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View David Lametti Profile
Lib. (QC)
moved that Bill C-3, An Act to amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in support of Bill C-3, an act to amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code, which is identical to former Bill C-5.
I am delighted to be reintroducing this important piece of legislation today. I know we in the House are all anxious to see the work that was started by the Hon. Rona Ambrose in 2017 with the introduction of Bill C-337 come to fruition with the quick passage of this bill in this session of Parliament.
Regrettably, Parliament's consideration of Bill C-5 was abruptly interrupted and the study of the justice committee halted by a health crisis that has created unprecedented challenges to all aspects of Canadian society, including our justice system. The pandemic has exposed and exploited underlying conditions that have long plagued our justice system. It brought into stark relief the unacceptable barriers to accessing justice for the most vulnerable in our society. The reintroduction of the bill comes at a time when the need to protect our most vulnerable has never been clearer, nor the importance of ensuring a justice system that treats everyone fairly and with respect more critical.
Bill C-3 is designed to enhance public confidence in our criminal justice system, and in particular the confidence of survivors of sexual assault. It is hard to imagine anyone more vulnerable in the criminal justice system than the women who find the courage to report sexual assault.
The bill will ensure that survivors of sexual assault are treated with dignity and respect by the courts and will give them confidence that the judge in their case will enforce sexual assault laws fairly and accurately, as Parliament intended.
It has never been more critical that all of us who serve the public are equipped with the right tools and understanding to ensure that everyone is treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve, no matter what their background or their experiences. This would enhance the confidence of survivors of sexual assault and the Canadian public, more broadly, in our justice system. There is no room in our courts for harmful myths or stereotypes.
I know that our government's determination to tackle this problem is shared by parliamentarians from across Canada and of all political persuasions. The bill before us today will help ensure that those appointed to a superior court would undertake to participate in continuing education in relation to sexual assault law and social context.
As the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, I take very seriously my responsibility to uphold judicial independence, a constitutional principle that is a cornerstone of our democracy. Judicial independence means that judges must be free to decide each case on its own merits without interference or influence of any kind from any source. For this reason, judicial independence requires judicial control of judicial education, and I salute the work that is being done by the Canadian Judicial Council as well as the National Judicial Institute in Canada in the training they have already begun to provide. Applying this principle to the current bill means that our government's efforts to ensure judges participate in education on matters related to sexual assault law and social context must not undermine the independence of the judiciary.
In that vein, I would like to describe the key elements of the proposed legislation. Bill C-3, as noted previously, is identical to former Bill C-5 and essentially the same as former private member's bill, Bill C-337. Importantly, the bill includes the amendments to Bill C-337 passed unanimously by the House of Commons to include social context education within the requirements of the bill. This requirement is specifically aimed at providing those who preside over cases with deeper insights and best practices to help them better navigate the social and cultural factors that they will likely come across in their time on the bench.
Bill C-3 also includes the amendments recommended by the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in its study of Bill C-337.
The first key element of the bill is that it proposes to amend the Judges Act to require candidates for superior court judicial appointments to commit to undertaking training in matters related to sexual assault law and social context. This becomes part of the application process. This commitment will become an eligibility requirement for appointment to a superior court.
It is no easy task to bolster public confidence, in particular the confidence of sexual assault survivors, that our criminal justice system will treat victims with dignity, fairness and respect. This is a particularly acute challenge when there are reports in the media of judges doing exactly the opposite. We hear of highly publicized cases in which judges have relied on stereotypes or myths about how a victim of sexual assault should have behaved and have misapplied the carefully crafted law intended to prevent this.
The undertaking to commit to training is aimed at ensuring that Canada's highly developed law and jurisprudence on sexual assault are appropriately applied in the courtroom. It will also ensure that newly appointed judges receive the education and training necessary to understand and appreciate the social context within which they perform their functions, so that personal or societal biases or myths and stereotypes do not have any bearing on their decisions.
Over the past three decades the criminal law has undergone significant reform 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. As a result, the Criminal Code prohibits all forms of non-consensual sexual activity, provides a clear definition of consent, identifies when consent cannot be obtained and sets out rules for the admissibility of certain types of evidence to deter the introduction of these harmful myths and stereotypes.
Canada's sexual assault law is robust, but is necessarily complex. It applies to the most intimate of human interactions, so to be effective it must be properly understood and applied. This is why judicial education in this area is so significant and Bill C-3 so important.
The second key element is to require that the Canadian Judicial Council develop this sexual-assault training only after it consults with groups and individuals that it considers appropriate, including sexual assault survivors and the groups that support them. This will give the council the opportunity to gather different perspectives on sexual assault informed by the experiences and knowledge of the community.
Transformative change across the criminal justice system will require a sustained collaborative effort by all actors in the justice system, with the support of stakeholders and civil society. Training is needed not only for judges but for all actors in the justice system. We are working with our provincial and territorial counterparts and justice sector stakeholders toward more comprehensive efforts. However, the pivotal public and determinative role judges play must also be taken into account.
The third key component of the bill will require the Canadian Judicial Council to submit to the justice minister an annual report to be tabled in this Parliament about the training on sexual assault law that has been provided and the number of judges who attended. This requirement is designed to enhance accountability in the training of sitting judges on these matters while still acting as an incentive to encourage their participation.
