Proposed bill on sexual assault awareness training for judges ‘above politics,’ Ambrose says

Former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose says she expects all-party support to finally pass legislation to require judges to undergo sensitivity training before they can preside over sexual assault cases.

The Liberals introduced Bill C-5, an Act to amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code, on Tuesday morning. If passed, it would ensure that all newly appointed provincial superior court judges undergo training to learn about the myths and stereotypes still associated with sexual assault cases.

It also would require the Canadian Judicial Council to report on ongoing efforts to provide similar training to sitting judges, and would amend the Criminal Code to ensure judges are putting their reasons on the record when they rule on sexual assault cases.

The bill mirrors legislation Ambrose introduced last session, with some tweaks.

“There are some issues … that really are above politics,” the former Conservative MP said today, flanked by Minister for Women and Gender Equality Maryam Monsef and Justice Minister David Lametti.

“It’s a great message to send to victims across the country that members of the House of Commons, who are here elected by people across Canada, are doing work to support victims of sexual assault, but also working hard to ensure we have more confidence in our system.”

Watch: Lametti reintroduces Ambrose bill to train judges on sex assault trials

Federal Justice Minister David Lametti and former Interim Leader Rona Ambrose spoke with reporter in the Foyer of the House of Commons on Monday 1:18

Ambrose pointed to a May 2019 Supreme Court decision to order a new trial for the man accused of killing Cindy Gladue — a case that unleashed public outrage over how the Indigenous victim was treated by Canada’s criminal justice system.

The court found that the justice system failed to protect Gladue and that so-called “rape shield” laws were not followed during Barton’s trial when the jury heard evidence of her past sexual activities before holding a separate hearing.

“She was the victim in the case. She was not referred to as the complainant. She was referred to repeatedly during the trial as an Aboriginal prostitute and never did the judge say, ‘This not appropriate language.’ That is not appropriate language and that is clear in the law,” said Ambrose. 

Before stepping down in 2017, Ambrose introduced the Judicial Accountability Through Sexual Assault Law Training Act, sponsored by then-NDP leader Thomas Mulcair.

Frustration with the Senate 

It passed the House of Commons with bipartisan support before languishing in the Senate.

“We passed it within four months in the House of Commons and it’s been stuck in the Senate for almost two years,” Ambrose told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics in late 2018.

“Because it’s already been studied in the House, it’s possible this could be done quite quickly.”

Ambrose has said that the law was not about assigning blame, but rather was crafted to prevent judges who believe in sexual assault stereotypes from presiding over such trials.

It was inspired in part by the example of former Federal Court Justice Robin Camp, who was forced to resign from the bench after the Canadian Judicial Council ruled that he “showed obvious disdain for some of the characteristics of the regime enacted by Parliament in respect of sexual assault issues.”

That edict came after the CJC conducted an inquiry into a 2014 sexual assault trial — during which Camp asked the alleged victim of a sexual assault, “Why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?”

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