Legislative changes seek to ensure sexual assault survivors are treated with dignity and compassion
Amendments to the Judges Act and to the Criminal Code, aiming to improve confidence among sexual assault survivors and the general public in the criminal justice system, have come into force with royal assent.
Changes to the Judges Act, RSC 1985, c J-1 require candidates seeking appointment to a provincial superior court to undergo continuing education on matters relating to sexual assault law and social context, said a news release. This social context training, which covers systemic racism and systemic discrimination, aims to ensure that judges have the awareness and skills needed to treat court users with respect and fairness.
Amendments to the Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46 obligate judges to provide written reasons or to enter such reasons into the record when dealing with sexual assault matters, with a view to enhancing transparency in the handling of these cases.
“We remain committed to addressing issues of violence against women, including sexual violence,” said David Lametti, federal justice minister and attorney general, in the news release. Lametti recognized the judiciary’s continuing efforts to tackle such issues.
The legislative changes seek to ensure that judges possess the awareness, skills and knowledge of sexual assault law to handle matters in a manner which treats sexual assault survivors with dignity and compassion, which refrains from relying on myths and stereotypes about sexual assault and which understands the social context and the factors potentially impacting engagement with the justice system.
“Too few survivors feel confident coming forward and of those who do, only a small fraction result in a conviction,” said Maryam Monsef, women, gender equality and rural economic development minister. “Canadians expect better.”
Monsef noted that the government’s efforts to address the issue of sexual assault are even more urgent in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Canadian Judicial Council worked closely with the National Judicial Institute in developing the professional development requirements for superior court judges. The institute, which coordinates judicial education in the country, will offer the new judicial training required by the legislative amendments. This is in accordance with the constitutional principle of judicial independence, which imposes judicial control over the training and education of judges and affects public confidence in the judiciary.
The government’s work to address the issues of sexual violence and gender-based violence is informed by survivors and their families, said Monsef.
The new legislation, which originated as a private member’s bill introduced by Rona Ambrose, was amended to add social context education for judges, was adopted unanimously in the House of Commons and was further amended by the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, but did not become law before the 42nd Parliament dissolved.
On Sept. 25, 2020, the legislation was again introduced in the House of Commons and amended by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, before it finally came into force this month