THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS
OTTAWA, Wednesday, March 31, 2021
The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs met by videoconference this day at 4:30 p.m. [ET] to study Bill C-3, An Act to amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code.
Senator Mobina S. B. Jaffer (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators, I’m Senator Mobina Jaffer from British Columbia. I have the pleasure of chairing this committee.
Today we’re holding a meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. Before we begin, I’d like to make several useful suggestions that we think will help ensure an effective and productive meeting.
If you have any problems with the interpretation, please let Mark or myself know. If there are any technical problems, please contact Mark.
I will do my best to get to everyone who wants to ask a question of the witnesses. In order to do so, I ask senators to try to keep their questions and preambles to questions brief. Members will have three minutes, and if members use two of their minutes asking their question, the witness will only have one minute to answer the question.
I ask that you signal to the clerk only if you are not a member of the committee and you have a question. Otherwise, I will call on you. I will try to accommodate everybody who has a question.
Honourable senators, today we’re continuing our study of Bill C-3, An Act to amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code. I’ll now take a few moments to introduce the committee members participating in today’s meeting.
We have deputy chair, Senator Batters; deputy chair, Senator Campbell; Senator Boisvenu, the critic of the bill; Senator Boniface; Senator Pate; Senator Dalphond, the sponsor of the bill; Senator Dupuis; Senator Frum; Senator Keating; Senator Mégie; Senator Tannas. We also have Senator Gold, Leader of the Government in the Senate, participating, as well as Senator LaBoucane-Benson and Senator Boyer.
For the first panel, we have, from the University of Windsor and Humane Canada, Amy J. Fitzgerald, Professor of Criminology, Animal and Interpersonal Abuse Research Group; and Betty Barrett, Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Social Work, Animal and Interpersonal Abuse Research Group; from Quebec Native Women Inc., Viviane Michel, President; and Léa Serier, Justice and Public Security Coordinator; and as an individual, Diane Tremblay.
I will call on Professor Fitzgerald to start. You have five minutes.
Amy J. Fitzgerald, Professor of Criminology, Animal and Interpersonal Abuse Research Group, University of Windsor and Humane Canada: Thank you to the esteemed members of the committee for allowing us this opportunity to speak. I’m Amy Fitzgerald, and my colleague Betty Barrett is here as well, and we are the founders of the Animal and Interpersonal Abuse Research Group — otherwise known as AIPARG — at the University of Windsor.
I also serve on Humane Canada’s Violence Link Coalition. Dr. Barrett and I have spent almost two decades researching the relationship between animal abuse, domestic violence and the intersection of the two, commonly known as “the link.” Our work has been funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada as well as through a Harvard Animal Law & Policy fellowship that I held last year. We are honoured to have the opportunity to speak with you today and share our expertise on “the link” to support its inclusion in Bill C-3.
We would like to highlight for you four key arguments for the inclusion of information on “the link” in this bill. We will draw on insights from the body of scholarship in this area, findings from our own research and the lived experiences of survivors.
We must warn you that some of what you will hear today reflects the shocking and heartbreaking violations of women and animals by perpetrators of violence. We share this information with you not to intentionally disturb you — although that is a common reaction to our work — but rather to illustrate clearly why we believe consideration of “the link” in Bill C-3 is advisable.
First, sexual violence is part of the constellation of abusive behaviours enacted by perpetrators of domestic violence. Domestic violence involving sexual abuse results in more severe consequences for survivors than domestic violence without sexual abuse. Research has suggested that just under one in five women in the general population experience sexual violence at the hands of a romantic partner. In Canada, approximately 17% of police-reported sexual assault cases involve a perpetrator who was an intimate partner of the victim. The proportion is certainly higher among unreported cases.
Research indicates that domestic violence survivors who are victimized sexually by their partners experience higher levels of physical injury and more severe and longer-lasting trauma than domestic violence survivors who do not experience sexual violence. Because intimate partners have ongoing access to their victims, research has also suggested that sexual violence committed by an intimate partner is more likely to be ongoing, involve multiple incidents over time and include incidents of longer duration than sexual violence committed by other types of perpetrators. Intimate-partner sexual violence has also been identified as a high-risk marker for intimate-partner homicide.
Therefore, even though domestic violence and sexual assault are often conceptualized as distinct phenomena, it is essential that judges who will be deliberating in cases of sexual violence have a contextual understanding of its relationship to domestic violence and other forms of violence in the home, including violence against companion animals.
Second, animal abuse is part of the constellation of abusive behaviours enacted by perpetrators of domestic violence. Domestic violence involving animal abuse results in more severe consequences for survivors than domestic violence without animal abuse.
Nearly 60% of Canadian households report having companion animals in the home, although this has certainly increased since the pandemic. Therefore, it is not surprising that pets are often present in the physical environment in which domestic violence and sexual abuse take place. Research in the U.S. has found that between 25% and 86% of battered women report their abuser harmed their pets.
In our research, we developed the first validated measure of animal abuse in the context of domestic violence called the Partner’s Treatment of Animals Scale, or the PTAS, which assesses 21 specific different measures of animal abuse. We administered the PTAS to domestic violence survivors in 16 shelters across Canada and found that approximately 9 out of 10 survivors with pets report at least one form of animal abuse included in the PTAS. Specifically, 21% report their pet had been physically injured and 15% indicated their partner had killed their pet.
Here are some direct quotes from our participants. “He bound our dog in a blanket and duct tape and threw him in a crate.” “He refused to help our puppy after he was hit by a truck.” “I suspect he killed my pets with antifreeze.” “I bought a Persian cat. He beat it and choked it to death the day that I brought it home.”
Betty Barrett, Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Social Work, Animal and Interpersonal Abuse Research Group, University of Windsor and Humane Canada: Our shelter survey also found that more severe and frequent abuse of animals was associated with more severe and frequent abuse of women by their partners, including sexual victimization.
In 2014, the General Social Survey of Canada measured threatened or enacted animal abuse in the general Canadian population for the first time. AIPARG’s analysis of this data found that approximately one in eight survivors of physical domestic violence also experienced threats or enacted violence against their pets. Survivors whose pets were threatened or harmed were significantly more likely to have experienced all forms of physical or sexual abuse in the GSS, including engaging in sexual activity without consent and being forced to engage in sexual activity —
Mr. Palmer: Ms. Barrett, my apologies. Can I ask you to slow down just a little bit for the interpreter?
Dr. Barrett: I’m sorry. I’m a fast talker.
Threats or abuse of pets are also associated with a 24.7% increase in the likelihood that a survivor feared for their own life and a 16.1% increase in the probability that they had been injured.
Third, animals can be used instrumentally in the sexual assault of the human victims of domestic violence, resulting in simultaneous sexual harm to both survivors and their pets. To illustrate this point, we’d like to share a survivor’s story. Although this court case is a matter of public record, we are removing the names to protect the privacy of the victim.
In March 2017, police responded to a domestic violence call at the home of Jane and John Doe. Jane Doe reported that the inciting incident occurred because John Doe had demanded that she have sex with the family dog and she refused. She reported he had been forcing her to watch bestiality videos for over six months, including videos of John Doe having sex with a dog in a sex chamber he had built in the backyard. The dog was placed in the care of a local animal shelter but was subsequently euthanasized because he had become too aggressive to re-home as a result of the abuse. John Doe was sentenced to six months in jail.
Finally, research has shown that the presence of animal abuse in violent relationships does not only increase risk to survivors of domestic violence but also directly impacts their ability to seek help. In our shelter survey, nearly 7 out of 10 survivors indicated that the abuse of their pets had a moderately strong, strong or extremely strong impact on their decision to leave their partner. However, the availability of shelter options for the co-housing of domestic violence survivors and their pets in Canada does not currently meet the need for such services. Over half of our respondents with pets, 58%, said they delayed leaving their partner because of fears for their pet safety. Almost half, 47%, indicated that it was likely or extremely likely that they would have left the abusive relationship earlier if they could have taken their pets to the shelter.
