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 C-337, 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 C-337, the bill we are debating today, Bill C-5, 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 C-337, 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 C-337 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.