Judicial Accountability through Sexual Assault Law Training Act

An Act to amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code (sexual assault)


Rona Ambrose  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)


Second reading (Senate), as of Oct. 3, 2017

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This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Judges Act to restrict eligibility for judicial appointment to individuals who have completed comprehensive education in respect of matters related to sexual assault law and social context. It also requires the Canadian Judicial Council to report on continuing education seminars in matters related to sexual assault law. Furthermore, it amends the Criminal Code to require that reasons provided by a judge in sexual assault decisions be entered in the record of the proceedings or be in writing.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

April 11th, 2017 / 8:50 a.m.
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Norman Sabourin Executive Director and Senior General Counsel, Canadian Judicial Council

Thank you very much.

Madam Chair, members of the committee, on behalf of the members of the Canadian Judicial Council (CJC), I sincerely thank you for your invitation.

The Council was created in 1971 to ensure better administration of justice, to exercise clear authority in overseeing judicial conduct and to assume explicit responsibility with respect to the continuing education of judges.

The independence of the judiciary requires judges to be in charge of the professional training of judges. In return, that requires the judiciary to ensure public trust in the competence of the judges.

The CJC has been a leader in professional training, including in bringing awareness to social issues such as sexual violence.

I am confident that in collaboration with the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs, the National Judicial Institute, and others, the CJC has put in place an outstanding system of judicial education, one that is internationally recognized for its quality.

Unfortunately we've done a very poor job of explaining this publicly, of telling the success story, so I'd like to give just a few highlights about what I think is a success story.

In 1989 the CJC, in its annual report, identified a concern with regard to the treatment of sexual assault cases by judges. The report outlined that a new training program was needed on gender issues so that judges could address gender issues with justice and with sensitivity. Other issues surfaced—aboriginal justice, poverty, mental health, racism—and the CJC created at that time a committee on equality in the courts.

The CJC worked with scholars, with the CBA, with government, and with community groups and adopted, in 1994, a policy of comprehensive, in-depth, credible education programs on social context issues. In 1997 chief justices of the council committed to providing the time and opportunity for all judges to take part in social context programs. As these programs developed, the CJC directed the NJI to include social context education in all of its programming, and that's where we stand today.

To ensure that we continue on this path of comprehensive education for judges, the CJC adopted just last week a resolution for mandatory participation in the seminar for all new federally appointed judges. This is in addition to the long-standing policy of the CJC requiring all judges to devote at least 10 days to professional development each year.

I conclude by emphasizing that professional development is for judges an ethical obligation. It's something that we take very seriously at the CJC. Failure to uphold that ethical obligation may well require a review of the judge's conduct.

I think Bill C-337 provides an opportunity to increase transparency in this area. The CJC has some ideas about the proposed legislation. For example, we think that the objectives sought in proposed subsection 2(2) would be met more effectively by requiring candidates for the judiciary to sign an undertaking on their application form to abide by CJC policies on judicial education, something that we will propose to the minister shortly.

I would also respectfully suggest to the members of the committee that if you want any views, advice, or suggestions when you enter the clause-by-clause review, I am at your disposal.

I look forward to your questions.

I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.

April 11th, 2017 / 8:50 a.m.
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The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

Yes, it would be in order to put it in writing and then we'll go from there.

All right. Now we turn our attention to private member's Bill C-337, an act to amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code (sexual assault).

We're extremely pleased today to have, from the Canadian Judicial Council, Norman Sabourin, who is the executive director and senior general counsel there. We also have, from the National Judicial Institute, Adèle Kent, who is the executive director. And from the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs, we have Marc Giroux, who is the deputy commissioner.

Welcome to you all.

I'm going to begin with Norman.

Norman, you have five minutes for your comments and then we'll go from there.

JusticeOral Questions

April 7th, 2017 / 11:25 a.m.
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Ruth Ellen Brosseau NDP Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, a few weeks ago, the NDP secured all-party support to fast-track Bill C-337, put forward by the hon. member for Sturgeon River—Parkland, regarding sexual assault training for judges. Women rarely report sexual assault, and, when they do, sadly the justice system often fails to handle these cases properly.

Unfortunately, the Minister of Status of Women does not appear to support this idea, and it sounds like she is washing her hands of this important piece of legislation.

Could the government please tell the House whether it supports this important bill?

April 6th, 2017 / 10:35 a.m.
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The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

The discussion was about how we were going to hear all of the witnesses on Bill C-337 by April 13, and we wanted the committee members to have the two weeks that we're in the constituencies to consider all of that. We thought that if we had all the briefs by then, they'd have the whole package. If the committee has the will to extend it to the 21st, I don't have an issue with it.

Ms. Vecchio.

April 6th, 2017 / 10:35 a.m.
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Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

For Bill C-337.

