Thank you. Good morning.
I am Jackie Stevens with the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre. I want to acknowledge that I am presenting to you today from unceded Mi'kmaq territory here in Halifax.
Avalon Sexual Assault Centre is a feminist, trauma-informed organization that provides services for those affected by sexualized violence. Avalon's primary emphasis is on support, education, counselling, and leadership and advocacy services for women and trans and/or non-gender-binary people.
Avalon offers trauma-specific, individual, therapeutic counselling and group program services for women and trans and/or non-gender-binary individuals, aged 16 and older, in relation to sexual assault or abuse. We provide community education, public awareness, and legal and professional training targeting the prevention of sexualized violence, intervention, and support of victims and survivors.
Avalon also operates the Avalon sexual assault nurse examiner program, which provides an immediate response to sexual assault victims of all ages and genders requiring medical care and the collection of forensic evidence.
Avalon has expertise and experience directly serving individuals who have experienced sexualized violence as well as in advocating for an equality-focused community response to sexualized violence. We've engaged in legal advocacy and education on these issues in Nova Scotia since 1983.
Avalon has expertise in substantive equality, sex-based, and gender-based discrimination and sexual assault law. The presentation is intended to provide the Standing Committee on the Status of Women with further points of analysis and consideration regarding Bill C-337.
Avalon has a substantial interest in this bill and the work of the standing committee because of its importance to the development of sexual assault jurisprudence and the impact of this jurisprudence on women's substantive equality, including the women directly served by Avalon centre.
Here are some points that I would like you to consider as you review this bill.
First, high-profile examples of systemic failure at all levels of the legal process have resulted in low rates of sexual assault reporting, and victims deciding not to participate in or to continue with the legal process after sexual assault or abuse has occurred.
Second, there is a level of distrust and lack of faith in the sexual assault criminal justice process, not only by victims but within the general public.
Third, there is a perception that the rights of the accused are more important than the rights of victims, and that justice is not possible for victims of sexualized violence under the current justice process.
Fourth, the issues brought forth to the public as a result of many high-profile cases have increased the number of individuals who are going public with their experiences before the courts and who are seeking systems and legal-based support and advocacy.
Finally, sexual assault advocates are not adequately resourced to provide ongoing court watch and court support as well as address the need for reform and change, both at an individual victim level and societally and systemically.
Criminal justice reform should continue to be based within the history of sexual assault law reform in Canada and in Parliament's intention to exclude discriminatory myths and stereotypes about women from judicial decision-making.
Past and present judicial statements, such as those of Judges McClung and Lenehan, and Justice Camp, demonstrate a disregard for women who have been targeted for sexualized violence. Their comments are rooted in misogyny, gender stereotypes, and sexual assault myths. Their decisions also demonstrate discrimination based on age, race, and the perception of what is deemed appropriate behaviour.
What is critical to note is that their decisions also demonstrate a lack of understanding of sexual assault and consent under the Criminal Code of Canada and/or blatant disregard for the laws.
Reformative processes should reflect a gendered analysis of the experiences of sexual assault victims and survivors, both when victimized and before the court. Sexual assault and abuse is committed from a position of power and control, and some victims are targeted because of gender, or racial or societal marginalization. Sexual assault laws under the Criminal Code are not gendered. However, how they are administered and interpreted is almost always based on societal perceptions of gender, race, age, disability, and so on.
Many sexual assault cases are investigated, tried, and decided on the basis of looking at the victim's pattern of behaviour and actions to determine consent or to refute that sexual assault occurred, rather than on the basis of looking at the accused's patterns of behaviour that demonstrate predatory, intentional, or criminal actions.
Reforms should apply to all levels of court, not just Canadian superior courts, and should be reflective of all forms of sexual assault or abuse under the law.
Separate from Bill C-337, I would like the committee to consider what practices are in place to ensure that existing policies, laws, and mandates pertaining to judges' training and decisions are being adhered to, and how this committee can influence or improve those current processes.