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 C-3. 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 C-3 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. Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations 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 Prime Minister, 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.