We also found that those most likely to report delaying leaving their abusive partner because of pet-related concerns were also more likely to report being subjected to severe sexual and physical violence at the hands of their partners. Approximately one third of those who left their pet with their abuser when they fled to the domestic violence shelter reported that they were considering returning to their abuser specifically because he had their pet.
Threats and violence against pets can be used by perpetrators to keep their victims silenced and as leverage to get them to return to relationships.
In conclusion, even though sexual violence, domestic violence and animal abuse have been commonly thought of as distinct from one other, evidence has shown that these are interrelated phenomena. As such, we believe it is important that judges who will be deliberating in cases of sexual assault have a contextual understanding of this link.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Ms. Barrett and Professor Fitzgerald.
We will now go on to Quebec Native Women Inc., Viviane Michel and Léa Serier.
Viviane Michel, President, Quebec Native Women Inc.: [Words spoken in another language.]
Good afternoon, everyone. I always give thanks to the creator. We’ve been chosen to spend a short time with you. Five minutes is very short, but oh well. I want to give thanks to the creator and for the unceded Mohawk land where I’m visiting. I’m joined by my justice and public safety coordinator, Léa Serier. Five minutes is quite a challenge!
Quebec Native Women, or QNW, is a bilingual non-profit organization founded in 1974 that began as a community initiative. Since July 2009, QNW has had consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. In 2015, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada recognized QNW as an Indigenous representative organization just like the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, the Grand Council of the Crees, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Assembly of First Nations and the Native Women’s Association of Canada.
Quebec Native Women is an organization that represents urban women and women from the 10 First Nations of Quebec: Abenaki, Anishinaabe, Attikamek, Innu, Wendat, Eeyou, Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, Mohawk and Naskapi. As president of QNW, I’m elected by the representatives and members of these nations. I’m therefore speaking on their behalf.
QNW’s mission is to advocate for the rights of Indigenous women and their families, both collectively and individually, and to promote the needs and priorities of its members to various levels of government, civil society and decision makers in all areas of activity that affect the rights of Indigenous people.
For over 45 years, QNW has helped to restore the balance between Indigenous men and women by strongly promoting the needs and priorities of women. QNW brings the needs and priorities of its members to the attention of authorities and decision makers in all our areas of activity: health; youth; justice and public safety; women’s shelters; promotion of non-violence; human rights; international law; and employment and training. In this regard, we play a leading role in education, outreach and research. We provide a structure for women to actively participate in their communities.
Indigenous women are subject to many forms of discrimination, including on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation and gender. As everyone here knows, the current systemic discrimination is rooted in colonialism, a gendered process that has resulted in many insidious stereotypes for Indigenous women.
These stereotypes stem from the European view of Indigenous women as “savages,” shameless, prostitutes, bad mothers, ugly and lacking in feelings or morals. This led to the creation of many laws and policies that helped to internalize racism and sexism and to justify and continue the oppression of Indigenous women. To this day, Indigenous women aren’t considered equal to other members of society.
These forms of discrimination marginalize Indigenous women both within their communities and within colonial society. One consequence of this marginalization has been to make Indigenous women disproportionately and systemically vulnerable to violence, particularly sexual violence. The most definitive form of this violence is the murders and disappearances of our women.
The oppression of Indigenous people — particularly Indigenous women — and the poor understanding of Indigenous realities have resulted in a history of bad relations between institutions and Indigenous people. This has led to a lack of trust in institutions, including the justice system.
Bill C-3 proposes to amend section 3 of the Judges Act to require candidates for appointment to provincial superior courts to agree to participate in continuing education on sexual assault law and social context.
Quebec Native Women welcomes this initiative. We believe that these training sessions, including the training on context, will help restore confidence and eliminate some of the discrimination that Indigenous women face in the justice system, particularly because of stereotypes.
The bill is a first step. However, before the impartiality of the courts and the right to safety and substantive equality for Indigenous women can be ensured, certain things should be added.
First, the specific types of discrimination faced by Indigenous women — which are different from the types faced by white women, for example — must be taken into account. This requires specific training regarding Indigenous women and Indigenous realities, especially the history of sexual assault in the Indigenous context. These training sessions should include the history of colonization and take an intersectional approach to systemic discrimination and violence.
These training sessions must also be developed and delivered together with Indigenous organizations. Quebec Native Women, for example, has recognized expertise in domestic and sexual violence. The organization already provides training to various officials in the justice system, including the director of criminal and penal prosecutions and police officers.
Lastly, the training sessions shouldn’t only be mandatory for superior court candidates, but also for all judges and even for all officials in the justice system.
Quebec Native Women believes that this bill is a first step, but that its recommendations must be taken into account in order to effectively fight impunity and ensure real equality and safety for Indigenous women, particularly in matters of domestic violence.
Thank you, honourable senators. I always begin with the feminine in French, because society wants us to start by acknowledging the masculine before the feminine.
The Chair: Thank you.
Diane Tremblay, as an individual: Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Diane Tremblay. It’s with conviction and dignity, as a victim of repeat offender Michel Hamelin, that I’m here today.
From 2003 to 2007, my abuser subjected me to psychological, verbal, physical, sexual and economic violence. During this difficult period in my life, I tried several times to bring my case to court so that the judges could protect me.
As a result of the court proceedings, my abuser was declared a “dangerous offender” by a judge. Unfortunately, following another court appearance, a second judge felt that the “dangerous offender” status was no longer appropriate for the situation and decided to remove the status.
This decision affected both me and other people. My abuser reoffended with other victims by using the same modus operandi. I still don’t understand why the judge decided to remove the “dangerous offender” status. This decision put us in even more danger.
I want to describe the incidents that I experienced to show you that sexual assault can be an integral part of domestic violence. I won’t disguise this sordid reality. I’ll share it with you as I experienced it. Unfortunately, it’s a reality that many victims of domestic violence face across Canada.
My abuser would put the dresser in front of my bedroom door to keep me from leaving so that he could force me to have sex while I screamed and cried. Sometimes, my children could hear me . . . Sorry.
The Chair: Take your time, Ms. Tremblay.
Ms. Tremblay: I told them that I was upset and that it wasn’t serious. My abuser even put a lock on the door to keep the children out. He was showing them that he had control over their mother. Julien rebelled a great deal, and rightly so. However, I told him to go away and that I had everything under control.
When I went to court in June 2005, my abuser asked me to give him a chance to look good in court in front of his counsel. He said that he didn’t want to go to jail, that wanted to go to therapy at Jellinek — a facility in the Outaouais — and that he would leave me alone. He said that therapy would help him control himself and that, by the same token, he would no longer put my life and my child’s life in danger — when I say “my child,” I mean my oldest child, because he rebelled a great deal and wanted to protect his mother. My abuser said that I would be able to peacefully slip away from him, that the therapists would have an impact on his behaviour, and that I would finally be able to leave him peacefully after these therapies.
He then made me believe that he was seeing Bernard, a made-up therapist. Instead of going to his therapy sessions, he would go to his sister Marianne’s place. He would say the following about me. Please excuse my language, but these aren’t my words:
The stupid bitch, she thinks I’m in therapy. I’ll come home and I’ll play nice and fool her. I’ll make love to her and she’ll think that I went to Jellinek. She always says that I’m nice when I come back from there.
He made these ugly and violent remarks in front of his sister Marianne and his former spouse.
This man successfully manipulated the justice system and judges in order to maintain his harmful control over my life. He told me:
You wanted to send me to jail, well, you’ll lose everything and the same thing will happen every time you send me there. My anger is growing and I’ll have time to think. You better watch out, when I get out, you’ll be in for it. I’m at Jellinek just to stay out of jail.
