Traditional Exceptions to Hearsay

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Traditional Categories

See also: Principled Exception to Hearsay

Statements that fall within the traditional categories of hearsay exceptions are presumptively admissible. They can nevertheless be challenged under the principles of necessity and reliability. [1]

The traditional categories of exceptions consist of the following:

  1. Where the statement is an admission by an accused person
  2. When the statement is made against the declarator's interest
  3. When it is made in the course of the declarator's duty
  4. When the statement is part of a public or governmental document
  5. Dying declaration
  6. Statements made when the declarator was in a state of shock or surprise (Res Gestae)
  7. Statements describing the declarator's physical or psychological condition
  8. Sworn testimony from a previous hearing
  9. Past recollection recorded
  10. Statement conveys "state of mind"
  11. Statement conveys "present intentions"
  12. Statutory exceptions
  13. Statement is part of the narrative of the evidence

All categories of exception must be interpreted in a manner consistent with the principled approach. Where the two approaches conflict, the principled approach must prevail.[2]

  1. R v Starr, 2000 SCC 40 (CanLII), [2000] 2 SCR 144
    R v Mapara, 2005 SCC 23 (CanLII)
  2. Starr, supra at paras 213, 214

Admissions of the Accused

See also: Confessions, Admissions, and Statements Against Interest Exception

Generally, admission include “any statement made by a declarant and tendered as evidence at trial by the opposing party.”[1]

Any admission by an accused is admissible as provided that its probative value outweighs its prejudicial effect. [2]

Admission made by the accused as well as statements adopted by the accused in an intercepted communication is admissible as a hearsay exception.[3]

It is necessary that the trier of fact make a finding that the statement was actually made by the accused and not anyone else before it may be used.[4]

A failure to instruct the jury on the necessity of finding that a wiretap voice recording was of the accused may be a reversible error.[5]

  1. R v Violette, 2008 BCSC 422 (CanLII), [2008] BCJ No. 2781(S.C.) at 63
  2. R v Terry, [1996] 2 SCR 207, 1996 CanLII 199 (SCC) at para 28
  3. Violette, supra at 65
  4. R v Masters, 2014 ONCA 556 (CanLII) at para 65
  5. Masters at paras 50 to 66
    R v Quidley, 2008 ONCA 501 (CanLII)

Adoption by Witness

A declarant of an out-of-court statement who adopts the statement while testifying or indicates a belief in the statement, the statement can then be put in for the truth of its contents.[1]

  1. R v Streu, [1989] 1 S.C.R. 1521, 1989 CanLII 52 (SCC), p. 1530

State of Mind

A statement of a declarant can be adduced into evidence as a hearsay exception where it explicitly declares the state of mind of the declarant. [1] Where the declaration can infer the state of mind, it is also admissible but not as a hearsay exception, but rather as circumstantial evidence inferring the state of mind.[2]

  1. R v Candir, 2009 ONCA 915 (CanLII) at para 56
    R v RP, 1990 CanLII 6921 (ON SC), (1990), 58 CCC (3d) 334 (Ont. H.C.J.) at para 16
  2. supra.

Present and Future Intentions

Similar to state of mind exception, it is permissible to admit statements of a witnesses' future intentions.[1]

Any utterance of a person indicating that the person had "certain intention or design will [be admissible as evidence that the person] acted in accordance with that stated intention or plan where it is reasonable to infer that the [witness] did so." Reasonableness of the inference will depend on factors such as "nature of the plan described in the utterance, and the proximity in time between the statement as to the plan and the proposed implementation of the plan".[2]

  1. R v Chang (2003), 173 CCC (3d) 397, 2003 CanLII 29135 (ON CA)
  2. R v RP, 1990 CanLII 6921 (ON SC), (1990), 58 CCC (3d) 334, 10 W.C.B. (2d) 279 (Ont. H.C.J.), at para 24

Business Records

A record is admissible as hearsay where it is a business record. A business record is a record that is required to kept accurate as part of the normal course of business. The document can be admitted under the Canada Evidence Act or common law.

