Bias, Interest, and Corruption in Assessing Credibility

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General Principles

A witness can be questioned on their truthfulness due to bias or lack of impartiality. This includes questions that show hate, malice, affection or fear.[1] If the witness denies circumstances showing bias, then the party may call evidence to contradict it.[2]

Bias or interest only goes to credibility when the bias or interest can cause a witness to lie or exaggerate the truth to harm an opposing party or benefit their preferred party. Bias alone is not sufficient.[3]

Where a witness denies bias, it is permissible to call contradictory evidence to prove it.[4] However, if the defendant calls evidence to contradict a denial of bias, the crown has the right to call evidence to rehabilitate the witness.[5]

A witness can be asked about their communications with other witnesses before trial to suggest bias or interest.

  1. R v Bencardino, 1973 CanLII 804 (ON CA), (1973), 15 CCC (2d) 342 (Ont. C.A.)
  2. R v Finnessey (1906), 10 CCC 347 (Ont. C.A.)(*no CanLII links)
    R v Lindlau (1978), 40 CCC (2d) 47 (Ont. C.A.)(*no CanLII links)
    Attorney General v Hitchcock, [1847] 1 Ex. 91, 154 E.R. 38
    R v Finnessey (1906), 11 O.L.R. 338, 10 CCC 347 at pp. 351-2(*no CanLII links)
    R v S.(A.) 2002 CanLII 44934, (2002), 159 O.A.C. 89, 165 CCC (3d) 426 (C.A.) at paras 28-32
    R v Mohammed, (1991), 72 Man. R. (2d) 39 (Q.B.), aff’d , (1992), 83 Man. R. (2d) 162 (C.A.)(*no CanLII links)
    Anderson v Harding (1985), 3 CPC (2d) 87 (Ont. Dist. Ct.)(*no CanLII links)
    R v R. (D.), 1996 CanLII 207 (S.C.C.), [1996] 2 SCR 291, at para 43
    R v McDonald, 2007 ABCA 53 (CanLII)
  3. R v Creelman v Tupper (1893) 25 N.S.R. 334 (CA)(*no CanLII links)
  4. R v McDonald, 1959 CanLII 25 (SCC), [1960] SCR 186
  5. R v Pargelen, 1996 CanLII 420 (ON CA)

Doctrine of Recent Complaints

The common law doctrine of recent complaints permits the judge to make an adverse finding against credibility.

Section 275 removes this doctrine for certain offences sex offences:

Rules respecting recent complaint abrogated
275. The rules relating to evidence of recent complaint are hereby abrogated with respect to offences under sections 151 [ sexual interference ], 152 [ invitation to sexual touching ], 153 [ Sexual Exploitation (Offence) ], 153.1 [ sexual exploitation of a person with disabilities ], 155 [ incest ] and 159 [ anal intercourse ], subsections 160(2) [ Compelling the commission of bestiality ] and (3) [ Bestiality in presence of or by child ] and sections 170 [ Parent or guardian procuring sexual activity ], 171 [ Householder permitting prohibited sexual activity ], 172 [ Corrupting children ], 173 [ Indecent acts ], 271 [ sexual assault ], 272 [ sexual assault causing bodily harm or with a weapon ] and 273 [ aggravated sexual assault ].
R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 275; R.S., 1985, c. 19 (3rd Supp.), s. 11; 2002, c. 13, s. 12.
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