On several occasions, my son Julien and I received death threats. He said the following about my youngest son, Maxime: “I won’t touch him, he’ll die anyway, because he has cystic fibrosis.”
My abuser hit himself in the face. He had bruises and he was swollen. He would tell me, “I’ll call the police, bitch . . .” Pardon my language, but these are his words. “. . . And I’ll tell them that you did this to me. You’ll end up on the inside too.” I can still picture this, after all these years. Neither I nor my children will ever forget this.
That’s how an abuser, who is guilty of domestic violence, can put on an act to get lighter sentences from the justice system.
On March 25, 2007, he sexually assaulted me again, while his case was already before the court. Unfortunately, the judges who were supposed to protect me didn’t do their job properly. My abuser said, “Come with me. I have a surprise for you.” I told him that I wasn’t interested, but he insisted, as usual. And when I say that he insisted, I mean that he terrorized me.
We then took Chemin de la Montagne, in Hull, which leads to a very wooded country road. We went to the end of the road near a golf course. He was trying to confuse me so that I wouldn’t know where we were, but I was looking at everything. He was doing everything he could to make me feel lost and to terrorize me even more.
He ordered me to give him my cell phone, which I did. He said, “You won’t have your cell phone, so your children won’t be able to reach you or bother me, especially not Julien.” We drove around the school to the back, to a large parking lot. He parked the car right next to a wooded area. He took off my glasses and started kissing me. I had no choice but to let him. I knew that if I didn’t do what he wanted, my life would certainly be in even more danger. This feeling is very strong.
Unfortunately for me, I was raped again. My crying and my screaming were stifled by fear and shame. He told me: “You and I are going right into the woods, there is a little ravine.” But it was cold and dark. I was so scared that he was going to kill me and leave me in that ravine. Hoping he might change his mind, I suggested going somewhere else. He said: “We will go to my mother’s house.” But she was not there.
I reported my attacker a few months later and he received a very light sentence: two years of probation and a ban on coming near my family. The Criminal Code sets out harsh penalties for attempted murder, sexual assault and intimate partner violence. I was the victim of that, but no judge imposed the penalties set out in the Criminal Code, because they didn’t understand what I was going through.
Being repeatedly raped is very distressing and being a man’s wife does not give him the right to rape you. It’s a criminal act: when you say no, he must respect that.
I am telling you my personal story to prove to you the extent to which my children and I suffered violence, even when the judges and the legal system were already aware of our complaints. I did not feel that I was heard by the judges because I had the feeling that they did not understand my situation. Above all, they did not understand that my former spouse was dangerous, violent and manipulative.
If justice is to be fair and meaningful, if all victims are to be respected, future judges must be trained about domestic violence in all the provinces of Canada. Let me ask you: How many times must victims be brushed aside to manage by themselves after a judge’s ruling in favour of the attacker?
Victims end up shut into shelters for their safety, while the attackers are outside, free to keep creating other victims. I find that disgusting and very unfair.
Right here, right now, you have the power to change course, to return to the word “justice” the meaning that has been forgotten too long because of soft sentencing. That is what leads me to ask you to amend Bill C-3 and require domestic violence training.
I do not want my testimony today to be simply a bunch of my words that end up on a piece of paper there in front of you. I would like my testimony to be a token of change, a token that will give us hope that the suffering and the despair we felt are also felt by each one of you.
It could be your mother, your sister, your daughter, a female friend. The victims must no longer be forgotten, ever. We deserve respect, we deserve a life. I am testifying for us all, whatever our nationality. Bill C-3 is critical. We can no longer close our eyes to the unacceptable.
Please forgive me for being overemotional. I appreciate your kind attention. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for hearing me today.
The Chair: Ms. Tremblay, thank you for joining us today. You are truly brave. I know that I speak for all the members of the committee. We genuinely appreciate your courage. Thank you so much.
Ms. Tremblay: Thank you very much.
The Chair: We will now go to Mr. Tachie, President of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers. Mr. Tachie, you have five minutes.
Raphael Tachie, President, Canadian Association of Black Lawyers: Thank you for the invitation to speak on this important issue and the proposed amendments.
On behalf of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, we feel strongly that judicial training on social context and with respect to sexual assaults is an important step forward. We support any commitment and proposals that aim to move this conversation and the amendments forward.
The caution we would like to present to the committee is that in doing so, we ought to also consider its impact on judicial independence. In some circumstances, judicial independence has allowed judges and courts to take into account issues that are important and not always mandated or legislated. In moving this issue forward and in reviewing the bill and proposal, content is important, but it must be implemented with a view toward minimal impact on judicial independence.
The story we’ve just heard tells us that social context education and training for judges are needed in this space. Our view is that we support collaboration between the judiciary and the legislature as coequal branches of government in coming up with proposals that outline the type of training around sexual assault and social context that judges ought to go through but with a view toward limiting mandatory steps that could impinge on judicial independence.
Thank you so much.
The Chair: Thank you very much for being here, Mr. Tachie.
Senators, we will now move on to questions. We will start with the sponsor of the bill, Senator Dalphond.
Senator Dalphond: First, I would like to thank all the witnesses who have come to give us their opinions. I can tell you that we appreciate it very much.
My first question goes to Viviane Michel. If I understand you correctly, you want groups like yours, which respond in situations of discrimination and violence against Indigenous women, to be consulted and brought into the design of the courses.
Amendment 2 to section 60 of the Judges Act proposes that the courses be established after consultation with sexual assault survivors and groups and organizations that support them, including Indigenous leaders and representatives of Indigenous communities.
As I understand it, you want to make sure that the Council consults you, given that your organization specializes in issues of this kind. I personally believe that you would make a very significant contribution.
My second question is to Dr. Fitzgerald. You testified about the famous link between animal cruelty and domestic violence. When Justice Kent of the National Judicial Institute spoke before this committee a few weeks ago, she said that there was training of domestic violence that was given to new judges and she especially mentioned the difficulties survivors with animal companions may face in seeking help. In your view, is the concept of social context broad enough to capture the issues that you speak of?
Let’s start with Ms. Michel for two minutes and then Ms. Fitzgerald for two minutes. Thank you.
Ms. Michel: To answer your question, training is really important, especially when it comes to the reality of Indigenous women. We do not just want to provide training, we also want to provide the expertise that will help the justice system understand the reality of Indigenous women, especially with issues of sexual assault. We also want to be consulted as to, for example, the type of sexual assault training to be provided.
We have heard from one victim, right here. It is so painful. Sexual assaults are traumatic. Healing takes a long time and you, in the legal system especially, need to understand aspects of it. I was a victim of sexual assault, I am a survivor of sexual assault. I am comfortable with myself and I have worked hard to be comfortable with myself.
Your legal system is very slow to start legal procedures for the victim. It is slow when it comes to reporting and to laying charges. It takes two years for an accused to be convicted. The reality for Indigenous peoples is that the attacker lives in the community. So the victims meet the attacker in the community every day. What kind of impact does that have on them? Well, as we saw with Ms. Tremblay, you can see the trauma and the impacts of all kinds. So, we deplore the slowness of the legal process in accepting a complaint, of course, but training is also important and we are ready to play a role.
Senator Dalphond: Thank you. Ms. Fitzgerald?
Dr. Fitzgerald: Thank you very much for the question.
I was very pleased to find out that there is some training. My understanding is that it’s limited to the potential impact of pets on the decision to leave an abusive partner, which is certainly an important component, but there are other aspects that we feel are also critical. The understanding of the link between animal abuse and severity of domestic violence and sexual abuse is certainly an important dimension that judges ought to be aware of. Because this area of research is so relatively new, a lot of that information has not yet been disseminated. So we think that is an important point to take into consideration.
