R. v. P.L.S. (1991), 122 N.R. 321 (SCC)

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[French language version follows English language version]

[La version française vient à la suite de la version anglaise]


Her Majesty the Queen v. P.L.S.


Indexed As: R. v. P.L.S.

Supreme Court of Canada

Lamer, C.J.C., La Forest, L’Heureux-Dubé, Sopinka, Gonthier, Cory and McLachlin, JJ.

May 16, 1991.


A schoolteacher appealed his conviction on seven counts of sexual assault on nine year old male pupils.

The Newfoundland Court of Appeal, Goodridge, C.J.N., dissenting, in a decision reported 84 Nfld. & P.E.I.R. 181; 262 A.P.R. 181; 57 C.C.C.(3d) 531, allowed the appeal. The minority would have maintained con­victions on two counts. The Crown appealed the acquittals on those two counts.

The Supreme Court of Canada, L’Heu­reux-Dubé, Gonthier and Cory, JJ., dissent­ing in part, allowed the appeal and ordered a new trial.

Criminal Law – Topic 665

Sexual offences – Sexual assault – What constitutes – A 50 year old schoolteacher was charged with sexual assault against nine year old male students – The boys alleged touching outside their clothing on knee, leg, thigh, penis, back, arm – The Newfoundland Court of Appeal held that sexual assault was not established because there was insufficient proof of sexual motivation – The Supreme Court of Canada stated that sexual assault was an offence of general, not specific, intent – The appropriate question was whether, notwithstanding the absence of proven sexual intent, the touching was committed in circumstances of a sexual nature – See paragraphs 12, 29 to 33.

Criminal Law – Topic 669

Sexual offences – Sexual assault – Inten­tion or mens rea – [See Criminal Law – Topic 665].

Criminal Law – Topic 4806

Appeals – Indictable offences – General principles – Duty of appellate court – The Supreme Court of Canada discussed the duty of an appellate court on appeal from conviction where an error of law resulted in the admission of inadmissible evidence – The court stated that a court of appeal has no power to convict unless the Crown discharges the burden of establishing that the verdict would have been the same even if the impugned evidence had not been admitted – If the Crown fails in that bur­den, the court of appeal must acquit, or order a new trial if there is sufficient evidence on which a jury, properly instructed and acting reasonably, could convict – See paragraphs 5 to 11.

Criminal Law – Topic 4956

Appeals – Indictable offences – New trials – Grounds – Admission of evidence – A schoolteacher was convicted of sexual assaults against young boys/students – The Newfoundland Court of Appeal held that the trial judge erred by admitting similar fact evidence – The Court of Appeal found that there was insufficient proof of sexual motivation and acquitted the accused – The Supreme Court of Canada ordered a new trial – On application of the correct test of general intent to the remaining admissible evidence, there was evidence upon which a jury might reasonably con­vict – See paragraphs 12 to 15.

Criminal Law – Topic 4966

Appeals – Indictable offences – Powers of court of appeal – The Supreme Court of Canada discussed the limitations on a court of appeal under s. 686 of the Criminal Code – Under s. 45 of the Supreme Court Act, the limitations apply equally to the Supreme Court of Canada – See para­graphs 7 to 11.

Cases Noticed:

R. v. Chase, [1987] 2 S.C.R. 293; 80 N.R. 247; 82 N.B.R.(2d) 229; 208 A.P.R. 229, refd to. [paras. 2, 29].

R. v. Yebes, [1987] 2 S.C.R. 168; 78 N.R. 351; 36 C.C.C.(3d) 417; [1987] 6 W.W.R. 97; 59 C.R.(3d) 108, refd to. [paras. 7, 35].

R. v. Colpitts, [1965] S.C.R. 739, refd to. [para. 9].

R. v. John, [1985] 2 S.C.R. 476; 63 N.R. 141, refd to. [para. 10].

R. v. Wildman, [1984] 2 S.C.R. 311; 55 N.R. 27, refd to. [para. 10].

R. v. Leaney and Rawlinson, [1989] 2 S.C.R. 393; 99 N.R. 345, refd to. [para. 10].

Statutes Noticed:

Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46, sect. 686(1) [para. 6]; sect. 686(1)(a)(i) [para. 7]; sect. 686(1)(a)(ii), sect. 686(1)(b)(ii), sect. 686(1)(b)(iii) [para. 8]; sect. 686(2) [paras. 6, 8].

Supreme Court Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. S-26, sect. 45 [para. 11].


J. Thomas Eagan, for the appellant;

Thomas J. Burke, for the respondent.

Solicitors of Record:

Department of Justice, St. John’s, New­foundland, for the appellant;

O’Dea, Strong, Earle, St. John’s, New­foundland, for the respondent.

This appeal was heard before Lamer, C.J.C., La Forest, L’Heureux-Dubé, Sopinka, Gonthier, Cory and McLachlin, JJ., of the Supreme Court of Canada.

On May 16, 1991, the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada was delivered in both official languages and the following opinions were filed:

Sopinka, J. (Lamer, C.J.C., La Forest and McLachlin, JJ., concurring) – see paragraphs 1 to 15;

Cory, J. (L’Heureux-Dubé and Gonthier, JJ., concurring), dissenting in part – see paragraphs 16 to 50.


R. v. P.L.S.

(1991), 122 N.R. 321 (SCC)

Supreme Court of Canada
Reading Time:
22 minutes
Cory, Gonthier, L’Heureux-Dubé, La Forest, Lamer, McLachlin, Sopinka 

Sopinka, J.
: I have read the reasons of Justice Cory herein and while I agree that the appeal must be allowed I cannot agree with his disposition of the case. In my opinion we cannot restore the convictions but are obliged to direct a new trial. The point of disagreement raises an important question with respect to the powers of the Court of Appeal and of this court.

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