Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to be here this evening. First, I would like to commend and thank my colleague from Peace River—Westlock for his excellent speech. I was impressed by the pipeline construction I saw when I had the opportunity and the pleasure to visit his riding. Perhaps we could find a new use for pipelines. We could send maple syrup from the beautiful riding of Mégantic—L'Érable to his riding via pipeline in the spring and then Mégantic—L'Érable could get delicious honey from his riding the same way in the fall. That would be an excellent opportunity for trade between our two ridings.
It is with honour and enthusiasm that I rise today at third reading of Bill C-3, which is also known as the just act. I hope it will help women who are victims of sexual assault to regain some trust in the justice system and encourage them to come forward when they are assaulted.
I would like to remind members that this is the third time that the House has tried to pass the just act. We must give its original author, the Hon. Rona Ambrose, all the credit for bringing before the House the serious issue of the lack of training of some judges who hear sexual assault cases.
When introducing the just bill, which was private member's Bill C-337 at the time, my hon. colleague Ms. Ambrose said:
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to stand in the House to introduce a bill to address the need to build more confidence in our judicial system when it comes to the handling of cases involving sexual assault and sexual violence. Too often, those involved in these cases come away with the feeling they have experienced not just a judgment on their case but a judgment on their character.
On another occasion, she gave more detail to explain why women are afraid to file a complaint. She talked about what survivors go through in the justice system and the repercussions it has on them:
We have people who have backgrounds in corporate law, and oil and gas law who are overseeing some of these trials. That's not good enough. They need to have the training in criminal law and particularly in these kinds of cases, I believe. We know from research that's conclusive now that these kinds of crimes and this kind of trauma, especially at a young age, have a massive impact on girls and women. We know that women who experience violence are at least twice as likely to suffer from mental health issues, and they deal with these issues for the rest of their lives.
Clearly, the justice system is frightening for women who are victims of sexual assault. The statistics are clear: too few women report the assault, even fewer go to trial, and an infinitely small number of those trials end in convictions.
As I mentioned in my speech at second reading of Bill C-3, the numbers do not lie: 83% of sexual assaults go unreported. Of the remaining 17% of cases, one in five gets dropped, while the other four are subjected to intense scrutiny, leaving the victims caught in the middle of a difficult and stressful process that unfortunately has only a small chance of success. In three out of four cases, the proceedings are stayed, and just one in five will go to court. One in 10 cases ends in a conviction resulting in a fine or jail time.
Can we seriously ask women who are victims of sexual assault, especially women from disadvantaged, racialized or indigenous communities, to trust a system that finds it so difficult to recognize the crimes committed against them and punish those responsible?
Let me talk about a study I read. The topic of this action research study was “Female victims of violence and the criminal justice system: experiences, obstacles and potential solutions”. This study was conducted by several groups in Quebec and uncovered several reasons for this harsh reality.
The women interviewed for this study revealed the reasons they were fearful of the justice system. These include a lack of trust and the fear of not being believed; the perception that the safety of victims cannot be guaranteed throughout the process; and the influence of comments made by justice system stakeholders and the women's friends and families, who, according to studies, express doubts about the women's ability to navigate the justice system.
From the outset, the women are clearly told that they may not be able to see the process through and that it will be very difficult. In short, many obstacles are placed in their way from the beginning.
Some of the other reasons that came up include the need to take care of themselves first and to manage everyday life in the wake of sexual violence; the anticipation of the consequences of the legal process on the women and those around them; a lack of information on the legal process; and the fact that women know that assailants or perpetrators of sexual violence will get fairly lenient sentences.
The study went even further. Women who had gone through the justice system spoke about the obstacles and issues they had faced, such as the dearth of knowledge about female victims of violence; the continued existence of bias; being made to feel guilty by people within the justice system; the feeling that violence against women is minimized because of the very common legal procedure of sentence bargaining, during which the Crown and the defence negotiate sentencing; a perception that the accused has more rights than the victim; and lengthy delays.
I encourage my colleagues to read this study. They can contact my office or just google it. This study helped me better understand what women face after experiencing sexual violence.
Bill C-3 is not a magic wand that will change everything all at once, nor will it single-handedly change the statistics, but I think judges are the cornerstone of our justice system. Canadian judges must have all the tools they need to deal with every possible situation. If we give judges access to sexual violence training and require new judges to take the training, the entire justice system will clearly be better off. I sincerely believe it is high time Canada took action on this issue.
To ensure a better understanding of sexual assault cases, a new law concerning judges' education just came into force in August 2020. Judges will be required to attend specific training provided by a judicial training institute. Amnesty International and SOS Viol, a victim support organization, have called this a major victory, saying: “This new law is a positive and important step in the right direction. It addresses one of our main concerns in the fight against rape and sexual violence in Belgium: the many gaps in the training of those on the front lines, particularly in the judiciary.”
In France, the training course on sexual violence created in 2016 is five days long and addresses relevant issues pertaining to this specific type of violence.
In England and Wales, a tracking system was implemented that requires Crown Court judges to take a specialized training course before being able to hear sexual violence cases.
After all these years of waiting and all of the opportunities that we have had to pass Ms. Ambrose's bill, it is time to finally take action and pass this bill so that it becomes a reality.
However, I heard the questions that were raised throughout today's debate and I know that this bill will apply only to judges appointed by the federal government.
Although it is an area of provincial jurisdiction, I want to say a few words about training for Quebec court judges because they are responsible for the majority of the province's sexual violence cases. The Quebec Court has a six-page training program, which provides a very good summary. The Quebec Court and the Quebec Judicial Council are responsible for this continuing education, which is an ethical obligation for these two institutions.
The Judicial Code of Ethics states that judges have an ethical obligation to acquire and foster the knowledge and skills they need to carry out their judicial functions. However, I had to read through until the fourth page of the document to learn that the Court of Quebec is working on a special project to give judges specialized training on preparing rulings. However, there is no mention of training on sexual violence there.
The very last page mentions training on the rule of law and also on the society in which these rules are applied. I quote:
With respect to sexual offences, the training deals primarily with the evolution of jurisprudence and legislation regarding the notion of “consent”, the admissibility of means of defence and the tests for ensuring that myths or stereotypes do not influence the assessment of the credibility of complainants.
Once again, the training is not mandatory—