Sexual assault survivor fined for violating publication ban on her own name: Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC) Responds

Last week, Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC) learned of a sexual assault survivor in Waterloo Region who was charged and fined for breaching the publication ban in her own sexual assault trial.

She shared the trial transcript with some of her support people: the “transcript contained her name, which was under a court-order publication ban. When the convicted offender got wind of what she’d done, he complained to police” and they charged her with violating the publication ban[1]. This occurred notwithstanding that those she shared the transcript with were “friends and family who were obviously aware that she was the complainant in the case”[2].

Deb Singh, chair of the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres, asks: “What’s the usefulness of charging her? What was this law’s purpose? If it’s to protect a victim’s identity, then a victim is allowed to share if they so choose, especially when it wasn’t in a public circle.”

Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC) is frustrated by this incongruous ill-use of sexual assault case publication bans.

We believe that this incident perpetuates both a lack of justice and a retaliatory approach to sexual violence survivors who use the criminal justice system.

Some realities of Canada’s criminal justice system for sexual violence survivors

The criminal justice system plays an important role in the safety and wellness of Canadians: the system helps people “to feel safe in their communities and have confidence in their justice system”[3].

Despite this, there continues to be perceived and real repercussions to sexual violence reporting. When thinking about reporting, most survivors fear that they will not be believed, or that they will be blamed for what happened[4]. These fears are rooted in widespread social misconceptions (“myths”) about sexual assault, which suggest that sexual violence is a rare crime; that innocent people are often accused of sexual assault; or that victims lie about it to get revenge, for their own benefit, or because they feel guilty about having sex[5]. These myths are incorrect. In reality, false allegations of sexual assault are not a common social problem.

What is a common social problem is that sexual violence offenders are not held accountable. The majority of all reported sexual assault cases are simply not resolved through the criminal justice system. According to Canadian research[6], 33 out of every 1,000 sexual assault cases are reported to the police, and just 29 are actually recorded as a crime.

Poor criminal justice outcomes have many impacts on survivors and Ontario communities. Cases that have negative consequences or re-victimize survivors diminish “the level of trust victims/survivors have in the reporting process, and create future barriers to disclosure”[7]. Survivors that face additional experiences of harm at the hands of our health[8] and justice systems[9] – for example, Indigenous women, Black and other racialized survivors, LGBTQ individuals, sex workers, and immigrant or refugee women – understandably fear and harbor further distrust of these systems.  

We believe that the current case in which a survivor was fined for breaching the publication ban in her own sexual assault trial is yet another example of harm to survivors through the criminal justice system.

Moreover, this case walks back progress on victim’s rights, including the purpose of publication bans in sexual assault cases in Canada.

The purpose of Publication Bans in sexual assault cases

The Ontario Women’s Justice Network (OWJN) shares that publication bans are used to protect a victim or witness’ identity in criminal cases: “there are some cases, such as sexual offences, where an individual’s privacy and a person’s safety are more important than the public’s right to access all of the details in a court proceeding.  By protecting the identity of the sexual assault survivors, publication bans try to encourage people to come forward about assaults, and seek help”[10].

It is important to note that publication bans are not intended to be bilateral in terms of who they protect: while survivors of sexual violence have a right to privacy through publication bans, those convicted of sexual assault do not. This is in recognition of the consequences, loss and stigma[11] that result from sexual victimization, as well as a recognition that victims, unlike offenders, “are part of the process through force of circumstance rather than choice” or result of their own actions[12].

Last, publication bans in sexual assault cases aim to make the criminal justice system more trauma-informed. Being trauma-informed means recognizing that engaging with systems – such as services, police reporting or going to court – can be re-traumatizing[13] for victims. In response, a trauma-informed approach prioritizes the privacy, self-determination and choices of survivors[14], wherever possible. Indeed, at OCRCC we believe that whether or not “to be known to the public as a victim of rape should be a matter of choice”[15] for all survivors. In our experience, in some cases, survivors of sexual violence appreciate publication bans and wish to remain anonymous; in other cases, survivors wish to share their story and appeal to the court to lift the ban on their name[16]. Other survivors opt to disclose their experiences to a select group of support people only. There is no right or wrong approach.

Court-ordered publication bans exist in recognition of honoring survivor’s right to privacy and choice. In this, we believe that they should never operate to punish a survivor.

Our recommendations

The intentions behind the publication ban legislation – protecting sexual assault victims, encouraging survivors to come forward, and reducing re-traumatization – are all worthy concerns. We cannot lose sight of these.

Yet we see that in Waterloo survivor’s case, these intentions were entirely lost through rote legal application: Ontario Court Justice Thomas McKay simply noted that “Court orders have to be followed, particularly ones that deal with people’s privacy”[17].

We recommend that in future, survivor experiences of the criminal justice system and the real purpose of sexual offense publication bans are taken into consideration. We don’t think that a survivor should ever be charged with violating their own ban.

