Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Saint-Laurent.
Today I speak in support of Bill C-3, an act to amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code.
This bill has had the support of the House on two previous occasions, but despite all-party support has not yet become law. Listening to debate last Friday, it was obvious the bill continues to serve as an example of ongoing parliamentary collaboration and one which we should all take pride.
I want to start by recognizing and thanking the Hon. Rona Ambrose for her initiative on this critical issue. Her bill was the first legislation to be studied at the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. The collaborative work we did at committee made the bill stronger, and I am happy to see that the government has incorporated amendments from that study into this bill.
At the time Ms. Ambrose introduced her private member’s bill, several high-profile rulings had shown Canadians some judges did not understand sexual assault law and were relying on myths and stereotypes when issuing their rulings.
Members of the House will recall when former Alberta Federal Court Justice Robin Camp asked a sexual assault complainant why she could not “keep [her] knees together” during her alleged rape. Because of his comments, the Canadian Judicial Council launched a review into Justice Camp’s conduct and concluded that he “acted in a manner that seriously undermined public confidence in the judiciary.” Following the review, Justice Camp resigned.
Ultimately, Bill C-3 is about assuring Canadians that judges who are elevated to federally appointed positions have a desire to understand the myths and stereotypes that have been present in Canadian society for far too long. The federal government should appoint judges who acknowledge that learning is a lifelong process and value continuing education. This is a bill created to ensure that no other sexual assault complainant will be subject to condescending, humiliating and disrespectful conduct from a federally appointed judge.
Bill C-3 would amend the Judges Act to require that a candidate seeking appointment to a federally appointed judicial position attest to participating in training related to sexual assault law and its social context. The bill would also require the Canadian Judicial Council to ensure this training is developed after consultation with those knowledgeable in the field or other individuals or groups it considers appropriate, including sexual assault survivor organizations.
These amendments are designed to ensure that newly appointed superior court judges are fully apprised of the law in relation to sexual assault and on social context. Moreover, the bill is possible because of the already outstanding work the National Judicial Institute, the body responsible for creating judicial education in our country, has done, with help through federal investment, in developing comprehensive continuing education for judges on sexual assault law and its social context.
Finally, the bill would amend the Criminal Code to require that judges provide written reasons or enter them into the record of the proceeding for decisions in sexual assault proceedings.
I have talked about the social context of sexual assault, and I would like to provide a clearer definition of social context.
Quite simply, social context means the immediate social or physical environment in which one lives affects how one sees the world. The experience of an affluent woman who has survived sexual violence will be different than the experience of a woman who is homeless. The experience of a white trans-woman will be different than the experience of a cisgender indigenous woman. The experience of a gay man from Toronto will be different than the experience of a straight woman living with a disability in Amherst, Nova Scotia. The experience of a judge trained in myths and stereotypes about sexual assault will be different than a judge who has never received such training.
Importantly, in the context of the debate on the bill, social context affects how different people view the criminal justice system and how the criminal justice system views them. This is why it is my hope that at committee the bill can be expanded to clearly articulate the need for training, not just on sexual assault law and social context but on the need for training on anti-racism.
This summer, our country came to understand that systemic racism existed in all our institutions. In 2017, at the beginning of the #MeToo Movement, our country came to understand that systemic sexism existed within all our institutions as well.
Jennifer Koshan, professor of law at the University of Calgary, made clear in her testimony at the Standing Committee on the Status of Women that “not only does the law change, but social context can change”. This is why requiring that a candidate seeking appointment to a federally appointed judicial position attest to participating in training related to sexual assault law and its social context is so important.
Bill C-3 addresses a long-standing problem: the influence of myths and stereotypes in sexual assault law. As hard as it is today to imagine, prior to the reforms that began in 1983, a husband could not be convicted of sexually assaulting his wife. Sexual assault convictions required testimony from someone other than the victim. Victims had to raise a hue and cry before the assault and report it shortly afterward or they would not be believed. Victims' sexual reputation and prior sexual activity could be used to attack their credibility.
Reforms were enacted to address these and other evidentiary rules through the 1980s and 1990s. For instance, in response to concerns from survivors and women's organizations, amendments commonly referred to as the ”rape shield” provisions, which govern the admissibility of the complainant's prior sexual activity, were first introduced in 1983 and then amended in 1992. These provisions are designed to protect survivors from the introduction of evidence of their sexual history, which had been used to infer that they were more likely to have consented to the sexual activity in question or were less worthy of belief. The provisions also place restrictions on the use of sexual history evidence for other purposes unless specific criteria are met.
Also in 1992, a clear definition of “consent” in the context of sexual activity was introduced in the Criminal Code and limitations on the accused’s ability to raise a defence of mistaken belief in consent were enacted. The Supreme Court of Canada has provided guidance on the application of the sexual assault provisions, making it clear that consent must be affirmatively expressed through words or conduct and cannot be implied by submission, passivity or a failure to protest.
However, despite the robust legislation in place and the clear rulings from the highest court, myths and stereotypes about sexual assault survivors still creep into the courtroom and into judicial decisions. Identifying solutions to these ongoing challenges has been a priority for our government and, indeed, a matter of ongoing concern in Canada.
Our government introduced Bill C-51 in 2018. With its passage, the changes clarified a number of principles that were already covered in the law, notably, that an unconscious person cannot consent to sexual activity; an accused cannot rely on a mistaken belief in consent where that belief is based on a mistake in law, such as consent obtained through force; sexual history evidence must never be used to infer consent; and, finally, the admissibility of evidence of a victim’s private communications made for a sexual purpose must be determined through the rape shield provisions.
In addition, Bill C-51 provided that victims could make submissions and be represented by counsel in sexual history evidence or rape shield proceedings and that the admissibility of victims’ private records that were in the hands of the accused be determined through a process similar to that of the rape shield and third party records proceedings.
Our government has also modernized the judicial appointment process to bring greater diversity to the bench. During testimony in 2017 at the status of women committee, Professor Carissima Mathen said, “That's been a somewhat unheralded earthquake in the world of judicial appointments.... The innovations that have been done around judicial appointments...have been quite remarkable.”