Madam Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity today to speak in favour of Bill C-3, an act to amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code, an incredibly important bill that could help make Canada a safer place for women and girls in all corners of the country.
I would like to begin by thanking Rona Ambrose for bringing this issue to the forefront in the first place.
This is a bill that I feel extremely passionate about because I am a woman who grew up in what could be considered a rough neighbourhood. I spent the first 28 years of my life in the Chameran neighbourhood in my riding of Saint-Laurent, where I often saw violence take place before my eyes at the park across from where I lived.
As a little girl and later as a teenager and a young woman, I always felt like I was in danger coming home alone after dark.
I took public transit, and the closest bus stop was a five-minute walk from my house. Often I would run home as fast as I could, worried that someone could hurt me at any moment.
If we lived in a world without crime against women, where women were not victimized so much, I would not have felt so anxious on a daily basis at such a young age. So many girls and I are afraid to walk alone and take public transit at night.
Perhaps the craziest part about this is that we are taught from a young age to be careful and not talk to strangers, because they may kidnap us or harm us in some way. We are taught to protect ourselves from the outside world, when we know, or at least we learn if we take the time to study sexual assault data, that in over half of sexual assault cases, the perpetrators are people the victims know. They are family members, friends, significant others, neighbours and acquaintances. When it does happen at the hands of someone we know, we have no idea how to process it or what to do.
We have a culture where people get away with sexual assaults, a rape culture, either because the victims never report these crimes to begin with or because a very small percentage of the cases that are reported result in a conviction. According to the 2014 general social survey, an annual survey that monitors changes in Canadian society and provides information on specific policy issues of current or emerging interests, only 5% of sexual assaults were reported that year. It is important to look into the reasons that victims of sexual assault choose to remain silent, because ensuring that more people come forward is the only way to change the awful statistics around reporting and convicting sexual assault crimes.
One of the main reasons people choose not to testify is a lack of trust in the criminal justice system. They think the court will not believe their story, they feel ashamed or embarrassed, or they believe that there is not enough evidence to prove what happened to them. In some cases, because the attacker may be someone close to the victim, the victim fears or even feels sympathy for the attacker. Many victims have said that getting help from the authorities was just as traumatizing as the attack.
Let's not forget that more than half of the victims who choose to testify lose their case in court. For the 2016-17 fiscal year, only 42% of court decisions in cases of sexual assault involving adults resulted in a guilty verdict.
It is a vicious cycle. At least 95% of cases are not reported, meaning that more than 95% of perpetrators of this kind of violence never receive any consequence whatsoever, and so they continue. At the same time, because such a small number of cases are reported, around 5%, and of that small number, an even smaller number receive a guilty verdict, approximately 2%, women do not feel encouraged to come forward.
Sexual assault is a gendered crime. Women are almost four times more likely to be sexually assaulted than men. Statistics Canada has reported that 30% of women in Canada, compared with 8% of men, have been sexually assaulted at least once since the age of 15. That is 4.7 million women and 1.2 million men who have been victims of sexual assaults. The age group most likely to experience sexual assault is between the ages of 15 and 24 years old.
In three studies completed by Justice Canada with survivors of sexual assault, participants were asked to rate their level of confidence in the police, the court process, and the criminal justice system in general. Two-thirds stated that they were not confident in the system. Those living in the provinces were more confident in the police than those living in the territories.
We must do better. There is a serious problem when victims are afraid to report crimes committed against them, especially when the crimes have long-term effects. Victims of sexual assault can often experience physical, emotional, psychological and sexual repercussions that are different from those suffered by victims of other crimes.
Survivors should be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve, and through Bill C-3, our government commits to taking steps toward that goal. Bill C-3 is designed to strengthen training requirements for newly appointed judges and provide them with important insights into the myths and stereotypes that too often surround sexual assault. It would ensure that judges participate in broader training on social context, including social or cultural factors that may influence and affect an individual's engagement with the justice system. All relevant training would be done through the National Judicial Institute to ensure judicial independence.
In budget 2017, our government provided the Canadian Judicial Council with $2.7 million over five years, and half a million dollars per year thereafter, to ensure that more judges have access to professional development, with a greater focus on gender and cultural sensitivity training. Budget 2018 provided funding for a number of targeted investments to help eliminate gender-based violence and harassment while promoting security of the person and access to justice. This included $25.4 million over five years to boost legal aid funding across the country, with a focus on supporting victims of sexual harassment in the workplace.
These changes are aimed at enhancing the equality, privacy and security of the person rights of complainants by countering the myths and stereotypes that have persisted in our criminal justice system, while also balancing the rights of the accused, consistent with relevant Supreme Court of Canada jurisprudence. These myths include deeply rooted beliefs about how “real victims” react to sexual assault and myths about the reliability of women's testimony when they make sexual assault complaints.
In June 2017, the government launched its action plan to address gender-based violence, entitled “It’s Time: Canada’s Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence”.
This co-ordinated multi-sector strategy is based on three pillars, namely prevention, support for survivors and their families, and promotion of responsive legal and justice systems. The government has invested substantial amounts to support the implementation of this whole-of-government initiative to address gender-based violence, co-ordinate existing programs and lay the foundation for greater action.
All this is to say that our government aims to end gender-based violence and has consistently worked toward this end. I strongly encourage all members in the House to vote in favour of Bill C-3, as it helps give a voice to survivors of sexual assault and harassment and helps us make the world a better place for Canadians.