Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity this afternoon to speak to Bill C-3.
To begin with, I want to thank the government for reintroducing this important piece of legislation in this new session of the 43rd Parliament. Members will recall that the original architect of this bill, when it was presented as a private member's bill, Bill C-337, was the former Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose. I want to thank her for her tireless efforts to support and protect survivors of sexual assault.
In short, this bill proposes to require judges to participate in continuing legal education with respect to sexual assault law. It requires the Canadian Judicial Council to submit an annual report to Parliament on the delivery of and participation in sexual assault information seminars established by it. It requires judges to provide reasons for decisions in sexual assault cases.
That is what the bill does, but what is the bill about? It is about ensuring that trust is maintained in the judicial system. Trust is a very important thing. It takes a long time, often a lifetime, to establish trust, but it only takes a moment to destroy it. It is about ensuring survivors of sexual assault are treated with dignity, respect and compassion by the judicial system when they have the courage to come forward.
Sharing about what led her to introduce the previous version of the bill, also called the just act, Ms. Ambrose spoke about her time volunteering at a rape crisis centre while in university. She also shared about a research project that she participated in, a court watch program, and said, “This project basically had student volunteers like me sitting in courtrooms during sexual assault and sexual abuse cases, taking notes about how victims and complainants were treated. It was shocking.”
She went on to share during her speech one of the troubling scenarios she witnessed. She said, “I remember sitting in a courtroom taking notes when a prosecutor was questioning a little girl—when I say little girl, I mean under the age of 12—about how she sat on a defendant's lap. The insinuation was that she was flirting with this man who was in his fifties.”
I am the father of two daughters and the grandfather of six granddaughters. I cannot imagine how I would feel or how I would react if I were to watch one of my daughters or grandchildren, had they been a victim, being treated like that in a court of law. This is not an impressive experience that any Canadian should have in our judicial system.
Tragically, it is young women aged 15 to 24 who have the highest rate of sexual assaults. It is also more likely for victims of self-reported incidents of sexual assaults than it is for victims of robberies and physical assaults for the offender to be known to them. These realities perhaps contribute to another troubling fact, which is that, according to the justice department, the majority of sexual assaults, 83% of them, go unreported to the police.
By requiring judges to stay current with respect to sexual assault laws, Bill C-3 will make sure that sexual assault survivors are treated with dignity, respect and compassion by our justice system.
In addition to the education component, Bill C-3 will also require judges to provide written reasoning for decisions in sexual assault proceedings. This provision offers those engaged with the justice system, and all Canadians, more transparency. More transparency will build trust, and with more trust will come a greater willingness to seek justice when one has been wronged. Only by restoring that trust and confidence in our justice system can we ensure these young women will have access to the justice they deserve.
In our 2019 platform, the Conservative Party committed to requiring all judicial appointees to take sexual assault sensitivity training prior to taking the bench. This bill requires them to commit to taking training prior to taking the bench and is therefore consistent with our party's commitment to defend victims of crime.
I was pleased to support Rona Ambrose's just act in the last Parliament, because there are still instances where the justice system fails to respect the experiences of sexual assault survivors. We owe it to them to address these failings, and Bill C-3 does that.
I want to take a step back from this specific bill for a moment, because in an ideal world we would not need the just act and we would not need Bill C-3. What we need is to be appointing judges who are people of integrity in the first place, judges who recognize the dignity and value of each person before them, and judges who are sensitive to the tragic circumstances that often lead to individuals attending their courtroom.
I am reminded of the story of two wolves, a popular legend often attributed to the Cherokee people. As the story goes, an old Cherokee man was teaching his grandson about life, and he said, “Grandson, a fight is going on inside of me, and it is a terrible fight between two wolves. One is evil. He is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego."
The grandfather continued, “The other wolf is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy generosity, truth, compassion and faith. The same fight is going on in you, grandson, and in every other person as well.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute. He then asked his grandfather, “Grandfather, which wolf will win?”
The grandfather used that opportunity very wisely. He said, “The one we feed.”
The point is that each one of us is feeding those metaphorical wolves every day. We choose which one grows in strength, character and stature. We choose which one wins. Many of us will be familiar with the disturbing comments of one Canadian judge, who asked the sexual assault complainant why she could not just keep her knees together.
This goes to show that our judges are not immune to this kind of struggle, and that is why appointing judges of integrity is critical. Appointing judges of good character and proven track record is essential. Appointing judges who have proven themselves to be good, decent and honourable people is the best starting point that we can have, and from there we keep investing in good people with further training and, in this instance, further training on sexual assault law.
Some might ask why we should train. We have heard the arguments that we train them only for them to leave, and that it is a waste of time and a waste of money. The answer to that is, “What if we do not train them, and they stay?” That, of course, is a worse situation. Training is important, and part of what this bill seeks to accomplish is ongoing training and improvement of our justices.
My Christian faith offers a similar sentiment. Jesus, sharing with a group of people, says that no good tree bears bad fruit and no bad tree bears good fruit, for each tree is known by its fruit. Figs are not gathered from bushes, nor are grapes gathered from a bramble bush. The good person that treasures good in his heart produces good, and an evil person that treasures evil produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart, their mouth speaks. We need to start with good people, and from there continue to invest in good people and good judges through training them to disseminate the justice and to do it with compassion.
At this moment, at the very least, this bill will help judges to feed the right wolf. Furthering education around sexual assault law can help develop a judge's humility, empathy and compassion when dealing with sexual assault survivors. Pulling back the curtain on the rationale behind a judge's decision also encourages a fulsome presentation of truth and can empower victims on their journey to find peace. This is what it looks like, at least in part, to feed the good wolf.
On this side of the House we will always look for ways to stand up for survivors of sexual assault. We will always strive to ensure victims of crime are treated with dignity, respect and compassion. I am thankful today for this opportunity for us to come together to discuss this very important bill, and I am thankful that, across all the party lines in the House, we can come together with the common sense of purpose and unity on this bill.