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A Winnipeg newspaper says the Manitoba government has no plans to try to legislate upgraded training in sexual-assault law for its provincial court judges.iStockphoto/Getty Images/iStockphoto

A Winnipeg newspaper says the Manitoba government has no plans to try to legislate upgraded training in sexual-assault law for its provincial court judges.

The Free Press says the province is not following Ontario, where introduced legislation requires new judges to follow an updated education plan that includes extra training on sexual-assault law.

The paper says Manitoba will also not adapt a federal private member's bill that passed through the House of Commons, which mandates sexual-assault law training for all federally appointed judges.

In response to an inquiry from the media outlet, Minister of Justice and Attorney-General Heather Stefanson says in a statement that her department is not contemplating any such legislation changes, saying it respects judges' independence.

Provincial court judges in Manitoba receive at least 10 days of judicial education a year, and their education and training is planned by a Manitoba Provincial Court education committee.

None of Manitoba's three chief judges was available for comment.

"We are very concerned for the victims of sexual assault and believe their cases should be heard with timeliness and sensitivity. Our government is currently observing how this supplementary education is implemented in Ontario to determine best practices," Ms. Stefanson's statement reads.

A statement issued by a provincial court spokeswoman said the Provincial Court of Manitoba constantly reviews the need for judicial education on particular topics as part of a long-term approach to the issue.

"Judicial education has many sources including formal and informal education and self directed learning. The provincial court holds two in-house education sessions per year on various topics. The next in-house education session will focus specifically on sexual-assault issues, including social context," the statement said.

If it gets Senate approval and comes into effect as law, the federal bill – proposed by then-interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose – would mean changes to training for federally appointed judges.

But there are concerns government interference in what judges learn is dangerous to Canada's long-held principle of judicial independence.

Adele Kent, executive director of the National Judicial Institute – which runs education programs for federally appointed judges – said the idea of legislating what judges learn is a new phenomenon.

She's flagged parts of the federal legislation, including a provision to involve those who work with victims of sexual violence in developing training programs.

"There is a worry there, and I'll just characterize it as a worry, that that is impacting judicial independence," she said. "Judicial education needs to be led by the judges and the judges have to determine what the content of that education is."

The institute works to give judges the most impartial information possible, she said, "and there is a risk if it is done by outside institutions that there may be a certain bias or a certain point of view in the education, that means it is not unbiased and fair."

Judges do receive training in how to spot and curb rape myths or stereotypes. They learn about sexual-assault trials in the NJI's new judge school and will often take in seminars on sexual-assault law, Justice Kent said, noting the "complex" nature of sexual-assault trials.

"There is a variety of times when judges get education on sexual-assault trials. Do they need more? I always like to say that it's good for judges to have as much education as they can, recognizing they need education on a variety of topics," she said, noting any education for judges has to be approved by their respective chief justices.

Justice Kent also said in the wake of former CBC broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi's high-profile sexual-assault trial and recent public outcry after a now-resigned Alberta judge asked a sexual-assault complainant why she couldn't keep her "knees together," there's increasing transparency around judicial education.

Canada is closer to requiring sexual assault training for would-be federal judges, after the House of Commons voted Monday to fast-track passage of a bill introduced by interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose.

The Canadian Press