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Jane Doe v. Metropolitan Toronto (Municipality) Commissioners of Police

July 03, 1998

In 1986, Jane Doe was raped at knife-point by a stranger who broke into her apartment, from her balcony, while she was sleeping. In the seven months prior to the attack, four other women in her neighbourhood had reported to the police that they had been raped by a stranger in similar circumstances. The police were slow to link the assaults and did not devoted adequate resources to the investigation. Once they determined that a serial rapist was at large, they did not warn the women at risk.

Jane Doe sued the Board of Commissioners for the Metro Toronto Police on three separate grounds: negligence, a violation of her equality rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and an infringement of her Charter right to security of the person. On July 3, 1998, Madam Justice MacFarland ruled in her favour on all three counts.

The Court held that the police owed a duty of care to the women in Jane Doe’s neighbourhood and that they “utterly” failed in their duty to protect these women. She concluded that the police investigation of the so-called “balcony rapist” was “irresponsible and grossly negligent”.

The Court also accepted Jane Doe’s argument that the reason for the shoddy investigation was that the police did not take the crime of sexual assault seriously. The evidence at trial demonstrated that the police were aware of long-standing systemic problems in the way that they investigate rape, yet no genuine efforts had been made to correct the situation. The problems stemmed from the fact that the police were motivated by rape myths and sexist stereotypes about women, which impeded their investigations. Sexist thinking also informed the police investigators’ decision not to warn the women in Jane Doe’s neighbourhood about the “balcony rapist”. They believed that, if warned, women would panic and become hysterical, so they deliberately withheld information that could have empowered women to take appropriate measures to protect themselves.

The Court also held that the police had violated Jane Doe’s equality rights, as well as her constitutional right to security of the person. It further found that there was no evidence presented by the police to justify the Charter breaches. Jane Doe was awarded $220,000 in damages, which, twelve years after the legal battle began, amounted with interest to almost $500,000.

Following the decision, Toronto City Council apologized to Jane Doe and the women of Toronto for the way in which her case had been handled. Shortly thereafter, the Toronto Police Services Board also issued a formal apology to Jane Doe.

Click here to read the decision.

Practice Areas

Civil Litigation, Constitutional Law