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The Public’s Confidence in the Judicial System and the Criminal Justice System: R v Young; R v Caeser

Hearsay, R v Young, and R v Caesar: Promoting the Public’s Confidence in the Judicial System and the Criminal Justice System

Abby Stein


What is Hearsay?

Hearsay may be broken into a two-part definition.[1] Hearsay refers to “(1) an out-of-court statement (2) that is admitted for the truth of its contents.”[2] With respect to hearsay, unless an exception to the hearsay rule is applicable to the hearsay evidence in question, the hearsay evidence is presumptively inadmissible.[3] Hearsay was a major issue in the fascinating case of R v Young—detailed and discussed in the following section.

R v Young

In April 2017, Shauvonne Young, returning from a trip to Jamaica, was arrested at Toronto Pearson International Airport for the importation of cocaine.[4] Cocaine was found in Ms. Young’s suitcase in four containers of Metamucil.[5] At Ms. Young’s trial, the sole issue at hand was whether Ms. Young was aware that she was importing cocaine.[6] Ms. Young testified that the Metamucil containers were a gift for her grandmother, given to her by a family friend.[7] It was Ms. Young’s belief that the Metamucil containers “contained Metamucil blended with roots and seeds to form a Jamaican herbal remedy.”[8] Ms. Young testified that she was not aware that drugs were being held in the Metamucil containers and also testified that it was her belief that her father had schemed, without her knowing, to transport drugs through her.[9]

            Before the trial, Ms. Young applied to introduce a hearsay statement which essentially detailed that her father, a convicted drug dealer and drug trafficker, had organized for drugs to be planted on Ms. Young when she was in Jamaica, without her knowledge, for the purposes of smuggling the drugs into Canada.[10] This alleged hearsay statement was delivered to Ms. Young’s half-sister by Ms. Young’s father.[11] The hearsay statement, under either the exception of declaration against penal interest, or the principled approach, was not admitted by the application judge.[12] Ms. Young was convicted of cocaine importation.[13]

            With respect to appealing her conviction, one of Ms. Young’s grounds of appeal was that “the application judge erred by refusing to admit the hearsay statement under either the penal interest exception to the hearsay rule or the principled approach to hearsay and that he should have applied a relaxed standard for the admissibility of defence evidence to avoid a miscarriage of justice.”[14]

            With respect to the hearsay statement not being admitted under the principled approach to hearsay, the application judge reasoned the following: “The statement did not meet the criteria for admission under the principled approach to hearsay. Although the necessity requirement was met because Mr. Young was dead, nothing about the circumstances in which the statement was made attested to its reliability.”[15] The application judge found that, due to the circumstances in which the father’s statement occurred, it was not possible to sufficiently test the statement’s truth and accuracy.[16] Moreover, the application judge found that “the circumstances in which the statement was made did not substantially negate the possibility that the declarant was untruthful or mistaken.”[17] The application judge put forward that the father’s extensive criminal record of dishonest acts provided reason to question the father’s credibility, the hearsay statement lacked confirming evidence, and “[i]t was unknown whether Mr. Young had a motive to lie.”[18]

The majority decision in the Ontario Court of Appeal was that the hearsay statement, under the “declaration against penal interest exception,” qualified as admissible.[19] However, Coroza J.A., while agreeing with the majority’s disposition, argued against using the declaration against penal interest exception to admit the hearsay statement.[20] Rather, Coroza J.A. suggested using the “principled exception.”[21] Coroza J.A. stated that “[r]igid adherence to the strict rules of evidence in this case led to an unfair trial. The statement was admissible under the relaxed approach to the principled exception to the hearsay rule outlined in [R v] Caesar.”[22]

R v Caesar

The case referred to in the above quote is R v Caesar which reviewed the authorities surrounding the issue of the admissibility of hearsay evidence and cited the decision in R v Williams.[23] In Williams, the Ontario Court of Appeal held that “a court has a residual discretion to relax in favour of the accused a strict rule of evidence where it is necessary to prevent a miscarriage of justice and where the danger against which an exclusionary rule aims to safeguard does not exist.”[24]

After a review of the relevant authorities, the Ontario Court of Appeal in Caesar concluded that “if the defence can point to evidence—even hearsay evidence—that is logically relevant to an allowable defence, and a case can be made for adopting the Williams approach, the defence will be entitled to lead that evidence unless the prejudicial effect of the evidence substantially outweighs its probative value.”[25]

Coraza J.A., in Young, further held that “[n]ot all relevant evidence is admissible, however, and hearsay evidence is presumptively inadmissible. Inadmissible hearsay does not become admissible hearsay simply because it is proffered by the defence in support of its right to make full answer and defence and because an accused is entitled to the presumption of innocence, in my opinion.”[26] Further qualification, through this quotation, is provided in Caesar and included in the attached footnote, for the sake of brevity.[27]

Caesar and Judicial Confidence

Based on the ruling in Caesar, and Coroza J.A.’s language of “relaxed approach to the principled exception to the hearsay rule outlined in Caesar,”[28] it is my understanding that Caesar outlines an approach that provides the judiciary with the ability to practice some flexibility with respect to admitting some hearsay statements. Judicial flexibility in admitting hearsay statements may promote the public’s confidence in the judicial and criminal justice system.

