Principled Exception to Hearsay

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General Principles

The "principled approach" is an exception to the hearsay rule of inadmisibility.[1] It is founded on the premise that a statement may be admitted as hearsay where it is established as (1) necessary to a hearing[2], and (2) is reliable.[3]

It recognizes that certain types of hearsay statements present "minimal dangers and its exclusion...would impede accurate fact finding".[4]

When considering a prior inconsistent statement the court must begin by presuming that the statement is inadmissible for the truth of its contents unless it has been established there is sufficient indicia of trustworthiness.[5]

Before hearsay evidence can be admissible under the principled exception it must be relevant[6] and has been determined whether it already fits in a traditional exception.[7]

Even when the hearsay evidence is reliable and necessary, there is still a discretionary ability to exclude the evidence where the prejudicial effect outweighs the probative value.[8]

The requirements of necessity and reliability are act as a "evidentiary gatekeeper".[9]

The statement must be sufficiently reliable to "overcome the dangers arising from the difficulties of testing it."[10]

The "overarching principle" is the admission of hearsay is trial fairness, which includes not simply the rights of accused but also the societal goals of truth.[11]

Burden and Standard of Proof
The onus is upon the person seeking to admit the hearsay on a balance of probabilities to prove both necessity and reliability.[12]

Relationship Between Necessity and Reliability
The criteria to evaluate necessity and reliability "work in tandem" such that where one is established the other requirement can be "relaxed". The deficiencies of the other category can be "overcome" by the other.[13]

Appellate Review
Admissibility of evidence is reviewable on a standard of correctness.[14] The determination of threshold reliability is "entitled to deference" unless there was an error in principle.[15]

  1. R v Khan, 1990 CanLII 77 (SCC), [1990] 2 SCR 531
    R v K.G.B., [1993] 1 SCR 740, 1993 CanLII 116 (SCC)
    R v Hawkins & Morin, 1996 CanLII 154 (SCC)
    R v Starr, [2000] 2 SCR 144, 2000 SCC 40 (CanLII),
  2. Khan, supra, at para 29
  3. Khan, supra, at para 30
    R v Bradshaw, 2017 SCC 35 (CanLII), Karakatsanis J, at para 18
  4. Bradshaw, ibid. at para 22
    Khelawon, supra at para 2, emphasis in original
  5. R v Blackman, 2008 SCC 37 (CanLII)
  6. R v Underwood, 2002 ABCA 310 (CanLII) at para 19
  7. R v Starr, 2000 SCC 40 (CanLII), [2000] 2 SCR 144 at para 212-214
  8. R v Smith, [1992] 2 SCR 915, 1992 CanLII 79 (SCC), at para 45
  9. R v Bradshaw, 2017 SCC 35 at para 24
  10. R v Sharif, 2009 BCCA 390 (CanLII), at para 12
  11. Sharif, ibid., at para 12
  12. Sharif, ibid., at para 12
    R v Bradshaw, 2017 SCC 35 at 23
    Khelawon, supra at para 47
  13. R v Gerrior, 2014 NSCA 76 (CanLII) at para 54
    R v Baldree, 2013 SCC 35 (CanLII) at para 72
  14. R v Okeynan, 2016 ABCA 184 (CanLII), at para 21
  15. R v Youvarajah, 2013 SCC 41 (CanLII)
    R v Couture, 2007 SCC 28 (CanLII)
    R v Chretien, 2014 ONCA 403 (CanLII) at paras 43 to 55


Where the statement being admitted is one of an accused person, even if a former co-accused, the Crown must also prove voluntariness by establishing on the balance of probabilities that the statement "was not the product of coercion in any form, whether it involves threats, promises, excessively leading questions by the investigator or other person in a position of authority, or other forms of investigatory misconduct." [1]

  1. R v B.R.J., 2012 NSPC 32 (CanLII) at para 13
    R v K.G.B., 1993 CanLII 116 (SCC), [1993] 1 SCR 740, [1993] S.C.J. No. 22, at para 117
    R v Sharif, 2009 BCCA 390 (CanLII), at para 12 (Listed item #11)


A recommended procedure to deal with an application to admit hearsay under the principled approach:[1]

