The Liberal government introduced legislation Tuesday crafted by former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose that will require sexual-assault education for judges.
Justice Minister David Lametti said the new bill is “consistent” with a bill Ms. Ambrose introduced when she was a member of Parliament. Ms. Ambrose’s private member’s bill passed unanimously in the House of Commons in 2017, but died in the Senate last June as Parliament adjourned before the federal election campaign.
Ms. Ambrose’s original bill, the Judicial Accountability Through Sexual Assault Law Training Act, was inspired by a number of high-profile sexual-assault cases, including one in which Alberta Federal Court Justice Robin Camp asked a rape complainant in a 2014 trial when he was a Provincial Court judge: “Why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?”
The new legislation would ensure that all newly appointed provincial superior court judges undergo training in sexual law and social context, and would improve the transparency of decisions by requiring judges deciding on matters of sexual assault to provide their reasons in writing or enter them into the record.
Mr. Lametti said the training aspect of the bill is aimed at providing judges with insight into “myths and stereotypes” that surround sexual-assault cases. The training in social context would provide judges who preside over sexual-assault cases with “deeper insights and best practices to help them better navigate the social and cultural factors” they may come across in their work.
Ms. Ambrose, who attended a Parliament Hill news conference with Mr. Lametti and Minister for Women and Gender Equality Maryam Monsef, said that from the very beginning of her work on this issue, partisanship has been set aside.
“There are some issues as Justice Minister Lametti said that really are above politics and issues that Canadians expect us to work on. … Supporting victims of sexual assault and improving our justice system and building confidence in our justice system is one of those issues,” she said.
Ms. Ambrose said 95 per cent of women who experience sexual violence are silent and, when asked why they don’t report their sexual assault, they say they have no confidence in the justice system.
“This bill is really a small part of a puzzle that we need to continue working on to build that confidence in our justice system so more people come forward and report their sexual assault or sexual abuse,” she said.
Ms. Ambrose said the bill will also incorporate training around bias and stereotypes that “very often seep into the courtroom” around issues related to sexual assault, and will ensure that judges who preside over sexual-assault cases have complete knowledge, competency and up-to-date training in sexual assault law.
Ms. Monsef said the legislation will help ensure that Canada’s justice system treats survivors of sexual assault with more dignity and respect so that survivors feel safer navigating the justice system. If passed, she said, the bill will also require that the training for judges be developed in consultation with sexual-assault survivors.
Last year, Ms. Ambrose criticized the Senate for holding up her bill. But she said politicians of all stripes have made the case for the necessity of the bill and that Canadians support it “wholeheartedly.” Ms. Ambrose said she will continue to advocate for the bill in the event there are those who do not believe it’s needed.
Mr. Lametti raised the fact that some senators said they did not prioritize Ms. Ambrose’s bill because it was a private member’s bill, saying that now that it is government legislation senators are obligated to treat it expeditiously.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh sought unanimous consent to fast-track the bill through the House of Commons on Tuesday, but some MPs rejected the proposal.
Mr. Singh told reporters the bill has already been through the House and there is no reason to delay its passing, adding that it makes no sense to him that the Conservatives voted against expediting the legislation.
Simon Jefferies, a spokesman for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, said in a tweet that Mr. Scheer wants to expand the bill to include members of the parole board and parole officers.
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