Mr. Speaker, my presentation comes with a story, which comes with a trigger warning.
The keg party was a 10-minute walk from Ava's new home at Delaware Hall residence, just north of Western University's soaring stone gates. It was the Friday after Thanksgiving, and word had it the organizers had already sold more than 200 tickets. She had been looking forward to it all week, her first big bash as a university student. Ava left the dorm with her friends around 10:15 p.m., already feeling a bit tipsy from the drinks they had while getting ready. She did not care much for the taste of beer, so the 18-year-old brought her own drink in a large plastic bottle that had a straw affixed to the lid: 10 shots of vodka mixed with diet lemonade.
Like many of the neighbouring properties, the vast, nearly century-old home had been converted into student housing. The party washed over every floor and spilled onto the lawn, which was littered with red plastic cups. Someone handed Ava a beer, which she accepted, but then quietly set aside, preferring to sip what she had brought. She and her friends watched drinking games, flip cup and beer pong.
As the night went on, things became more and more fuzzy. Ava remembers being outside with her friends and then leaving to find the washroom inside, with her nearly empty drink in hand. She stumbled off alone. Somewhere along the line, she is not sure when, she found herself talking to a guy from the party. He looked to be a few years older than her, with dark messy hair and a slim build. She remembers they were outside and kissing, and then she blacked out.
When things came back into focus, Ava says she was on the ground near a pine tree at the north side of the house. She was naked and cold and lying in the dirt. The man was inside her. “You're hurting me, stop”, she remembers telling him. She had only had sex once before. “I don't want to hurt you, baby”, he said, but he did not stop. Ava struggled to concentrate and stay conscious. “No, stop”, she said again and again, and he ignored her. Terror shot through Ava's body. In that moment, she realized the man had not simply misunderstood her. He was not playing around; he was raping her. No one could hear her call for help. She had no idea what to do. She wondered if he would kill her when it was over. She stopped fighting and went still.
Suddenly, there was a flash. Ava looked over and saw four or five men pointing cellphone cameras in her direction. She became frantic. The man on top of her ran away. He left his wallet behind, police later told Ava. She was left naked and curled on the ground, her back and hair covered in dirt. Two women who heard Ava sobbing found her shortly after.
It was October 16, 2010, more than five years before an eerily similar attack at Stanford University would make international headlines. Ava's story, however, never made the news. Her case did not go to court. Her assailant was never arrested, never charged. In fact, the London Police Service detective concluded that what happened to Ava that night was not a crime.
There are many ways to shut a case without laying a charge. If there is not enough evidence, there is a closure code for that. If a complainant does not want to proceed with charges, there is a code for that, too. On November 13, 2010, the detective closed Ava's file as “unfounded”, another formal police classification that rendered her allegations baseless. It meant that a crime neither was attempted nor occurred. It did not immediately brand Ava a liar, necessarily, but it meant she was not raped. According to police records, the suspect was given a warning.
“What does unfounded mean to you? What does unfounded mean to anybody? It means ‘You’re lying,’” says Ottawa criminologist Holly Johnson, who has extensively studied that city’s unfounded cases. She believes that high rates send a message that police don’t believe large numbers of complainants, “which reinforces damaging myths that women lie about sexual victimization, and could act as a deterrent to already low reporting.”
Until a few years ago, unfounded statistics were kept secret, but that was not always the case:
Until 2003, Statistics Canada released unfounded numbers. The last year for which numbers are available is 2002, when the national unfounded rate for sexual offences was 16 per cent. The agency collects data through the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, a national set of [data] standards that every police service is supposed to follow. The definition of unfounded, along with all other clearance codes, is laid out explicitly in the UCRS protocols.
But after Statistics Canada raised concerns that police services weren’t using the category consistently—for instance, misclassifying as unfounded cases that simply did not have enough evidence to lay a charge; or, more seriously, not recording unfounded cases at all—Statistics Canada decided to stop collecting the data altogether, rather than force police to follow the rules.
That was an excerpt from Robyn Doolittle's series in The Globe and Mail back in February 2017. We were all in the House of Commons in another building when that report came out. It was a big moment. It caused a ripple of positive changes for survivors of gender-based violence across the country.
