House of Commons Hansard #12 of the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was judges.

Topics

Judges ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Jennifer O'Connell Liberal Pickering—Uxbridge, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise in support of this legislation. I hope that in this Parliament it will not be blocked again in the Senate and that we can finally implement this important legislation.

Bill C-3 is important. It would ensure that provincial superior court justices would be trained in sexual assault law and in practice with respect to getting rid of the myths that exist in our society around sexual assault, particularly with women. However, this certainly impacts men and the LGBTQ2I community. It would ensure that our legal systems are safe places for victims to share their experiences, that predators are held accountable and that in the future victimization of people can be avoided.

I have been listening to this debate and a number of members have spoken about the statistics. I think most members in the House do so because the statistics are pretty stark. When 30% of women and 8% of men have been sexually assaulted at least once since the age of 15, what kind of society do we live in when this is okay?]

When we compare that to the conviction rate of something like 2%, how can we allow women, boys and others in our society to be assaulted from the time they are 15? If this were any other crime, there would be mass outrage in the country about how this was even possible. I suspect the conviction rate is even lower, because sexual assaults and sexually based assaults are so under-reported in this country and around the world, mainly because of the low conviction rates and because of the re-victimization of victims in the justice system and having to defend that they are not at fault for what happened to them. I would argue that these statistics do not paint the full picture.

As a young woman, I certainly know too many stories of other women being victimized and how often that is ignored or accepted. It is not worth it for them to share their stories, bring their family into it and have others hear about what happened to them. The shame is put on victims instead of on the assailants, where it should be.

In addition to why this training is important and why the conviction rates need to be dramatically increased, I want to share some of the comments that justices in Canada, as well as in the U.S., have made in sexual assault cases and why training and getting rid of the myths need to happen as quickly as possible.

Here are some quotes from justices about victims in cases that they were supposed to be adjudicating: “If you wouldn’t have been there that night, none of this would have happened”; the victim “wasn’t the victim she claimed to be”; “Why couldn't you just keep your knees together?”; the victim was “probably as much in control of the situation“ as the assailant; the body can “shut the whole thing down”; and “It's open season” for intoxicated “women”.

These myths continue to victimize women, continue to keep sexual assault of all genders in the shadows and, more dangerous, continue to allow perpetrators to victimize more people and place fear in those whom they have already victimized.

Human trafficking is a huge issue in this country and around the world. I have often heard from survivors and about their experiences. When the process has gone to court, there has been very little protections with respect to being re-victimized. They have been questioned as to why they are there or how they got into the situation. The defendants in a lot of these cases are still able to contact these victims and pressure them. Therefore, many do not bother moving forward because they have to relive their stories, the assault and the trauma they have gone through in a public way and the re-victimizing.

This bill also talks about making changes to the court process. This was brought up in the earlier question and answer period of this debate, and I am very pleased about that.

It is also important that part of the bill relates not only to the training, but also to the written decisions that will be on the record. There needs to be some public naming and shaming of decisions that have been based on old stereotypes and myths to ensure we have a judicial process that protects victims, not puts them on trial. When it comes to sexual assault, we have seen this far too often.

A big myth in sexual assault cases is the notion of who the real victim is. There are very few other areas of law or criminality where the victim is questioned like in the quotes I read earlier, such as why she was there, or why she drank too much, or why she just could not stop it or she should not have been out so late. It is not a crime for women to wear what they want or be where they want to be. It is as if women have to protect themselves from sexual assault when they need to be protected from predators.

Victims need to be protected from sexual assault. This should be a basic principle in our country and our judiciary should respect that, understand that and should not put the lives of sexual assault victims on trial. Only those who have been accused should be put on trial. They have every right to put up a defence if they have been wrongly accused, but it is not the victims who should have to prove they did not deserve the sexual assault or “had it coming”, which is often attributed to sexual assault victims.

With Bill C-51, as my colleague also brought up in the last round of debate, some of the important changes to amend the Criminal Code have been spoken about in the House, but it is really important to raise such things as an unconscious person being incapable of consenting to sexual activity. This might seem like a basic legal principle. We would not have a valid contract if it had been signed by an unconscious person, yet there was a time in our country where an individual could agree or give consent to sexual activity.

