The Crown withdrew Jian Ghomeshi’s remaining sexual assault charge Wednesday morning after the former CBC host signed a peace bond and made a statement to Ms. Borel and the Court.
What is a peace bond?
It’s an order by a criminal court that the individual must “keep the peace and be of good behaviour” for a year — basically stay out of trouble and abide by whatever conditions are imposed, similar to being released on bail. It is not an admission of guilt or wrongdoing and does not result in a criminal record.
When are they used?
Historically they were used by neighbours trying to stop loud parties or parking in a shared right-of-way, says Pamela Cross, legal director for Luke’s Place. But in the last twenty years they have been increasingly used in domestic violence cases and in sexual assault cases. They are also increasingly used in terrorism cases when an officer argues there are reasonable grounds to believe someone may commit a terrorist offence.
When the Crown doesn’t have a strong case, or the charges are not seen as being serious (for example, an assault charge where there were no injuries and no threats), the Crown may agree to withdraw the charge if the accused enters into a peace bond.
Peace bonds can also be issued instead of a criminal charge. If a person fears for their safety, they can see a justice of the peace and a mini-trial will be conducted. If there is enough evidence, the JP will order a peace bond.
How do they work?
Specific conditions can be attached to the peace bond, such as having no contact with the complainant, not going to a certain place, not possessing weapons, not using alcohol or drugs, or attending counselling. An amount of money can be pledged that would be forfeited if the conditions are breached. It is a criminal offence to breach a peace bond — the charge is disobeying a court order — and can result in jail time.
Why would someone agree to a peace bond?
It may simply be a better option than risking a trial.
A defence lawyer might say: “This is good idea. We go to trial, it’s a crapshoot, you might be found guilty. This way you are kind of off the hook. You have to sign these conditions and follow the rules for a year but you don’t have any kind of criminal record at the end of that time,” Cross says.
If the defence or the Crown thinks they have a ironclad case, a peace bond is unlikely to be on the table. “In case of sexual assault and domestic violence in particular where there are seldom any witnesses, the evidence is somewhat vague, neither side is usually in that position when they know their case is unassailable,” Cross says.
Why would a complainant support a peace bond?
A complainant does not get to decide if a case goes forward or not, but the Crown may discuss with them whether a peace bond would be an appropriate result — or the complainant may suggest it themselves.
“For some women, not having to testify in a trial is a huge relief,” Cross says.