My hon. colleague, the incredible Ralph Goodale, who was our minister of public safety at the time, worked with police services and brought back the coverage and the statistics being collected on unfounded cases. There continues to be work across the country within police services to continue to improve the process for victims and survivors.
I share this story now because I have 20 minutes, but also because I want to make sure. We have had this debate over and over again in the House, as my colleagues have said. Advocates and survivors have been fighting and saying stories like this are real for decades upon decades. I wanted to share the story because I wanted to make sure that survivors are at the centre of the conversations we have about Bill . I also wanted to make sure that, for all the work that remains on the issues around sexual and gender-based violence and violence against women and girls, we remember survivors first and foremost and the courage it takes to step up and even report a case, let alone tell their stories so that others can learn from them and make a change.
I also want to acknowledge the important role that every sector plays and the important role that journalism, like Robyn Doolittle's piece, plays in moving us all forward.
Now let us go back to Ava. Let us say that Ava was believed to be telling the truth. Let us say that Ava did go to court. How should she be treated after having endured what she experienced? “Why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?” or “sex and pain sometimes go together”.
What if she had been killed and happened to be indigenous, as Cindy Gladue was, a Métis and Cree woman from Edmonton? The jury in that case repeatedly heard Gladue referred to as a “prostitute” and as a “native” in the courtroom. The trial ended in an acquittal, but the Supreme Court ruled in May 2019 that the man accused of killing her should be retried for manslaughter, but not first-degree murder. In its ruling, the high court said there was evidence that Ms. Gladue's sexual history was mishandled and that trial judges should caution juries against relying on prejudices against indigenous women and girls.
I join members today from my house, not that House, in Peterborough—Kawartha on traditional Williams Treaties land. It is the only place I have ever been able to feel safe and that I belong. I share this with members because, despite not being physically in the House, I have been able to listen to the debate and thoughtful conversations by hon. colleagues from across party lines on this bill.
As the Minister for Women in the post #MeToo era and the post #BeenRapedNeverReported era and during the mourning by all of us at the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I acknowledge that what we are talking about in the House and the way my hon. colleagues are talking about this very important issue is a big moment for victims, survivors and the feminist movement, who have been fighting hard, sometimes with no outcome. For decision-makers like us to take issues such as this as seriously as we are, the fact that we are having this conversation in the way we are with the tone we have, is healing for survivors. I want to thank my colleagues for that.
Somebody asked earlier why now, why do we have to move so quickly? We owe it to those survivors for their courage. We owe it to those who fought hard and brought us to this moment in time so we can enhance their confidence in our judicial system, our legal system and our democratic systems.
As my hon. colleague said earlier, only about 5% of sexual assault cases are reported in the first place, and if they do not lead to a conviction a majority of the time, if they re-traumatize survivors or embolden and continue a culture of impunity, we have a problem. That is the problem we are working to solve together, and it is just one small but meaningful step for survivors like Ava, who share their stories in hopes of being believed, heard and listened to and prevent that kind of suffering from happening to someone else.
I am not going to go into the details of Bill because, first of all, we have heard debate on this again and again, and second, because my colleagues are well versed on this issue and have access to information. There is an opportunity for us, while this debate is under way, to dig a little deeper into the root causes of gender-based violence, the culture of impunity, the so-called rape culture and the generational trauma that is carried forward.
The hon. is a colleague, of course, but she is also a mentor. I also think she is a flaming feminist, and I am so proud of her for that. She says that hurt people hurt people, not always, but they are more likely to. The survivors we are talking about are not just 18 years and older like Ava. Something like this happens every day in our communities. No culture and no region are immune, and in my own community, just a few weeks ago, a 61-year-old woman was sexually assaulted along one of our trails.
This is an issue that goes deep. One of the root causes is childhood trauma. Indeed, there are 11-year-old girls being raped, trafficked and harmed in our communities, and the conversation we are having is really just the tip of the iceberg. This particular bill is about a trauma-informed, culturally sensitive series of training modules to support the professional development of judges. As my colleague said, judges have a big job, and they are competent. As the law and the world evolve, we will all benefit from the additional training.