Take action

  • Support your local community-based sexual assault centre. They advocate for survivors of sexual violence at the individual as well as the systemic level in communities across Ontario. Find the sexual assault centre in your community at sexualassaultsupport.ca/support.
  • Contact your local MP, and remind them that the criminal justice system still isn’t working for sexual assault survivors, and that publication bans in sexual assault trials are meant to protect victims’ privacy, not offenders. Training and advocacy with judges, Crown Attorneys and police who make decisions on sexual assault cases can lead to system improvements.
  • Share this story with others you know, and in your networks.
  • If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, know that there are people that will believe you and support you. Go to sexualassaultsupport.ca/support to find the sexual assault centre in your Ontario community. 

Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC) is a network of community-based sexual assault centres in Ontario. Member centres have been supporting survivors of sexual violence and offering prevention education since 1977: services include counselling to survivors of recent and historical sexual violence, accompaniment to hospital, police and court, advocacy and crisis support.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, go to sexualassaultsupport.ca/support


[1] Mandel, M. for The Toronto Sun. Mar 19, 2021. MANDEL: Sex assault victim fined $2,000 for violating pub ban on her own name. Online: https://torontosun.com/news/local-news/mandel-sex-assault-victim-fined-2000-for-violating-pub-ban-on-her-own-name

[2] Mandel, M. for The Toronto Sun. Mar 19, 2021. MANDEL: Sex assault victim fined $2,000 for violating pub ban on her own name. Online: https://torontosun.com/news/local-news/mandel-sex-assault-victim-fined-2000-for-violating-pub-ban-on-her-own-name

[3] Department of Justice Canada. The Canadian Criminal Justice System: Overall Trends and Key Pressure Points. Online: https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/jr/press/

[4] Overcoming Barriers and Enhancing Supportive Responses: The Research on Sexual Violence Against Women A Resource Document. May 2012: 12.

[5] Sexual Assault Centre Kingston. Busting Myths. Online: http://www.sackingston.com/Default.aspx?pageId=857971;

The Learning Network. Overcoming Barriers and Enhancing Supportive Responses: The Research on Sexual Violence Against Women A Resource Document. May 2012: 14.

[6] Patel, A. October 30, 2014. for Huffington Post Canada. 460,000 Sexual Assaults In Canada Every Year: YWCA Canada. Online: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/10/30/sexual-assault-canada_n_6074994.html

[7] Overcoming Barriers and Enhancing Supportive Responses: The Research on Sexual Violence Against Women A Resource Document. May 2012: 23.

[8] See: Lowrie, M and K.G Malone for The Canadian Press. October 4, 2020. Joyce Echaquan’s death highlights systemic racism in health care, experts say. Online: https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/joyce-echaquan-s-death-highlights-systemic-racism-in-health-care-experts-say-1.5132146; and Serebrin, J. for The Canadian Press. March 16, 2021. Health authority fires Quebec nurses accused of mocking Indigenous patient. Online: https://montreal.ctvnews.ca/health-authority-fires-quebec-nurses-accused-of-mocking-indigenous-patient-1.5350103 

[9] See: Simpson, N. for The Tyee. 2 Jun 2020. Canada Has Race-Based Police Violence Too. We Don’t Know How Much. Online: https://thetyee.ca/Analysis/2020/06/02/Canada-Race-Based-Violence/; and CBC Radio. Jun 01, 2020. Police brutality continually treated like a ‘one-off’ in Canada, says Desmond Cole. Online: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-june-1-2020-1.5592953/police-brutality-continually-treated-like-a-one-off-in-canada-says-desmond-cole-1.5592954

[10] Ontario Women’s Justice Network (OWJN). Guide to Publication Bans in Sexual Assault Cases. August 25, 2016. Online: https://owjn.org/2016/08/guide-to-publication-bans-in-sexual-assault-cases/#caniremoveban

[11] Overcoming Barriers and Enhancing Supportive Responses: The Research on Sexual Violence Against Women A Resource Document. May 2012: 18.

[12] Cameron, J. Victim Privacy and the Open Court Principle: Chapter 5 (Ottawa: Government of Canada, 2013). Commissioned Reports, Studies and Public Policy Documents. Paper 167. Online: https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/cj-jp/victim/rr03_vic1/p7_1.html

[13] The Institute on Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care (ITTIC) What is Trauma-Informed Care? (Online)

[14] Ibid.

[15] Cameron, J. Victim Privacy and the Open Court Principle: Chapter 5 (Ottawa: Government of Canada, 2013). Commissioned Reports, Studies and Public Policy Documents. Paper 167. Online: https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/cj-jp/victim/rr03_vic1/p7_1.html

[16] The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), 2019-07-16. Life after shame’: Hidden camera victim lifts publication ban to empower other women. Published: Online: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/shameless-circle-group-1.5212808

[17] Mandel, M. for The Toronto Sun. Mar 19, 2021. MANDEL: Sex assault victim fined $2,000 for violating pub ban on her own name. Online: https://torontosun.com/news/local-news/mandel-sex-assault-victim-fined-2000-for-violating-pub-ban-on-her-own-name

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