Therefore, it is incredibly important that other changes be made to criminal law as well. This is why continual training is so important, so judges can be kept up to date on our most current laws, that we can ensure that these myths and stereotypes are not repeated, that they are formalized in law, that victims can stop being re-victimized and that people feel safe to come forward, to speak out and to stand up against these predators to help stop further victims from being victimized.

I am very appreciative that the former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose brought forward a bill on this. I hope that after this second round of debate, we can pass it and have real and substantial change in our country.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Madam Speaker, it is interesting that this was originally a private member's bill. One of the things about a private member's bill is that it is somewhat limited in what it can change and it involve spending money on things. However, when it is a government bill, it can be expanded, and basically the sky is the limit. There are many things around sexual assault and changes to the judicial system that could have been put in the bill, such as some of the things the member talked about around human trafficking. This is a big area on which I have been working.

If the sky was the limit and she was picking some stars, what else would the member put in the bill?

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Jennifer O'Connell Liberal Pickering—Uxbridge, ON

Madam Speaker, the way that legislation should be done in the House is not like the former Conservatives with omnibus bills.

In fact, we have made changes on issues around human trafficking. We have had public safety bills and measures. As I mentioned, Bill C-51 talked about changing the Criminal Code.

The bill before us is specifically around superior court justices being trained in sexual assault laws and myths. It is important and we need to move forward with it. Also, we need to ensure that we have broad support, which we have, except I do not understand the Conservative senators who blocked it from moving forward.

However, there is no one silver bullet. If we are serious about gender-based violence, then we need to look at it in multiple ways and put forward legislation like this government has done in multiple areas.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Bloc

Marilène Gill Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Pickering—Uxbridge for her heartfelt speech. In addition to being an MP, I am the mother of one girl and two boys. It is part of my job as a parent to teach, to dispel stereotypes and myths, and to educate my children. There is no such thing as too much education, in my opinion.

When the member pointed out that numbers alone do not tell the whole story, that resonated with me. I have worked in the shelter space, with women's centres and as coordinator for a regional women's organization, so that statement speaks volumes for me.

People talk about the conviction rate, but those numbers are not necessarily the real numbers because people have to actually report assaults in the first place. If my colleague could make those numbers talk, as she said, they would paint a fuller picture than just a percentage.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Jennifer O'Connell Liberal Pickering—Uxbridge, ON

Madam Speaker, I do not have kids, but I often think of parents, especially parents of young girls, and how they prepare their kids for some of these things. We want to dispel myths, but we also want to protect our children. For young boys, we want them to understand how to respect women in a healthy way.

On the statistics, I thank the member for raising this. It is one of the most crucial pieces for legislators. We often rely on statistics to make good decisions. In this case, we know, because of the experiences of victims, that so many more do not come forward. This is even more reason to make the judiciary a more open and inclusive place, so victims feel comfortable and we can get a clearer picture.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, I think it is good for judges to be trained in avoiding bias and stereotypes, but women have to be able to get to that point in the first place. There is a glaring lack of funding for shelters for women who are victims of violence, including spousal violence.

How does the member intend to increase funding so that women have a place to stay when they are in distress?

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Jennifer O'Connell Liberal Pickering—Uxbridge, ON

Madam Speaker, I wholeheartedly agree with the member. In fact, we can never do too much in the area of shelters and protecting women from domestic violence. We have made important announcements for more funding, but I will continue to support this, because the need is there. COVID has proven an even increased need, so I will always continue to work on more. Our government has stepped up, but there will be further need, and I am happy to support it to ensure victims are protected.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Philip Lawrence Conservative Northumberland—Peterborough South, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to start by thanking everyone for their great interventions in this conversation that we have had. It is more of an apt description to call it a conversation as opposed to a debate.

I would also like to take this opportunity to say it was great to hear the words of the parliamentary secretary. I would also like to recommit to him, as we did the first time we went through this, to work with the Province of Ontario to make sure we can have this be more effective, perhaps expanding it to our province, as well. I am looking to working with him and the provincial government to hopefully have it also include something like this in its legislature.

Bill C-3 is an act to amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code. I believe that this bill is fundamentally a step in the right direction. The justice system is of course supposed to be a safe place for victims of sexual assault. However, as many have commented, as a member of the bar and as a member of the justice system, I have seen complainants revictimized by the system over and over again.

