Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak this afternoon in support of Bill , an act to amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code of Canada. The bill is premised on the conviction that when survivors of sexual assault appear before our courts, they have the right to be treated with dignity and respect and to be assured that the law of sexual assault is being faithfully applied. There is no room for court decisions to be tainted by harmful myths and stereotypes of how survivors of sexual assault ought to behave. The determination to tackle this problem is deeply held by this government. However, I know it is also shared by parliamentarians from all regions of the country and all political stripes.
For far too long, victims of sexual assault have had to deal with a justice system that does not treat them with the dignity they deserve.
Many victims of sexual assault decide not to file a complaint because they are afraid of being mistreated and humiliated. That is why most sexual assaults committed in Canada are not reported to the police.
This is not an issue that is easy to resolve. Parliament alone cannot do it. Improving the way the justice system treats victims of sexual assault requires the mobilization of all levels of government and many stakeholders for broad action. In addition, all members of Canadian society have a shared responsibility to challenge and counter the myths, stereotypes and attitudes that have a pernicious effect on our justice system.
In this regard, education and information play a critical role. I applaud the extraordinary work that many organizations and individuals right around Canada are doing tirelessly to this end. However, Parliament has its own responsibilities. As parliamentarians, we can and we must take action. Canadians need to know that their elected representatives in this chamber are resolutely working toward a criminal justice system that all Canadians can trust and turn to, especially those who are the most vulnerable.
To this end, this bill seeks to ensure that superior court judges have the awareness, skills and knowledge to handle sexual assault cases in a manner that is fair to the parties, that is free from myths and stereotypes and that treats survivors with utmost dignity.
The bill also promotes rigour and transparency by requiring that judges provide reasons for their decisions in sexual assault proceedings and that these reasons be set out in writing or in the record of the proceedings.
I would like to acknowledge the remarkable leadership on this matter by the Hon. Rona Ambrose, the former interim leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, in the last Parliament. In the previous Parliament, Ms. Ambrose introduced Bill , the predecessor to the very bill before us today.
As we will recall, Bill received unanimous support in this very chamber, strengthened by an amendment brought forward by the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, which did excellent work on studying the bill. It worked to amend it to include social context education in the bill. That complementary piece will ensure that judicial training and education includes working to better understand the demographics, the background and the lived experience of the litigants who appear before our courts.
The Senate sent the bill to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, which proposed meaningful amendments to address concerns about the bill undermining the independence of the justice system.
Members may recall that many stakeholders and parliamentarians, including the bill's sponsor, applauded the work of the Senate committee to improve the bill in question.
I agree with that view of the committee's amendments. Unfortunately, we were unable to pass the bill before the end of the previous Parliament.
Since the last Parliament, we have seen cross-party support for reviving this important measure. This is evidence of the strong support for the convictions underpinning this important bill, convictions which transcend political parties and partisan interests.
I want to thank all the parties, as well as our colleagues in the other chamber, for their commitment to a collaborative approach to this initiative. Canadians have sent us to this chamber with a clear message that they expect parliamentarians to work together. Our work on the bill is a clear illustration that we are listening and acting accordingly.
The bill places particular emphasis on the judiciary. Our government recognizes the need for education, not only for judges but also for all actors in the justice system. We are working with our provincial and territorial counterparts and justice stakeholders to expand our efforts in this area. However, the focus of the bill before the House today is on judges. To be a judge is to bear an important responsibility.
I want to quote from the Hon. Justice Gonthier, former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. He said:
The judge is the pillar of our entire justice system, and of the rights and freedoms which that system is designed to promote and protect. Thus, to the public, judges not only swear by taking their oath to serve the ideals of Justice and Truth on which the rule of law in Canada and the foundations of our democracy are built, but they are asked to embody them.
Justice Gonthier continued:
...the personal qualities, conduct and image that a judge projects affect those of the judicial system as a whole and, therefore, the confidence that the public places in it.
The confidence of the public in the administration of justice is critical to the underpinning of the bill that is before us.
Given judges' fundamental role, the public has especially high expectations of them. The Canadian Judicial Council put it as follows:
From the time they are considered for appointment to the Bench, and every day thereafter, superior court judges in Canada are expected to be knowledgeable jurists. They are also expected to demonstrate a number of personal attributes including knowledge of social issues, an awareness of changes in social values, humility, fairness, empathy, tolerance, consideration and respect for others. In short, Canadians expect their judges to know the law but also to possess empathy and to recognize and question any past personal attitudes and sympathies that might prevent them from acting fairly.
In order for judges to meet these very high public expectations, relevant judicial education is essential. This education must be continually evolving in order for judges to perform their duties in situations that are constantly changing, that are dynamic. A lot of great work is being done now, but now there is a need to enshrine in legislation that this is an expected requirement going forward. That is why judicial education is a central feature of the bill under consideration before us now, Bill .
Our criminal law has undergone considerable reform over the past three decades to encourage reporting of sexual assaults; to improve the criminal justice system's response to sexualized violence; and to counter discriminatory views of survivors that stem from myths and stereotypes about how a “true victim” is expected to behave. We know that such perceptions, myths and stereotypes have no role in the justice system in 2020, and that is what the bill targets.
As a result, the Criminal Code prohibits all forms of non-consensual sexual activity. It provides a clear definition of consent. It identifies when consent cannot be obtained. It set outs the rules for admissibility of certain types of evidence to deter the introduction of these harmful myths and stereotypes.
I would now like to explain a few of the proposed legislative amendments.
The bill before us is, as I mentioned at the outset, essentially the same as the former Bill , as amended by the Senate.
In order to require newly appointed judges to undergo training on sexual assault law and social context, the bill proposes to amend the Judges Act and to include a new eligibility requirement.
Under this amendment, candidates for employment as a judge of the superior court will be required to make a commitment to undertake this type of training if they are appointed. That is an important caveat. Upon appointment is when the training would take place. This training is to ensure that the courts take into account Canada's extensive law and jurisprudence on sexual assault and information on the social context of litigants, without being influenced by preconceived or erroneous ideas.
