Nova Scotia’s highest court has ordered a new trial for a former Canada Border Services agent who was found guilty last year of sexually assaulting and extorting a woman facing deportation.
Chief Justice Michael Wood of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal wrote in the decision released Wednesday that trial judge Suzanne Hood of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court made several errors in law in the original conviction of Carie Dexter Willis.
Willis launched an appeal last year of his conviction and six-year prison sentence.
Writing on behalf of the unanimous three-judge appeal panel, Wood said that Hood subjected Willis’s evidence to a “high degree of scrutiny, often on issues of marginal relevance,” and didn’t apply the same standard to his accuser.
He said that was the case over the issue of whether Willis, 59, was circumcised.
The accuser had testified he was not circumcised, but both Willis and his wife testified he was. Wood called this a “significant contradiction.”
According to the decision’s summary of facts, the woman arrived in Canada as a student in 1996 and was turned down for refugee status in 2003.
The charges against Willis arose from the woman’s allegations that he induced her in 2003 to enter into a non-consensual sexual relationship in exchange for his ensuring deportation proceedings against her would not proceed.
Willis had testified that after he told the woman about the deportation arrangements, she missed her flight and he never saw her again until after he was charged in 2016 and the case came before the courts.
Wood said the two versions of the facts were “starkly different,” but the trial judge tended to be more accepting of the complainant’s account.
The woman testified about a sexual relationship which spanned several months and included intercourse one or two times a week for the final month or so.
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At trial she was asked to describe Willis, and she said that she knew he was not circumcised. Both Willis and his wife testified that he was circumcised.
“This obvious contradiction, on a point about Mr. Willis’s anatomy, was potentially significant in the context of a case with so little corroborating evidence on either side,” Wood wrote.
“The trial judge did not mention this contradiction in her decision. She sets out the testimony of (the woman) on the issue but not the evidence of Mr. Willis or his wife. We do not know why.”
The couple’s evidence, “which potentially goes to the heart of the complainant’s credibility and reliability, is not referred to,” the chief justice noted.
“I am satisfied that these examples illustrate unbalanced scrutiny placed by the trial judge in her assessment of the evidence of the Crown and the defence.”
The decision overturns the conviction and says Willis, who now lives in Montreal, will remain free on bail conditions until his new trial.
The appeal was heard on June 11.