Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and speak to Bill C-3, an act to amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code. I have a lot to say about this bill, so I hope I do not run out of time.
First I want to thank my friend, the Hon. Rona Ambrose. I was with her from the inception of this bill. She did me the honour of making me the chair of the status of women committee. Watching her lead this bill through the House was a real learning experience for me. We know that she is an accomplished businesswoman and accomplished politician. She was also our interim leader and a cabinet minister. I heard she is writing a book, so I look forward to that. I would like to thank her again for recognizing the importance of this issue and bringing it forward.
I want to talk a bit about the history of the bill. We have heard in some of the speeches that this is the third time it has been before the House. It received unanimous consent when I was here, and went to the Senate. Although I cannot explain what happened there, I was told that at the last moment the government woke up and realized it had passed no legislation and loaded up government legislation into the queue. That was the responsibility there for that failure.
Then we had Bill C-5. It was reintroduced, and I was happy to see that. Then the government decided not to sit all summer, so that was a wasted opportunity, and then on top of that it prorogued Parliament and delayed another six weeks. Everything fell off and had to be restarted, so here we are again.
It is disconcerting when we think about the statistics that we have heard. I know that many people have quoted them in their speeches, but I want to add a few comments to them. It is astounding when we hear that 83% of women who have been sexually assaulted do not even report it. That is just the tip of the iceberg.
We heard some testimony at the status of women committee. We were studying violence against women and girls at the time this bill came forward. The Ottawa Police reported that, of the women who show up at the police station to claim that they have been sexually assaulted, the police do not even write a report for 40% of them. Think about the humiliation for women, of being sexually assaulted and having the courage to go to the police knowing that, if they show up, only one in five cases is even reported, which then may go to trial. A very small percentage of those ever come with a conviction.
Once they come up with a conviction, it is astounding to see the small sentences that people receive in this country for sexual assault. When we look at it on paper, we can see that there are supposed to be minimum sentences of 10 and 14 years for these kinds of offences, but the reality is that it is up to the judge of the day to determine whether he wants to go with a summary conviction, probation or a fine. In fact, in many cases, even for the very small percentage convicted, the punishment for the crime is measured in months, or people are allowed to be on probation or they pay a fine for sexually assaulting a woman.
When one in three women in this country is going to be sexually assaulted in her life, this is totally unacceptable. We know, and it has been pointed out, that indigenous women and members of the LGBTQ community are even more at risk for this kind of sexual violence. It is all the more reason why we need to have training in place that could address parts of this.
I liked many of the recommendations I heard today that said that we have the purview, here in the House, over federal judges. However, that is not the whole story. There are provincial judges. This bill was brought forward and shared with all of the provinces. The report on violence against women and girls in Canada, which brought 45 specific recommendations to address this issue, was shared as well across the provinces. I am sad to say there has been very little uptake of that. Therefore, I was encouraged to hear my colleagues from Quebec tell me that they are starting to look at this and address the issue, because that will be very important.
Police sensitivity has been pointed out as a factor in the murdered and missing aboriginal women and girls recommendations, as well as 40 other reports that went before them on similar terms.
We heard testimony as well that training is needed there, but the reality is we have limited sway. This bill would address training for lawyers who want to become judges. We really wanted to have it address all the justices who were going to hear sexual assault cases, but unfortunately, that was not something we were able to make happen.
Justice Kent showed up at committee. As soon as Rona had tabled this bill, she was very enthusiastic and implemented training for lawyers who wanted to be judges in the federal judiciary, and recommended training to all those who were existing justices. She was unable to force them to take it, but at least there was immediate action taken. While there has been lamenting about the amount of time to pass the bill in full, people have stepped up to the plate and have been able to address some of the needs without even seeing the legislation.
Some of the statistics I find really troubling have to do with young people. Young people aged 15 to 24 are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted. When we were at committee, we heard testimony that 30% of women who attend Canadian universities would be sexually assaulted in the first eight weeks. This is unacceptable and unbelievable. Imagine these young girls in that state of trauma, not understanding the judicial system and having no guidance of any kind to help them manoeuvre through the police, and of course the peer pressure that exists on campus. We can see why we really need to have sensitivity.
The study we did came up with a lot of recommendations, and I am disappointed to see the government did not end up doing much with those. If I look at the importance it placed on addressing this issue, $100 million was put into one of the budgets to address violence against women and girls. If we think about the four million women, plus or minus, who have experienced sexual assault, it works out to 25 bucks for each one. That is not very much when compared, for example, with the government's response to the COVID pandemic, where some $240 billion has been rolled out to date for about 106,000 cases. That is $2.2 million per case of COVID compared with 25 bucks per sexual assault. I just wanted to put that into perspective. Sometimes the math tells us a lot.
Obviously, with this legislation we are trying to address some of the really egregious comments that have been made by judges in sexual assault trials. We know the most infamous one: Robin Camp's comments asking a survivor if she could not just keep her knees together. That was totally unacceptable. We know there was another case in the Atlantic provinces. A woman who had been drinking was assaulted, and the comment from the judge was that she was drunk, as if somehow that justified her being sexually assaulted. Maybe the most egregious to me personally were the comments made about Cindy Gladue, who was sexually assaulted and murdered, and when she was not even there to defend herself, the judge referred to her continually as the aboriginal prostitute. That is unacceptable in the extreme. We absolutely need to see change.
I have pointed out why the bill is needed. I want to spend a few minutes talking about what the bill would do and some the things that have changed over the evolution of the bill. The bill's purpose is to improve the interaction between sexual assault complainants and the justice system, specifically the judiciary. It would restrict the eligibility of who could be appointed to become a judge in Superior Court by requiring them to commit to undertaking and participating in continuing education on matters related to sexual assault and social context, including attending seminars.
