Canadian Criminal Evidence/Credibility/Adverse and Hostile Witnesses

Cross-examining a party's own witness


When a witness is called, it is presumed that they are to be believed. At common law, a witness cannot be questioned on bad character to attack their credibility by the calling party.[1]

Common Law Principles


At common law, a witness who is unfavourable and hostile may be cross examined on a prior statement of any type. [2]

An "unfavourable" witness is one who gives evidence that is contrary to the fact that they were called to prove. The calling party may call evidence to contradict that evidence while still relying on the other evidence that was not contradicted.

A "hostile" witness at common law is one who is "not desirous of telling the truth". Such a witness may be cross examined to the extent that the judge sees necessary to do justice, which can include a broad area of topics such as all facts in issue, the witnesses reliability and credibility on the circumstances of the case.

A common law declaration of hostility may be available solely on the basis of the witness's manner in giving evidence and demeanour.[3]

The common law principles have largely fell out of disuse and issues of recantations or unfavourable changing of evidence is dealt with in s. 9(1) and 9(2).

Section 9(1) Adverse Witnesses


If the witness is shown to be adverse, counsel may contradict the witness with a prior statement under s. 9(1) of the CEA as long as the witness confirms whether the prior statement was made:

Adverse witnesses
9. (1) A party producing a witness shall not be allowed to impeach his credit by general evidence of bad character, but if the witness, in the opinion of the court, proves adverse, the party may contradict him by other evidence, or, by leave of the court, may prove that the witness made at other times a statement inconsistent with his present testimony, but before the last mentioned proof can be given the circumstances of the supposed statement, sufficient to designate the particular occasion, shall be mentioned to the witness, and he shall be asked whether or not he did make the statement.


"Adverse" is taken to mean that the witness "opposed in interests".[4] This is in distinction with the traditional meaning of "adverse" requiring outward hostility, such as a witness who is belligerent argumentative and un-cooperative, rather than simply hostility in mind.[5] Adversity can be found by way of many means including demeanor or a prior contradictory statement.[6] Testifying in an unfavourable way contrary to a prior statement can be enough.[7]

A "hostile" witness, by contrast, is a subset of "adverse" witnesses. A hostile witness is one who is "not giving her evidence fairly and with a desire to tell the truth because of a hostile animus towards the [calling party]" [8] This will capture those witnesses who are belligerent or argumentative. A hostile witness will also engage s.9(1).

An application under s. 9(1) is to be performed without the presence of the jury as a voir dire.[9]

Section 9(1) further provides that before counsel can attempted to contradict a witness with a previous statement, counsel has the obligation to first mention the circumstances of the statement to the witness, including the particularities of the occasion it was made, and confirm with the witness whether the statement was made by him.

Where the court gives permission to cross examination, the counsel may impeach the witness. Counsel may not use it to bolster favourable evidence from the witness.[10]

Section 9(1) does not permit counsel to cross examine at large. It is only an ability to cross examine on the circumstances of the prior statement.[11] Only a declaration of hostility permits cross examination at large.[12]

Whenever there is an application under s.9, the applicant must inform the judge what the purpose of tending the prior statement.[13]

