The Liberal government is planning to invest more than $100-million over five years to create a national strategy to prevent gender-based violence, citing a Globe and Mail investigation into how police handle sex-assault allegations across the country.
Wednesday's federal budget also proposes $2.7-million over five years for education, ethics and conduct programs for Canadian judges, including training. The commitments come after a 20-month Globe investigation that analyzed data from more than 870 police jurisdictions that indicated investigators dismiss one out of every five sex-assault claims as unfounded, meaning they believe no crime occurred.
"Recent media investigations have shed light on unfounded sexual assault cases, indicating that the national dismissal rate could be as high as one out of every five sexual assault allegations," reads the budget, summarizing The Globe's findings.
The strategy will receive $100.9-million over the first five years starting next fiscal year, and $20.7-million annually thereafter.
The budget noted that "improved data is necessary to better understand the prevalence and impact of sexual assault in Canada." However, it did not commit new funds for Statistics Canada to resume collecting national numbers on unfounded cases through the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey – a recommendation made earlier this week in a parliamentary report on violence against young women and girls.
Statistics Canada stopped publishing such data in 2003, amid concerns that cases were being misclassified or not recorded.
More details on the national strategy will be announced in the coming months, the budget said.
The $2.7-million will go to the Canadian Judicial Council, an independent organization that supports federally appointed judges, to provide programs that will ensure Canadian judges are sensitive to and informed about the "evolving nature of Canadian society," including gender issues.
"Support for the Canadian Judicial Council will ensure that more judges have access to professional development, with a greater focus on gender- and culturally-sensitive training," the budget says.
The investment will also upgrade the council's computer servers to manage information accurately and effectively.
Advocates and academics welcomed the announcement.
"My colleagues and I have worked in the field for sexual violence for the last 20 to 40 years, and I think we are all just extremely grateful and extremely hopeful to see this type of response from government in our lifetime," Deb Tomlinson, the CEO of the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services.
"I think certainly improving and enhancing the criminal-justice response is very important, but we also need to encourage survivors to come forward and get help, and in order to do that we need to make sure that the help is there. And the degree of access to specialized sexual-assault services across our country is extremely inconsistent and in some provinces there are great disparities."
Melanie Randall, a law professor at Western University who has studied sexual-assault law, said she would have liked to see money specifically dedicated to better police oversight.
In response to The Globe's reporting, more than 50 police services have committed to review cases designated as unfounded. But most are conducting those audits internally.
"A collaborative community-based approach, such as the Philadelphia model, would greatly assist in remedying this problem which has been uncovered across the country," Ms Randall said, referring to a program in which outside advocacy groups review police sex-assault files once a year.
Meanwhile, Lise Gotell, a professor at the University of Alberta who specializes in feminist legal theory, cautioned that $100-million over five years does not go far. "I like that they're establishing a secretariat," she said. "There needs to be a co-ordinated approach. The government is going to be moving forward on a gender-based strategy and that is very good. But there needs to be a much more serious commitment of resources to the problem." She lauded the plan for specialized training for federal judges, but said she would like police included.
In a separate measure, the government will provide $3.6-million over three years to establish an LGBTQ2 secretariat within the Privy Council Office. The secretariat will help the Prime Minister's special adviser on LGBTQ2 issues, MP Randy Boissonnault, provide advice on the development and co-ordination of the government's LGBTQ2 agenda.
The secretariat will engage with organizations to promote equality, protect the rights of LGBTQ2 Canadians and address discrimination against them. The budget did not commit to an apology or funds for restitution for members of the public service and military who lost their jobs in the 1970s and 80s because of their sexual orientation.
With a report from Robyn Doolittle