I have incredible respect for and confidence in our justice system here in Canada. It is among the best in the world and has come a very long way.
This December, we are going to be marking 50 years since the groundbreaking report by the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, which was tabled to someone just like you, Mr. Speaker, in a House kind of like the one we are in right now. That report came up with 167 recommendations. We have come a long way since, and our justice system has come a long way since.
Fifty-plus years ago, a woman could not apply for a mortgage loan without her husband's signature. Fifty years ago, it was legal for a man to rape a woman if she happened to be his wife. Fifty-some years ago, if police were called to a case of domestic violence in a home, they would have to leave, because it was considered a matter between man and wife. Not too long ago, it was illegal for a woman to have an abortion. Not too long ago, it was illegal for same-sex couples to be married. We have come a long way and the law has evolved.
The story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a story of how people can move the institutions that provide healing and justice for victims, survivors, and society forward. It has been over 50 years, and we have clarified the definition of “consent” in the law. There is a reverse onus around bail. Advocacy rights for feminist organizations have been restored. We apply an intersectional, gendered lens to all of our budgets and decisions as a federal government.
This step that we are taking is a small but significant step. I want to thank everybody who has worked hard and tenaciously to bring this bill back to this place again and again, including the Honourable Rona Ambrose. This is a multipartisan issue, and it is part of the third pillar of our federal strategy to address and prevent gender-based violence.
It is Women's History Month. Our experts, survivors and those who have come before us have told us first and foremost to put survivors and their families at the centre of our work, including those who, because of their indigenous identities and experiences, are disproportionally affected by violence. We were told to put survivors and their families first, and we listened. We were told by survivors themselves that prevention is the thing they are hoping for to prevent their pain from happening to someone else. Then we were told, and put into action with our $200 million-plus strategy, that responsive legal and justice systems are key to that healing and key to addressing that culture of impunity and rape culture. We listened, and there is so much more work to be done. However, the fact we are having this conversation in the House and the tone we are having it with is a big deal.
We have already invested about $50 million in emergency COVID response funds to support organizations across the country that are supporting survivors and their families. There are over 1,000 of them getting money to ensure that they are staying safe and open for women, children and LGBTQ2 Canadians in their hour of need. The , just a couple of hours ago, announced an additional $50 million to support these incredible, hard-working, essential workers on the front-lines of gender-based violence support, including $10 million for women's shelters and sexual assault centres to help them continue to provide their critical services safely, $10 million for organizations that are broadly working to address and prevent gender-based violence to indigenous peoples off reserve, and $30 million for other women's organizations that are working to deliver GBV support to help combat the spread of COVID and address the increased demand for services. This brings the total emergency funding provided to gender-based violence organizations to $100 million.
I want to thank all of our partners, including the Canadian Women's Foundation and Women's Shelters Canada for helping us move this forward.
If I had time, I would talk about rape culture, but I do not, and so I will wrap up here.
I am happy to answer any questions from my colleagues. I hope that in our deliberations we also reflect on why it has taken this long to pass a bill that seems like common sense to all of us.
Mr. Speaker, it is wonderful to be in this place and to talk about something that is so important. I would also like to thank the minister, because this is something I know she and I both believe in, that we need to work harder for women, especially when it comes to these horrible sexual assault cases.
I would also like to thank two other women in this House today, the critics for women and gender equality for both the NDP and the Bloc. My time working with them as the shadow minister for women and gender has been excellent. I know that when it comes to women's issues, we can work very well together.
I will be splitting my time with the member for , another member who will be working very strongly on this file.
I think we have to go back to why we need these changes in the first place. I was so proud to stand alongside Rona Ambrose, back in 2017, as she put forward Bill . It was the just act, where we understood that judges need to be trained to understand what it looks like to be a victim of this horrendous crime.
We also have to talk today about what happens when there is something that is actually going against those women, and the misunderstandings of what it is as well. At the bottom of this, the survivors of sexual assault should never be afraid to come forward to the judicial system. They should never be afraid to pick up the phone and speak to law enforcement, knowing that what they are going to be bringing forward is urgent and it is necessary for it to be appropriately looked at.
