Adverse and Hostile Witnesses

From Criminal Law Notebook
Jump to navigation Jump to search

General Principles

When a witness is called, it is presumed that they are to be believed. At common law, a witness cannot be questioned on bad character to attack their credibility by the calling party.[1]

  1. Hanes v Wawanesa Mutual Insurance, 1961 CanLII 28 (ON CA), [1961] OR 495 at 499 (ONCA), per Porter CJ
    G.&J. Sales v Basil MacDonald (1956), 3 DLR (2d) 442 at 450 (NSCA)(*no CanLII links)
    See also CEA s. 9(1)
    R v CEN, 1998 ABCA 290 (CanLII), 129 CCC (3d) 198, per curiam
    R v Situ, 2005 ABCA 275 (CanLII), 200 CCC (3d) 9, per curiam
    R v Paquette, 2008 ABCA 49 (CanLII), 425 A.R. 4, per curiam
    David M. Paciocco and Lee Stuesser, The Law of Evidence, 5th ed (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2008) at 503-509

Common Law Principles

At common law, a witness who is unfavourable and hostile may be cross-examined on a prior statement of any type. [1]

An "unfavourable" witness is one who gives evidence that is contrary to the fact that they were called to prove. The calling party may call evidence to contradict that evidence while still relying on the other evidence that was not contradicted.

A "hostile" witness at common law is one who is "not desirous of telling the truth". Such a witness may be cross-examined to the extent that the judge sees necessary to do justice, which can include a broad area of topics such as all facts in issue, the witnesses reliability and credibility on the circumstances of the case.

A common law declaration of hostility may be available solely on the basis of the witness's manner in giving evidence and demeanour.[2]

The common law principles have largely fallen out of disuse and issues of recantations or unfavourable changing of evidence is dealt with in s. 9(1) and 9(2).

  1. R v Prefas, (1988), 86 Cr. App. R. 111, (C.A.)(*no CanLII links)
  2. R v McAllister, 2008 NSCA 103 (CanLII), per Oland JA

Adverse vs Hostile

An "adverse" witness is "one who is opposed an interest or unfavourable in the sense of opposite in position to the party calling that witness".[1]

A "hostile" witness is "one who demonstrates an antagonistic attitude or hostile mind toward the party calling him or her" or someone "who does not give his or her evidence fairly and with the desire to tell the truth because of a ohostile animus towards the prosecution."[2]

  1. R v Figliola, 2011 ONCA 457 (CanLII), per curiam, at para 50
  2. Figliola, ibid., at para 50

Section 9(2)/Milgaard Application to Cross-Examine on a Statement


Previous statements by witness not proved adverse

(2) Where the party producing a witness alleges that the witness made at other times a statement in writing, reduced to writing, or recorded on audio tape or video tape or otherwise, inconsistent with the witness’ present testimony, the court may, without proof that the witness is adverse, grant leave to that party to cross-examine the witness as to the statement and the court may consider the cross-examination in determining whether in the opinion of the court the witness is adverse.
R.S., 1985, c. C-5, s. 9; 1994, c. 44, s. 85.


This was considered a separate form of impeachment of a witness from 9(1).[1]


Section 9(2) was added to permit a broader ability to impeach a witness through cross-examination on written statements without the adverse declaration.[2] It is also an available tool to assist in making a finding of adversity.[3]


The "Milgaard procedure" required by the courts for cross examination under 9(2) is as follows:[4]

  1. counsel should notify the court of the intention to make an application under s.9(2)
  2. where necessary the jury should retire
  3. counsel should notify the court of the particulars of the application and provide the court with the alleged statement;
  4. if the judge believes on reviewing the statement there is no contraction, then the application is over. Otherwise, the judge should call upon counsel to prove the statement.
  5. Counsel should prove the statement. If the witness agrees to making the statement then it will be sufficient, otherwise, additional witnesses can be called to prove it.
  6. if the contradictory statement is proven then opposing counsel can cross-examine on the circumstances under which the statement was made.
  7. the judge should decide whether to permit cross-examination