The bill would also clarify that seminars established by the Canadian Judicial Council on matters related to sexual assault law must be developed after consultation with groups or individuals the council considers appropriate, including sexual assault survivors and groups supporting them.
In addition, the bill would require the Canadian Judicial Council to provide to the Minister of Justice, for tabling in Parliament, an annual report containing details on seminars offered on matters relating to sexual assault law and indicating the number of judges who have been attending. This is intended to enhance accountability in the education of sitting judges on these matters and to act as an incentive to encourage their participation.
Finally, the bill would amend the Criminal Code to require judges to provide reasons for decisions under sexual assault provisions of the Criminal Code. This amendment is intended to enhance the transparency of judicial decisions made in sexual assault proceedings by rendering them accessible, either in writing or on the record of the proceedings, so oral reasons would be sufficient as well.
I want to mention that this proposed amendment to require judges to provide reasons in the determination of sexual assault matters specifically is complementary to three currently existing requirements:
First, the members in the chamber should understand that section 726.2 of the Criminal Code requires judges to provide reasons when they are sentencing decisions.
Second, there is jurisprudence from the Supreme Court in a 2002 decision called Sheppard, which requires judges to provide reasons for their decisions more generally.
Third, subsections 278.8(2) and 278.94(5) of the Criminal Code require judges to provide reasons when determining whether certain types of evidence should be admitted in sexual assault cases.
Under this bill, the obligation to state reasons will be added to the other Criminal Code provisions relating to sexual assault. As a result, all provisions relating to sexual offences will be clear and accessible to the people applying them, thereby reducing the risk of an erroneous application of law by countering the potential influence of myths and stereotypes about victims of sexual assault and their behaviour.
This approach is in line with the Supreme Court of Canada's finding that these myths and stereotypes can undermine the courts' truth-seeking function.
It is also important to note for the purposes of today's debate that the government has already committed significant resources to support the availability of enhanced judicial training in this very area. In the 2017 budget, we provided the Canadian Judicial Council with $2.7 million over five years, and half a million dollars per year thereafter, to ensure that more judges have access to professional development, with a greater focus in particular on gender and culturally sensitive training.
Our government is also actively at work with stakeholders to ensure that appropriate training is available to all of Canada's judiciary; that is, to judges who are not federally appointed. Again, I want to acknowledge in this chamber the leadership and determination of the Hon. Rona Ambrose in making this happen as well.
Next, I want to turn to the important principle of judicial independence. This bill is designed to support that constitutionally entrenched principle. I parenthetically note that in my previous life as a constitutional litigator, I spent considerable time working on this very principle and dealing with this very issue. I am very proud to say today that the bill we are debating in this chamber clearly supports the principle of judicial independence, and importantly the principle that the education of judges should be the responsibility of the judiciary. That is an important feature that is entrenched in this bill.
Whatever measures are taken to ensure that judges have access to sexual assault training and its social context, those measures would be ill-advised if they interfere with judicial independence.
Public trust requires knowing not only that judges have the expertise required to settle the disputes that come before them, but also knowing that they are independent of Parliament, the executive branch and any other group that could try to unduly influence them.
We in Canada are fortunate to have a strong, independent judicial system. We cannot take this independence for granted, and as parliamentarians, we must work to preserve and promote it.
What I can report to this chamber is that Canada's judiciary is strongly committed to ensuring that the best possible education is available to judges. In fact Canada, thankfully, is an internationally respected leader in judicial education and is a trailblazer in social context education in particular.
Let me briefly highlight the important roles of two organizations that oversee the work of judges. The first is the Canadian Judicial Council, which I briefly mentioned earlier, and the second is the National Judicial Institute.
The Canadian Judicial Council is responsible for setting professional development requirements for superior court judges. In its professional development policy, the council requires judges newly appointed to a superior court to complete an education program for new judges, as well as a more general program to be completed within five years of appointment. These programs include sexual assault law and social context education. What we are doing with this bill is making this a formal requirement.
The National Judicial Institute is responsible for the overall coordination of judicial education in Canada. In addition to being a primary education provider, the National Judicial Institute is an internationally recognized leader in judicial education. The institute seeks to integrate substantive law, skills development and awareness of social context in all of its programs.
I want to acknowledge the significant commitment of the Canadian Judicial Council and the National Judicial Institute to ensuring that judges have access to the training they need. We thank them for their full commitment to a justice system that all Canadians can trust, especially those who are most vulnerable.
It is also important to acknowledge in this chamber the important and respectful dialogue between the judicial and legislative branches that the previous bill, Bill , triggered in the last Parliament, which I am confident will continue as the current bill, Bill , is debated and studied. All partners in this dialogue share a strong commitment to a justice system that survivors of sexual assault can trust and that all vulnerable persons can trust, a justice system that treats them with the dignity and respect they so dearly deserve.
It is also important to outline how this bill would work within the context of other government commitments and government actions. Supporting victims and survivors of crime is a priority for our government. This includes working with provinces and territories to provide free legal advice and support to survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence. It includes the government's commitment, announced in the Speech from the Throne, to build on the gender-based violence strategy and work with partners to develop a national action plan.
The bill before us represents a major step forward. It gives parliamentarians an opportunity to send a clear message to all Canadian victims of sexual assault that we are not indifferent to their experiences, that courage is an inspiration and that they deserve a justice system that treats them with the utmost dignity and respect.
I know that we all share the same convictions in this regard, which is why I urge all members on both sides of this House to agree to support the very important measures contained in Bill .
Madam Speaker, I am sure the House will be thankful for that.
I am a proud member of the Law Society, and because of that, part of the justice system. The justice system is supposed to be a safe place for victims of sexual assault. However, our justice system has had a checkered history in fairly weighing the rights of the victims versus those of the accused in sexual assault cases.
Incredibly, up until 1983, a woman's claim of sexual assault could be undermined by evidence submitted with respect to her sexual history. A woman's claim of sexual assault could be undermined or even dismissed because of such trivial, terrible considerations as the length of her skirt or her recent dating history.