April 6th, 2017 / 10:35 a.m.
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The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

For Bill C-337 or the economic security?

April 6th, 2017 / 10:30 a.m.
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The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

That brings us to the end of our time to hear witnesses today. We have a little bit of committee business to take care of.

I want to thank our witnesses. You are both a wealth of information. Thank you for the work you do. I would invite you, if you have any other comments that you think would be helpful to the committee, to feel free to send those to the clerk. We appreciate them.

In terms of the business we have as a committee, you will have received the eighth report of the subcommittee. It basically considered the work we're going to do on Bill C-337 and said that there's a budget of $9,000 for it. There is a press release that we were going to send out to ask for briefs on it.

There was a decision by the subcommittee that we want to include all of the testimony we heard on violence against women and girls. Because there was a lot of overlap and a lot of testimony that pertained to the judicial training, we want to make sure it's included in the study so that we don't have to recall all those witnesses, in an attempt to narrow a bit.

The subcommittee also decided that we should set aside two days, April 11 and April 13, for all of the witnesses we've agreed upon—and there is a work plan for you to review—and that we would then undertake clause-by-clause on May 4.

That was the first part.

The second part had to do with the economic security study that we're now doing. We wanted to reissue the press release to make sure that we can extend and get more briefs. Then we talked about how, as we go along here in this study, we have noticed that questions may come up or there may be witnesses we have not heard from, so we wanted to have an opportunity to put forward some more witnesses to fill in any of the gaps.

Originally, we were thinking we would do so today, but I would propose, if the committee is happy to do it, that we allow some time for people to submit those names, because it's not as though we're in a hurry. We're continuing this study into the fall. It would be great if we could get the list of any additional witnesses people want to hear by the end of April.

I would be looking for a motion to adopt the subcommittee report.

That is so moved by Ms. Damoff.

Is there any discussion?

April 4th, 2017 / 8:50 a.m.
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Rona Ambrose Conservative Sturgeon River—Parkland, AB

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you to all the members of the status of women committee for all the great work that you do. As the opposition critic for status of women, I watch closely and I wanted to commend you right off the bat for the great report you just produced. I thank you for all of your great efforts and advocacy inside and outside this House.

I would like to thank the committee for having me today. This is an excellent opportunity to talk about an issue that is extremely important, not just to me, but also to Canadians.

Now, this all started when I was a university student. I volunteered in my spare time at a rape crisis centre, and that obviously had a profound impact on me. But at the same time, I participated in a research project with another advocacy organization called the Status of Women Action Group. It was doing a lot of good work on behalf of women, but one of the projects they were working on was a court watch program. This was many years ago when I was in university in British Columbia. This project basically had student volunteers like me sitting in courtrooms during sexual assault and sexual abuse cases, taking notes about how victims and complainants were treated. It was shocking. The whole point of that program was to amass evidence necessary to convince, at that time, the British Columbia government to mandate training for judges on sexual assault and sexual abuse. Well, here we are many years later, and we still don't have that.

Some things have improved, but I think we have a long way to go. Some of the things that I saw in the courtroom were shocking then, and sadly we still see these kinds of things. I remember sitting in a courtroom taking notes when a prosecutor was questioning a little girl—when I say little girl, I mean under the age of 12—about how she sat on a defendant's lap. The insinuation was that she was flirting with this man who was in his fifties.

These kinds of stereotypes still exist, these kinds of mythologies continue, and we see them in our courtrooms. I don't have to raise some of the high-profile cases that you've seen. The truth is, the reason we know about those cases is that there happened to be a reporter in the room. That's the only reason we know. These kinds of things do go on day in and day out. I think there's an opportunity for us to make a change.

We've seen examples where judges seemingly didn't understand the law or didn't apply the law. It was as upsetting then as it is now. Unfortunately, as I said, it's still happening.

In the past few years, I have noted a disturbing number of sexual assault cases that have shaken the public's confidence in our justice system. These are cases in which those whom the justice system was supposed to serve, especially women who were victims of sexual assault, were harmed by comments, attitudes, or the application of the law.

What Bill C-337 proposes is very simple. First, the bill would require the Canadian judiciary to produce every year a report detailing how many judges have completed training in sexual assault law, how many cases were heard by judges who had not been trained, as well as a description of the courses that were taken. Second, it would require any lawyer applying for a position in the judiciary to have first completed sexual assault case training and education. Third, it would result in a greater number of written decisions from judges presiding over sexual assault trials.

Let me say how pleased I was to see your recent report, “Taking Action To End Violence Against Young Women and Girls in Canada”. I know that this report, in particular, touched on the need to improve training in the field of sexual assault law for the Canadian judiciary, so it seems that we're thinking along the same, parallel lines.