Where the matter is a judge-alone trial, there is no need to go through the 9(2) application where the intention is to make a KGB application.[5]

The judge may require the applicant to refresh the witnesses memory or review the statement before giving leave to cross examine.[6]

Scope of Cross Examination

Cross-examination under s. 9(2) is limited to questioning that relates to the prior inconsistent statement and the circumstances surrounding them.[7] It is improper to conduct a broader attack on the witnesses credibility.[8]

It is permissible under s. 9(2) to question as to the motive and reasons behind the change in evidence.[9]

Prior Statement

There is no need for the statement to be signed or acknowledged to be considered under s. 9(2).[10]

"Reduced to Writing"

A transcript of a translation that is accurate and complete will be a "statement in rewriting or reduced to writing".[11]

Notes made by a police officer of a conversation does not amount to a written statement or one reduced to writing.[12] That is, unless the witness confirmed the written statement as accurate.[13]

Adoption of Prior Statement

Where a witness is cross-examined on a prior statement, and denies having any memory of the answer, then it cannot become evidence and can only be used towards the witnesses credibility.[14]

Where the witness has a no memory of making the prior statement, there may be a ground to permit cross-examination.[15]

  1. R v Milgaard, 1971 CanLII 792 (SK CA), (1971) 2 CCC (2d) 206 (SKCA), per Culliton CJ
    R v Rouse; McInroy, 1978 CanLII 175 (SCC), [1979] 1 SCR 588, per Martland J
  2. Rouse; McInroy, supra - no adversity finding needed
  3. R v Dayes, 2013 ONCA 614 (CanLII), per LaForme JA (3:0), at para 30
  4. Milgaard, supra
    R v Williams, 1985 CanLII 113 (ON CA), (1985), 44 CR (3d) 351 (ONCA), per Martin JA
  5. R v Glowatski, 2001 BCCA 678 (CanLII), (2001) 160 CCC (3d) 525 (BCCA), per Hall JA (3:0)
    R v Fleet, 2001 NSCA 158 (CanLII), (2001) 48 CR 5th 28 (NSCA), per Bateman JA (3:0)
  6. R v Stewart, 1976 CanLII 202 (SCC), per Spence J (dissent)
    R v Le(TD), 2011 MBCA 83 (CanLII), per Pigeon JA (6:3), at para
  7. R v Figliola, 2011 ONCA 457 (CanLII), per curiam, at paras 49 to 51
    R v Dayes, 2013 ONCA 614 (CanLII), per LaForme JA (3:0), at paras 28 to 40
  8. Figliola, supra
  9. Dayes, supra, at para 31
  10. R v Carpenter (No.2) (1982) 1 CCC (3d) 149, 1982 CanLII 3308 (ON CA), per Grange JA (3:0)
  11. Carpenter (No.2), supra
  12. R v Handy (1978) 45 CCC (2d) 232 (BCCA), 1978 CanLII 2446 (BC CA), per Hinkson JA (3:0)
  13. Handy, ibid.
  14. Rouse; McInroy, supra
  15. R v Aubin, 1994 CanLII 5884 (QC CA), (1994) 94 CCC (3d) 89 (QCCA), per LeBel JA (3:0)

Section 9(1) Adverse Witnesses

If the witness is shown to be adverse, counsel may contradict the witness with a prior statement under s. 9(1) of the CEA as long as the witness confirms whether the prior statement was made:

Adverse witnesses

9. (1) A party producing a witness shall not be allowed to impeach his credit by general evidence of bad character, but if the witness, in the opinion of the court, proves adverse, the party may contradict him by other evidence, or, by leave of the court, may prove that the witness made at other times a statement inconsistent with his present testimony, but before the last mentioned proof can be given the circumstances of the supposed statement, sufficient to designate the particular occasion, shall be mentioned to the witness, and he shall be asked whether or not he did make the statement.
R.S., 1985, c. C-5, s. 9; 1994, c. 44, s. 85.