As well, it’s not just animal abuse in this context that’s problematic as far as physical abuse. As we mentioned in our presentation, the scale that we developed, the PTAS, the Partner’s Treatment of Animal Scale, includes a variety of acts that could be perpetrated against animals. Neglect and threats can have just as significant of an impact on the human victims as the physical abuse of a pet can.
Senator Dalphond: Thank you.
Senator Boisvenu: I want to echo your comments, Madam Chair, in saluting the courage of our witnesses, and in acknowledging how pertinent their statements are.
My first question goes to Ms. Michel. Ms. Michel, yesterday, I introduced a bill on domestic violence in the Senate. I have had a lot of reaction from women experiencing it in Indigenous communities. I am in contact with communities in Quebec on the matter. They are disproportionately affected, compared to more urban communities, whiter communities. In your opinion, in terms of judges’ training, when we focus on domestic violence and sexual violence — of the kind Ms. Tremblay told us about earlier in such a dignified way — do you believe that we should also include domestic violence in this bill? The two areas, sexual violence and domestic violence, frequently come together.
Ms. Michel: Yes, that is another factor; because it is all about violence. For your information, Quebec Native Women Inc. was one of the first organizations that dared to talk about violence in our communities. Here in Quebec, we have 54 communities and violence was a taboo subject. We were able to work on prevention, to raise awareness, to produce information items on violence, to prepare action plans, to explain and demystify violence, and so on. At Quebec Native Women Inc., we have all those tools at hand. We have the expertise.
That is important, because the impacts are also different for people in Quebec. Earlier, I mentioned that the attacker remains in the community. Sometimes — and I know this because I have worked in a shelter for women who are victims of violence — the women do not report him because, when they call the police, an Indigenous man shows up, who happens to be the spouse’s brother. That really puts up barriers to the laying of charges.
In the legal system, when the spouse goes to prison, so does his behaviour. Nothing is done about his behaviour or his problems. We were talking about sexual assault just now, so we are talking about a two-year sentence. The man who assaulted me was in prison for two years, but he never worked on his problem.
So, when we talk about healing processes, when we want to solve problems, we include the problem makers, the attackers. Attackers have to work on their behaviour. The legal system should be able to tell attackers or perpetrators of domestic violence to solve their problem rather than simply to throw them in prison. We have to work on the problem as well.
We could have added a number of things. You should have invited us, because we are really proactive in this area.
Senator Boisvenu: Thank you.
Senator Batters: Before I start, I want to say thank you to all of you for your incredible advocacy and all the work you do to help Canadians on these key issues.
My question is for the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers. Mr. Tachie, Rona Ambrose’s extensive work on this file has shown us that one of the main reasons victims of sexual abuse do not come forward is because of their lack of confidence in the justice system. Do you believe that Parliament has a role in trying to improve confidence in the system for sexual assault victims? The National Judicial Institute indicated that they are satisfied that the bill does not infringe upon their independence. Does that satisfy your concerns?
Mr. Tachie: Yes. To answer your second question first, I agree that if the National Judicial Institute, which is an independent body responsible for the training of judges, has that view, then that satisfies my concerns. I think that’s an important constituency in terms of the conversation we’re having about what the purpose of this bill is. The view I have is that the judiciary should be involved in this conversation and should have input on what the legislation ultimately looks like so that they are confident that it does not impinge on their ability to act independently and do justice in the circumstance.
My sense is that all of us here today share the view that social context and sexual assault training is an important tool for judges, but there might be different circumstances where a different set of people may be here talking about a different issue that we might not feel is warranted in terms of shaping what judges do and how they adjudicate certain decisions. The concern around judicial independence is really that piece, right? At times when the matter is not progressive in the way that we all see it, we do not want to create a precedent of shaping what judges are hearing and what judges are being told to do and train under. That’s the concern.
But to your point, it’s gratifying to hear that the Justice Institute is supportive of the proposed bill.
Senator Batters: Thank you.
Senator Campbell: I have no questions at this time, Madam Chair.
The Chair: Senator Campbell is also the deputy chair of the committee.
Senator Mégie: I have a question for Mr. Tachie and a question for Viviane Michel, but either of the witnesses can possibly answer the second one.
Mr. Tachie has just repeated something we have heard from other witnesses, that the Canadian Judicial Council feels that judges’ training must remain their prerogative out of a concern for judicial independence. Outside of these committees, I have spoken to people who have told me that the Judicial Council and the National Judicial Institute already have courses that deal with the whole issue of social context and sexual assault. It’s all done. I am told that judges know where to go for the information. One of the witnesses even said that the bill is useless because they already have everything they need.
In light of that reality, I would like to know how saying that this kind of training should be provided is an affront to judicial independence. How is it an affront to judicial independence to say that, since the courses already exist, we would like you to take them?
Mr. Tachie can answer, or Ms. Michel, especially since Ms. Michel has told us that Quebec Native Women Inc. can provide training opportunities. I don’t know whether or not you have been called on to do so. That is why I am asking my question in this way.
Mr. Tachie: I will start with a brief answer before I defer to Ms. Michel.
The fact that a course exists is an important piece, but even hearing the stories here today, context matters. Personal exposure to personal experience and personal stories matter. It’s not just that courses exist but it is the nature of the courses and how they are developed. Whether judges take advantage of them is important as well.
Our view about judicial independence is not that the courses and the social context education should not be available and that judges ought to be taking those courses. Mandating them, making them mandatory in some way, is the challenge, and forcing them to consider particular kinds of training and not other kinds.
The extent to which the judges have input into what is designed and that the training and the education are focused on broadening to the extent possible the experience and the stories that come out of the social context and these experiences and the experience of survivors is an important piece. That’s an important component here. It’s an important component in any situation. The social, personal and cultural circumstances of an accused or a victim in any scenario are important considerations. We ought to be giving judges the exposure to experiences so they can input that as part of their decision-making.
Senator Pate: Thank you to all the witnesses for being here with us today but also for all the work you do every day.
I want to pick up on some of the issues that you’ve raised, Ms. Fitzgerald and Ms. Barrett, in terms of violence toward animals and the impact that has on women in particular who are trying to escape violence, as well as the fact that dogs remain a central and valued part of Indigenous communities and recognizing that link between animal abuse and violence against women, including sexual assault. I’m curious, and I’m asking this also on behalf of Senator Boyer, who obviously has much more expertise in these issues than I do. In particular concern to Indigenous survivors of sexual assault, do you have recommendations that you think this committee could include, whether in observations or some other means, to strengthen this particular part of the bill?
For Ms. Michel and for others, one of the things that has changed in this bill from previous iterations is the requirement that judges provide reasons in writing because, as many of you will know, some of the most horrendous cases have involved Indigenous women and many of them have only come to light because someone sought out the transcripts, had them transcribed and then made complaints to judicial bodies.
Those are my two questions. If Ms. Fitzgerald and Ms. Barrett could answer, then perhaps Ms. Michel and others might want to speak. Thank you.
Dr. Barrett: First, we are very clear as researchers that we do not speak for Indigenous women. It is really important that Indigenous people be at the table and make those recommendations. I so appreciate your concern for making sure that this law is inclusive of Indigenous experiences, but I also acknowledge that our research group is really not in the best position to speak for Indigenous communities. We really want to ensure that that is something that we are hearing from Indigenous communities directly.
The other thing is that the knowledge of animal abuse specifically in Indigenous communities is really underdeveloped. Dr. Fitzgerald and I are undergoing a national survey here in Canada right now that involves both gathering narratives as well as gathering data. We have really tried to reach out and build relationships with Indigenous communities so that we could gather information about what is happening in those communities, and we can then use that to inform policy development.
Right now, because this whole area of research is just so new to begin with, we are really just getting at the tip of how we really understand the ways in which these experiences might look for people in different communities. I would defer to Dr. Fitzgerald if she has more to say on that.