I wanted to point out that we really strived, in crafting this bill, to keep it effective, while keeping our measures within the realm of the possible. We know that the first test it needs to pass is to demonstrate that it does not interfere with a free and independent judiciary, and we believe it passes that test. These are changes that apply to federal law and are within Parliament's right to amend, namely the Judges Act and the Criminal Code. We do expect and welcome debate on this issue, but in my view, it's time this debate is held out in the open and with representation from all sides. Every time another story of a survivor's case being mishandled by our court system hits the news, there are questions whispered and fretted over, but rarely spoken aloud.

Allow me to address a few of them early on and to tell you where my colleagues and I fall on these issues.

There's a question that comes up quite often. Does this bill unfairly tip the balance in favour of the complainant? We would argue that it does not. The training proposed in this bill is intended to level the playing field. An accused does not have a right to use myths and stereotypes about the complainant. Canada's laws against sexual assault are robust, and there is a responsibility upon our judiciary to ensure that there is clear knowledge of the Criminal Code provisions intended to protect complainants from those myths and stereotypes. By increasing our judiciary's knowledge of Canada's sexual assault law, both sides benefit.

Another question I often encounter is why focus on sexual assault trials over other kinds of crime or assault? My answer, simply put, is because these trials are, in fact, different, and our system already acknowledges that.

We have family courts, youth courts, and courts specifically for drug-related offences. I see no reason not to recognize the distinct nature of sexual crimes as well.

In fact, amendments made to the Canadian Criminal Code in the 1980s took the important step of singling out crimes of this nature. I want to point out that in the U.K., our cousins in parliament, the chief justice actually uses a system called a “rape-ticketing” system, which only allows those who have been trained in sexual assault to oversee these trials. So they are a bit ahead of us.

Finally, while there is an assumption among the public that members of our judiciary are already trained in these sensitive areas of the law, the reality is only half true. Yes, there is training available. It's definitely not mandatory, and it is held over just a two-week period, and it covers multiple areas of law, from contract law to criminal law. Given the low rate of trust among Canadians, and specifically among those who have encountered our criminal justice system in connection with an act of sexual violence, it's clear that more must be done.

Ultimately, we want Canadians to have faith in their justice system. The judiciary, I believe, has not stepped up to ensure that all of its judges are trained and do not unintentionally or intentionally re-victimize sexual assault complainants or, frankly, any party involved in these types of proceedings. This bill would take steps to build a more accountable and transparent judiciary.

That's why we're here today, Madam Chair. I look forward to having a discussion and doing my best to answer all of your questions.

Thanks so much.

March 23rd, 2017 / 9:20 a.m.
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Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON


I'd like to move on to Bill C-337, the “JUST Act” that was put forward by Rona Ambrose. First of all, I would like to know where you stand on this and how you will be voting on Bill C-337, since we recognize that it came from many of our recommendations from the violence against women study.

I would like to have your thoughts on that, please.

March 21st, 2017 / 9:35 a.m.
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The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

Thanks so much to both of the witnesses for the excellence of the work that you do and for your testimony. We are now going to do a bit of committee business squeezed in between this panel and the next one.

First, I want to thank all the committee members for the excellent job on the press conference yesterday. We had some good pickup and that was lovely.

Second, we did such an amazing job on the gender equality bill that they have forwarded to us Bill C-337.

Ms. Damoff.

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

March 20th, 2017 / 3:10 p.m.
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Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of Her Majesty's loyal opposition, I am proud to present a supplementary opinion regarding the status of women study. Important evidence, such as the effects of violence, pornography and the normalization of violence, the models of e-safety in Canada and elsewhere, as well as strong sentencing for perpetrators of sexual assault were things we did not find, which were needed for the recommendations. They were not sought, and we did not have enough information on those, so we have put that in this.

We are also very proud of the private member's bill, Bill C-337, put forward by our leader, which we believe will have a very positive effect on ongoing things with respect to sexual violence.

Judicial Accountability through Sexual Assault Law Training ActOral Questions

March 9th, 2017 / 3:10 p.m.
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Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations, and I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion:

That, notwithstanding the order made March 8, 2017, Bill C-337, an act to amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code (sexual assault) be withdrawn from the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and referred to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women.

Judicial Accountability through Sexual Assault Law Training ActRoutine Proceedings

February 23rd, 2017 / 10:05 a.m.
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Sturgeon River—Parkland Alberta


Rona Ambrose ConservativeLeader of the Opposition

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-337, An Act to amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code (sexual assault).

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.

I believe we must address this situation by starting with the people responsible for overseeing Canada's justice system.

There is a definite lack of transparency in the federal justice system with respect to how and how often judges get training and education around handling cases that involve sexual violence.

This is about making our legal system fairer for everyone involved in these difficult cases. I hope my colleagues from all parties will take the time to consider the steps we propose here and support my legislation, the judicial accountability through sexual assault law training act or, what we like to call it, the just act.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)