Sexual assault is the only violent crime in Canada that is not declining. Out of over 500,000 sexual assaults, only 3% are reported to the police. While one in three women and one in eight men will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime, the majority of sexual assault crimes are not reported to police. In fact, of all the types of crime, sexual assault is the least reported to police. While the rate of self-reported sexual assaults has remained relatively stable, the percentage of offences reported to police has dropped from 12% in 2009 to 5% in 2014.

Why is it that victims of sexual assault just do not feel comfortable going to the justice system for support?

It is estimated, as some of my colleagues have commented, that fewer than 1% of sexual assault cases experienced by women lead to an offender being convicted. Believe it or not, this is even worse for vulnerable women in our society. Young women, women with disabilities, indigenous women, particularly those in the north and the territories, have a much more heightened risk of sexual assault.

To highlight this, to say that these are not just words, they are not just numbers, I would like to tell a story of the truth of a 12-year-old aboriginal girl who lived in Saskatchewan. This comes from Sexual Assault in Canada, edited by Elizabeth Sheehy. This young lady had a fight with her parents, as many teenagers have, and, as many teenagers have in the past, myself included, she went to blow off steam. She walked down the road. Unfortunately, she met up with three men who befriended her and gave her alcohol. Eventually, they got her intoxicated to the point of vomiting. At this point, they decided to hold her down and rape her. When they dropped her off at her friend's house, she was frantically crying and screaming.

Two of these three men were found not guilty, as the judge believed the testimony that they thought she was over 15 and had consented. This, despite the fact that she was 12, drunk, being held down and was vomiting at the time. One of the three men was convicted. He received a sentence of two years less a day, hardly having the book thrown at him.

To make it all worse, to make the trauma even worse for this young lady, the police officer, when questioned in court, said, of the intoxicated 12-year-old girl, “Well, she might have been the sexual aggressor.”

For this to go on in Canada is utterly and completely unacceptable. It is really incomprehensible that in this great country of Canada we have things like this going on. While I cannot begin to imagine what it is like for a victim of a sexual assault to have had this experience, I know there are many reasons why victims may not come forward. Victims might experience a range of psychological responses. They might feel grief, shame or denial, and these are reasons why they do not feel comfortable. To make it worse, they may not have faith in our criminal justice system.

It has been reported that women feel revictimized, over and over again. In the last 10 years, as some of my colleagues have mentioned, these are some of the statements from justices. One commented, “Well, why could she not just keep her knees together?” Another commented, “Why did the victim not scream?” One of the worst I have heard is, “Why did the victim not simply skew her pelvis to avoid penetration?”

I am paraphrasing because the actual language in these comments is unparliamentary. How anyone, particularly a justice, can think they are appropriate in a court of law is astonishing. Our government, our justice system and our society must do better.

According to the Canadian Women's Foundation, while 96% of Canadians believe all sexual activity should be consensual, only one in three Canadians actually understand the meaning of the word consent. We have to make sure judges are not part of that two out of three and they understand that unless there is a clear “yes”, it is a “no.” Coming forward and reporting assault to police is hard enough for women. We need to do everything we can to ensure victims of sexual assault are supported. The justice system is the last thing they should fear.

Women who have had the courage and perseverance to make it through years in the justice system, reliving their pain every step of the way, are often faced with yet another blow. The perpetrator, the one who has changed their lives forever and destroyed dreams, brought on addiction, poverty and a lifetime of mental illness, will be given an almost non-existent sentence.

According to StatsCan, from 2009 to 2014 only 21% of sexual assaults completed their court case within six years. Some 60% of those cases were pleaded down to a lesser offence, so the perpetrator avoids custody for the most part. For cases that made it to completion, approximately half, or 55%, will result in any time in prison for the perpetrator. Of the tiny percentage of sexual assault perpetrators who are actually sentenced, most will not receive a day in prison. What will they receive? Average probation for sexual assault is 730 days. A woman's life is destroyed and the price is a couple of years of checking in with one's parole officer. That is not good enough.

If there is anything we can do in the system for victims of sexual assault we should do it, and we should do it not tomorrow, not today, but yesterday. I will definitely be supporting this bill. In fact, I salute the government for bringing it forward and thank it for doing so. Perhaps by giving the judges the necessary training, we can avoid the outlandish comments in the future and give victims more confidence in our justice system so they know they will be treated with respect when they perform the act of bravery of confronting their perpetrator.