Dr. Fitzgerald: That’s a great response. The only thing I would add is that one thing we found in our research is that domestic violence shelters in urban areas have been more equipped and better able to assist victims who have pets. Unfortunately, shelters in more rural and remote areas don’t have much in the way of resources to address the intersection of these issues. That’s certainly an area of concern for us, trying to ensure that we have services available across the country and not just in select urban areas.
Senator Dupuis: My thanks to our witnesses today. Ms. Tremblay, I heard you say that you were apologizing to us for the emotion you showed when you told us about the violence you have experienced. Please, you have no reason to apologize. You also talked about your right to life and you were perfectly correct to do so. The issue for women really is the right to life, and it is appropriate for us as women to demand that society protect our right to life. Thank you for coming.
I have a question for Ms. Michel. Did I understand correctly that you were talking about your organization’s willingness, your availability certainly, not only to participate, to work together to develop training, but also to give that training?
My other question goes to Mr. Tachie, the President of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers. The bill talks about systemic racism and systemic discrimination. What difference do you see between those two concepts?
Ms. Michel: Good evening to you, Senator Dupuis. It’s been a while since I have seen you.
Senator Dupuis: Good evening to you too.
Ms. Michel: This is not about consulting just so that you can check a box. It is important to understand that. We have to give the training, we have to really collaborate on the courses. Our training is ready and we have the expertise, in matters of sexual assault, spousal violence or family violence. Our tools are ready now, especially for cases of sexual assault, both for victims and for responders. We tailor them according to the categories, of course.
At the same time, I feel that it is extremely important to have the context of violence understood, in the communities, yes, but also outside the communities, because we also represent urban environments.
The context of discrimination is really important, as are the effects of colonization and intergenerational trauma. We have a number of points dealing with that problem. Quebec Native Women Inc. would be pleased to collaborate to give the training. We are ready.
Senator Dupuis: Thank you. Mr. Tachie?
Mr. Tachie: Thank you.
The answer to this question represents my own views, not those of CABL. I see systemic racism and systemic discrimination as different in terms of intention and in terms of outcomes. What do I mean by difference in intention? Difference in intention focuses on having laws or institutions that are systemically discriminatory without being overtly so. CABL recently intervened in a Supreme Court of Canada case where we were challenging the use of what I call pre-emptory challenges by prosecutors. When you read the face of the rule around pre-emptory challenges when you’re selecting a jury, it doesn’t look discriminatory or racist. It’s not saying you can’t select Black jurors or you can remove Black potential jurors from the panel, but how it’s exercised ends up being discriminatory in its outcome. What do we mean by that? It means prosecutors, when there is a Black accused, for example, will exercise pre-emptory challenges in a way that would imply that a Black potential juror could not be impartial towards the Black accused. To me, that’s an example of systemic discrimination. The law itself, when you read it on its face, is not discriminatory, but how it’s applied results in a discriminatory outcome.
The way I interpret systemic racism is a degree of intention. The law in the books or the language used on their face are treating different people differently based on race or ethnocultural background. So in a lot of ways, discrimination is what our institutions tend to do because we don’t tend to write overtly racist laws, but how we apply them, interpret them and use them can have discriminatory outcomes.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Tachie.
Senator Gold: Thank you to all the witnesses.
My question is to Professor Fitzgerald and Professor Barrett. You might be aware that when the Minister of Justice appeared before the committee, he told us that any Senate amendment at this stage — here I’m quoting him — will endanger the bill itself and will possibly result in it dying on the Order Paper. That is, he explained, due to very limited time in the House of Commons, especially in a minority Parliament.
Thank you for the research that you’re doing, which is fascinating and should inform all of our understanding of violence in the home, domestic and family violence. Is it your position that this bill should be amended in some manner to address your concerns?
Dr. Fitzgerald: Thank you for the question.
I’ll be honest. We don’t want to be the reason that the bill dies, so if that is a concern, then we would be happy with an observation related to what we have said here.
Senator Gold: Thank you very much. I have no further questions.
The Chair: Thank you, Senator Gold.
Senator Carignan: I object to introducing questions in that kind of way, putting the onus on a witness to presuppose an amendment to a bill. It’s a little unusual, shall we say.
My question is more about the link between violence towards animals and conjugal violence. At the outset, I wasn’t sure that I really grasped the connection, but I understand it very well now.
My question is for Ms. Fitzgerald and Ms. Barrett. Do you not think that, rather than judges, that kind of training should be provided to police officers or criminologists so they can see the yellow flags or the red flags when they go into a residence and see animal abuse or things that may be suspicious? Judges hearing criminal cases have evidence, and, if need be, can always require evidence from an expert witness as to a specific factor like that when it is brought into a case.
It seems to me that, from the point of view of preventing crime, protecting health and protecting the public and the victims, it would be good for the training to be given to the police officers making the first response into a residence or with a family.
Dr. Barrett: Our position — and you raised excellent points — is that we’d like to see training at both levels. We already know that there has been a lot of research, which we don’t have time to present here today but I’m happy to share it with you if you have any interest, on how police officers are engaging with this work on the front line. The reason why we think judges in addition need this training, however, is judges are the ones interpreting when these cases come before the law. As we heard from witnesses today, they often don’t understand this context.
In domestic violence situations where there is animal abuse, specifically, if an abuser is forcing the woman to engage in animal abuse as well, she runs the risk of also being charged with animal cruelty. There have been cases where a domestic violence survivor has been charged as a perpetrator of animal abuse because she was engaging in animal abuse that she was required to engage in on behalf of her partner. For example, in the bestiality case I talked about earlier, there were concerns that both the victim in that case as well as the perpetrator would be arrested and charged with domestic violence because the woman was indeed involved in some mistreatment of the animals, not because she wanted to be but because she was being forced by her perpetrator. We feel that level of context is something that at a front-line level is important but even more important when these cases come before judges. Amy, would you like to share more?
Dr. Fitzgerald: No, I think that’s great.
The Chair: Thank you. Ms. Michel, if you want to answer Senator Mégie’s question, now is the time.
Ms. Michel: Is that the question about judges’ training?
Senator Mégie: Yes. We have been told that everything is done by the Institute. I’d like to add that some people believe that the really disgusting things some judges say are because they lack social skills.
Do you believe that too or do you feel that it’s also because they are not properly trained?
And if it is not because they are not trained, what can be done to address the problem?
Ms. Michel: To answer that, Senator Mégie, I would be very curious to know who they work with. I have some questions. What is the content of their training? That is really important, especially in an Indigenous context. If they are saying that they are already sufficiently equipped, I would really like to find out what their training contains, the names of those who provide the training and also what they take from the training. What does the training achieve? That is important, especially for the positions they hold. I would really be curious to find out.
We tailor our training to the organizations that ask for it. We train police officers, such as the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) here in Montreal. We train Indigenous police officers about the reality of Indigenous women, especially in terms of violence, of course. So I would be very curious to have some feedback on that. Innovation is always important; just because someone has previously taken a course on the subject doesn’t mean they understood it all. There’s always room for innovation.
Senator Mégie: Thank you.
Senator Boisvenu: My question is for Ms. Fitzgerald. In your presentation, you often referred to the intersection of domestic violence and sexual violence. In your opinion, should judges’ education be expanded to include domestic violence and not be strictly limited to sexual violence, especially in a family context?
Dr. Fitzgerald: Yes. Because of the significant overlap [Technical difficulties] and sexual assault, which we discussed, it would be prudent to include domestic violence, at least an understanding of how common it is. We have a perception of these forms of violence, and also animal abuse, as being entirely separate, and there is significant overlap. Victims of both domestic violence and sexual abuse certainly are exposed to more instances of sexual abuse and ongoing sexual abuse, which would be useful to take into consideration.