There was a report back in 2014, and this was pretty much what kicked off Bill . It was a report called “A Survey of Survivors of Sexual Violence From Three Canadian Cities”. It was published by the Department of Justice. We look at some of these things when we talk about women. We have seen so many cases.
We have seen so many movies. I still think of the movie with Jodie Foster, back in the 1980s. At that time, because of who she was, because of the way she looked, because of her poverty levels, those things were used against her. People did not believe her. Sure, it was a story that was fictional, but it is based on so many women's lives. This is something we really need to focus on.
There are instances where victims of this horrendous crime are being judged for their personal history. I think it is really important to understand that no woman, no man, no young girl or boy ever deserves this type of treatment. We should all be treated with dignity. When we go to the courts to talk about these types of things, we should be honoured and respected.
During the survey I was referring to, the survey of survivors, there were some key elements taken from this. This is what is really important: It is about talking to the survivors. What happened to them through this judicial process? What were some of the pros and cons of it? Part of the problem that we hear about all time is that people are not going to come forward if they feel disrespected, if they feel violated once again. They are concerned about the trauma from the sexual violence, and we need to have empathetic people who are trained, such as our judges.
I am very proud of many of the police associations that have been working to make sure they understand more about domestic abuse and sexual assault so that when they are going to one of these cases, they can be empathetic. It is a very difficult time. It is hard for people who have never been part of it or have never been traumatized in this area to put themselves in those shoes. Speaking to survivors is what we need to move forward. We need to make sure that the prevalence of sexual violence is ended, and we also need to make sure that we are providing the appropriate resources for one to become healthy and whole again.
We talk about mental health and addictions all the time in this country, but we also have to understand that some of the things that lead to these addictions and mental health issues can be things such as sexual assault and what happens when we are not worrying about the people who have gone through this horrific challenge.
There is one woman who has spoken about this, and this is just a quote from the study. She indicated:
...I think they really, truly need to understand there needs to be better education on the side of law enforcement, or on the judicial side, as to why it is so under-reported; why people feel such a sense of shame; why victims will blame themselves or feel responsible…why people tend to get away with this and why people are reluctant to come forward....
We have heard many times, “What does the judicial system look like?” The biggest concern that I have is that being a victim of this type of crime is not like being a victim of other types of crimes. This is someone violating every bone in a person's body, and I think we need to make sure that when we are looking at these cases, we are respecting the trauma the individual has gone through. If that trauma is untreated, if that person is revictimized, we are not doing them any good. We are selling them short of a better future.
These are really concerning things for me. We look at the stereotypes and understanding the stereotypes that we have of indigenous women, women in poverty and women of colour. What happens to these women when they put themselves forward? We have heard many times that the results of these court hearings can be skewed because of the victims' personal history. This should never have been something that causes the inequality that it has.
I can say that when I look across this room, I know that the member for and I will always fight on these things together, and that the people in London will always make sure that we have women's backs. A lot of that comes from the great leaders that we have in our communities. I can think of people like Megan Walker, whom I speak of often when it comes to the London Abused Women's Centre.
These are things that our women's facilities and organizations from across this country are fighting for. They see what happens when women have been assaulted and they see what happens when women are not believed. I think that is something we need to look at, because for me it is really important.
There are many negative impacts to a woman when she is not heard. If the judges are not going to hear her, what happens to that woman? We have to look at this. Is it a young woman who has gone to college, where we know that the sexual assault rates are extremely and extraordinarily high? What happens to her? She is a 20-year-old. What happens to her for the rest of her future if there is not a court decision or there is not the proper law enforcement to support her?
I look at some of the negative coping strategies that we talk about all the time when it comes to mental health. I look at some of the addictive behaviours. If a women has been sexually assaulted and nobody is listening, what does she do so she can get through this trauma? We have to be aware of the addictive behaviours, when it comes to drug use and other horrific things like that. We also understand that there is a lot of self-harm that can follow sexual trauma as well. We hear a lot about cutting. We hear a lot about women and awful things that they have done, understanding that they have lost all self-confidence and that they are not whole. It is our job to make sure that these women have the opportunity to be whole again. That includes not only the proper judicial system but also the proper counselling and services in our communities to help them.