Fixing the criminal justice system is about helping our federal judges begin to understand the suffering of our victims and teaching our judges to be more compassionate toward victims. The bill is not simply about fixing our justice system, it is about making Canada a safer place for all women and children.

I am a son, a brother, a husband and a father. I worry about my loved ones. I worry about my five-year-old daughter. I find the history of our justice system appalling. We need to make Canada a safer place, a place where victims have faith in our justice system, where everyone knows the meaning of consent, where women can feel comfortable walking alone, walking with anyone and walking anywhere they want wearing whatever they want, knowing society will always be there to protect them.

Bill C-3 is a positive change, albeit a modest one, that will help Canada be a safer place for my daughter, my mother, my sisters and for all Canadians. I will be supporting it wholeheartedly.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his heartfelt and impassioned speech. The points he raised are quite valid.

We debated the bill and it was passed by the House of Commons in the previous Parliament. It even made it to the Senate. At this point, the five parties in the House unanimously agree that it should pass. Everyone agrees that it is very important and is a step in the right direction.

This week, one of our colleagues proposed that we fast-track the bill, which was introduced by the Conservative Party. However, the Conservatives refused to expedite the process.

Why do the Conservatives not want to expedite the process to pass a Conservative bill?

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Philip Lawrence Conservative Northumberland—Peterborough South, ON

Madam Speaker, that was a terrific question from the hon. member, indeed. This discussion in the House of Commons is what separates us from totalitarian regimes. It is what makes our government better than communist regimes.

Debate is of critical importance. In fact, yesterday I was a witness to some of the most moving interventions I have ever seen in this House or outside. The member for Saint-Laurent talked about the difficult neighbourhood she grew up in and how now she has created a path for hopefully hundreds of thousands of girls to follow and that anyone can make it from anywhere. I heard from her about personal challenges. She shared with us her pain and suffering. It deeply moved me and it made me feel uncomfortable in a very good way.

Then I heard from the member for Calgary Nose Hill

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I do have to interrupt for another question. There is only five minutes of questions and comments.

The hon. member for Jonquière.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Mario Simard Bloc Jonquière, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague's speech.

My colleague shared some rather frightening scenarios. In my view, this only reinforces the need to act quickly, and my colleague even touched on that. I think we need to set partisanship aside and pass the bill quickly. This is not about shutting down the debate; it is about hearing victims' testimony. The best way to serve the interests of victims is to act as quickly as possible.

Does my colleague agree with me on that?

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Philip Lawrence Conservative Northumberland—Peterborough South, ON

Madam Speaker, I will use this as an opportunity to finish off my comments with respect to the member for Calgary Nose Hill. She talked about systemic misogyny with comments that, once again, should make us all feel uncomfortable as Canadians, and all the men in the House and elsewhere feel a little bit uncomfortable, which will move our country to be better. I believe that this debate has made Canada a better and more open country.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, to continue on from the member's last statement, would he not then agree that it would be advisable for the Conservative Party to use one of its days of opposition motions to continue the debate on the broader issue of the impact of sexual assault?

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Philip Lawrence Conservative Northumberland—Peterborough South, ON

Madam Speaker, no. Obviously, the government has a lot of opportunity to talk about this and we are pleased to talk about this business. We thank the government for bringing it forward.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Madam Speaker, it is my privilege and honour to rise in my place to add my voice to this very important debate. It has been five years since I was elected, and in those five years I have worked a lot on issues regarding the court system, its handling of sexual assault and human trafficking cases and how to get justice for victims.

This bill is a substantial departure for the Liberals, so I thank them for bringing it forward. Typically, when the Liberals try to fix the justice system, they reduce sentencing. That has been their road map. We saw that with Bill C-75 in the last Parliament. Their solution to fixing backlogs in the court system was to reduce sentencing, and they have been unwilling to take on the justice system and say they get things wrong. On this side of the House, we have been ready to say a certain decision was wrong or was not good enough, or we brought in mandatory minimum sentences to try to fix many of the outrageous deficiencies in the justice system.

This bill is a departure for the Liberals, so I welcome it. They are acknowledging that there is an issue in the court system, a lack of appreciation for victims in the court system. This bill goes some of the way to help that along and fix some of the problems.

