Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and speak to Bill C-3. The original legislation was first introduced in February 2017 as Bill C-337 by the Hon. Rona Ambrose, the former leader of our party as well as the official opposition. I want to thank Ms. Ambrose for the passionate advocacy that she has taken on this important legislation.
I am also pleased to see that the legislation adopted by the Liberal government earlier this year was reintroduced again now as Bill C-3. In 2017, it received unanimous support from the House of Commons and passed quickly to committee. I guess it should come as no surprise then that it would take over two years for it to move through the legislative process despite having all-party support and it would die on the floor of the Senate in June 2019. Despite finishing the legislative process at about the same time as 15-plus other bills that June, it was held back by the Liberal majority government from receiving Royal Assent. Why, people may ask? Some may suggest it is to play the same Liberal games that many Canadians despise and disapprove of, and that is so it can be renamed and called their own.
This is important legislation as it is a step forward toward actually improving our criminal justice system, something that the Liberal government has done little or nothing on for the last five years. This legislation is about ensuring trust is maintained in the justice system and that survivors of sexual assault are respected by the justice system when they do come forward. The bill requires that to be appointed a judge of a Superior Court, an individual must now commit to participate in continuing education on matters related to sexual assault law and social context, including attending seminars.
This would ensure that Superior Court judges are equipped with the knowledge and skills required to address sexual assault trials and ensure that survivors are treated with dignity and respect. It also provides training to not feed into the myths and stereotypes that often cause women to hesitate to come forward. Personally, I would have preferred that, in addition to the new appointments to the bench, all current judges sitting at every level of court that adjudicates sexual offences in this country be required to participate in continuing education on these matters as well, in the same way that this legislation proposes for new Superior Court appointments.
The bill would also require judges to provide reasons for decisions on sexual assault cases. This is good, as it will give more information to victims and improve transparency for the justice system and the public who watch it.
As a former police officer who has given testimony in a wide variety of criminal cases, including numerous sexual assault cases, I have the utmost respect for the significant challenge and burden placed on our judges. Every day they are tasked with appropriately applying the law to determine guilt or innocence as they adjudicate criminal cases. While Canadians enjoy the best justice system in the world, it is not without its flaws. Judges, after all, are human like all of us and are given the incredible responsibility of applying laws written by other humans, namely parliamentarians in the House. We know that sometimes those laws can also be flawed.
We put a great deal of authority and trust in our judges and so ensuring that people who take up this challenging post are properly equipped, we must ensure that they have the necessary training and knowledge to fulfill those responsibilities to the best of their ability and to the expectations of the Canadian public. This training would eliminate misconceptions, myths and stereotypes that often prevent victims of sexual assault, almost always women, from coming forward and pressing charges against their attackers. This is not a minor issue. The number of sexual assaults that occur in Canada and are never reported is staggering.
Statistics Canada reported that only 5% of women who are sexually assaulted come to the attention of police. I suspect that one of the many reasons is because of the women's lack of confidence in our justice system. Far too few of these crimes are reported, and of the 5% that are reported, only 21% have led to a court case. There are many factors in this, including what evidence might be available, how it might be prosecuted, witnesses who are available, any corroborating evidence, attitude of the justice participants, how judges approach the issue, and maybe many others.
Of the 21% that actually get to court, of the 5% who actually reported being assaulted, only 12% of those cases result in conviction. That is 12% of 21% of 5%. In other words, there is a better than 98% chance of not being convicted of sexually assaulting another person in this country. That is unacceptable. Finally, of all those convicted of sexual assault only 7% result in a prison term. These are terrible crimes and they have lasting, lifelong impacts. Getting a conviction on a sexual assault, let alone having someone sentenced, is far too rare. Most victims of crimes of violent sexual assault will usually prefer not to relive the experience over and over again in our courts, living through the trauma multiple times.
Like I said previously, I have investigated many sexual assault crimes. The heartbreaking experiences of victims are further exacerbated by our justice system. The victims feel they are not being believed. The intrusive nature of the evidence-collection process; retelling their experiences, over and over again; sometimes limited victim supports; and lack of convictions reduce the victims' willingness to come forward. If the assailants are convicted, many victims do not feel that the sentence that is given out fits what happened to them.
This bill is the kind of thing that governments should be doing: working to improve our justice system, working to support victims with better services and working so that criminals who assault others are held accountable and put in jail. Support for victims has been sorely lacking in the last few years. There has been lots of support for criminals, including reduced sentences for some serious and violent crimes, but limited support for victims.
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police noted in its brief to Parliament on Bill C-75 that for some criminals, if given reduced sentences, it would mean eliminating certain information being entered into the Canadian Police Information Centre system, including DNA. When the conviction is considered a secondary offence, it eliminates critical information that then limits the ability for police to track and catch that criminal if they commit other crimes. As the CACP put it, this would “have a direct and negative impact on police investigations.” I would add, “and on public safety”.
Canadians should not live in fear. Young women should not live in fear. Victims and their families should not be living in fear. They should have trust and confidence in our justice system. Victims and their rights should always be put ahead of the rights of criminals. Canada's Conservatives recognize that far too often the justice system fails to respect the experiences of victims of sexual assault.
It is time that we end comments and attitudes like that of our Prime Minister, where he said that she “experienced it differently”. Those kinds of excuses allow sexual assaults and sexual harassment to be normalized. Calling it out is a duty of all of us. Acting to stop that kind of behaviour is a responsibility of this House.
My hope is that this bill will be the first step in improving the treatment of victims, increasing the conviction of sexual offenders, improving public safety, and developing the trust and confidence of Canadians in our justice system.