That is why, when I talk about the London Abused Women's Centre, I know that we have a great facility in our own community. I can only hope that across this country we can have these types of programs from coast to coast to coast and, for the member for , to coast. We also have to understand that after this there are many suicides. Many of these people who have not been heard take their own lives, and that is just not appropriate. There is also great isolation. We have seen over the last six months what happens due to isolation. We have seen this with COVID-19. We have seen some horrific things, and we have seen many people lose their lives because of that. We also have to see the avoidance and the seeking of attention. There are so many scenarios that can happen to a woman who has not been heard.
Finally, we have to look at the unhealthy relationships, because we see this trend. Women sit back, those who have maybe not been traumatized in their lives, and they continue to wonder why women would go back to that type of relationship, but if we are not there to support them, they know no better. They do not know that there are men who are wonderful in this world, who will take their hand and walk with them and treat them exactly how they should be treated. Like I said, they should be treated like gold.
I am very fortunate, because I have that husband who stands alongside me. However, not everybody has that person in their lives, so it is really important. As the said, it is not just about women advocating for women, but it is also about men. I know that within this chamber I am looking at 338 members of Parliament who are all on the same side, and that is what matters here. I know that my own colleagues support me, and as a woman, that is what continues to create my confidence and continues to make me able to reach for the stars. I am so proud of the type of caucus I work with.
Today I saw in the London Free Press, one of our local newspapers, a story about a young woman who was sexually assaulted in the London East area at a bus stop. We need to make sure that we are there for that young woman who was just assaulted this morning. We need to make sure that we listen, and we need to make sure that she is able to go through the process fairly.
I thank the House for this time, and I thank all Canadians for listening.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today on the traditional territory of the Algonquin nation. I again say meegwetch
for their enormous hospitality and patience.
We are debating today a very important bill that has been before us previously. It was before us with its previous title as a private members' bill, Bill , in the previous Parliament. Of course, that bill died on the Order Paper, but not for lack of support in this place. It was in the other place that it got bogged down for three years. The author of this private members' bill, whose name I can say because she is no longer in Parliament, was Rona Ambrose. She played many distinguished roles in the cabinet of the previous Conservative government and, ultimately, when she brought this bill forward, was interim leader of the Conservative Party.
I think it was Rona herself who said that the problem in the other place was a bunch of old white boys. That is kind of the problem with the people on the bench, too. We have a significant problem in that the cultural demographic most likely to sit in judgment in sexual assault cases is exactly the demographic least likely to understand the issues. One must never slur old white men, I sometimes say with tongue in cheek, but I just married one, so I really have nothing against old white men. I love one in particular a tremendous amount. However, he would be the first to say that in his generation, that group has privilege that comes from three things: being male, being white and being presumed to be somebody really special.
Most judges are fantastic human beings. I just mentioned my husband, John Kidder. His grandfather was the chief justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, so he certainly would not have said anything other than wonderful things about his own grandfather. However, I used to practise law, and when taking a case to court, I had to hope I would get a good judge.
I had a really awful judge once. I was not even called to the bar yet when I went to court as both plaintiff and lawyer with a group of Cape Bretoners trying to stop the aerial spraying of Agent Orange on all of us. This was in 1982. The government of the day had approved aerial spraying of Agent Orange over Nova Scotians. We managed to fight it enough that they changed it to spraying from the ground, and then we went to court. It was a class action. My family lost all of its land in a bill of costs to Scott Paper.
It was a very ugly case, a one-year-long trial from beginning to end. For the actual court case, we were before the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia for a full month making the case that Agent Orange had caused damage, birth defects and cancer in Vietnam and had been found in groundwater. It was a long, complicated case. The judge we had, in his first big case, ruled that Agent Orange was safe and that we were actually bad people for bothering the Nova Scotia government with our complaints.
