Top court orders new sexual assault trial for man accused in 'friends with benefits' case

The Supreme Court of Canada has ordered a new trial for an Edmonton man accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a so-called “friends with benefits” case.

Patrick Goldfinch was charged with sexually assaulting a woman he had previously dated and lived with.

After splitting up, they remained friends, and the woman would sometimes visit his house and stay overnight. 

In a 6-1 decision delivered today, the top court ruled evidence that they were “friends with benefits” should not have been heard by the jury.

Calling it a “reversible error of law,” the majority of justices found that admitting the evidence served no purpose other than to “support the inference that because the complainant had consented in the past, she was more likely to have consented on the night in question.”

“The improper admission of the evidence for the broad purpose of providing ‘context’ led to a significant and highly prejudicial broadening of the sexual activity evidence at trial, which might reasonably have had a material bearing on the accused’s acquittal,” the judgment reads.

At trial, Goldfinch’s defence requested a voire dire — a preliminary hearing to determine if evidence can be admitted that is not heard by the jury — to determine whether the evidence about the sexual relationship at the time of the alleged assault was admissible under Section 276 of the Criminal Code, commonly known as Canada’s rape-shield law.

Goldfinch had argued that the sexual nature of the relationship provided important context, and that without it, the jury would be under the false impression that he and the complainant were in a platonic relationship. 

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