The Chair: To all the witnesses, I want to thank you for being here today and also for accommodating us. I know that we were supposed to meet last week, and all of you immediately said yes. Thank you very much for being here. I can tell you that we’ve heard things here today that will help us with our work, not just on this bill but for future work.
Thank you, Ms. Tremblay, we are really glad to have you here with us today. Thank you so much.
To all the witnesses, I want to, first of all, apologize. We had you confirmed for last week and we were not able to meet with you. You all immediately said yes, so we very much appreciate your patience with us. It’s really important for us to hear from you.
From those whom we cannot hear, we can hear you when we speak, but we have to have interpretation and the interpreters cannot hear you. So please work with us and we will find a way to hear from you. Thank you for your patience.
Senators, we will start with our first witness, Honourable Rona Ambrose, P.C. Ms. Ambrose, you have been very patient with us as well and immediately changed to be with us today. We are looking forward to hearing from you. I will ask you for five minutes to present, Ms. Ambrose.
The Honourable Rona Ambrose, P.C., as an individual: Thank you for inviting me to speak about Bill C-3 and I thank all senators for keeping an open mind about this important legislation.
I especially want to thank Senator Dalphond for sponsoring the bill in the Senate and also again acknowledge the incredible work of Senator Raynell Andreychuk who sponsored previous versions of this bill in previous years. Interestingly, they’re both former judges.
We’re all aware of how rare it is that any legislation in the House of Commons receives unanimous consent, particularly a private member’s bill. What’s even rarer is for the House of Commons to then reiterate its resounding support of pieces of legislation unanimously again and again and again, and furthermore, that the House should send a note to the Senate Chamber asking for that legislation to be prioritized.
The fact that we’re sitting here more than four years later and it’s had to be introduced two other times since should create a sense of urgency for all of us. Like many advocates on this issue and on the issue of institutional reform, I admit I am a bit saddened and frustrated to be appearing before this committee again on similar legislation. To put it into perspective, when I first introduced my original bill, Donald Trump had just been inaugurated and the #MeToo movement had not even happened yet.
But here we are again and we are discussing this issue because it matters, because judges continue to make mistakes, perpetuating rape myths and stereotypes in the courtroom and misapplying sexual assault law. The most recent case was just a few weeks ago in Nova Scotia where a judge disregarded even the defence counsel’s suggestion for a multi-year sentence for a convicted rapist because the judge believed the rapist couldn’t control his urges and was therefore less responsible for his actions and deserved a lesser sentence.
I often wonder whether if this bill had passed four years ago, we could have prevented some of this egregious behaviour that has had a clear impact on the confidence sexual assault survivors have in our courts when they hear these things.
Senators, since we last spoke, the facts and the statistics have not changed. One in three women and one in six men will experience sexual violence in their lifetime. Aboriginal women and girls are five times more likely to suffer sexual violence than non-Aboriginal women. Witnesses you’ve heard at this committee further outline their distrust of our judicial system, and 95% of women who are sexually assaulted will remain silent. Men and boys are even less likely to report their experiences. When asked why, according to Justice Canada, two thirds of victims say that they have no faith in the courts.
Since the onset of COVID, circumstances have only gotten worse. Calls to rape crisis centres have been overwhelming. Let’s remember that 95% of these victims will not report. Just let that sink in. These are not just numbers and percentages. These are human lives that are changed forever. We must find ways to increase confidence in our courts and our judiciaries so that more victims come forward to report.
You have before you, of course, a few clauses that have been reviewed in different ways at different times exhaustively by Parliament for four years. I would suggest this is a modest and non-threatening proposal that politely asks the leaders of our justice system to take basic training in the highly complex area of sexual assault.
I do want to applaud the NJI for the training and resources they have and are continuing to develop, as Justice Adèle Kent laid out, but it’s not enough to have it available. We must send the message that we expect those who hold the highest seat of power in our courtrooms to know the basics in sexual assault law. Mistakes by judges in basic law cannot continue to happen when they have such an impact in the courtroom.
Most importantly, we must send a message to Canadians that it also matters to you, who are convened today. The House has spoken several times on this issue unanimously, and it’s time for the Senate to do the same.
On the issue of amendments, because I know I’ll be asked, I empathize greatly with the issues that have been put forward. But I will be honest: I do believe that if you amend this bill, it probably will not pass, and that worries me. This bill was carefully negotiated to ensure the delicate and critical lines between an independent judiciary and Parliament remain uncompromised.
Honourable senators, I implore you to consider what life has been like for the past four years for survivors of sexual assault who are too scared to report. On this specific issue, not only do they lack faith in our courts, but because of the delay around this bill, they may also lack faith in our institution.
What seemed such a simple request four years ago, to ask the judiciary to require judges to take sexual assault law training, continues to be opposed by a few who have no interest in reforming the very institutions the public needs to have faith in so that they last the test of time and pass the test of public confidence. This includes Parliament, the Senate, the Governor General, the RCMP, our military and, in this case, our judiciary.
The need for institutional reform is all around us, and it’s people like you who have the power to respond to the call, senators. There is much work to be done — I know that — and training is just a small step. I want to thank all of you, especially those on the panel with me who have pushed this issue to the forefront and made survivors your focus.
Madam Chair, thank you for this opportunity to address you.
I look forward to taking your questions.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Ms. Ambrose. Thank you for trying for four years. You have a lot of determination, and I thank you for that.
Our next witness is Amy S. FitzGerald from the BC Society of Transition Houses.
Amy S. FitzGerald, Executive Director, BC Society of Transition Houses: Good afternoon, and thank you for this opportunity to testify to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on Bill C-3, An Act to amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code.
As stated, I am Amy FitzGerald — another Amy FitzGerald — also working in the violence against women sector. As well, I have worked with your esteemed panellist Professor Fitzgerald on animal abuse and violence against women issues. It was lovely to see her again today in Zoom land.
I would like to acknowledge that the BC Society of Transition Houses office is in Vancouver on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish people, shared by the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh nations, whose history is tied to this unceded ancestral land, and we are grateful to be here.
The BC Society of Transition Houses was founded in 1978 with six members and is a growing member-based provincial umbrella organization with 117 members currently. Some of our members are here today on this esteemed panel. Hello to them.
The society, through leadership, support and collaboration, enhances the continuum of services and strategies to respond to, prevent and end violence against all women, children and youth in British Columbia.
My testimony today will speak to the following elements of Bill C-3: the necessity of Bill C-3 to ensure equality of rights, before and under the law, for all victims of sexual violence, and I will talk about victims of domestic violence. I will speak to the common reality of sexual violence and domestic violence in Canada and, given that daily reality, a recommendation or consideration that domestic violence also be included in the training requirement, the judicial findings requirement of the bill and the annual report sections of the bill.
Bill C-3 is a critical bill whose goal is to ensure that superior court judges hearing sexual assault matters will have the essential training to fairly and impartially decide matters without the influence of myths and stereotypes. BCSTH is sincerely grateful to the Honourable Rona Ambrose, here with us today on this esteemed panel, for her leadership and introduction of former Bill C-337, which paved the way for Bill C-3. We thank her sincerely for her efforts and her unending dedication to victims and victims’ rights in Canada.
Our mission and mandate is to train, support and advocate on behalf of our members. Our members consist of transition and second-stage houses and safe homes, along with the PEACE Program, which is a specialized support service for children and youth who have witnessed and experienced family violence. Our members are located in 80 communities, providing emergency safe shelter, housing and support services to women, children and youth. Our members are in seven regions of British Columbia: northern B.C., Cariboo, Okanagan, Kootenays, Fraser Valley, Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. They operate women’s transitional housing programs, along with emergency shelters, and they also operate sexual assault response centres.