  1. The first matter to determine before embarking on a hearsay admissibility inquiry is whether the proposed evidence is hearsay. An out-of-court statement will be hearsay when:
    1. it is adduced to prove the truth of its contents (the purpose); and
    2. there is limited or no opportunity for a contemporaneous cross-examination of the declarant (the concern)[2]
  2. Once the proposed evidence is identified as hearsay, it is presumptively inadmissible, unless it falls under a traditional common law exception to the hearsay rule or is admitted under the principled approach to the hearsay rule[3]
  3. Whether the hearsay meets the necessity and threshold reliability criteria under the principled approach will be determined on a voir dire. The onus is on the person who seeks to adduce the evidence to establish these criteria on a balance of probabilities. [4]
  4. If the proponent of the evidence cannot meet the twin criteria of necessity and reliability, the general exclusionary rule prevails. The trial judge's function (as gatekeeper) is to guard against the admission of hearsay evidence which is unnecessary in the context of the issue to be decided, or the reliability of which is neither readily apparent from the trustworthiness of its contents, nor capable of being meaningfully tested by the ultimate trier of fact [5]
  5. The criterion of necessity is founded on society's interest in getting at the truth and is intended to ensure that the evidence presented to the court be in the best available form, usually by calling the maker of the statement as a witness. If that is not possible, it may be that if the evidence is to be adduced at all, it can only be presented in its hearsay form [6]
  6. The criterion of threshold reliability is about ensuring the integrity of the trial process and is usually met:
    1. by showing that sufficient trust can be put in the truth and accuracy of the statements because of the way in which they came about; or
    2. by showing that, in the circumstances, the ultimate trier of fact will be in a position to sufficiently assess their worth. The two ways of demonstrating threshold reliability are not mutually exclusive. In cases where the declarant is available to be cross-examined, the focus will necessarily be on the latter way [7]
  7. A distinction must be made between "ultimate reliability" and "threshold reliability." Only the latter is inquired into on the admissibility voir dire. The failure to respect this distinction would not only result in the undue prolongation of admissibility hearings, it would distort the fact-finding process. Whether the evidence is relied upon to decide the issues in the case is a matter reserved for the ultimate trier of fact to decide in the context of the entirety of the evidence [8]
  8. Relevant factors to be considered cannot invariably be categorized as relating either to threshold or ultimate reliability. Rather, the relevance of any particular factor will depend on the particular dangers arising from the hearsay nature of the statement and the available means, if any, of overcoming them[9]
  9. Although there are no hard and fast rules about the manner of conducting the hearsay admissibility inquiry, there are good reasons to look first at whether there are adequate substitutes that give the trier of fact a sufficient basis to assess the statement's truth and accuracy. Whenever the threshold reliability requirement is met on this basis, there is no need to inquire further into the likely truth of the statement [10]
  10. Even if the two criteria are met, the trial judge has the discretion to exclude hearsay evidence where its probative value is outweighed by its prejudicial effect [11]

A first step to the admission of hearsay is to determine if supposed hearsay is even relevant to the case.[12]

A KGB application is typically one made by the Crown, but may also be made by the defence. The defence is permitted to apply to put a previous inconsistent statement into evidence for the truth of its contents.[13]

Before a KGB application can be undertaken the court must first be satisfied on a threshold that the prior inconsistent statement is the sole evidence of the witness[14] and that the statement is consistent with the evidence in court.

  1. See R v Woodard, 2009 MBCA 42 (CanLII) at para 46
  2. see Khelawon, supra, at paras 56-58
  3. see Khelawon, supra, at paras 56, 59, and Couture, supra, at para 78
  4. see Khelawon, supra, at para 47
  5. see Khelawon, supra, at paras 2-3
  6. see Khelawon, supra, at para 49, and Couture, at para 79
  7. see Khelawon, supra at paras 49, 61-63, Couture, supra at para 80, Devine, supra, at para 23, and Blackman, supra, at para 35
  8. see Khelawon, supra, at paras 3, 50
  9. see Khelawon, supra, at para 55
  10. see Couture, supra, at paras 87-88
  11. see Khelawon, supra, at para 49
  12. R v Pralijak, 2012 ONSC 5262 (CanLII) per Dambrot J at para 24
  13. See R v Brisco, [2007] A.J. No. 208(*no CanLII links) and R v Eisenhauer, 1998 CanLII 1901 (NS CA), [1998] S.C.C.A. No. 144
  14. KGB, supra at para 74



Types of Prior Statements

Agreed Statement of Facts

Nothing "per se renders a statement of fact", such an agreed statement of fact by a co-accused on a guilty plea, inadmissible due to unreliability.[1]

On a guilty plea, the accused is acknowledging that the statement is "substantially correct". This is not a statement but is an acknowledgement of truth through counsel.[2]

The process used to generate an agreed statement of fact does not satisfy threshold reliability to be admissible for the truth of its contents under the principled exception to hearsay.[3]

It has been suggested that where the co-accused has plead guilty and later testifies against other accused by way of KGB statement it should only be admitted in "the most exceptional cases".[4]

An agreed statement may pass threshold reliability where it is accompanied by additional indicia of reliability, including where the accused swears to the contents of the agreed statement of fact under oath at the time of guilty plea.[5]

  1. R v House 2012 ONSC 6749 (CanLII) at para 19
  2. R v Tran 2010 ONCA 471 (CanLII) at para 43
  3. R v Youvarajah, 2013 SCC 41 (CanLII)
  4. Tran, supra at para 43
    House, supra at para 19-23
  5. Youvarajah, supra at para 70
    R v Bashamakh, 2015 ONSC 1631 (CanLII)

Video Taped Interview

The presence of the declarant for cross-examination and the video tape of the declarant goes virtually "all the way" to establish a means of assessing reliability.[1]

  1. R v Trieu, 2005 CanLII 7884 (ON CA) at para 76

See Also