See Business Records -- R v Wilcox 2001 NSCA 45 (CanLII)

Documents in Possession of the Accused or Other Contrary Parties

Documents that are found to be in actual or constructive possession of the accused may be admitted as hearsay. The documents can be used to show knowledge, participation, or state of mind. [1]

Documents in possession provides that "contents of a document found in possession of the accused may be used as circumstantial evidence of the accused’s involvement in the transactions to which the documents relate".[2]

Documents in possession are admissible for the truth of its contents as hearsay where the accused has shown “recognition, adoption or acting upon the documents"[3]

There is also a view that documents in possession are admissible as circumstantial evidence, not as hearsay, to prove the accused's knowledge or, or connection with, the transactions or matters to which the documents relate".[4]

Where the party in possession is a corporation, the documents must be shown to have come to the attention of a person in the company who is authorized to deal with the matter that is the subject matter of the document.[5]

Text messages found on a cell phone in possession of the accused may be admissible under this exception to hearsay.[6]

  1. See R v Wood 2001 NSCA 38 (CanLII) at para 30
    R v Russell (1920), 33 CCC 1 (Man. C.A.) (*no CanLII links)
    See also Ontario v Rothman Inc, 2011 ONSC 5356 (CanLII) aff'd 2013 ONCA 353 (CanLII)
    R v Turlon (1989), 49 CCC (3d) 186 (ONCA)(*no CanLII links)
  2. Black at para 38
    R v Trosky, 2015 BCSC 1419 (CanLII) at para 20
  3. R v McCullough, 2001 SKQB 449 (CanLII)
    Wood, supra
  4. Caccamo v The Queen, 1975 CanLII 11 (SCC), [1976] 1 SCR 786 -- document in cupboard contained a "mafia constitution” was admissible to connect accused with the criminal organization
    R v Black, 2014 BCCA 192 (CanLII) at para 38
    The issue however holds similarities with the debate regarding implied assertions settled in R v Baldree, SCC 35 (CanLII)
  5. R v Armour Pharmaceutical Co, [2007] OJ 5846 (ONSC)
    Ontario v Rothmans Inc, 2011 ONSC 5356 (CanLII) aff'd 2013 ONCA 353 (CanLII)
  6. Trosky, supra
    see also R v Howell, 2014 BCSC 2196 (CanLII)


Strictly speaking, narrative is not a traditional hearsay exception, and is not fully hearsay at all since it is not being proffered for the truth of its contents.

It is admissible on the basis that it provides context and greater understanding to the trier of fact of the details of the investigation. It is often useful in sexual assault cases in order to determine credibility.

See R v Assoun, 2006 NSCA 47 (CanLII)

In the context of recorded phone calls, the “nature of the business” of the calls is not hearsay.[1]

  1. R v Williams, 2009 BCCA 284 (CanLII), [2009] BCJ No. 1518


An exception to hearsay is the "voluminous document exception" first outlined by Wigmore.

According to Wigmore, the exception applies where:[1]

  1. there are a very large number of detailed business records that would be impractical to present to the court;
  2. a competent witness has examined the documents and summarized them; and
  3. the documents have been made available to the other side.

Where the criteria are met, the summary can be admitted without putting in the original records as evidence.[2] The exception is not applicable where the work product "involve[s] interpretations that may be the subject of legitimate debate".[3]

See also Documentary Evidence#Summaries of Voluminous Documents

  1. R v Agyei, 2007 ONCJ 459 (CanLII), [2007] O.J. No. 3914 at para 26
  2. R v Lee, 2011 NSPC 5 (CanLII) at para 20
  3. Lee, ibid. at 19-20
    R v George, [1993] A.J. No. 798 (Alta. P.C.)(*no CanLII links)

Other Traditional Hearsay Exceptions

Case Digests

See Also