We approach our anti-violence work through an intersectional feminist framework that incorporates a critical lens to the systems of power and oppression. As a provincial umbrella organization, our mandate is to amplify the concerns and voices of our front-line membership.
Our members’ jobs are 24-7 and multidimensional. They provide emotional support, safety planning — which includes technology safety planning — counselling, assistance with court advocacy, court paperwork and accompaniment, interactions with police and child protection, housing supports, legal supports and transportation.
These days, our members report increasing numbers of women, children and youth with complex social service needs from the trauma of being victimized by a wide range of gender-based violence that includes domestic and sexual violence, controlling and coercive behaviour, animal abuse, stalking and cyberstalking. Our member programs respond to a continuum of violence that is uniformly characterized by the perpetrators exercising and acting to maintain power and control over their victims.
Regarding our recommendations, I would like to first acknowledge the ongoing reality of violence not only in B.C. but throughout Canada. Every year, the society conducts a 24 Hour Census of our member programs. The 24 Hour Census in November 2019 demonstrated that over 1,542 women, children and youth were served by our members in 24 hours. They fielded 1,510 service-related calls, texts and emails; 251 individuals were not able to be served, and 954 children and youth remained on the PEACE Program wait list. Every year in British Columbia, more than 12,000 women, children and youth access transition houses. Domestic violence is one of the main causes of homelessness in Canada and in British Columbia.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, rates of intimate partner violence have spiked globally, as has been recognized by other panellists today. Anecdotal evidence reported by our members includes increases in calls for support, increases in severity of violence, or eerily quiet. Because of the COVID-19 restrictions, oftentimes the abuser and the women are sheltering at home, and the women have fewer opportunities to leave the home or to call for support and services. B.C. police forces have also indicated an increase in domestic violence calls. Views to ShelterSafe Canada, which is the national online Canadian resource to help women and their children seeking safety from violence and abuse, doubled in March 2020 compared to 2019, and tripled in April 2020 compared to 2019.
Indigenous women and girls, while they make up only 4% of the female population in Canada, are 12 times more likely to be murdered or go missing and three times more likely to report spousal abuse than non-Indigenous women.
I will highlight a recent report by the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability.
The Chair: Ms. Amy FitzGerald, could you please wind up?
Ms. FitzGerald: Certainly, I will. I’ll go to the end of my presentation. My apologies; I got too involved with my statistics.
My recommendation for the bill — and this is based on the recent consultation with our members related to the national action plan — would be the following: We would ask that the bill be amended to consider the prevalence of domestic violence and the continuum of violence that occurs in intimate partner violence. We recommend adding domestic violence to the sexual assault training requirement language and to require this training to be developed through reliance on domestic violence survivors and groups that support those survivors.
We would also recommend that you consider adding domestic violence to the judicial requirement for decision-making reasons to be included in the record and include the topic of domestic violence in the annual reporting criteria.
Extraordinary things have happened during this pandemic year illustrating loss, tragedy and social inequities, but it has also illustrated compassion and collective strength and wisdom. It’s possible to bring that same sense of urgency and generosity to this issue to respond to the existing public health and safety emergency of gender-based violence.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We appreciate your statistics. We appreciate your presentation.
Manon Monastesse, Director General, Fédération des maisons d’hébergement pour femmes: Good evening. My name is Manon Monastesse. I am the Director General of the Fédération des maisons d’hébergement pour femmes. My sincere thanks to the members of the Senate for allowing us to state our position on the bill.
The Fédération des maisons d’hébergement pour femmes represents 36 emergency shelters in all regions of Quebec, as well as 20 second-stage shelters that house women and children for a period of time [Technical difficulties].
The Chair: We will then go on to Ms. Kerner.
Hilla Kerner, Collective Member, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter: With your permission, my friend will speak first and I will speak in the second half of our presentation.
The Chair: Thank you very much. You will have five minutes together.
Ashani Montgomery, Collective Member, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter: Thank you.
When a woman calls us for support, she wants to report her rape to the police. We meet with her first and we tell her what to expect not only from the police but from our judicial system. We tell her that the police investigation can take anywhere from six months to two years. She may have to repeat her story multiple times to multiple individuals. We let her know that she is just a witness in the Crown’s trial, she may or may not get updates and that the time of the trial can take years. The defence lawyer for her attacker may attempt to get extremely personal information about her to attack her credibility as a witness to the crime that was committed against her. She may have to testify multiple times. We unfortunately have to relate to her that it is an excruciating and lengthy process.
At our centre, around 30% of our callers want to use the criminal justice system, but the reality is almost no rapist will be held publicly accountable this way, particularly if he is White and particularly if he is rich. Only 1 in 9, or 11.5%, of sexual assault cases reported to the police in Canada result with a conviction.
Most sexual assaults are tried in provincial court. If we look at the stats in British Columbia, of the 4,279 sexual assault trials, 81 were tried at the Supreme Court, and of those 54 resulted in a guilty verdict. That is 54 out of 4,279 trials.
The women who call our crisis lines don’t really have any trust in the criminal justice system. We recently interviewed a few of our callers as a part of — [Technical difficulties] — the national action plan to end gender-based violence about their experience with the criminal justice system. One woman said she would not recommend it, and another woman said rape effectively is legal in Canada.
As it stands, most cases will be dropped long before they even make it in front of a judge, so for women whose cases do make it to trial, we think they deserve to be heard by a judge who is able to carefully apply our sexual assault law and understands that rape is as a result and reinforcement of women’s subordinate position in society. Canada’s colonial history, women’s poverty and men’s racism increases poor, Indigenous and Black women’s vulnerability to rape, and we can’t stand for trials that are being presided over by judges who are operating under racist, classist and sexist stereotypes. This destroys the ability of a woman to be equally protected under the law.
When our courts repeatedly and publicly fail women, we are sending a message that men can rape women with impunity.
Ms. Kerner: I will speak to the amendment of the bill that requires that judge provides reasons for decision in sexual assault proceedings because providing reasons for decision as expressed in the bill will enhance the transparency and accountability of the judiciary.
I believe that Ms. Ambrose, who initiated the original bill, was responding to media reports about the trials of sexual assault cases across the country that exposed judges’ ignorance about sexual assault laws and Parliament’s intention behind the laws.
The current amendments in the bill say in regard to records of reasons that the reasons should be entered into the record of the proceedings or, if the proceedings are not recorded, should be provided in writing.
In British Columbia, both in provincial courts and the Supreme Court, only written judgments are available to the public. In some provinces, even the written judgments are not available. In many sexual assault trials, judges make the judgments and the reasons for the judgments orally. Of course, recording of judgments is crucial, but it doesn’t get us desirable transparency and accountability.
An example is a case we are involved with, supporting the woman. The man who attacked her was charged with eight charges of sexual assault and battering assault. He was acquitted two weeks ago at the Supreme Court of British Columbia. The only reason we know about the case is because the victim called us. If she or us want to see the judgment urging the Crown to appeal or to have an understanding of the judgment or to have the ability to criticize judges, we will have to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to get the transcription from the court registry.
I want to argue today that to uphold the principles of transparency and accountability, we must have all judgments in sexual assault trials transcribed and posted online so the judge’s decision in sexual assault cases will be available for public scrutiny. Only this will guarantee us the desirable transparency and accountability of the judiciary.
The Chair: Thank you very much, all, for your patience and working with us. We appreciate it.
We will now go to the sponsor of the bill, Senator Dalphond.
Senator Dalphond: Once again, I’d like to thank all the witnesses testifying before the committee today.
I especially want to thank Ms. Ambrose for raising the ongoing issue. Four years is a lot of patience and energy. I would also like to thank the representatives of all the groups that are involved with people who are survivors of violence and gender violence.