The final element of 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. I would like to mention that this proposed amendment to require judges to provide reasons in the determination of sexual assault matters specifically is complementary to three existing requirements.
The requirement to provide reasons will be placed in the other sexual assault provisions in the Criminal Code. This will help ensure that all provisions related to sexual offending are clear and accessible to those applying them. This is part of the effort to prevent the misapplication of sexual assault law by helping to ensure that decisions in sexual assault matters are not influenced by myths or stereotypes about sexual assault victims and how they ought to behave. This is consistent with the Supreme Court of Canada's finding that such myths and stereotypes distort the truth-seeking function of the court.
Being a judge comes with great responsibility. I would like to quote the Hon. Justice Charles Gonthier, former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada:
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 then added the following:
...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.
Since judges play such a crucial role in upholding democracy and the rule of law, the public rightly expects their conduct to be exemplary. To quote the Canadian Judicial Council:
[1] 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.
[2] 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 be able to meet these public expectations, it is imperative that they keep abreast of developments in the law and the ever-changing social context in which they carry out their duties. To ensure excellence in judgments, judges must have legal knowledge that is as relevant as it is excellent so that they can make the difficult and life-changing decisions entrusted to them. For this reason, legal education is an essential element of the legislation under consideration.
The bill is carefully tailored to uphold the principle of judicial independence. In particular, it includes the recommendations of the Senate committee for amendments to Bill C-337 that were carefully designed to address the specific concerns raised by representatives of the judiciary.
In that regard, I would like to point out that members of the judiciary appeared before the House committee to call for additional amendments to Bill C-5. It is important to note that a respectful dialogue occurred between representatives of the judicial and legislative branches with regard to Bill C-337 and Bill C-5. I trust that this will also be the case with this bill. The partners in this dialogue all want survivors of sexual assault to have faith in the justice system and to be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve when dealing with that system.
Canada is lucky to have one of the most independent, competent and reputable judiciaries in the world. The Canadian Judicial Council, with the support and co-operation of the National Judicial Institute, is a world leader in training judges. The Canadian judiciary is very committed to ensuring the best training for judges. I commend them for their co-operation in this regard. Finally, Canada is a pioneer in social context education in the justice system.
In its professional development policy, the Canadian Judicial Council recognizes that, in order to be effective, training for judges must include social context education so that court decisions are not influenced by personal or social bias, myths or stereotypes.
Given how important this is, the National Judicial Institute seeks to ensure that all programs cover substantive law, skills development and social context education.
It is important to acknowledge the significant contribution of both the Canadian Judicial Council and the National Judicial Institute to ensuring judges have access to the training they need.
We are blessed with a strong and independent judiciary in Canada. We cannot take this for granted. As parliamentarians, we must ensure that we safeguard and promote it. This bill seeks to balance a legitimate need to enhance public confidence with carefully preserving the judiciary's ability to control judicial education.
The government also allocated significant resources to support this undertaking. The 2017 budget contained $2.7 million over five years for the Canadian Judicial Council and $500,000 per year thereafter to ensure more judges get access to professional development with a greater emphasis on issues related to sex, gender and cultural sensitivity.
Our government is also working with stakeholders to ensure that appropriate training is available to all members of the Canadian judiciary, specifically those not appointed by the federal government.
That said, I hope this bill will prompt everyone in the justice system to take a close look at other measures we can take to bolster the confidence of survivors of sexual assault and the public in our justice system.
Finally, following Ms. Ambrose's introduction of the former Bill C-337, a number of provinces followed suit and did just that. At least one province, Prince Edward Island, enacted similar legislation, and I understand that others are carefully considering policy and legislative responses. I note that other countries have already enacted legislation similar to what is being proposed. It is time for all of our jurisdictions to act.
While we believe that reintroducing Bill C-3 is a crucial step, it is not the only action we can take as a government. We have prioritized supporting victims and survivors of crime by a range of different avenues. These include providing funding to provinces and territories to allow them to develop enhanced programs, to provide free and independent legal advice and, in some cases, representation for survivors of sexual assault. Also included is our government's commitment, as emphasized in the Speech from the Throne, to build on the gender-based violence strategy and work with partners to develop a national action plan.
This bill sends a message to all Canadians, and survivors of sexual assault in particular, that their elected officials are listening, that we care about what happens to their cases, and that we are prepared and committed to take whatever action we can to ensure that our justice system is fair and responsive. It is incumbent on all of us: legislators, judges, prosecutors, police and the public.
Right now, there is considerable enthusiasm across the country for meaningful, sustainable changes to our justice system.
This bill is a small but important step toward achieving that. It gives parliamentarians an opportunity to act on their beliefs and show all Canadians, especially survivors of sexual assault, that their voices matter and that anyone who has the courage to report an assault will be listened to and treated with the dignity and respect every member of our community is entitled to.
I urge all of my parliamentary colleagues to take this step toward a more constructive, resilient justice system that is more responsive to the needs of those it serves.
I call on all of my colleagues to support this important non-partisan bill.
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