I am glad to see that as a country we have grown to understand that we need to stop blaming victims in cases of sexual assault and put the blame where it should be, directly at the feet of the perpetrator. However, Canada still faces a sexual assault epidemic and our justice system appears only marginally capable of dealing with the torrent of these sexual assault cases.
There are over 400,000 sexual assaults in Canada every year. By some measures, for every thousand sexual assaults that occur in Canada, only 33 are reported to police. That is unacceptable in a country as good and as great as Canada. Of those 33 reported assaults, believe it or not, charges are brought in only 12 cases; six cases are prosecuted and three cases lead to a conviction.
This is an extremely disturbing statistic. I have a sister and a mother, and the most precious thing in my life, other than my son in equal amounts, is my daughter. I now know that if she were to come across sexual violence, there would be less than a 0.1% chance of her perpetrator being brought to justice in Canada. That is a truly disturbing and atrocious number.
There are a number of reasons why victims do not report sexual assault, including shame, self-blame, feeling there is a lack of evidence, embarrassment and fear of retaliation. Another overlying reason is the lack of faith in the criminal justice system. As a member of the bar and this system, that deeply hurts me.
If there is anything we can do to improve the system for victims of sexual assault, that should be something we do. I will definitely be supporting this bill. In fact, I salute the government for bringing this important piece of legislation forward.
The lack of respect for women seems not to be limited to just the justice system. It seems that it has spread across the government. As we have seen recently, a Parole Board member in Quebec advised a violent criminal, one who had killed his own wife, to seek the services of a sex worker. That resulted in her violent death.
She was a beautiful, wonderful woman. God only knows what impact she could have had on society or what good she could have done for our world. Unfortunately, her life was snuffed out all too early, when she was merely a young woman.
We have also heard the stories in this House of what happened with the refugee board when a refugee adjudicator said that rape could not be rape if a woman decided to keep the child. I could not imagine something more offensive than that comment.
I call upon the government to look at this as an opportunity to spread the type of sensitivity training it is talking about for judges. It is honourable and I will support it. However, we should go beyond our judges to perhaps our adjudicators and to other individuals within the government who appear to desperately need this training.
Victims of sexual assault and sexual violence are throughout our community. Indeed, some statistics put it as high as one in three women will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.
As a father of a four-year-old daughter, that statistic is absolutely disturbing to me. It is something that as a community, not just as legislators, we need to spend every resource on stopping.
While the number of men who experience sexual violence is much smaller, this is a pressing issue for everyone. Victims of sexual assault are, after all, our daughters, sisters, mothers, friends and co-workers. Quite frankly, they deserve better from us and they deserve more protection. We must as a society attempt to drive this out of our communities, our country and indeed our world.
Part of ending sexual violence is not just punishing the perpetrators of these heinous acts, but also helping the victims feel more comfortable in sharing their stories. Part of the reason this legislation is so important is that we need to make sure judges deal appropriately with these cases and make it as palatable as possible for the victims of sexual violence to tell their stories.
Many victims do not feel comfortable coming forward because of their lack of faith in the criminal justice system. They do the incredible and difficult feat of coming forward and then meet the new challenge of facing our justice system.
Sadly, some judges have indicated they do not understand what sexual consent means, even though it is clear in law and in the Criminal Code.
Some judges have gone so far as to ask a victim in court why she could not just keep her knees together. Those comments need to never be said again in a courtroom or anywhere in Canada. Other comments have been made asking why the victim did not scream while the alleged assault took place or why the victim did not skew her pelvis to avoid penetration.
I am paraphrasing actual statements that were said in a court of law. These are disgusting words that should never be spoken anywhere in our country, much less in a courtroom.
Perhaps by giving judges the necessary training we can avoid these outlandish comments and give victims more confidence in our justice system so they will know they will be treated with respect when they perform the ultimate act of bravery and confront their perpetrators.
I will be honest. As a man it is hard to speak about these cases because I cannot possibly understand what these women have gone through. I honestly cannot imagine the horror of living through sexual violence and being forced to retell that story over and over again. These women come forward to protect other women only to have their credibility questioned or to have to face their tormentor over and over again. However, this is what the criminal justice system demands for justice.
Fixing our criminal justice system is about helping our federal judges begin to understand the quiet suffering of victims of sexual violence and teaching our judges to be more compassionate toward the victims. This bill is not about fixing our justice system as much as it is about making Canada a safer, more friendly place for all women and children. This bill not only makes sense but is also a step in the right direction for all victims of sexual assault across Canada.
I will wholeheartedly support this bill, and I salute the government for bringing it forward.
Madam Speaker, I am honoured to stand in this place to deliver my maiden speech on behalf of my constituents in Calgary Skyview. Being elected as their representative is a very humbling experience and I am very grateful for this opportunity. I have lived most of my life in Calgary and I cannot think of a better place to grow up. We are so fortunate for our rich, diverse communities that thrive on hard work and a true sense of belonging to Canada.
Throughout my campaign, I met many of my constituents to learn from them how best I could help make their life easier as their member of Parliament. Most notably, I met a young woman in my riding who said to me, “I have never seen anyone who looks like me do what you are doing. I want to go to school and do what you do.” This sentiment meant a lot to me. What she saw was the first Sikh female to be elected in the House of Commons from Alberta. Other constituents would say “our daughters are looking up to you”.
I am proud to stand here today to represent not just those young women in my riding, but anyone who has dreamed of a life in service and of being here. I began imagining my journey to this place when I was really young. I would watch Amnesty International and my heart went out to those people. I would sit there and cry. Their stories moved me. I decided then I would practise law. Being a lawyer has been a tremendous honour for me. It is something I am very passionate about.
This is why this legislation we are debating today is very important to me as a lawyer, as a woman, and now as the deputy shadow cabinet minister for women and gender equality. I want to thank Ms. Ambrose for tabling this important legislation in the previous Parliament and for her dedication to this crucial issue.
