The Chronicle Herald (Metro)

Ex-student’s appeal dismissed


The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal has affirmed a former St. Francis Xavier University student’s conviction for sexually assaulting a female student in her dorm room in November 2017.

James Stanton, 22, was found guilty of sexual assault in May 2019 following a trial in Antigonish provincial court.

Stanton did not testify at trial. His lawyer argued the sexual intercours­e with the complainan­t was consensual and her allegation that it was not only emerged after Stanton told her in a text message there would be no further intimacy between them.

In his analysis, Judge Richard Mackinnon found the complainan­t, whose identity is protected by a publicatio­n ban, was a “truthful witness.”

Mackinnon concluded Stanton had taken “unfair advantage” of the young woman, who had a crush on him and wanted a relationsh­ip to develop. He rejected the defence theory that the complainan­t made up the rape allegation because Stanton had dumped her.

The judge imposed a 10month conditiona­l sentence, to be followed by two years’ probation, and ordered Stanton to register as a sex offender for 10 years.

Stanton appealed to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, which handles appeals of summary conviction­s. After a Supreme Court judge dismissed the appeal in February 2020, Stanton applied to the Appeal Court for leave to appeal.

In his notice of appeal seeking a new trial, Stanton claimed the provincial court and Supreme Court judges both committed errors of law.

Stanton argued his fundamenta­l presumptio­n of innocence was sidelined by the trial judge, who assumed the complainan­t’s credibilit­y and failed to consider the whole of the evidence in assessing the ultimate issue of reasonable doubt. He said the Supreme Court judge exclusivel­y applied the "palpable and overriding error" standard of review to the trial judge’s credibilit­y findings when he should have examined the reasons for legal error.

An Appeal Court panel heard the appeal June 9 and unanimousl­y dismissed it in a decision released Tuesday.

The panel — made up of justices Anne Derrick and Cindy Bourgeois and Chief Justice Michael Wood — ruled that Supreme Court Justice Nick Scaravelli’s examinatio­n of the question of legal error was “cursory and inadequate.”

“By not affording the appellant the appeal he was entitled to, he erred in law in how he conducted the proceeding­s,” Derrick wrote for the panel. “Consequent­ly, I would grant leave to appeal.”

The Appeal Court panel then had two options — send the matter back to the Supreme Court for another judge to consider or carry out the function of the summarycon­viction appeal court itself.

“The latter option is the appropriat­e course in this case,” Derrick said. “We are well equipped to step into the shoes of the (Supreme Court) and address the appellant’s grounds of appeal. We have the transcript of the trial evidence and submission­s and the trial judge’s reasons. Like the (Supreme Court), we can review the record and determine whether legal error was committed in the assessment of (the complainan­t’s) credibilit­y and the ultimate issue of reasonable doubt.”

Stanton questioned many aspects of the trial judge’s reasoning, Derrick said. “None, in my view, warrant appellate interventi­on.”

In his submission­s, the appellant “glides over the substantia­l deference owed to the trial judge’s assessment of credibilit­y,” Derrick wrote.

“He has not persuaded me the trial judge found (the complainan­t) to be credible and examined the evidence through that lens, disregardi­ng the presumptio­n of innocence. I find the judge, in his analysis of whether it had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that (she) did not consent to sexual intercours­e, considered the evidence in its totality.

“I am satisfied he committed no error in his applicatio­n of the relevant legal principles and how he assessed credibilit­y and reasonable doubt.”

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