Madam Speaker, as I give my first speech in this session of the 43rd Parliament, I would like to thank the amazing people in my riding of Port Moody—Coquitlam, Anmore and Belcarra for allowing me the privilege to stand here today. I want them to know that it is my joy and honour to serve them, especially during this unique and challenging time in Canadian history.
I am grateful to stand here in the House of Commons as a woman speaking on Bill C-3, legislation that I trust will mark one step forward in the healing and empowering of women and girls to thrive and beautify the world with their vision, wisdom and love. I would like to thank the Hon. Rona Ambrose, former interim leader of the Conservative Party of Canada and the official opposition. She originally introduced it as Bill C-337 on February 27, 2017. I am encouraged to see this legislation adopted by the Liberal government earlier this year as Bill C-5 and reintroduced in this session as Bill C-3. I am happy to see many members contribute their ideas, thoughts and feelings during the course of debate on the bill.
One in three women around the world is victim to physical or sexual violence. In Canada, young women aged 15 to 24 years have the highest rate of sexual assaults, 71 incidents for every population of 1,000. The impact of COVID-19 has created an environment of an increase in violence against women and girls, but I know there is hope because of counsellors, social workers and community outreach programs on the front lines across Canada that provide a safe oasis for vulnerable and victimized women.
On that note, I would like to thank Tri-City Transitions, a shelter for domestically abused women and children in my community. The unconditional love and caring work of women like Carol Metz and her counsellors help the women in my community find hope to heal and the courage to break free from the cycles of abuse and violence.
I am also grateful for the tireless work of champions like Mary O'Neill and recovery programs like Talitha Koum that provide caring mentorship to help women reclaim their lives, not only from addiction but many times the trauma behind their substance abuse. I thank them for being beacons of hope to women who are hiding in the shadows of fear, broken will and shattered self-image. The sad truth is that the fact that we need more shelters and programs for victims of domestic violence and assault, and the fact that they exist, shows a broken system that allows the cycle to perpetuate. This cycle must stop.
I support Bill C-3, an act to amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code, because it is one step in a long series of many steps we must take to break the cycle of violence and abuse against women. Bill C-3 addresses the lack of justice for women in the court of law by seeking to improve the interactions between sexual assault complainants and the justice system, specifically the judiciary. Bill C-3 seeks to amend the Judges Act to restrict eligibility of who may be appointed a judge of a superior court by requiring them to commit to undertaking and participating in continuing education on matters related to sexual assault law and social context, including attending seminars.
This bill also requires the Canadian Judicial Council to submit an annual report to Parliament on delivery and participation in the sexual assault information seminars established by it. Bill C-3 also requires judges to provide reasons for their decisions in sexual assault cases.
We need only look at a couple of incidents as prototypes of court decisions that show reviling misogyny and biases. Robin Camp, a former federal judge, in 2014, when the alleged rape victim was testifying, asked her why she could not just keep her knees together. Throughout the trial, he criticized her for not screaming while the alleged assault took place and suggested she wanted to have sex. Camp later acquitted the defendant, Alexander Wagar. After acquitting him, he told the defendant, “I want you to tell your friends, your male friends, that they have to be far more gentle with women.” This is absolutely disgusting.
Cindy Gladue, an indigenous woman, was paid for sex by Bradley Barton, the alleged killer, and was found dead in a pool of blood in a motel room after a violent death. I dare not repeat how graphic that picture was because it is just so reviling. The judge presiding over the trial repeatedly referred to her as native and a prostitute. Barton was acquitted because of biases formed against Gladue's history. Such appalling incidents further victimize and silence women from speaking up. It is also unjust for families of victims.
The majority, 83%, of sexual assaults are not reported to police. These two examples alone illustrate very clearly the cause of this hesitation: 67% of women in Canada have no confidence in the justice system and of the 20% of women who take their cases to court, only 10% that make it to court come out with convictions. Among those convicted, only 7% of the perpetrators actually get punished with jail time. Others get probation or fines at the judge's discretion. There is no justice, so why would these women pursue it?
Insult is added to injury when they are left to walk away, feeling like the ones who were sentenced. When an agent of authority like a federal judge gaslights a woman before the court, where does that leave her? There is no justice for that woman. That little seedling of self- esteem she fought to salvage is trampled, but the chain of injustice is long.
There is fear of retaliation from perpetrators when they are not locked up in jail and are free to stalk and repeat their offences, and perhaps even go further and murder the victims. The lack of support, condemnation, shaming and shunning that victims experience from taboos and cultural stigmas prevent women from speaking up. If the perpetrator is someone she knows, like a friend, acquaintance or neighbour, as is the case in 52% of sexual assault incidents, it is even harder.
The court's decision can take away a victim's credibility in the community and inevitably put a toll on the mental and physical health of that victim. It takes a lot of courage for women who have experienced sexual assault to speak up.
I just want to pause here and commend and congratulate the women who have taken steps to speak up and go to the courts. This is why we are standing here as parliamentarians. They inspire us. It takes a lot of courage for women who have experienced sexual assault to speak up and seek the justice they deserve. They have to relive the trauma when speaking about it. If they go forward to the courts, they risk being condemned for speaking up.
Similarly, it does not help when families of victims like those who came forward with testimonies for the report on missing and murdered indigenous women and girls have to relive their traumas through the retelling of their stories and now still await action from the government. However, I hope that these discussions will inspire the government to take action more quickly.
I am very proud that my Conservative colleagues in the last Parliament supported the “JUST Act”, because we recognized that the justice system failed to respect the experiences of victims of sexual assault far too often. I would like to thank Ms. Ambrose again for her work on this important file.
As I support Bill C-3, I do so with a hope that it is an important step among lawmakers in Canada to improve the justice system to work for all people, including women and girls, and not against them. Bill C-3 is a positive beginning, but simply that. I hope the passage of the bill will not give license to the government or my colleagues across all aisles to simply relax, because the bill does not get to the root of violence against women.
If we are to break the cycle of violence against women, we need to get to the root. The root begins with the family and the way women are treated by their intimate partners and their parents. Domestic violence breeds abuse and violence. There needs to be more education, awareness and a breaking of the code of shame and silence. Speaking with women's shelters, men also need mentoring and accountability. They are a missing part of the puzzle that is necessary to make the healing journey for families and society fulsome.
Indigenous communities need all the support they can get to help their women, and the provinces cannot do all of this alone. We need all tiers of government and all community front-line agencies to work together to create long-term solutions. Prevention will save lives.
My mandate as a member of Parliament is to contribute to the making and passing of laws and policies that will help heal individuals, families and society, so each person will prosper, so Canada will prosper and that personal peace will help build a strong and free nation. Bill C-3 is a bill that I am happy to support and reminds me why I am here. However, let us not applaud too loud, lest we become complacent and fail to do the daunting work that lies ahead: to heal our women and our nation.