes a coworker to fear for their safety, such as repeatedly following a coworker from place to place (i.e., stalking), repeated unwanted communication with a co-worker, or engaging in threatening conduct, could result in Criminal Code harassment charges.

If an alleged sexual assault occurred in the workplace, criminal charges will usually be laid. After the accused is arrested and charged by the police, their matter will proceed through a complex criminal court process. The possible jail time depends on the severity of the alleged crime as follows:

  • Sexual assault (Section 271) has a maximum sentence of up to ten years in jail.
  • Sexual assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm (Section 272) may result in up to 14 years in jail.
  • Aggravated sexual assault (Section 273) has a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Potential penalties extend beyond jail time. The courts may impose several restrictions after an Ontario sexual assault conviction. The individual may be placed on probation for up to three years in addition to receiving a jail sentence. They will be prohibited from possessing weapons or firearms for many years.  They will be required to provide a sample of their DNA which will be kept in Canada’s DNA data bank.  What’s more, they will be placed on the Ontario and National Sex Offender Registry. Registration has far-reaching effects on what a person can and cannot do.   A person who has a criminal record for sexual assault will find it very difficult to obtain employment after completing their prison sentence.

Defences Against Workplace Sexual Assault Charges

Hiring a skilled criminal defence lawyer offers the best chance at battling allegations of workplace sexual assault. They will formulate a customized defence strategy for your case, which will improve your chances of having the charges withdrawn or dismissed. Possible defences may include:

  • Investigating to disprove the alleged victim’s account of events
  • Creating reasonable doubt in the evidence or witness testimony
  • Questioning the credibility and reliability of the complainant’s testimony and other Crown evidence
  • Determining if your legal rights have been violated
  • Challenging the assertion that consent was not given
  • Advocating to reduce your sentence if you plead guilty or are found guilty

Why You Need a Toronto Sexual Assault Lawyer

Strongly charged emotions can run high in these types of cases. Allegations of sexual assault in the workplace in Toronto are not to be taken lightly. It is absolutely paramount to hire a skilled and experienced Toronto sexual assault lawyer as early as possible. They can offer keen insight and guidance throughout the legal process. 

Even if you vehemently assert the accusations are categorically false, you will struggle to prove your innocence without the help of a top criminal defence lawyer.  With over 30 years of successful experience in this area of practice, we can maximize the chances you will emerge from this messy situation unscathed. We can advise you every step of the way and obtain the best possible result for you.  This can include conducting our own private workplace investigations using private investigators.

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