I would like to step back a bit. Statistics have been brought up several times. I have been in the House of Commons all morning listening to the speeches, and the stats on sexual assault continue to be brought up. We should be working to have a society in which sexual assault does not happen. If sexual assault did not happen, we would not be talking about conviction rates and that kind of thing. We could have a law on the books for sexual assault and it would not happen, and, therefore, whether judges were educated on this issue would be a moot point because they would not be dealing with those cases.

That said, the rate of sexual assault across the country is going up dramatically, and in other areas of my work in this place I put forward some ideas on why that is. Motion No. 47 was passed in the last Parliament. It addressed misogynistic and sexually explicit material online and how that was impacting Canadian society. There was some good work done at the committee, but the government has failed to capitalize on the committee report, the voices of people who have been victimized and the voices of academics working in this area. They show us that we are in the greatest social experiment in human history, given online sexually explicit content and the education our youth get through that regarding their sexuality. I hope the government is going to be pursuing that. An initiative I have been working on is meaningful age verification, and I hope the government is looking at that too.

There is another part of the debate here today: While the Liberals have brought forward a bill, it is basically a rehash of a private members' bill from my side of the House, though I salute them for that. It is now a government bill, and they had the opportunity to bring forward a bill that contained a whole suite of things they could do to fix the issue of sexual assault in our country. Judge education is an important one, but it is a bit downstream from the issues.

The Bible says that the law will not save us, and that is the case here as well. The best laws in the country will not save us. The law always comes into effect after the fact. It allows us to bring perpetrators to justice, but before that, it does not save us. That is important to recognize.

We should be cultivating in humanity and in the citizens of our country a culture where sexual assault is unthinkable, where individuals hold each other accountable, where there is a large sense of community and where messing with one of us means messing with all of us. In doing so, there would be strong relationships within our society that could prevent this kind of thing from happening. I hope that we can get back to that, as it is more upstream from where this bill is at. That said, I will be supporting this bill, for sure.

Over the past five years, I have been working hard to end human trafficking and specifically the sex trafficking that happens across the world. This is a large and growing issue in our country. The average sex-trafficking case is happening within 10 blocks of where we live, so let us keep our eyes peeled. If we see something, there is a national hotline we can call. It primarily targets women and girls. In Canada, it is estimated that 50% of people caught up in human trafficking and sex trafficking are indigenous. This is to our shame, and we need to be working very hard on this as well.

One interesting thing has happened, particularly with Bill C-75 from the last Parliament, regarding conviction rates and convictions in human trafficking cases. One thing we brought in during the Parliament prior to my getting here, through a bill by the Bloc and the NDP that passed in 2013, was consecutive sentencing for human traffickers. The Liberals sat on this for three years and finally passed it into Bill C-75, but they removed the part about consecutive sentencing and made it concurrent sentencing.

There have been some egregious court decisions that have come out since, and I will give some examples.

Imani Nakpangi was a human trafficker who sold two girls in the Toronto area. He trafficked these girls for almost two years. He ended up being the first person in Canada convicted under our new human trafficking laws. In one case, he received a three-year sentence for trafficking a girl for over two years, but spent only 13 months in prison. This gentleman had made $350,000 selling the body of a young girl and he spent less time in prison being rehabilitated than he spent trafficking this girl.

There was the case of Michael Mark. He received a two-year sentence. He victimized a 17-year-old girl for over two years and spent only a week in prison after his conviction.

These are some egregious examples where the justice system has, in my opinion, made mistakes. These are things we need to work to correct. While I commend the government for this bill today, it seems to be at odds with other things the government has done, particularly Bill C-75. We see the insignificant sentences that came from it.

We also see, over and over again, this place attempt to bring the judiciary to bear on these things by creating minimums, because we cannot let these guys out of jail after spending one week in prison for trafficking a girl for two years. We create a minimum for that, like a three-year or 10-year minimum sentence, but we see the courts strike those down, so there are, to some degree, some issues in the judiciary. This place has the ability, opportunity and mandate to direct that to some degree, so that is what we are doing.

I already talked about consecutive versus concurrent sentencing. It has been troublesome to get things going there. The bill from 2013 also had other tools for the police to use to help convict human traffickers, but the Liberals never brought that into force. They left it on the table for three years before they passed it in Bill C-75, while taking out the consecutive sentencing.

