Ontario Election 2018

Nothing Unfair About Brown's Fall from Grace

Presumption of innocence is a legal term referring to criminal charges. In civil matters, we evaluate allegations based on the balance of probabilities.

By Ryan McGreal
Published January 29, 2018

Last Wednesday, a bombshell report from CTV News documented serious sexual misconduct allegations against Patrick Brown, who was the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party.

Brown tearfully denied the allegations and vowed to stay on as leader in a short, awkward press conference just minutes before the story aired, but it was too late. His senior staff resigned en masse and a middle-of-the-night caucus conference call made it clear that he had no choice but to step down.

Since then, a number of commentators have seized on this to claim the #MeToo campaign against sexual misconduct has gone too far. A frequent argument in the anti-MeToo backlash is the claim that Brown has been denied his right to "the presumption of innocence." See, for example, here, here and here.

This is a highly misleading line of reasoning from people who ought to know better.

Presumption of Innocence vs. Balance of Probabilities

The presumption of innocence is a legal term referring specifically to criminal charges. Everyone who is charged with a crime has a presumption of innocence and has the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Civil matters, on the other hand, are guided not by the presumption of innocence but by the balance of probabilities, also sometimes referred to as the preponderance of evidence.

This is why, for example, OJ Simpson was found not guilty of murder in his criminal murder trial - his lawyer managed to introduce a reasonable doubt - but was then found guilty in his civil wrongful death trial. The balance of probabilities was strongly tilted toward his having caused her death.

Patrick Brown has not been charged with a crime, let alone convicted of a crime or sentenced to prison. He was pressured to step down from the leadership of a provincial party, not hauled away in handcuffs. As such, presumption of innocence is strictly a moot point.

Allegations are Credible

The important issue here is whether the allegations are credible.

It certainly looks like CTV did their due diligence as professional journalists before running the story. It documents a similar pattern of behaviour described by two different women and is backed by documentation and corroborating statements from several other people.

In addition, we have learned that several news agencies have been investigating sexual misconduct allegations against Brown for months.

We found out that PC MPP Lisa MacLeod brought her concerns about Brown to the party several times, most recently last December, and was ignored. Likewise, we have also learned that Conservative aide Dimitri Soudas knew about the rumours.

We are also hearing that it was something of an "open secret" in Barrie that he was known to be creepy with women. A staffer has even acknowledged that Brown's staff ran drills on how to respond if serious allegations came out.

I am quite confident that more women will come forward now that this is in the open.

In other words, the balance of probability strongly supports taking this seriously, and it is entirely proper that Brown was forced to step down from his leadership role in the party.

There is nothing unfair about Brown's abrupt fall from grace. The #MeToo movement has not overreached, but is proceeding exactly as needed to identify patterns of inappropriate behaviour and force a necessary, long-awaited conversation about how we can transform the terms of engagement to uphold the respect and dignity of all people, especially women.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted January 29, 2018 at 09:32:58

In the end, what matters about Patrick Brown is not any sort of legal test, and there is no universal standard of "burden of proof" that can satisfy everyone of particular facts. There will no doubt be some who wish to adopt a tighter standard than balance-of-probabilities before they believe some particular fact. There are some of us, who recognize patterns of conduct, and may require less evidence (although the testimony of two victims unknown to each other, plus other confirming accounts off the record as identified by the reporter, plus confirming accounts by contemporaries of the reported incidents at the time is a great deal of evidence, especially for something's first report in the papers... trust me, almost everything you read in the paper is more thinly sourced than this.)

It is important to remember that Patrick Brown resigned because he had lost the confidence of his caucus. This is exactly what happens to any party leader. Those elsewhere in the media decrying the haste of Brown's exit (which I'd just note is mostly a rogues' gallery of the very worst and arsiest voices our media has to offer) should train their fire specifically upon those MPPs, and the brains trust close to Patrick Brown who made him realize the untenability of his position. They were the proximate cause of the resignation, accomplished even before the public had a chance to evaluate this evidence.

Instead, most of the voices discussing the matter have chosen to blame us, the public, for some ill done to Patrick Brown when we had nothing whatsoever to do with it.

We now know the reason why, of course: the patterns of Brown's behaviour with teenaged women was an ongoing semi-public scandal, known to the whole of the Queen's Park media as well as vast numbers of locals in Barrie. It had been kept out of the paper due to the reticence of journalists and media to properly source the facts.

Yes, the state of political analysis in the Canadian media is truly dire.

Comment edited by Tybalt on 2018-01-29 09:38:02

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted January 29, 2018 at 13:55:18

I think there was a more than a little bit of skullduggery going on there. What should have been looking like a sure thing for the PCs this spring was not and it was mostly due to Brown. Nice clean way to get rid of him. I'm not saying the allegations are untrue but certainly if Brown was pulling killer poll numbers the party would have found a way to sweep this under the rug.

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By Hammer-guy (registered) | Posted February 01, 2018 at 10:20:51

How about CTV and all their due diligence now? Turns out the accuser and the reporter were friends and that was never disclosed.

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By Hammer-guy (registered) | Posted February 05, 2018 at 14:15:51

They could have revealed the relationship without revealing the name of the source.

As the author of this article guaranteed. Where are all the other girls that are supposed to be coming forward?

Comment edited by Hammer-guy on 2018-02-05 15:18:43

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted February 06, 2018 at 16:18:03

I read the links above and noted the photograph with the shirt with the message about "the future being female" and the big smiles and "hugs."

If anyone thinks this was objective journalism I am happy to hear the reasons why you think it could be.

It would appear that the author Aeillo had a significant non-objective motivation in promoting the story which unfortunately detracts from the main issue being reported. It takes away from the entire credibility and reliability of the reporting. Doesn't mean it's inaccurate but probably means that it has little value. The shirt wearer says she was harassed based on her subjective feelings. One might tend to doubt this based on how this was reported.

(As an aside I bet Wynne is nowhere behind this because she lost her best chance to win by losing Brown as a competitor unless Doug Ford gets in somehow. If the Conservative establishment is not behind this they certainly jumped for joy when they found out about it.)

Comment edited by CharlesBall on 2018-02-06 16:25:23

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By Hammer-guy (registered) | Posted February 06, 2018 at 18:32:53 in reply to Comment 122427

I agree.

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By Hammer-guy (registered) | Posted February 07, 2018 at 10:38:33

Ryan, I think the responsible thing to do would be to retract your article.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted February 09, 2018 at 17:57:00

Just as an aside (and not really relevant to the discussion here) I have also learned that Glen McGregor, the other journalist who "broke" the story, is the author of the famous Frank Magazine contest to deflower Caroline Mulroney in 1991. I can get the cite for this if you want.

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By Hammer-guy (registered) | Posted February 10, 2018 at 20:16:35


Somebody somewhere is lying.

I also think a responsible reporter would have waited and reported on facts rather than speculation.

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By Hammer-guy (registered) | Posted February 14, 2018 at 14:33:37

Now we find out the accuser actually lied and wasn’t underage in a bar or in high school.

Ryan, maybe you should write an article about that. At least address the changes and facts that have come to light since you wrote your hit piece.

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