Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you all for being here.
I am pleased to be here today to speak to you about Bill C-5, an act to amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code.
Bill C-5 proposes amendments ensuring all newly appointed provincial and territorial superior court judges participate in continuing education in sexual assault law and social context. Further, it would require the Canadian Judicial Council to report on the participation of all sitting superior court judges in sexual assault law education. Finally, the bill would also require judges to provide reasons in writing or on the record for decisions in sexual assault matters.
The underlying objective of Bill C-5 is to enhance public confidence and, in particular, the confidence and trust of survivors of sexual assault that the criminal justice system will treat them fairly. It is to reassure them that, when they do come forward, they will be treated with dignity and respect by judges who have the knowledge, skills and sensitivity to correctly apply what is a very complex and nuanced area of the law.
The bill serves as an example of parliamentary collaboration. We have our former colleague and previous Conservative Party leader, the Honourable Rona Ambrose, to thank for this. I want to start by recognizing her initiative on this critical issue.
Ms. Ambrose's private member's bill, Bill C-337, started the conversation for the need for judicial training in the area of sexual assault law and the imperative for elected officials to do what they can do to support this. Bill C-5 was informed and inspired by Bill C-337.
The criminal justice system has long faced challenges in responding to sexual assault in Canada. Much progress has been made by both our government and previous governments in bringing forward reforms aimed at enhancing the equality, privacy and security rights of complainants by countering the myths and stereotypes that have persisted in our criminal justice system. These reforms have, at the same time, balanced the rights of the accused in a manner consistent with the relevant Supreme Court of Canada jurisprudence.
However, despite the robustness of our legal framework in this area, there are still extremely low rates of reports, charges and convictions in sexual assault cases. One of the main reasons for this is that victims of sexual assault tend to fear that they will not be believed, and that they will be humiliated or singled out. These fears are reinforced by some cases reported in the media, where judges or other actors in the justice system actually do so. These cases have seriously undermined the confidence of Canadians in our justice system.
Bill C-5 aims to increase public confidence and trust in the ability of our criminal justice system to hear cases in a manner that is fair, respectful, treats people with dignity, and above all, is in accordance with the law that has been carefully developed to ensure this.
Judicial independence is critical to public confidence and a core constitutional principle. Judicial independence requires judicial control over the training and education of judges. A bill that seeks to enhance public confidence in the justice system cannot achieve its goal if at the same time it undermines public confidence in judicial independence.
The bill before us includes the amendments proposed to Bill C-337 by the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. These amendments were designed to respond to concerns expressed by the judiciary and other stakeholders that the original bill went beyond the limits of what judicial independence permits. The proposed amendments made the necessary adjustments to the bill, while respecting its underlying objectives.
Canada is fortunate to have one of the most robustly independent, professionally competent and highly regarded judiciaries in the world. I know members have just heard about the work of the Canadian Judicial Council and the National Judicial Institute with regard to their internationally recognized work on judicial education.
This bill in no way targets or undermines the credibility and respect our superior court judiciary rightly deserves; rather, it seeks to balance the legitimate need to enhance public confidence while carefully preserving the judiciary's ability to control judicial education.
I would now like to turn to the key elements of the bill.
First, the bill would amend the Judges Act to establish a new condition of appointment as a judge of a superior court. Under the bill, to be eligible for such an appointment, candidates would be required to commit to undertake, if appointed, training on sexual assault law and the social context in which it occurs.
These changes ensure that the government will know that the candidates it appoints are committed to training. The public can be assured that all newly appointed judges will have received such training and that judicial independence is respected, as it will not impose training on judges currently in office.
Second, the bill would amend the Judges Act to require that the sexual assault training established by the CJC be developed after consultation with survivors of sexual assault, the groups that support them, or with other groups and individuals that the council considers appropriate. The requirement to consult is intended to ensure that judicial education will be balanced and informed by the experiences of individuals affected. It is left up to the council to determine who precisely it consults and to determine the content of the training, to respect the constitutional principle of judicial independence.
Bill C-5 requires the Canadian Judicial Council to provide to the minister, for tabling in Parliament, an annual report containing details on seminars offered on matters relating to sexual assault law and on the number of judges attending. This measure is intended to enhance accountability in the education of sitting judges for sexual assault law and act as an incentive to encourage the participation of current superior court judges in sexual assault law education.
The last item in the bill consists of amendments to the Criminal Code. They are intended to ensure that decisions in sexual assault cases are not influenced by myths and stereotypes about sexual assault victims and how they should behave. The Supreme Court of Canada has made it clear that these myths and stereotypes distort the court's truth-seeking function.
Canadians and victims of sexual assault have a right to know that the strong laws relating to sexual assault that have been put in place in Canada are being properly applied in court decisions. It is for this reason that Bill C-5 would require judges to provide, in writing or on the record of the proceedings, reasons for their decisions in sexual assault cases. This provision would help to prevent misapplication of the sexual assault laws and would contribute to greater transparency in judicial decisions in sexual assault cases, as recorded and written decisions can be reviewed.
It was also suggested that the bill does not address the real problem, which is the decisions made by provincially and territorially appointed judges. That is true to some extent. The fact is that over 80% of sexual assault cases are heard in provincial and territorial courts. The Parliament of Canada has no authority to legislate in relation to provincially or territorially appointed judges. As a result, it cannot directly implement change where it is most needed. Nevertheless, this does not prevent Parliament or other stakeholders from doing what they can to ensure that our justice system is fair and responsive.
The bill serves as a clear call to governments and the judiciary in the provinces and territories to take a careful look at their own legislative framework and suite of policies and programs and consider whether there are additional measures that can be taken to address the same concerns in their own relative jurisdictions. Following Ms. Ambrose's introduction of the former Bill C-337, a number of jurisdictions followed suit and did just that. At least one province, Prince Edward Island, enacted similar legislation. I understand that Saskatchewan and others are carefully considering policy and legislative responses.
I have sent a letter to my provincial and territorial colleagues outlining the initiatives in Bill C-5 in the hopes that all will follow suit, and I've instructed the Department of Justice Canada officials to explore options for increased availability of training for provincially and territorially appointed judges. Our government has committed significant resources to support the availability of enhanced judicial training. In budget 2017, the Canadian Judicial Council was provided with $2.7 million over five years and half a million per year thereafter to ensure that more judges have access to professional development, with a greater focus on gender and culturally sensitive training.
As I already noted, an important objective of Bill C-5 is to restore the confidence of the public and survivors in the ability of the criminal justice system to hear sexual assault cases in a manner that is fair and dignified and respects the statutory framework that Parliament has set out. Bill C-5 will send a message to all Canadians, and survivors of sexual assault in particular, that Parliament is firmly committed and prepared to act to ensure a justice system that all Canadians can trust, especially the most vulnerable.
But action must happen at all levels of government. It is my hope that Bill C-5 will be a catalyst for all jurisdictions and judiciaries in Canada to consider what measures can be taken that go beyond the symbolic and will result in meaningful and sustainable changes to the manner in which people are treated by the criminal justice system.
That concludes my formal remarks. I will of course be pleased to answer any questions committee members may have.