There are serious crimes that are being perpetrated in this country, and we need to ensure that judges get things right.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Parkdale—High Park Ontario

Liberal

Arif Virani LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, in terms of the references the member made to Bill C-75, I submit that it is a good day for those of us who were behind Bill C-75. The Supreme Court just upheld the provisions in that legislation that deal with eliminating peremptory challenges when selecting jurors. This ensures we will not have a tragedy of justice like what we saw with the trial of Gerald Stanley.

I appreciate the member's comments, and in his five years in the House I have always thought of him as a thoughtful member. I note that he has done a lot of work on the issue of human trafficking, which he mentioned today. Addressing human trafficking and, more broadly speaking, the issue of sexual violence requires a judiciary that is sensitized to these issues, that is fully up to speed on the current state of the law, that is transparent in providing reasons, etc.

Given that background and his commitment to this pressing issue, which is very closely connected to what the bill is about, he said that he supports the bill. Would that support translate into getting the bill efficaciously and expeditiously to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, where any amendments that might be needed could be moved and debated?

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Madam Speaker, I agree that we should get this to committee as soon as possible. However, I point out that the committee is not constituted at this point, so whether the bill passes today, tomorrow or next week, there is no committee for it yet. It is important to let us have this debate and get these issues on the record.

The other thing I will say is that the bill could have been broader. I would have liked to see a discussion of special courts. I know there are special courts for a whole host of issues. In Alberta, we have some really cool special courts for family law and child abuse. I would have liked to see some of that in the bill.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, since we began our discussions this morning, I have noticed that some hon. members would rather that we not debate this type of topic. That amazes me because so far the testimonies have been heartfelt. I am very pleased to take part in this debate and to hear my hon. colleagues from all parties in the House on these very specific subjects.

I would like to thank my hon. colleague for his speech. I have the following question for him. In addition to Bill C-3, what do you think the government should do to ensure that we live in a society with a justice system that is fair for everyone?

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Madam Speaker, as I alluded to in my reply to the last question, one area that we could look at is special courts. In Ontario, we have seen drug courts, and they have had very good success in getting prosecutors and judges who are versed in a particular area of law to not only bring justice to a situation, but also bring renewal and rehabilitation through the justice system. I would like to see us pursue that model more. In Alberta, we have child advocacy centres, which allow a child witness to be videotaped. This can be used over and over again, rather than revictimizing them over and over again. These are the kinds of things I would have like to see in the bill.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member has been discussing a subject near and dear to my heart, and that is human trafficking. With the bill and with some of the other things that the government has done, he pointed out that the government has removed the emphasis on consecutive sentencing and has instead put in concurrent sentencing.

I am wondering if he could expand on his thoughts about why the government would favour volume discounts for multiple crimes?

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague for her mentorship in this place. As she has announced, she is retiring. She is one of the first MPs I met when I came here, and I have always appreciated her opinions and advice. She even has a little book called Book of Commons Sense. It is a great little book. I use it often, and I often share the tips she put in it with new members.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Luc Desilets Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, we are here today to again debate the Judges Act and the Criminal Code.

Bill C-3 amends the Judges Act to restrict eligibility for judicial appointment to persons who undertake to participate in continuing education on matters related to sexual assault law and social context. It also amends the Judges Act to require that the Canadian Judicial Council report on seminars dealing with matters related to sexual assault law. The purpose of these seminars is to ensure that this theme is addressed in the continuing education of judges. Finally, the bill amends the Criminal Code to require that judges provide reasons for decisions in sexual assault proceedings.

This bill would have been passed two months ago if not for the prorogation by the Prime Minister, which was totally useless given the empty throne speech and Prime Minister's address to the nation. This has delayed our work and obviously upended our schedule and parliamentary agenda. We have lost two months because the government wanted to flee Parliament and politics in general to avoid the ire of the opposition over yet another Liberal scandal. How cynical, some might say.

We were elected as legislators to provide solutions and make the changes expected and desired by Quebeckers. There needs to be more co-operation and less partisanship, less squabbling and more collaborating. That is what everyone says they want, but every day we often see that is not the case despite the good will of some.

