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February 17, 2016

When evidence is labelled hearsay, it is deemed inadmissible by Canadian courts. The Supreme Court of Canada provided a definition of hearsay as an “out of court statement that is admitted for the truth of its contents.” There are a number of reasons why hearsay is generally not accepted by the courts. First, there’s a difficulty in finding hearsay evidence reliable, as it is difficult to test. Relating to this, the ability of the jury is in question when it comes to identifying and handling hearsay evidence. Finally, the fairness of the trial if it permits hearsay evidence also comes into question. 

However, there are exceptions to this rule, though they have been criticized for their rigidity. Sometimes, hearsay is the only evidence available in order to reveal truth. That being said, the limitations on its admissibility are numerous, as they must apply to admissions, and a variety of declarations (dying, against interest, and spontaneous). There have been cases where hearsay evidence was deemed inadmissible because it was a child relaying an occurrence to their parent – a notable example is R. v. Khan, where a child relayed a sexual assault by their doctor to a parent. Because of the rigidity of the hearsay admission requirements, the initial trial acquitted the accused. The trial was later revisited.

General rule of thumb for the courts is that a person cannot say that they heard somebody say something – that person must be brought in to testify as a witness. In cases where this is not possible, it is difficult to rely on that evidence, or have it introduced in court. 

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