Her bill, Bill , received widespread support from parliamentarians and stakeholders. I am encouraged to see it moving forward. I am also pleased to see it as one of our commitments in our platform during the campaign.
Similar to Bill , the bill we are debating today, Bill , adds new eligibility for lawyers seeking appointment to the judiciary to require the completion of a recent and comprehensive education in sexual assault law as well as social context education. It requires the Canadian Judicial Council to submit an annual report to Parliament regarding the details on seminars offered on matters relating to sexual assault law and the number of judges attending. It does this while still maintaining the balance between judiciary independence and a fair criminal justice system, which is very important to me and to all Canadians.
The rationale for the need for the bill is all too familiar, given the recent spotlight on the treatment of sexual assault victims during trial. Sadly, this is certainly not something that is new. Let us explore the current state as it stands now. There is piecemeal training and education available in certain jurisdictions, but it is not mandatory.
We saw in 2016, a judge was found to have relied on myths about the expected behaviour of a victim of sexual abuse. That case was overturned on appeal for obvious reasons. We have seen instances of judges and the use of insensitive language when referring to victims, which can further lead to stigma.
In 2019, there were nearly a dozen cases going through Canada's court system that shed light on how judges continue to rely on myths and stereotypes when informing their decisions on sexual assault cases. Here we are, still seeing similar misinformation about the experience of sexual assault victims or victims of abuse, which can lead to poor decisions and, as we have seen, possible miscarriages of justice, sometimes resulting in new trials.
Retrials can be incredibly painful for the complainants, potentially further revictimizing them. The way victims are treated during their court proceedings as well as in the public eye we know is a major hindrance to reporting the crime in the first place. Victims witness how other sexual assault victims are treated in the justice system and are concerned that if they come forward they will be treated in the same way.
We know that sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes in Canada. Of reported cases, only 12% result in a criminal conviction within six years, compared to 23% of physical assaults, as reported by Statistics Canada. We know the reasons for under-reporting include shame, guilt and stigma of sexual victimization. Victims also report the belief that they would not see a positive outcome in the justice system. This simply cannot stand.
What can we do? The best way to prevent this kind of sentiment is through education and training. The path forward that this legislation sets, similar to Bill , allows for more confidence in the criminal justice system by ensuring lawyers who are appointed to the bench are trained and educated in the very specific type of case.
The future state, with this bill passed, is the hope that with education and training, the stories we have once heard of victims made to feel “less than” will not be repeated. This legislation is intended to help reduce the stigma of coming forward, of reporting the crimes and seeing justice prevail for the victims.
The hope is that with education and training, the victims of sexual assault are treated with respect and avoid, at all costs, being revictimized, which can be incredibly traumatizing for the individual.
As Ms. Ambrose said during her testimony before the status of women committee, “Really...for me it's about building confidence. Women do not have confidence in our justice system when it comes to sexual assault law.”
This has to change if we are going to see an increase in sexual assaults being reported and convicted. This piece of legislation will bring us one step closer to eliminating barriers and giving victims of sexual assault more confidence to come forward.
Unfortunately, as we know, it is not just with the justice system where we see these types of myths and misunderstanding. The recent tragic death of a young woman in Quebec sheds a light on the broad scope of this issue. Marylène Levesque was killed at the hands of a convicted murderer, who had a history of domestic violence and was granted day parole.
At a hearing into the offender's previous request for full parole, the board heard from his parole officer that while living in a halfway house, he had been allowed to have his sexual needs met. How was a man with a history of violence against women granted permission to have his sexual needs met?
That is why, in light of this horrific crime, we would like to explore studying an amendment to this bill to capture parole officers and parole board members in this legislation in the hopes that something like this does not happen again.
I look forward to further study on this potential amendment and debate on this piece of legislation. I hope it garners the same support in the House as Bill did. I hope this bill passes quickly as this will only move us forward as a society and help grow confidence in our justice system.
Madam Speaker, it should come as no surprise that the Bloc Québécois will be supporting Bill .
Our party supported the previous version of the bill introduced by the former interim leader of the Conservative Party, our colleague Rona Ambrose. After eagerly supporting it, I even sought the House's support for a motion calling on the Senate to fast-track the bill, since we were nearing the end of the parliamentary session. Unfortunately, what we feared came to pass: Our colleague's bill died on the Order Paper. We hope Bill C-5 will not suffer the same fate and we are eager to support it.
Bill C-5 is important. It is a short bill, just a few pages long, on which we all seem to agree. Despite its apparent simplicity, this bill is critically important since it concerns the public's confidence in its judicial system.
Everyone knows that the judicial system is the backbone of any society. What will people do if they no longer trust their judicial system? They will take justice into their own hands. The extreme actions we occasionally see that we cannot abide would only multiply.
As lawmakers, it is our responsibility to ensure that our judicial system is credible and meets with the approval and has the support of all or the vast majority of the population. It is my view that passing this bill as quickly as possible would be in the interest of justice, those involved in the justice system, and the rule of law that we are responsible for protecting.
What impact will it have? The answer is simple. We are talking about the education of judges.
My Conservative colleague just reminded us of the situation that recently unfolded when an individual was released even though, in our opinion, he never should have been. It is a specific case, but it clearly illustrates a problem in our society. We are ill-informed and we often make decisions based on stereotypes, images or preconceived ideas about certain situations.
The issue that Bill C-5 addresses, that is sexual assault, is one that we are particularly ill-equipped and poorly trained to deal with and our judgment in such matters is often biased.
I know quite a few judges, and most of them have a sterling reputation and are intelligent people of goodwill who show courage in the rulings they make, rulings that make sense and that are made in the interest of justice 99.9% of the time. Unfortunately, mistakes are occasionally made that damage the image of justice and undermine public confidence in the judicial system.
It is up to us as lawmakers to rectify the situation and restore public confidence. We have to make sure our judges have all the tools they need to do their work with the high degree of professionalism they bring to it now and want to keep bringing.
