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An appeal court has expanded protections against stereotyping for people who say they are victims of domestic or sexual violence to apply even when they themselves are accused of a crime.

Faye-Ann Thompson of Mission, B.C., was charged with breaking into a remote home in August, 2014, and stealing cash, a camera and a car, which was later found to have been torched. The judge conducting her 2017 trial said she found her story about what happened that day impossible to believe.

Ms. Thompson testified that she had been running away from a boyfriend who had severely beaten her. She walked two hours, she said, and came to a home where a man was near a ladder outside. She asked him for a ride to the community where she worked, but he said he was locked out and his keys were inside. At his suggestion, she said, she climbed the ladder and went into the house through a window. (Her fingerprints were found inside the windowpane.)

When the homeowners returned some time later, they called police.

Provincial Court Justice Marguerite Shaw said her story “did not accord with common sense,” and convicted her of breaking and entering and theft, partly because she had not called the police after a beating in which, as Ms. Thompson described it, some of her hair was pulled out and she was pushed down a hill and left alone in a remote area. (Justice Shaw had other reasons for not believing her, such as that the home was a kilometre from the nearest road, and not visible from that vantage point, making it implausible in Justice Shaw’s view that Ms. Thompson would have stumbled on it as she described.) A B.C. prosecutor had also argued that Ms. Thompson would have called police or sought medical treatment if she had been attacked.

But the B.C. Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 ruling last week, said Justice Shaw had used stereotyped thinking about how victims of domestic violence react.

“The admonition against the use of stereotyping as to how a victim of sexual or domestic assault behaves cannot be limited to the assessment of the evidence of a complainant in a sexual assault case,” Justice Susan Griffin wrote for the majority, joined by Justice David Frankel. “It must certainly apply equally to the assessment of the evidence of a person accused of a crime who is entitled to the benefit of reasonable doubt.”

Justice Griffin wrote that the trial judge did not address the possibility that Ms. Thompson had not called police because she feared what her boyfriend might do.

Vancouver lawyer Rebecca McConchie, who was not involved in the case, said she is not aware of other cases in which such protection against stereotyping has been accorded an accused person rather than a complainant.

“It should make it very clear that stereotyping has no place in criminal trials, not just with an alleged victim but also an accused,” she said in an interview.

The appeal court ordered a new trial for Ms. Thompson. Her lawyer, Michael Welsh, said a judge will have to assess his client’s story on its merits and decide whether it raises a reasonable doubt. “Her whole defence was her evidence of how she got into those circumstances,” he said in an interview. “Everything stood or fell for her on the judge’s assessment of her evidence. That’s why it was so important that that assessment be made without false or outmoded stereotypes.”

Justice Daphne Smith dissented in the case, arguing that Justice Shaw was not stereotyping victims.

“In my assessment, the judge simply applied common sense about human behaviour, based on human experience, to assess the credibility of Ms. Thompson’s account about what occurred that day,” she wrote.

A spokesman for the B.C. prosecution service said it is reviewing the ruling and has not decided yet whether to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

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