It is my belief that a lay person who lacks extensive legal knowledge likely believes that the purpose of a court proceeding is to identify the truth in a matter. This belief, which I believe is held in many individuals, is somewhat affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada in R v Nikolovski, where the Supreme Court held that “[t]he ultimate aim of any trial, criminal or civil, must be to seek and to ascertain the truth.”[29]

With this in mind, if a lay person were placed in a situation similar to that of Ms. Young—where an individual’s father may have schemed to transport drugs through them and that lay person were unable to introduce evidence pertaining to their father’s statements on this matter—that the lay person may feel cheated by the judicial system. In fact, in R v Young, the Ontario Court of Appeal somewhat addressed this idea by stating that “[the hearsay statement’s] exclusion impaired the appellant’s right to make full answer and defence to the criminal charge against her and led to a miscarriage of justice” [emphasis added].[30] If an individual feels cheated by the judicial system, it is a reasonable inference that the individual may then lose confidence in the judicial system.

The relaxed approach, as outlined by Caesar, seems to allow courts to admit hearsay statements which may not otherwise be admitted if rules are strictly followed. For instance, Coroza J.A. “acknowledge[d] that, given the high standard for threshold reliability described in Bradshaw, the statement would not be admissible on a strict application of the rules.”[31] Nevertheless, Coroza J.A. found that “[the hearsay] statement was admissible under the relaxed approach to the principled exception to the hearsay rule outlined in Caesar.”[32] 

Looking at specific statistics, 51% of Canadians, in the time span ranging from October 2022 to January 2023, held high confidence in courts and the justice system.[33] Additionally, in a 2022 survey, with respect to whether the criminal justice system is fair to all people, 49% of Canadians were reported as not confident. Additionally, with respect to this metric, the number of Canadians reported as not confident, has increased from 2018, where it was at 42%.[34]

It is assumed that the relaxed approach, outlined in Caesar, may allow for more types of hearsay statements to be admitted in court. Potentially, by allowing more types of hearsay statements to be admitted in court, individuals involved in court processes may feel as though they were better heard, and that their full spectrum of evidence was analyzed by a judicial body. This may allow for more individuals to feel as though they were justly served, thus increasing public confidence in judicial systems. Therefore, the relaxed approach, as outlined in Caesar, may assist in promoting public confidence in the judicial system and the criminal justice system.

[1] David M Paciocco, Palma Paciocco & Lee Stuesser, The Law of Evidence, 8th ed (Toronto: Irwin Law Inc, 2020) at 136.

[2] Ibid.

[3] R v Young, 2021 ONCA 535 at para 22 [Young].

[4] Ibid at para 1.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid at para 2.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid at paras 15, 18.

[10] Ibid at paras 3, 7.

[11] Ibid at para 3.

[12] Ibid at para 4.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid at para 5.

[15] Ibid at para 9.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid at para 38.

[20] Ibid at para 41.

[21] Ibid at para 42.

[22] Ibid at para 80.

[23] Young, supra note 3 at para 65, citing R v Caesar, 2016 ONCA 599 [Caesar]; R v Williams, 1985 CarswellOnt 86, [1985] OJ No 2489 [Williams].

[24] Young, supra note 3 at para 65.

[25] Ibid at para 66.

[26] Ibid.

[27] The rest of the quote, at Young, supra note 3 at para 66, is as follows: “The evidence must either fall within one of the recognized exceptions to the hearsay rule or pass the test of the necessity/reliability analysis under the principled exception, taking into account the foregoing reservation regarding the exceptional circumstance where there is some evidence of reliability, in particular, and where rigid adherence to the strict rules of evidence would hinder a fair trial or lead to a miscarriage of justice. If the evidence meets one of these tests, it is logically relevant to a tenable defence, and its prejudicial effect does not substantially outweigh its probative value, it is admissible. [Emphasis added.]”

[28] Young, supra note 3 at para 80.

[29] R v Nikolovski, [1996] 3 SCR 1197 at para 13, 141 DLR (4th) 647.

[30] Young, supra note 3 at para 38.

[31] Ibid at para 76.

[32] Ibid at para 80.

[33] “Confidence in the police, the justice system and courts, the Federal Parliament, and the Canadian media varied across racialized groups” (31 March 2023), online: Statistics Canada <>.

[34] “Confidence in the Canadian Criminal Justice System 2022” (last visited 10 November 2023), online: Government of Canada <,2018%20to%2049%25%20in%202022.>.


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