In virtually every case, a judge must assess the credibility of witnesses, the victim and the accused. Often, this is where a judge can be influenced by preconceived notions not out of malice but as a result of their experience and our culture.
That is exactly the kind of situation Bill C-5 seeks to address by providing better training for judges and raising awareness for everyone, including lawmakers, about the reality of sexual assault. How do victims react to given situations? Why do they not remember or remember inaccurately? Why do they misinterpret the events surrounding the assault? There are many important elements here.
If we want the justice system to work properly, we need to make sure the courts have a firm grasp of these issues. When asked to assess the credibility of a witness, a judge must have sufficient academic and practical knowledge to deliver a judgment that is sound and, above all, that all Canadians can trust.
It is normal for rulings to be overturned. Every day, rulings are handed down by the courts, and every day, rulings are overturned by the court of appeal. Sometimes the decision is two against one, as the judgment is not unanimous. Those cases go to the Supreme Court, which also often quashes appeal court rulings. Those judgments are not always unanimous either.
We cannot expect judges to deliver unimpeachable decisions. There is just no way. They would have to be superhuman. That will never happen. However, we can expect them to provide reasons for their decisions and make credible decisions. Ultimately, the public can always wonder whether the judge was right or wrong, but they will trust the judge. That is our goal.
That is what Bill proposes, and we are okay with that. We believe this is essential in our current justice system. For all of these reasons, and for the reasons cited by all of my colleagues over the past few years, we will be voting in favour of Bill C-5, and we hope it will be passed as quickly as possible.
Madam Speaker, I appreciate the House's granting me that privilege.
I want to start my speech on Bill by acknowledging the incredibly important role that judges play in our justice system. These are men and women who are put in very difficult positions. They have to weigh incredible amounts of evidence before them and make judgments as to whether beyond a reasonable doubt a person is guilty of the crime that the Crown is putting forward as an argument.
Judges know that their decisions one way or the other are going to have life-altering impacts, either on the accused or on the person who brought the complaint before the justice system. The debate today should not diminish the important role that judges play in our society.
I also want to take time to acknowledge the Hon. Rona Ambrose, the previous interim leader of the Conservative Party, for the work that she did in the 42nd Parliament with her private member's bill, Bill .
I am happy to see that the government has brought the substance of that bill forward in this 43rd Parliament as Bill . Judging from the character of the speeches so far, there is unanimous agreement that this bill needs to be passed, perhaps not through all stages as quickly as we would like, but I have a strong feeling that after today's debate the justice committee will be getting to work on this bill in short order.
We are supportive of the intent behind Bill , particularly its intention of ensuring that victims of sexual assault and gender-based violence have confidence in the judicial system.
We know that complainants in sexual assault cases are often provided with inadequate social supports. They receive inadequate information about the court process, and they are often confronted by a system that ignores their wishes.
We should acknowledge that Bill would not solve those problems. It is an important step, but there is an entire systemic approach we need to take to ensure that complainants of sexual assault are coming to a system that they can have confidence in. That confidence needs to be built, and there is still much work to be done.
We need a systemic review of the judicial system when it comes to sexual assault to stop survivors from being victimized, victim-blamed, not informed and very badly supported by policing and justice systems.
The statistics underline this story. Statistics Canada estimates that only 5% of sexual assaults are reported to the police. We know that one in three women will experience sexual violence in her lifetime. For me that is a particularly personal statistic, given that I am the father of three daughters.
I do not want anyone to become one of those statistics, but that is a fact of life in our society. It is not limited just to women: We know that one in six men will experience sexual violence in his lifetime as well. In 82% of cases, the offender is known to the victim. We know that 28% of Canadians have said that they have experienced workplace sexual assault or violence.
I got to know a transgender person in my riding very well over the previous campaign, and I know the courage it took for him to come forward and be a part of my campaign, and to speak openly about the situation that transgender Canadians face in our country. They face nearly twice as much intimate partner violence in their lifetimes as women do, and that is an area that we definitely need to pay attention to as a society.
I also want to acknowledge that my Conservative friends have raised some concerns as to whether the scope of this bill could be expanded to include other areas that fall under federal jurisdiction, most notably the Parole Board of Canada.
We have also seen that the actions of the Immigration and Refugee Board deserve some scrutiny. Perhaps that is something that the justice committee, in its wisdom, can take note of and ask the appropriate questions of the witnesses who come forward to offer their expertise on this particular bill.
I was a member of the 42nd Parliament and remember with great pride, back in 2017 when we were deliberating Bill , that it was great to see the House move a unanimous consent motion in March of that year to get the bill referred to the status of women committee. The status of women committee did some good work on the bill. It had five meetings, heard from 25 witnesses and reported that bill back to the House with some slight amendments.
This is to assure members of the House that the hard work on this bill has been done. We have a lot of witness testimony in the record, and I hope the testimony heard at the status of women committee back in 2017 will inform the justice committee and that we can take note of that when the justice committee is doing its work.
This bill seeks to correct the problems I have noted through rearticulation to judicial candidates on the current standing of sexual assault laws, namely the principles of consent, conduct of sexual assault proceedings, and education regarding myths and stereotypes of sexual assault complainants through training seminars.
That is because we have seen a record, through the actions of various judges, that this training is sorely needed. We have seen it through their comments during court proceedings and through referrals in their judgments, but we would be mistaken if we were to pinpoint this problem entirely on judges. We know that the police themselves have a lot of work to do and I know they are trying their best to achieve this, but we know from the complaints of victims that this work is ongoing.
The Senate, when it received Bill through its legal and constitutional affairs committee, did make some amendments. There was a lot of concern regarding the constitutionality of the bill. I understand that the government's version is much closer to, or a wholesale adoption of, what the Senate committee did to Bill C-337.
I know there is this ongoing battle between the legislature, the Parliament of Canada, and our judicial branch. Sometimes they can come into conflict. I know that Michael Spratt, a noted lawyer in the Ottawa region, has written about his concerns with the current bill, but I also know that Professor Emmett Macfarlane has said that Parliament is well within its rights to be legislating in areas such as the Judges Act.