It requires the Canadian Judicial Council to submit an annual report to Parliament on the delivery of and participation in the sexual assault information seminars established by it, and it requires judges to provide reasons for their decisions in sexual assault cases. It is really important that we understand why written decisions were necessary. When the decisions were not written, there was some evidence that perhaps they were less well thought out, or less likely to be appealed because the wording was not on record. Therefore, that was important.
In the bill itself there is more robust language about the consulting that needs to be done with other organizations for the training. We want to make sure that the training gets at the things it needs to address, so it needs to be “developed after consultation with persons, groups or organizations that the Council considers appropriate, such as sexual assault survivors and groups and organizations that support them; and include instruction in evidentiary prohibitions, principles of consent and the conduct of sexual assault proceedings, as well as education regarding myths and stereotypes associated with sexual assault complainants.”
Earlier we heard the member for Oakville North—Burlington recite the history of the legislation that went into place in 1983, which was the rape shield provision. That prohibits someone from bringing up someone's past sexual history as any kind of information that would be relevant to a sexual assault trial. In addition to that, the principle of consent is important and is something that does not just belong in training for judges. I agree also with an earlier member who talked about how it is important to educate children from the time they are young about consent.
If anyone has not seen a very short clip on YouTube called “Tea Consent”, I would encourage members to look at it, because it uses a cup of tea as an example of when we could expect sexual advances to be acceptable or not. We do not give someone tea if they are unconscious. We do not give someone tea if they say they do not want tea. I really think that is an excellent short video, but the education needs to be ongoing.
I am happy to see the consultation here and my hope is that they would consult as well intersectionally to make sure that concerns from the LGBTQ community as well as indigenous communities are heard, who as I already pointed out are more likely to experience assault. The training can be sensitive in all ways.
One of the things I do not like about the current revision is the metrics for tracking how well this is going. Originally, the tracking was going to be the number of sexual assault cases that were heard and the number of cases that had judges who had the training, so we could get a sense if it was working. Do we have judges, 100% being the goal, who have had the training actually presiding over cases?
Instead, the metric has been changed to the number of judges who attended each seminar. It is important to measure the number of people taking the training, but I am more interested in something very specific, which is that the people who are presiding over sexual assault trials have had the training. That is one of the things that brought this forward. The other justices who were somewhat insensitive did not have the training. I do not know if that metric is really where it ought to be, but I am sure that will get hashed out as well when it gets to committee.
I want to talk about some of the other issues that contribute to the whole problem of sexual assault and the ramifications of it. If we think about the victims who have been raped, there is a range of sexual assault that goes from the extreme on down. However, in every case there is trauma.
Many of the women and men who have been assaulted and experience this trauma have mental health issues as a result. Many turn to addictions of various sorts. The opioid crisis and the methamphetamine crisis we studied at health committee, if we look to the root cause of these things, it comes back to sexual assault in many cases. The cost to society is huge and it cannot be overlooked when we look at the importance of getting the legislation in place.
The other thing I wanted to talk about is rape culture. We were studying this whole issue of violence against women and girls and how we get to all of the different solutions. Rape culture is actually a pyramid where at the top we have sexual assault as the most heinous act. However, at varying levels below, there are behaviours that will walk somebody in that direction, starting with the catcalling, heckling and harassing of women and people on buses, for example.
There was an organization locally that came and did a very good presentation on the different behaviours and all the steps that would be needed to make sure people understand these small behaviours become more and more egregious and can, if not interrupted, lead somebody to cross the line and commit sexual assault. That is one thing that definitely needs to be looked at.
The other thing I want to talk about is the length of time all of this takes. We have talked about this particular bill being introduced for the third time, but that is not the only thing. I get very frustrated when I look at the work done at committees, which is very valuable and produces very detailed recommendations on what the government needs to do with violence against women and girls. Members should read the report.
There are 45 recommendations, some of them specific to those young women on university campuses and what we need to do to prevent sexual assault, help these women and guide them through the process. Each university should have a protocol in place to make sure they follow up correctly on the incident without shaming the victim, and to make sure the victim has support as they go through the police and judicial system. There are a lot of good points in there. It takes a long time to get anything to happen and I have not seen much happen with that.
The same is true for many issues affecting women, such as human trafficking, pay equity, corporate boards and systemic discrimination of women during the COVID pandemic. We have had a lot of discussions about how women are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and how many of the programs rolled out did not really hit the mark there.
We need to be more nimble and agile. I heard that word in the throne speech. I am a fan of agility. Some folks in my past have said that I ram things through, but that is not true. I am a person of action and I like to see things done quickly.
In this case, it is something that is very serious. I am definitely going to support Bill C-3 and I am happy to have the opportunity to speak to many of the new members who may not have known the history of the bill as it came through the House, or who may not have been familiar with all of the statistics as to how bad the situation is in our own country.
I do not want to get away from the theme that one of the members talked about in terms of the government's approach of prevention, support and justice. I do think those are the right pillars to move forward with some action. We talked about education and some of the supports, but justice is something I would like to talk about for one minute.
We met with women from other countries that were parliamentary representatives. I remember sitting with a woman from another country and I asked what the sexual assault frequency was in her country. She told me that it is not really an issue for them. When I asked her why that was, she said that there is a mandatory 10-year sentence with no exceptions. That is the take-away.
We need to do something in our judicial system in addition to this bill that actually puts a punishment in place and does not leave it to the discretion of the judges who are preferentially choosing to go with punishments measured in months for the sexual assault of teenagers, people who may have trauma for the rest of their lives.
I thank members for listening and I thank Rona Ambrose for bringing the bill forward. I look forward to questions.