Madam Speaker, I want to note that I will be splitting my time with the member for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes.
First of all, I am honoured today to rise to speak to Bill C-3. This is legislation that would ensure that sexual assault sensitivity training is required for judges who are being appointed to a superior court. While I am very encouraged to see the bill reintroduced, I must admit that I am equally disappointed that the bill has to yet again restart the legislative process.
This is the third time that the legislation has been introduced, and the latest reintroduction is due to nothing more than the Prime Minister's decision to prorogue Parliament to hide from his own ethical scandals. This needed legislation is just one of the issues that has taken a back seat and has been unprioritized due to the Prime Minister's self-interested actions.
Before I get too far ahead in my remarks, I would like to take this opportunity to commend the original author of the legislation, the hon. Rona Ambrose, who first brought forward this piece of legislation in 2017. It builds on her steadfast work to support women and girls here at home but also around the world. I thank her for not only introducing this legislation but for continuing to tirelessly advocate to see that it is passed.
All Canadians should have confidence in our public institutions, but unfortunately, the reality is that many survivors of sexual violence feel hopeless in the face of our justice system. As legislators, we have a responsibility to address that. The statistics around sexual violence in Canada are devastating. They are heartbreaking. They affirm that the bill is timely, yet at the same time, these statistics also affirm that the bill is incredibly overdue.
In Canada, one in six men will experience sexual violence in their lifetimes. For women, that number is much higher. One in three women will experience sexual violence in their lifetimes, and indigenous women and girls are at a much higher risk. Of those incidents, however, only 5% are reported to police and that number should be much higher. This means that the majority of survivors of sexual violence choose not to report it to the authorities. This begs the important question of why. Why do survivors of sexual violence and sexual assault in Canada choose not to report to the police?
A study based on self-reported data from the Department of Justice revealed that two-thirds of the participants stated that they were not confident in the police, the court process or the criminal justice system in general. That is why this piece of legislation is so important.
It is certainly a positive step that in recent years conversations around sexual assault and sexual violence have come into focus, including discussions around consent and healthy relationships. Whether it is breaking myths, calling out victim blaming, reducing shame or giving victims a voice, this move towards greater understanding has the potential to empower survivors of sexual violence.
We would be naive to think that there is just one reason that survivors choose not to come forward. As legislators, we cannot ignore the overwhelming number of survivors of sexual violence who have indicated that they do not have confidence in our legal system. Through the legislation we have the ability to do better for survivors, and we should.
Survivors of crime should always be at the heart of our criminal justice system. By identifying and announcing measures to increase confidence in our courts and our legal system, we can help ensure that our criminal justice system is victim-centric, and we can take practical steps toward helping restore confidence in it. It takes courage for survivors of sexual assault to come forward, and the bill is a tangible way we can support and empower survivors to come forward.
As we know, the bill would require lawyers who are vying to be appointed as a judge in a superior court to commit to taking sexual assault law and social context training. This training will help ensure that superior court judges have the knowledge and skills that are needed to ensure survivors of sexual assault are treated with dignity and respect.
The number of cases in recent years where judges have made comments shaming and blaming the survivor of sexual violence underscores the importance of this. There were comments like, “Why couldn't you just keep your knees together?” or “Clearly, a drunk can consent.” These inappropriate comments have made national headlines, and these types of ill-considered words have, no doubt, had an impact on the public's confidence in our judges to preside fairly and impartially over sexual violence cases.
Just the same, these events could deter a survivor from coming forward. As I have already stated, it takes courage to come forward, and there are many reasons why a survivor may hesitate. In going to trial, victims may be required to come face to face again with aggressors. They may be faced with retelling or reliving their experience. They could fear that their case will not result in a conviction; that in process, they might be revictimized; that their case might not be presided over in an impartial manner or on the basis of law and evidence only; or even that they might find themselves publicly blamed. The reasons could be endless. That is why it is not hard to imagine why there is a trend not to report sexual violence.
Of course, in pursuing the legislation, it is not meant to paint every judge and every lawyer with the same brush. It is not drafted with the intent to solely assign blame to the judiciary, nor is it drafted to overstep on judiciary independence. By mandating sexual assault sensitivity training, not only can we help ensure that judges presiding over sexual assault cases properly understand sexual assault law, but we can also help ensure that survivors are respected and treated fairly. We can help ensure that personal biases or societal biases do not influence judicial decision-making. We can also help ensure that judges have the training and the know-how to be more conscientious of their word choices in presiding over these cases.
By requiring judges to provide written reasons for their rulings in cases of sexual assault, the legislation would also take steps to enhance judicial accountability. I would also note that in leaving the development and provision of training and education to the Canadian Judicial Council, the bill appropriately respects the separation of powers. It is within the purview of Parliament to implement mechanisms to strengthen and encourage confidence in our public institutions.
Passing the legislation is a starting point for supporting survivors of sexual assault. Survivors should never be revictimized, no matter the crime. It is not just in superior courts that survivors of sexual assault should be interacted with using a victim-centric approach. Sexual assault survivor advocates make it clear that myths and victim-blaming attitudes exist at every step of the way, and that there are many deterrents in reporting incidents. That is why eliminating rape myths and victim-blaming attitudes should be the goal in all circumstances.
Where there is a need, we should also look at better training and accountability in other public institutions, but today we are considering measures to improve public confidence in our justice system. Given that this proposed legislation would give us the opportunity to proactively take action to support survivors of sexual assault, we should act. If it is within our jurisdiction to support them and we fail to act, then we are failing them. That is why I am very pleased that we are debating the legislation today, and that we are looking at tangible, real steps to help improve accountability and confidence in our justice system.
These discussions are very important. I hope that this debate continues to be victim-centric and that we continue to be focused on ensuring that our justice system treats survivors of sexual assault fairly. We all have a duty to ensure that victims of crime are at the heart of our criminal justice system. Because of that, we will give survivors of sexual assault greater confidence in our justice system, and that greater confidence is needed to change the status quo.
No longer can we allow the majority of sexual assault crimes to go unreported. We can do better.