He just didn't know it was a crime...?
Ignorantia juris non excusat translates to “ignorance of law excuses no one.” This concept was created so that people accused of crimes couldn’t get out of their punishment by saying that they just didn’t know that they couldn’t do whatever they were caught doing. Yet one Canadian man who claimed that he had no idea he was repeatedly committing a very damaging crime against his wife was set free simply because he said he didn’t know it was illegal.
Now, women’s rights activists are furious over the ruling, and they’ve launched a huge campaign to ensure that no one can claim this defense ever again.
A Series of Crimes
An unnamed man was arrested for sexually assaulting his wife after she complained to police that he repeatedly raped her during their marriage. The man and woman who live in Ottawa divorced in 2013, and had been talking to the police about their custody issues.
The woman apparently didn’t realize until speaking with them that marital rape was illegal, so she filed a complaint about a 2002 incident in which she alleged that her husband twisted her wrist, forced her on to the couch, and raped her despite her pleas for him to stop.
The couple were arranged to be married years before — he was from Gaza, and she grew up in Kuwait. They married, then settled in Ottawa, and had children together before separating. In Kuwait, marital rape is not illegal, though sexual relations outside of marriage is an illegal offense — and one that warrants vigilante justice.
According to Humans Rights Watch, Article 153 of the Kuwaiti penal code stipulates that a man who finds any woman that he is related to (mother, wife, sister or daughter) committing adultery, he can kill them and be punished only with a small fine or no more than three years in prison.
Both the former husband and wife in this case claimed that they had no idea a wife could say no to having sex with her husband. They believed that the wife wasn’t legally allowed to refuse the advances of her husband, but as we know, his ignorance of the law is no excuse. He was charged with assault.
The case was heard by Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Smith who agreed that the woman was repeatedly assaulted, but shockingly ruled that the man wasn’t guilty of the crime of assault or rape. The Ottawa Citizen reported that the man denied even having relations with his wife on that day because he just underwent a hair transplant surgery and was told to avoid intercourse.
The judge didn’t believe this story, but said he believed that the man thought that it was completely legal to demand sex from his wife despite her saying she didn’t want to do it. The judge also explained that the defendant was clearly evasive and non-credible.
Judge Smith wrote, “I find that the accused probably had sex with his wife on many occasions without her specific consent, as both he and she believed that he had the right to do so. Marriage is not a shield for sexual assault.”
Not His Fault
He continued about his controversial ruling, “However, the issue in this trial is whether, considering the whole of the evidence, the Crown has proven the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.” The judge ruled that the man was not criminally liable for assaulting his wife because he didn’t seem to have mens rea which translates to “guilty mind.” In other words, he could not be found guilty because he did not have the intention or knowledge that what he was doing was wrong.
The judge explained that the prosecution couldn’t establish that the man had an intent to commit a criminal act even though he acted as though he knew he committed a crime during the trial.
Ottawa locals and social activists everywhere are upset with the ruling claiming that the judge allowed an admitted criminal to walk free. Acting executive director of the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women Carrolyn Johnston stated, “He may have believed that he had a right to have sex with her as her husband, but Canadian sexual assault law is clear and was amended to include sexual assault against a spouse in 1983.”
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