Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Pickering—Uxbridge.
I am pleased to contribute to today's second reading debate of Bill C-3, an act to amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code, which aims at ensuring all newly appointed provincial superior court judges participate in continuing education in sexual assault law and social context.
It would further require the Canadian Judicial Council to report the participation of all sitting superior court judges in sexual assault law education. Finally, the bill would also require judges to provide reasons, in writing or on the record, for decisions in sexual assault matters.
I would like to focus my remarks today on the challenges the criminal justice system is facing in responding to sexual assault in Canada. Further, I would like to discuss how Bill C-3 aims to address these issues by building on recent measures our government has undertaken.
Sexual assault is a gendered crime. Women are almost four times more likely to be sexually assaulted than men. Statistics Canada has reported that 30% of women in Canada, compared with 8% of men, have been sexually assaulted at least once since the age of 15. That is 4.7 million women and 1.2 million men who have been victims of sexual assault.
It is estimated that only 5% of sexual assaults are reported to police. In 2017, only 32% of sexual assault charges proceeded to trial and only 41% of those resulted in a conviction. In other words, less than 2% of sexual assaults in Canada resulted in a conviction in 2017. I would like to note that the number is likely much lower.
In 2018, it was estimated that only 35% of reported sexual assault cases resulted in charges being laid. If we apply this number to the 2017 data, the result is that only 0.23% of sexual assaults in Canada result in a conviction. The data paints a bleak picture and illustrates the challenges our criminal justice system is facing in responding to sexual assaults.
In recent years, this government has made important changes to sexual assault law. These reforms were aimed at enhancing the equality, privacy and security rights of complainants by countering the myths and stereotypes that have persisted in our criminal justice system, while also balancing the rights of the accused in a manner consistent with relevant Supreme Court of Canada jurisprudence. These myths include deeply rooted beliefs of how so-called real victims react to sexual assault and myths concerning the reliability of women's testimony when they make sexual assault complaints.
In June 2017, our government launched its action plan to combat gender-based violence. The plan is called “It's Time: Canada's Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence”. It is a coordinated, multisectoral strategy based on the three pillars of prevention, support for survivors and their families, and promotion of responsive legal and justice systems. The government has invested substantial sums to support the implementation of this government-wide initiative, which aims to combat gender-based violence, coordinate existing programs and lay the foundation for a broader package of measures.
Additionally, through former Bill C-51, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Department of Justice Act and to make consequential amendments to another act, which received royal assent in 2018, we amended the Criminal Code to clarify and strengthen Canada's sexual assault laws.
For instance, these reforms clarified that an unconscious person is incapable of consenting to sexual activity; an accused cannot rely on the defence of mistaken belief in consent if there is no evidence that the complainant voluntarily and affirmatively expressed consent; sexual history evidence must never be adduced to infer one the twin myths, namely, that the complainant is more likely to have consented or is less worthy of belief based on the sexual nature of that evidence; and the admissibility of the complainant's private records that are in the possession of the accused, such as counselling records or private journals, is determined through a special procedure similar to what applies to the admissibility of sexual history evidence and the production of third party records.
In addition, our government has funded the creation of pilot programs in various provinces to provide independent legal advice, and in some cases, legal representation to survivors of sexual assault. The provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and Ontario, as well as Yukon Territory, have reported that these programs have been beneficial to survivors of sexual assault. Our government has also provided funding to the National Judicial Institute to develop judicial education on gender-based violence, including sexual assault.
Finally, through former Bill C-75, an act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other acts and to make consequential amendments to other acts, which received royal assent in June 2019, we restricted the availability of preliminary inquiries to offences punishable by 14 years or more imprisonment. This means that preliminary inquiries are no longer available for many sexual assault offences so that many complainants will not have to testify twice, once at the preliminary inquiry and again at trial. We know that testifying in court is often a harrowing experience because it requires victims to relive the trauma they have experienced.
As such, the criminal justice system has become more compassionate to survivors of sexual assault. Although we have made significant progress in recent years, we must continue our efforts to ensure that survivors of sexual assault are treated with respect and dignity in their interactions with the criminal justice system. It is imperative that judges have the necessary training regarding the complex nature of sexual assault law and the myths that too often surround it. Bill C-3 aims to ensure that decisions in sexual assault matters are not influenced by myths and stereotypes about sexual assault victims and how they have behaved, which the Supreme Court of Canada has found distorts the truth-seeking function of the court.
Through this bill, we hope to enhance the confidence of the public and survivors in the handling of sexual assault matters by our criminal justice system. This is why the bill would require all candidates seeking appointment to a provincial superior court to agree to participate in continuing education in sexual assault law and social context, and to require judges to provide reasons in writing or on the record for decisions in sexual assault matters.
The proposal in Bill C-3 to require candidates to commit to continuing education after appointment would ensure that newly appointed provincial superior court judges fully understand the complex nature of sexual assault law. It would also require that the training created by the Canadian Judicial Council be developed in consultation with survivors of sexual assault, their support groups, and other individuals or groups the council considers appropriate.
The bill also provides for the introduction of a requirement that the Canadian Judicial Council report on the participation of all current superior court judges in sexual assault law education. This measure would increase accountability for sexual assault law education and act as an incentive to encourage the participation of current superior court judges in sexual assault law education.
Bill C-3's specific proposal to require judges to provide reasons in a determination of sexual assault matters would be included in part VIII of the Criminal Code with other sexual assault provisions to ensure that provisions relating to sexual offences are clear and accessible to those applying them. Essentially, this will create almost a mini sexual assault code within the Criminal Code and will help to prevent the misapplication of sexual assault law. Further, it would help improve the transparency of sexual assault decisions because recorded and written decisions can be reviewed.
Improving the handling of sexual assault cases in our criminal justice system goes beyond partisan politics. This bill, originally a private member's bill introduced by the hon. Rona Ambrose, the former interim leader of the Conservative Party, will help to increase the confidence of sexual assault survivors and the public in our criminal justice system. We must work together to transform the criminal justice system into a fair, more effective, accessible and efficient system for all Canadians. I urge members of the House to support the passage of this bill.