I think this bill does a careful job, as is noted in the charter statement, of doing our best to respect judicial independence. This is really about setting up the training that exists. It is going to be overseen independently of Parliament. We will not have any influence whatsoever on what judges do with this training, because they are still going to be impartial and independent of Parliament when they exercise their judgment and bring forward rulings.
This bill, in particular, passes constitutional muster. I have read the wording of it quite carefully and I think Parliament has a role, as an expression of people's wishes and the changing norms of society, to express its will and make sure that the federal statutes of Canada reflect the changing mood of our country.
I would like to offer my congratulations to the government and all members for the unanimity that we are showing in the proceedings today. I think, though, that when we are looking at other issues plaguing Canada, particularly with respect to aboriginal rights, we still see a lot of systemic racism and very little understanding of what aboriginal rights and title mean. Sometimes this can be reflected in our federal court system.
In closing, my one offer to the government is that it look at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action, particularly number 27, to see if this kind of training might also be mandated for judges and other parts of the justice system that fall under federal jurisdiction.
Madam Speaker, I am grateful to have the opportunity to rise to speak to this issue. For me, like many Canadians, this is a deeply personal issue.
I am among the one in three women who has experienced sexual violence and know first-hand how the shame, guilt and stigma still persist in addressing sexual assault. I have also witnessed close friends and community members go through the legal system and struggle in dealing with the misconceptions and prejudice from support workers, police, lawyers and judges.
Having witnessed the challenges survivors face in our judicial system, many choose not to report it. Only one out of 20 sexual assault victims report to the police. A key factor for that is the lack of confidence survivors have in the judicial system to treat them fairly and to achieve a positive outcome.
For those who choose to report to the police or to pursue charges, the judicial system is rigged against them. The fear many survivors have, that they will not get fair treatment, is real and it is supported by the evidence.
There is a profound lack of trust in the legal system. Out of the estimated 460,000 sexual assaults each year in Canada, only three out of every thousand lead to a conviction. That is number is staggering; three out of 1,000.
When it comes to sexual assault, it is clear that we need a systematic review of the judicial system to stop survivors from being victimized or victim blamed, or not being informed or having reports systematically brushed aside and being badly supported by our policing and justice systems.
The Canadian justice system in its current form actually discourages sexual assault survivors or survivors of gender-based violence from coming forward. This bill seeks to take a small but important step forward in correcting the problem through training and education of judicial candidates. These future judges would get training on the current standing of sexual assault laws, namely principles of consent, conduct of sexual assault proceedings and education regarding myths and stereotypes of sexual assault complaints.
This is so important. It is a non-partisan issue. The last iteration of this bill passed unanimously in the House in the last Parliament, but was shamefully blocked by the unelected Senate. This is why the NDP agrees that legislation is needed to require judges to receive training around sexual assault.
Without taking away from the importance of the bill, which is desperately needed, we also have to acknowledge that it is just one of the needed steps. Treating sexual assault as only a criminal justice issue ignores the fact that just one in 20 victims report it to the police.
Sexual assault is also a public health issue, a personal health and wellness issue and a mental health issue. We need to treat it as such by also turning our attention to medical services, support and care. Trauma-informed approaches and an increased understanding of sexual assault among key service providers and actors is critical. This includes judges, but also police, medical professionals, lawyers and support workers.
I am also lucky to live in a riding where my constituents and I have the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre. I was lucky enough to be able to access its services when I needed them. It serves people of all genders. We know one in three women experience sexualized violence, but one in six men do as well. We know that non-binary and LGBTQ2I+ folks face disproportionate levels of sexualized violence.
We are truly fortunate to have the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre since it is Canada's only integrated sexual assault clinic. The clinic provides survivors of all genders access to trauma-informed medical and forensic exams, police interviews and crisis support, all in one safe, accessible and culturally sensitive, confidential location.
The availability of this survivor-centred care means that the vast majority of survivors in my riding will never need to go to a hospital or police station to get the care they need. When the clinic opened, the number of emergency responses more than doubled, meaning twice as many survivors were able to access emotional support, preventative medication and options for police reporting. The number of supported police interviews rose by 400%. All of this took place while diverting 280 people from the emergency room and reducing costs for other service providers.
However, the clinic has no dedicated or secure sources of funding. It relies entirely on one-time grants, and the service will be extremely vulnerable in the coming year and a half. The bill is a step in the right direction, but we also need to ensure that comprehensive support services are available for all survivors. There is so much work to do, and I am hopeful we can take this important small step forward quickly.
Judges need training to challenge the false stereotypes about sexual violence that permeate our society. We have seen too many appalling examples in recent years showing that some judges continue to hold false stereotypes about women and sexualized violence. These biases discourage all survivors from coming forward in the first place and create barriers for survivors who do so in seeking justice through the legal system.
Trauma is complex and judges need to understand survivors' perspectives and the impact of the criminal justice system on survivors of sexual assault. The training needs to be culturally informed and relevant to the unique needs of vulnerable and marginalized populations. Some groups face disproportionately higher rates of sexual violence, and many groups face very specific barriers in seeking help from law enforcement agencies and the justice system. They include those from northern, rural and remote communities, sex workers, people who are trafficked, LGBTQ+ people, indigenous women, immigrant and refugee women and women with disabilities.
The bill could be improved at the justice committee by making sure that seminars related to sexual assault are developed in collaboration with these groups and by specifically bringing the bill within the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's call to action no. 27. We can also ensure it is in line with the calls to action from the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls report.
There is a clear benefit to ensuring that judges are well informed not only about the laws that pertain to sexual assault but also about the physical, mental and emotional impacts of sexual violence on survivors and how those affect decision-making, behaviour, ability to recall and so much more. Building confidence in our courts would make more victims feel empowered to come forward.
The message sent to survivors by the Senate when it refused to pass the bill in its former iteration in the last Parliament was dismissal, a dismissal of the idea that what happens to victims of sexual assault matters, a dismissal of survivor needs and a dismissal of the real barriers they encounter. This message is reinforced throughout our whole judicial system.