Section 9(1) does not change the common law right to cross-examine the calling party's own witness.[1]

"Adverse" is taken to mean that the witness "opposed in interests".[2] This is in distinction with the traditional meaning of "adverse" requiring outward hostility, such as a witness who is belligerent argumentative and un-cooperative, rather than simply hostility in mind.[3] Adversity can be found by way of many means including demeanor or a prior contradictory statement.[4] Testifying in an unfavourable way contrary to a prior statement can be enough.[5]

Factors to be considered in finding of adversity include "possible grounds for bias and collusion between the witness and the opposing party to fashion testimony".[6]

An "hostile" witness, by contrast, is a subset of "adverse" witnesses. A hostile witness is one who is "not giving her evidence fairly and with a desire to tell the truth because of a hostile animus towards the [calling party]" [7] This will capture those witnesses who are belligerent or argumentative. A hostile witness will also engage s.9(1).

Hostility can be determined by way of observation of the witnesses' demeanour.[8]

An application under s. 9(1) is to be performed without the presence of the jury as a voir dire.[9]

Section 9(1) further provides that before counsel can attempted to contradict a witness with a previous statement, counsel has the obligation to first mention the circumstances of the statement to the witness, including the particularities of the occasion it was made, and confirm with the witness whether the statement was made by him.

Where the court gives permission to cross examination, the counsel may impeach the witness. Counsel may not use it to bolster favourable evidence from the witness.[10]

Section 9(1) does not permit counsel to cross examine at large. It is only an ability to cross examine on the circumstances of the prior statement.[11] Only a declaration of hostility permits cross examination at large.[12]

Whenever there is an application under s.9, the applicant must inform the judge what the purpose of tending the prior statement.[13]

Section 9(1) has been found to include oral statements as well as written statements. However, the judge may refuse to consider prior oral statements as evidence of adversity where the supporting evidence is too conflicting, unsatisfactory or ambiguous.[14]

  1. Figliola, supra, at para 51
  2. Hanes v Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Co., 1961 CanLII 28 (ON CA), [1961] OR 495 (ONCA), per Porter CJ (2:1)
    See also: R v Gushue (No.4) (1975) 30 CRNS 178 (Ont. Ct. J.)(*no CanLII links)
  3. eg. R v SWS, 2005 CanLII 43072 (ON SC), per Glass J at 7
  4. See Delisle, "Evidence: Principles and Problems" (7th Ed.), at p. 459
  5. eg. {supra1|SWS}}, at para 7
  6. R v Dayes, 2013 ONCA 614 (CanLII), per LaForme JA (3:0)
  7. In Reference re R v Coffin, 1956 CanLII 94 (SCC), [1956] SCR 191, at page 213
    see also R v Figliola, 2011 ONCA 457 (CanLII), per curiam (3:0)
  8. Wawanesa, supra
  9. See Delisle, "Evidence: Principles and Problems" (7th Ed.), at p. 460
    R v Cassibo, 1982 CanLII 1953 (ON CA), (1982) 70 CCC (2d) 498 (ONCA), per Martin JA (3:0)
  10. R v C(JR), 1996 CanLII 5041 (SK CA), (1996) 110 CCC (3d) 373 (SKCA), per Sherstobitoff JA (3:0)
  11. R v Vivar, 2004 CanLII 34315 (ON SC), [2004] OJ No 9, per Dambrot J
    SWS, supra, at para 14
  12. SWS, supra
    Figliola, supra
  13. R v U(FJ), 1994 CanLII 1085 (ON CA), (1994) 90 CCC (3d) 541 (ONCA), per Osborne JA (2:0) aff'd by SCC in [1995] 3 SCR 764, 1995 CanLII 74 (SCC), per Lamer CJ (7:0)
  14. Cassibo, supra

See Also