Early last year, Quebec resident Oscar Villaroman challenged his 2013 conviction for possession of child pornography. The Alberta Court of Appeals overturned the conviction as it excluded other possibilities as to how the pornography showed up on his computer.

As a result Villaroman was acquitted, but the case was then taken to the Supreme Court of Canada which sided with the Crown and overturned the acquittal, citing that the evidence against Villaroman, although circumstantial, was enough to prove his guilt. In addition to the question of circumstantial evidence, this case also dealt with the issue of unreasonable search and seizure.

Background

In 2009, Villaroman was experiencing mechanical problems with his laptop and brought it in to a repair technician. While his laptop was at the shop, the technician discovered 36 child pornography files in a folder within a file sharing program installed on his laptop. The technician then called the police, which prompted a special search warrant that eventually resulted in Villaroman’s arrest and conviction.

Issues

  1. The Crown was unable to prove whether the appellant put the child pornography on his computer, or if he knew it was there. Aside from the pornography itself, there was no evidence that Villaroman was actively downloading this content onto his computer. This left room for the possibility that somebody else could have put it there, making the evidence circumstantial.
  2. Villaroman challenged the court saying that the search conducted by the Alberta Police conflicted with s.8 of the charter, which reads that everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.

Conclusions

Villaroman was acquitted of his charge by the Alberta Court of Appeals, on the basis that the evidence was circumstantial.

The Crown however, argued in an application to the Supreme Court of Canada that the decision “[was] an erroneous judgment with escalating and dangerous implications. They claimed that it was a matter of public importance to correct these errors as child porn cases often purely rely on circumstantial evidence. Villoraman’s acquittal set a standard for proof that is “literally unattainable” which could have a “devastating impact” on the ability to prosecute these kinds of cases.

The SCC agreed with the Crown and said that child pornography cases like this one do not have to disprove any other possible explanation for how the child pornography ends up on a computer owned by the accused. As a result, Villaroman’s acquittal was overturned.

However, the SCC also handed the s.8 Charter of Rights issue to the search and seizure of the laptop back to the Alberta Court of Appeal, which means Villaroman has yet another chance to argue his case in appeal court.