  1. Hanes v. Wawanesa Mutual Insurance, [1961] OR 495 at 499 (ONCA)[1];
    G.&J. Sales v. Basil MacDonald (1956), 3 D.L.R. (2d) 442 at 450 (NSCA)
    See also CEA s. 9(1)
    R. v. C.E.N., 1998 ABCA 290, 129 C.C.C. (3d) 198
    R. v. Situ, 2005 ABCA 275, 200 C.C.C. (3d) 9
    R. v. Paquette, 2008 ABCA 49 (CanLII), 2008 ABCA 49, 425 A.R. 4
    David M. Paciocco and Lee Stuesser, The Law of Evidence, 5th ed (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2008) at 503-509
  2. R v Prefas, (1988), 86 Cr. App. R. 111, (C.A.)
  3. R. v. McAllister, 2008 NSCA 103 (CanLII)
  4. Hanes v Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Co., [1961] OR 495 (ONCA)
    See also: R v. Gushue (No.4) (1975) 30 CRNS 178 (Ont. Ct. J.)
  5. eg. R. v. S.W.S., 2005 CanLII 43072 (ON SC) at 7
  6. See Delisle, "Evidence: Principles and Problems" (7th Ed.) at p.459
  7. eg. R. v. S.W.S., 2005 CanLII 43072 (ON SC) at 7
  8. In Referencere R. v. Coffin, 1956 CanLII 94 (SCC), [1956] S.C.R.191, at page 213
    see also R. v. Figliola, 2011 ONCA 457 (CanLII)
  9. See Delisle, "Evidence: Principles and Problems" (7th Ed.) at p.460
    R v Cassibo (1982) 70 CCC (2d) 498 (ONCA)
  10. R v C(JR) (1996) 110 CCC (3d) 373 (SKCA)
  11. R. v. Vivar [2004] O.J. No. 9
    R. v. S.W.S., 2005 CanLII 43072 (ON SC) at 14
  12. R v SWS
    R. v. Figliola, 2011 ONCA 457 (CanLII)
  13. R v U(FJ) (1994) 90 CCC (3d) 541 (ONCA) aff'd by SCC in [1995] SCR 764

Section 9(2) / Milgaard Application


Section 9(2) was added to permit a broader ability to impeach a witness through cross-examination on written statements without the adverse declaration:[1]



Previous statements by witness not proved adverse
(2) Where the party producing a witness alleges that the witness made at other times a statement in writing, reduced to writing, or recorded on audio tape or video tape or otherwise, inconsistent with the witness’ present testimony, the court may, without proof that the witness is adverse, grant leave to that party to cross-examine the witness as to the statement and the court may consider the cross-examination in determining whether in the opinion of the court the witness is adverse.

R.S., 1985, c. C-5, s. 9; 1994, c. 44, s. 85.


This was considered a separate form of impeachment of a witness from 9(1).[2] The "Milgaard procedure" required by the courts for cross examination under 9(1) is as follows:[3]

  1. counsel should notify the court of the intention to make an application under s.9(2)
  2. where necessary the jury should retire
  3. counsel should notify the court of the particulars of the application and provide the court with the alleged statement;
  4. if the judge believes on reviewing the statement there is no contraction, then the application is over. Otherwise, the judge should call upon counsel to prove the statement.
  5. Counsel should prove the statement. If the witness agrees to making the statement then it will be sufficient, otherwise, additional witnesses can be called to prove it.
  6. if the contradictory statement is proven then opposing counsel can cross examine on the circumstances under which the statement was made.
  7. the judge should decide whether to permit cross examination

Where the matter is a judge-alone trial, there is no need to go through the 9(2) application where the intention is to make a KGB application.[4]

The judge may require the applicant to refresh the witnesses memory or review the statement before giving leave to cross examine.[5]

There is no need for the statement to be signed or acknowledged to be considered under s. 9(2).[6]

Notes made by a police officer of a conversation does not amount to a written statement or one reduced to writing.[7]

Where a witness is cross-examined on a prior statement, and denies having any memory of the answer, then it cannot become evidence and can only be used towards the witnesses credibility.[8]

Where the witness has a no memory of making the prior statement, there may be a ground to permit cross examination.[9]

  1. R v Rouse; McInroy, 1978 CanLII 175 (SCC), [1979] 1 SCR 588 - no adversity finding needed
  2. R. v. Milgaard, (1971) 2 CCC 2d 206 (SKCA)
    McInroy; Rouse
  3. R v Milgaard (1971) 2 CCC 2d 206 (SKCA)
    R v Williams (1985) 44 CR (3d) 351 (ONCA)
  4. R v Glowatski (2001) 160 CCC (3d) 525 (BCCA)
    R v Fleet (2001) 48 CR 5th 28 (NSCA)
  5. R v Stewart, 1976 CanLII 202 (SCC)
  6. R v Carpenter (No.2) (1982) 1 CCC (3d) 149
  7. R v Handy (1978) 45 CCC (2d) 232 (BCCA)
  8. Rouse; McInroy
  9. R v Aubin (1994) 94 CCC (3d) 89 (QCCA)

See Also