Good afternoon. Thank you, Madam Chair, honourable committee members, and all others present today. I am Sarah Flemming. My role is executive director of the Colchester Sexual Assault Centre in Truro, Nova Scotia.
I would like to thank you for the honour of speaking on behalf of Bill C-5 this afternoon. In our small town located an hour north of Halifax, we support Colchester County as well as two neighbouring counties, with free trauma counselling, outreach support at schools and in other organizations, and workshops and presentations all year round.
We have two part-time counsellors who have, on average, 450 individual counselling sessions and an unlimited number of drop-ins per fiscal year.
We are in what is known as a current hot spot for sexual exploitation and trafficking. Court support is also something we offer to clients. We have had two clients in the last year who have utilized that service.
I am here today to offer my insight on an area that I feel will create ripples across the judicial process. It will see more victims and survivors come forward to have their assailants charged. It will create a higher level of trust between police, lawyers, judges and the greater community.
This bill is not asking judges to become partial to the plight of victims, but rather, it will allow them to perform their job through an anti-oppressive practice.
Marginalized women are at a much higher risk of sexual violence and have a much lower rate of reporting. I don’t think we need to ask ourselves why. I believe we are well-informed of the risk factors of sexual and domestic violence. However, as a country, I think we do a poor job of implementing these practices and ultimately keeping women safe.
Nonetheless, we are making progress where it counts. In my small town alone, our court system has developed a mental health and domestic violence court. In working with community partners, both victims and offenders are able to get the support that is needed to reduce recidivism, while holding offenders accountable for their actions.
I was once told not to come with a problem but rather with a solution. My solution to supporting victims/survivors is to have judges trained in best practices while facilitating a more restorative approach when appropriate, and to have sexual assault and sexual violence cases presided over under the mental health or domestic violence courts where appropriate. This is not necessarily always the best practice for everyone, but it may be a way to support victims when needed by allowing them access to the services that can keep them safe and prevent further harm from happening.
I feel that we need to broaden the collective lens on sexual violence, and passing this bill is a step in the right direction. What would it mean for victims to feel that when they walk into a courtroom, they do not have to fear the repercussions of their trauma following them throughout their lives? We have an opportunity to hold offenders responsible and potentially to provide them with what behaviour is expected of them in a cab, at a bar, or in a 20-year marriage.
The outrage of revictimized survivors needs to leave only sexual assault and women’s centres and enter into the realm of everyday conversation. I want to hear the retired men at my local Tim Hortons discuss how no person deserves to be assaulted, without mentioning how much they drank, what they wore, or questioning their motives in terms of money or fame.
When I tell victims that it is not their fault, I want them to believe me and to know that the justice system is in place to support them and to follow up. In the event that there is a “not guilty” verdict, I want them to have the chance to know why, to understand the due process and legal jargon, all while feeling in control and supported.
Thank you again for having me speak on behalf of the Colchester Sexual Assault Centre, as well as Colchester, Cumberland and Hants counties in Nova Scotia. I look forward to hearing further updates, and hopefully the passing of this so important and timely bill.