Supporting this legislation sends a message to survivors that their elected members of Parliament are standing up for them and are committed to doing the work necessary to support them. We recognize the stigma and barriers they face and are working hard to give them a reason to have more confidence in our system.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
It is an honour for me to speak to Bill . As members know, if passed, this proposed piece of legislation will amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code to require newly appointed provincial superior court judges to participate in training on sexual assault and the social context in which it occurs. Judges are expected to apply the law in a manner that is respectful of the dignity of survivors. Training on sexual assault law and the social context in which the sexual assault occurs will help to ensure that they have a full understanding of the complex nature of sexual assault when presiding over such cases.
This proposed legislation will also require judges to provide written reasons for their final decisions in sexual assault matters. Doing so will improve the transparency of judges' decisions.
It is noteworthy that only 5% of sexual assaults in this country get reported. Bill would give us an opportunity to strengthen our criminal justice system and give survivors of sexual assault and all Canadians more confidence in our system.
Today I will use my time to demonstrate how this legislation could build the confidence of survivors of sexual assault, as well as their families and loved ones, in our criminal justice system, and to help survivors feel more comfortable reporting these crimes to the police.
Sexual violence is a widespread problem in Canada. It is one of the most under-reported crimes. As I stated earlier, only 5% of sexual assaults in Canada are reported to the police.
I would like to elaborate on the social context. Brampton, especially in my own riding of Brampton West, is one of the fastest-growing populations in Canada. More interestingly, the majority of Brampton's residents are visible minorities. Violence, whether it is sexual assault or other forms of domestic violence, is massively under-reported. Due to the stigma of sexual violence, racialized women are even more reluctant to seek help. This is even more true for indigenous girls and women, women with disabilities, as well as LGBTQ2 community members.
Many factors can influence whether or not survivors will report that they have been sexually assaulted, such as the fear of being blamed or not being believed, concerns over retaliation from their attacker, anxiety of having their personal lives publicly judged and the fear of judicial error. These are just some of the factors and truths of the society we live in.
These factors are exacerbated in marginalized communities. Such barriers transcend but can also be compounded by intersectionalities of one's gender, age, class, disability and ethnicity. That is why the social context is so necessary.
Myths and stereotypes about sexual assaults are also dangerous and can have substantial negative impacts on whether a survivor will report. They also negatively impact whether there can be a trial that is fair to the accused, the victim and society at large.
Undeniably, a lack of confidence in the criminal justice system is one of the significant reasons that survivors do not come forward.
For those who do report the crime, they often tell us that they are re-traumatized by the process. As myths and stereotypes regarding sexual assault continue in the justice system, scrutiny about what the survivor did or did not do instead of the actions of the accused often determine the outcome of a case. This dehumanizing process, along with a lack of adequate supports and resources, can revictimize and further traumatize those who have experienced sexual violence.
In spite of the progress we have made, the criminal justice system is still a source of further distress and humiliation for survivors of sexual assault. Sexual violence is a crime that robs people of their choice, strips them of their bodily and sexual integrity and undermines their dignity and psychological well-being.
The impact of sexual assault is still not well understood in society and rape myths are still common and persist throughout the justice system. For example, in today's society, there is a disturbing misguided belief that survivors of sexual violence often falsify sexual assault reports.
There is also a mistaken belief that sexual assault is just consensual sexual activity that “went too far” or ”got out of hand”. There is a persistent myth that if it were a “real” sexual assault, the survivor would have fought back or tried to get away. There is a misconception that a survivor should be able to recount every detail in a linear and organized sequence.
Neuroscience research about trauma provides evidence that what might appear to be an inconsistency in a way a victim reacts or how the victim recounts the incident can actually be a typical, predictable and normal way of responding to and coping with a traumatic event. Understanding this can change the way we view the person's credibility and reliability.
Thankfully, we are now starting to have a better scientific and psychological understanding of the different reactions that survivors have to traumatic events, like sexual assault, including the impact of trauma on behaviour and memory. We also now understand that intergenerational trauma is a very real consequence of violence, which not only hurts individuals and their families, but also impacts communities as a whole. That is why training and awareness can help us to be fairer and more consistent in understanding how survivors react in sexual assault cases.
Navigating the criminal justice system can be extremely difficult for survivors of sexual assault. They must feel confident that they will be treated fairly and with dignity. With education and training on sexual assault and the social context in which it occurs, as well as its impact on survivors, we can help build a better criminal justice system in which people feel more confident in reporting sexual assaults and stay engaged throughout the criminal justice process.
Sexual assault is a form of gender-based violence and is one of the most under-reported crimes in Canada. With Bill , we are building on our federal investments to prevent and address gender-based violence.
In 2017, we launched It's Time, Canada's strategy to prevent and address gender-based violence. This is the first strategy of its kind. It invests over $200 million in federal initiatives to prevent gender-based violence, support survivors and their families, and promote responsive legal and justice systems. Today, Bill forms part of the larger response to the issue of gender-based violence.
Judges are trained to be impartial, unbiased and have a thorough understanding of the law. Given that they are the individuals responsible for delivering justice, it is in everyone's interest to fill any gaps in their training. Bill would make it mandatory for all newly appointed provincial superior court judges to participate in continuing education in sexual assault law and social context. This will help ensure the superior court judges have a full understanding of the complex nature of the sexual assault when presiding over such cases.
Canadians need to have confidence that the judge in front of them is not influenced by myths and stereotypes in the judge's application of the law and that the judge has the understanding of the impacts of the trauma. Survivors also need to have confidence that the decision rendered in their case will be well reasoned and not influenced by biases and misconceptions.
This bill would help us move toward a higher level of confidence we must achieve. It would help empower women to work toward alleviating institutional oppression faced by women, including indigenous women, racialized women, women with disabilities, as well as members of the LGBTQ2 community.