I mention this because the very next big case this judge got was a sexual assault case. Once again his words made headlines. He did find the assailant guilty of sexual assault, but the penalty was basically a slap on the wrist because, as he said from the bench, it was not a particularly violent rape. The assailant, found guilty of rape, was not really punishable because he had not used a lot of violence.
I searched for the name of this case. We know the name of the judge; he has been referenced frequently in debate today. He said to the victim, “Why couldn't you just keep your knees together?” and suggested the victim's attempts to fight off her assailant had been feeble. The judge chose not to believe the victim and the assailant was initially acquitted. That case was in 2016. Our ability to find things through search engines is pretty good for recent history, so we know it was Justice Robin Camp. It was a Calgary case. I do not think it is a stretch to say that this led quite directly to the hon. Rona Ambrose bringing forward, as a private members' bill, that judges needed training.
The case I referenced was not a particularly violent rape. If I could get to a law library I know I would find it, because it is in the Nova Scotia reported cases from around 1984. When I did a search, I discovered that the judge had passed in May of this year, and there were nothing but laudatory obituaries for the sterling character of the judge who found that Agent Orange was safe and that the victim in this matter did not really deserve justice because the rape had not been sufficiently violent. I will not mention his name out of respect for the dead.
There are judges out there who need more than training, and we need this piece of legislation to pass. We know that there is more at stake here to get justice for women who experience sexual violence. We know that critical recommendation after critical recommendation in the Inquiry on Missing and Murderer Indigenous Women and Girls has not yet had any official government response. That report says specifically that when an indigenous woman has been the victim of sexual violence, she must have access to culturally appropriate and sensitive physical help and psychological support. She must have help with retaining evidence, as well as help from a health professional who is indigenous herself, who can assist a victim and get justice and get through the next stage: what do police do.
Moments ago, the made the case that quite often it is the police who say they do not find sufficient evidence, so there is the notion of a pile of unfounded cases. We know that very few women who are sexually assaulted actually report the assault. Within that group a great number of people are not believed, and the cases pile up in the unfounded category. When a case finally gets to court, we need to know the judge understands enough about sexual assault to not believe something silly like if they had been a victim of rape they would not have been silent about it for so long. Really, what do the judges know about it? They need education.
This bill is urgently needed. There is widespread support. As mentioned, it passed in this place very quickly when it was first brought forward in 2017. Then it got stuck in the other place and died on the Order Paper prorogation. I commend the government for bringing it back as a government bill. Obviously it will be passed much more quickly as a government bill than if we were to wait to see who would bring it forward as a Private Member's Bill.
I also appreciate the changes that were made to expand the notion of education for judges from questions of sexual assault law to include something which, in Bill , is referred to as the social context. I know that many members of this place would like to see social context further amended to make it clear that we are talking about things like systemic racism, intersectionality, poverty, assumptions that are made about sex trade workers, assumptions that are made about the marginalized, and assumptions that are inherently discriminatory toward women.
In looking at the social context piece, I know there will be some desire to amend the bill to bring it into a fuller understanding so that we could actually use this legislation to deal with issues with which we are now far more seized: questions of, for example, systemic racism in police forces and systemic racism on the benches of our courts. We can maybe deal with more issues with amendments.
To make sure I do not run out of time, Mr. Speaker, I want to turn to a proposed motion that I hope will be acceptable to all members in this place. If you seek it, I hope you will find unanimous consent to speed up this bill to help us get it to committee faster and skip the second reading stage.
It would read: “That notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, at the conclusion of Government Orders today, or when no member rises in debate, whichever is earlier, the Speaker shall forthwith put successfully all questions necessary to dispose of the second reading stage of Bill C-3, an act to amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code, provided that if a recorded division is requested, it shall be deferred until Monday, October 5, 2020, at the expiry of the time provided for oral questions.”
I hope this motion is in its proper form. The clerks have it. I apologize to the other side of the House because normally I would run around and speak to each member personally. I relied on getting it to members electronically.
Mr. Speaker, if you seek it I hope you will find unanimous consent to move Bill immediately to committee and skip second reading stage, with the possibility for a vote on Monday should other parties require it.