Sexual assault trials resonate strongly with ordinary people. In fact, they obviously have a serious impact on the reputation and life of those involved and they also revictimize the survivors of sexual assault. Unfortunately, this type of trial sometimes gives rise to problematic interpretations of the law. It is in this spirit that the bill proposes that candidates seeking to be appointed as judges must agree to participate in ongoing training on matters related to sexual assault law and social context.

In almost all these cases, a judge must assess the credibility of the witnesses, the victim and the accused. The judge's assessment can be influenced by preconceived notions that do not stem from malice, but from their lived experience, perceptions and culture.

The topic of training is something I relate to. I was a school principal for more than 20 years, and this was a topic and a problem that I had to work on and deal with almost every day. We had to work hard to get past the mindset that once someone got a degree they had mastered the subject. Times have changed, obviously, and we have come a long way. We have paid the price in recent years for that whole period of time when there was no continuing education. Now, graduating from university means the beginning of continuing education, which continues right up until retirement, for any field you can imagine.

It is all well and good for a teacher in the school system to have gotten a good education, but young people change and the way they learn changes. Boys need a different kind of stimulation than girls do, the curriculum changes at lightning speed and evaluation systems also go through drastic changes. A teacher cannot teach the same way today that they taught five, 10 or 15 years ago.

It goes without saying that we need to adapt our approach to the current context. Nevertheless, many people think that changes to training often fail to keep pace with society's needs, and I completely agree.

Ongoing training is top priority in every sector. There is an old saying: Adapt or die. In this case, with this bill, we might say, “Adapt or lose your credibility”.

People in our riding who know that we are debating this bill tell us this is fundamental. It just makes sense. I am hearing the same thing in Rivière-des-Mille-Îles as other MPs are elsewhere. Constituents are asking us to move forward, to stop stalling and to pass this bill quickly.

Making sure that judges get adequate ongoing sexual assault training will enable them to dig into cases differently, to ask questions the right way and to better understand witnesses' reality. Let us not forget that witnesses must testify in front of their attackers. Training will undoubtedly improve their rulings too. This bill will also make rulings more consistent, give our judges more credibility, and, most importantly, boost our justice system's credibility with respect to victims of sexual assault.

I am the father of a beautiful and amazing grown-up 30-year-old daughter. I protected her, coddled her and taught her as best I could. However, I often felt like I had to fight to protect her against a rather macho world, a world of men who all too often tend to denigrate women. These old tendencies remain in our society. I tried to shelter my daughter from the mean-spirited influence of certain uniquely male perspectives, certain stereotypes, myths and prejudices. At the very least, I take comfort in the fact that my daughter did not have to go through the court system. That would have been very painful for both her and for me.

This bill is a step forward. It is a start, a beginning. It is high time we took action to restore women's confidence in the justice system. Obviously, any action we take must respect the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces. Making sure that judges are informed, in touch with the evolution of our society and more understanding of complainants' circumstances can only have a positive impact on our Quebec society.

What we want is for judges to be more transparent and more accountable when rendering decisions in sexual assault cases. We want these decisions to be reasoned and justified.

That is why the Bloc Québécois will be pleased to vote in favour of this bill. We will vote in favour of victims, all victims. I encourage the House to pass this bill quickly as a sign of respect for all victims of sexual assault, whether they be male or female.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, what is really encouraging is the fact that we have before us a piece of legislation that appears to have the support of virtually all members of the House.

This is not new to the House. It has come in different forms. It started with Rona Ambrose, the former interim leader of the Conservative Party, in the form of a private member's bill. The idea was shared with the Prime Minister, the government and all members, and then brought in as a government piece of legislation, which was ultimately passed through first reading, second reading, committee stage and third reading, and went to the Senate. Unfortunately, due to the election, it never did receive the necessary royal assent. Today, we have it before us once again.

I am wondering if the member could reinforce his thoughts in regard to how encouraging it is when members of the House come together, virtually unanimously, to support positive legislation such as this.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

October 8th, 2020 / 11:45 a.m.

Bloc

Luc Desilets Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

We can argue back and forth across the House. The government decided to prorogue Parliament. As for the Conservatives, they unfortunately delayed the passage of the bill.

This is the third time we are debating this bill, and we all hope it will be the last. The idea is to vote in favour of this bill as soon as possible.