I strongly encourage all members of this House to recognize the importance of Bill and to support it. Together we can continue to strengthen Canada's criminal justice system and give survivors of sexual assault and all Canadians more confidence in our justice system. Let us seize the opportunity to create a safer and more responsive justice system for all those who have experienced sexual violence and provide a better future for families, communities and all Canadians.
Madam Speaker, it is an absolute pleasure for me to rise in the House today to speak to this important legislation, Bill , an act to amend the Judges Act and also the Criminal Code of Canada.
I feel very passionate about this piece of legislation, because I have seen first-hand many barriers that women and Canadians face when they are victims of sexual violence.
Prior to entering politics, as I have mentioned a few times in this House, I was a front-line social worker. I served over 23 years with the Codiac regional RCMP as the victim services coordinator. During that time, I had the privilege of accompanying many survivors of sexual violence through some very difficult times.
Within the RCMP, a part of my job was assisting police officers in conducting these types of investigations and also helping victims navigate through a very a complex system, preparing them for court and often times accompanying them to court. I have personally had the privilege of accompanying probably thousands of victims who faced these very difficult situations. I wish I could stand here today and say that I have never heard any inappropriate comments made by judiciaries, but that is not the case. I have seen first-hand some of the treatment that women and individuals have gone through, which is why I feel so passionate that this bill move forward. I am pleased to see that all members of this House are supporting the bill.
If passed, this bill will ensure that superior court judges who hear sexual assault cases get proper training so they will not be influenced by harmful myths and stereotypes that persist in our society. It will also lead to a better understanding of the social context surrounding this type of crime in our country. This training will also assure the public that judges are applying the law in a way that respects survivors' dignity and reality. This training will give judges the right tools to make fair, impartial decisions.
The bill will also require judges to explain their final decisions in sexual assault proceedings in writing, which will make the process more open and transparent.
Sexual assault is a form of gender-based violence and one of the most under-reported crimes in Canada. When I was a front-line worker, we would often say that fewer than 6% of survivors came forward, and today we have heard in the House the statistic of 5%, and so we know that this crime is truly under-reported. Unfortunately, gender-based violence is one of the most pervasive and deeply rooted human rights violation of our time, and we have to remember that it is 100% preventable.
I would like to talk about the Government of Canada's co-ordinated efforts to prevent and address gender-based violence, because Bill is another important piece of a larger suite of initiatives designed to better support survivors and their families, as well as to promote a responsive legal justice system.
First, let me explain what gender-based violence is.
Gender-based violence is violence directed towards another person based on their gender identity, gender expression or perceived gender. Gender-based violence is linked to gender inequities, unequal power dynamics and harmful gender norms and behaviours. It is made worse by other forms of discrimination.
Women and girls, racialized women, lesbian, gay and bisexual people, indigenous people and people with disabilities are at an increased risk of experiencing gender-based violence. Transgender, two-spirit and gender-diverse people in Canada also experience higher rates of violence.
In Canada, gender-based violence continues to happen at an extremely alarming rate. According to data collected by Statistics Canada, between 2008 and 2018, over 700 women were killed by their intimate partner in this country. In 2018, one in every three women experienced unwanted sexual behaviour in public. While these numbers are terrifying, the reality for indigenous women and girls is even worse. In 2018, the rate of homicide was nearly seven times higher for indigenous women and girls than that of their non-indigenous counterparts.
Faced with such a bleak picture, the government took action.
In 2017, the Government of Canada took action, launching the very first federal strategy to prevent and address gender-based violence entitled “Canada's Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence”.
The strategy includes over $200 million for federal initiatives to prevent gender-based violence, support survivors and their families, and promote responsive legal and justice systems.
The gender-based violence strategy is the first-ever federal strategy of its kind because it takes a whole-of-government approach and is informed by grassroots activism and feminist action.
We listened to survivors and women's and equality-seeking organizations in communities across the country that are working tirelessly to address gender-based violence within their communities. Let me give some examples of the initiatives under the strategy that were informed by their voices.
As a part of the strategy, the Public Health Agency of Canada, also known as PHAC, is investing more than $40 million over five years and more than $9 million per year ongoing. This includes investing in initiatives that prevent child maltreatment and teen and youth dating violence, and equip health professionals to respond to gender-based violence.
For example, the Public Health Agency of Canada is funding projects through which young Canadians learn how to develop and maintain healthy relationships that are free from violence and abuse. Educators are also provided with new tools to increase their capacity to deliver this type of guidance to young Canadians.
Teaching teenagers across Canada about what a healthy relationship looks like also helps foster positive relationships, changes attitudes and promotes gender equality. It helps foster a greater understanding, ultimately resulting in a safer community for young Canadians anywhere in Canada from coast to coast to coast.
In addition, the Public Health Agency of Canada is investing more than $6 million per year to support the health of survivors of family violence. Improving physical and mental health outcomes for youth and children, helping mothers experiencing family violence learn the impact of violence on their parenting and their children's development, while building mothers' self-esteem and improving their positive parenting and healthy relationship skills, and building resilience and life skills in young women are just some examples of what the funded projects aim to accomplish.
Just as Bill proposes to train judges, under the strategy we are training RCMP front-line officers so that they can better understand the social context surrounding gender-based violence. The goal is for survivors to feel more confident in moving forward to denounce their aggressors and for officers to be more understanding of the survivors' situation.
These are just a few examples that demonstrate the ongoing progress of the strategy.
As part of the strategy, we are working in close co-operation with every level of government, including the provincial and territorial governments, as well as several departments and organizations. We are pooling our resources to strengthen our ability to support those affected by gender-based violence in communities across Canada.
We are working on establishing a national plan that would ensure that anyone facing gender-based violence is protected and has reliable and timely access to services, no matter where they live.
In closing, I could continue discussing our accomplishments and the continuous efforts we are making. The point is that Canada's strategy to prevent gender-based violence is moving forward because we know there is still more work that needs to be done.
We need to give Bill our full support. We are counting on all members of Parliament to help us continue this crucial work to end gender-based violence within our communities.