Former RCMP spokesperson Tim Shields has been found not guilty of one count of sexual assault.
Judge Patrick Doherty made the ruling at provincial court in Vancouver Wednesday morning.
“A criminal trial is not a credibility contest,” the judge cautioned the courtroom as he explained the reasoning behind his decision.
Doherty’s arguments focused on the reliability of the witnesses’ testimony, not their credibility, he said, adding that to judge the credibility of a sexual-assault complainant veers into a “myth and stereotype defence” that is not permissible in court.
In describing both witnesses, he said he found that the complainant “presented poorly as a witness”; that she was “combative” during cross-examination and did not always answer the questions.
Doherty said that Shields was largely a better witness, willing to at times concede points that were not in his favour, but that he was “evasive” on occasion.
Tim Shields has attended every single day of his sex assault trial, taking notes and talking with his lawyer throughout. Today, he's taking careful notes as the judge lays out the arguments in the case.@BlackPressMedia— Kat Slepian (@katslepian) December 20, 2017
“The issue that I must decide is whether Crown has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Shields sexually assaulted [the complainant] by touching her sexually without her consent, or alternatively, whether the defence had an honest but mistaken belief in consent,” Doherty said.
The judge found that Shields did not use his position of authority to force the complainant into a detachment washroom.
“There is no evidence that [the complainant’s] consent was vitiated by virtue of Mr. Shields’ authority relationship over her,” Doherty said.
The complainant, a former civilian employee at the RCMP whose name is protected by a publication ban, alleged that Shields sexually assaulted her in a Vancouver RCMP headquarters bathroom in 2009. Shields’ lawyer, David Butcher, had painted the encounter as consensual.
There was no disagreement between Crown and defence that a sexual encounter occurred, Doherty noted.
“Counsel of behalf of Mr. Shields… submits that [the complainant] fabricated the sexual-assault allegations to advance a claim for compensation,” the judge said. “He submits that [the complainant] is a fraud and a liar.”
The complainant reported a sexual assault to police in 2015 and Shields was criminally charged in May 2016 with one count of sexual assault. In December 2016, the complainant settled a civil sexual-harassment claim against Shields and the RCMP.
Doherty said the complainant’s delay in reporting the incident did not play against her credibility.
He said that both the delay and the complainant’s friendly interactions with Shields post-encounter were “consistent” with that of a woman hoping to not jeopardize her career.
"A criminal trial is not a credibility contest" the judge in Tim Shields sex assault trial says. Reminds the courtroom that everyone is innocent until proven guilty and that it is Crown who must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that any alleged assault occurred.@BlackPressMedia— Kat Slepian (@katslepian) December 20, 2017
Doherty went over both sides’ versions of the day the bathroom encounter took place.
Shields had said that it started with friendly, flirtatious and sexually charged behaviour in his office before naturally moving into the bathroom.
The complainant had testified that she followed Shields in the bathroom unknowingly, as she would have followed anyone.
“I simply do not know who to believe on this point,” the judge said minutes before rendering his decision.
Doherty said both bathroom accounts – Shields’ that it was a consensual sexual encounter where the complainant was a “willing and eager participant,” and the complainant’s that she was “frozen,” scared and just wanted to get out – were plausible.
Earlier, Doherty noted that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and that it is Crown who must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that any assault occurred.
He said that although the complainant’s recollection of what happened in the bathroom was trustworthy, her inability to remember what happened after Shields allegedly placed her hands on his genitals and asked her to perform oral sex on him caused the judge “some concerns about the reliability of her evidence regarding the bathroom incident.”
Defence alleged that after that, she “enthusiastically” took part, Doherty noted. When defence suggested that version of events, the judge said, the complainant told the court that if this occurred, “it was worse than (she) realized” and that “he forced her to do it.”
Doherty said the Crown did not adequately explain the gap in the complainant’s memory.
“There may be many reasons why [the complainant], as an alleged victim of sexual assault, would have such a gap in her memory,” said Doherty. “I certainly do not fault her for having memory gaps, but it is not for me to speculate why such a gap exists.”
BC Prosecution Service communications counsel Dan McLaughlin said in a media scrum outside court that there is no immediate decision by the Crown to appeal the judgment.
Shields and his legal team declined to comment on the trial following the verdict. The complainant did not attend court beyond the times she was called as a witness, and was not present for the judgment.