Ms. Ambrose, my questions will be to you and also maybe to the other witnesses. Just the fact that you tabled Bill C-337 at the time and the fact that we are having discussion now, do you see an impact on judges? Do you see an impact on the systems? For example, in P.E.I., they have adopted a provincial bill to deal with that, and in Quebec they are talking about having a kind of integrated court to deal with sexual assault cases. This bill is maybe only part of a larger movement. What are your perceptions, maybe all of you?
Ms. Ambrose: If I may start. Thank you, Senator Dalphond, for all of your advocacy. As a former justice yourself, you have a lot of knowledge around the need for institutional reform and how it can be implemented.
I would say that, yes, the advocacy has been a long four years but the, if I could call it “noise,” and advocacy and pressure has resulted in better training being made available and awareness being raised at the provincial level. You are correct that P.E.I. has introduced a bill similar to this. Saskatchewan is also moving on a bill similar to this and there are discussions in Manitoba.
I will say that when I speak to Attorneys General in provinces, one of the things they say is, “Oh, we’re waiting to see what is happening with the bill in Parliament.” It was a very strong signal when the Attorney General of Canada stood up in the House of Commons and said, “We are going to do this, and we need to do this.”
This bill, which is the government’s Bill C-3, is that signal to them, and they are watching. So I would say inasmuch as we continue to send that message, it’s very important.
Senator Dalphond: Thank you.
Ms. Kerner: I have to say that they are not watching carefully enough. There is a case in Kitchener. Two weeks ago, a judge fined a victim of sexual assault because she broke the publication ban that is supposed to protect victims of sexual assault. She decided to send the judgment and the conviction of the man who raped her — and she technically formally broke the ruling on publication ban, but to fine a victim who decided to reject the protection that the court is giving her to expose the man who did it to her is just absurd.
We keep seeing in lower courts that judges do not internalize the intention behind sexual assault laws and sexual assault proceedings. They definitely do not pay careful enough attention.
The Chair: Ms. FitzGerald, do you have anything to add?
Ms. FitzGerald: I would just say that from the perspective of British Columbia, if this bill were to pass, it would certainly send a strong message to our judiciary and courts here to follow suit. The members here are looking at an integrated response in both, to be honest, criminal court and family court to these matters. This might be a way to connect the two.
The Chair: Senator Boisvenu is next, and he is the critic of the bill.
Senator Boisvenu: I find it unfortunate and frustrating that we can’t hear from all the witnesses today due to technical problems. Madam Chair, for our witnesses to have the respect that they deserve, we should have a mechanism to ensure that witnesses have all the equipment they need to deliver their testimony.
The Chair: Senator Boisvenu, I will cover that tomorrow and tell you what efforts were made, but at this point I would prefer you to keep going.
Senator Boisvenu: Ms. FitzGerald, in your brief, you spoke of the high number of intimate partner assaults, whether sexual or in the form of domestic violence. I have before me the data from 2005 to 2011, and I believe that the situation has not changed.
In court, adult criminal cases involving intimate partners account for 57% of the cases in this country, which is huge. Of course, that includes sexual cases involving intimate partners, but it also includes domestic violence cases.
You propose an amendment in your brief that seeks to include domestic violence training for judges. I’d like you to talk more about that. In what way is the sexual component of domestic violence closely related enough to require an amendment to this bill with respect to domestic violence?
Ms. FitzGerald: Thank you very much for the question.
In terms of the work that our member programs are doing across the province, they are responding to a range of violence that includes intimate-partner violence, which includes sexual violence and domestic violence controlling a course of behaviour. We also hear from our members that regularly when women go to court, they feel that they are not believed by the justice system and that they are often revictimized by that system.
From our perspective, there is a need to do training of the judiciary and the judges in particular that would be both trauma and violence-informed and that would respond to sexual violence myths and stereotypes. Some of those myths and stereotypes exist also in intimate-partner violence as well. Intimate-partner violence is still oftentimes viewed as a private matter and not as a public safety crime, and there is a significant amount of victim blaming still in the courts that our members report. If you are focused on victim safety and women’s safety, we feel that the courts are a place to start with training and ensuring that the process there does not revictimize the victims who come for justice.
Senator Batters: First of all, I want to thank all of the witnesses on this panel for all the work you do every single day to help women and vulnerable Canadians, especially during COVID when so many of these issues have become even more prevalent.
My question is to Ms. Ambrose. Ms. Ambrose, thank you for your considerable efforts over the years and for your ongoing work on behalf of victims of sexual violence. When Justice Kent testified before our committee, she lauded your efforts and the impact they have already had on the judiciary. But when she was asked about what this bill will add to the training that’s already going on, her answer focused on the value of the dialogue between the judiciary and victims’ groups that has taken place as a result of the bill you introduced four years ago, yet she said that the training will continue to evolve in the way that it has. She implied that the bill would make little difference. I want to give you an opportunity to respond to that. What effect do you believe the passage of this bill could have? Do you believe that there could be a significant impact on victims of sexual assault and their willingness to come forward?
Ms. Ambrose: Thank you very much for the question.
I recognize that there has been some impact of the bill already, even though it hasn’t passed. I suggest to you that I don’t think we should take our foot off the pedal. I really don’t.
These issues are highly complex and always evolving. Training should continue to evolve, and it should be informed by research that continues to also evolve around this issue. The accountability around a bill passing in the House of Commons means something. It sends a really important signal to the judiciary. It sends an important signal to provinces that are thinking about doing the same thing and need to put a lot more funding behind this issue. It sends a message to victims that the Parliament of Canada, including the Senate, cares about this issue and believes we need more transparency and accountability.
I would point to the program in the U.K. I was watching your proceedings earlier, and Senator Frum asked a really good question about whether training has made a difference. Do we even know if it has? I would point to two instances. In the U.K., it has been implemented. Sexual assault law mandatory training for the judges has been implemented for over a decade now. The training has to be updated every three years. It’s very transparent, and it recognizes the complexity involved in these kinds of cases. I will read to you what has been said about it.
There is evidence that the training works. Fiona Mason’s work on the effects of rape on victims, which is a regular feature of the course, has been described by Peter Rook as having a “significant impact” on attendees.
So we know it’s working where it’s being done in a comprehensive way.
I would also point to Robin Camp, who was a judge who famously said, “. . . why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?” to a victim in a courtroom. He, of course, went through a judicial review process and comprehensive training. What he said publicly after that was, “I wish I would have known. I wish I would have had this training. I had no idea.”
So it’s important. I will continue to advocate that it’s important. This bill has been crafted in a way to respect judicial independence. I think you can hear from the other panellists how profoundly important it is that judges and leaders of our judicial system have this kind of training.
Senator Batters: Thank you.
Senator Gold: My question is for Ms. Ambrose. Thank you for your advocacy.
I’m asking this as a senator but also as the Government Representative in the Senate. Ms. Ambrose, you have experience both as a member of Parliament, of course, and as the Leader of the Opposition in the House. Therefore, you know how the legislative process works. Would you comment and elaborate on your comments on what might happen if the Senate amends the bill at this stage of the process?
Ms. Ambrose: Look, I wish that this bill could be a catch-all for many things. There are many issues that have come up over the four years that we wish we could do more on, but this is a bill focused on the Judges Act. It has been very carefully negotiated by the Attorney General of Canada and others. It is, as it sits, a bill that a lot of people are comfortable with. Could it do more? Probably. Do I wish it could do more? Sure. But my view right now is that we need to get this done.
I am concerned because we have limited time in the House of Commons left. I have no control over that. The Senate has no control over that. I am concerned that if we amend it, it will take more time — because it will — and it may not pass because it will have to go back to the House and be dealt with on the House side.
I’ve been told — I’ll be really frank — by people on the House side that if it is amended, it will delay it and it may not pass. So I am passing on that message. It’s not for me to make that decision. It’s for the Senate to deal with these issues.
Of course I want to see the bill pass. I do worry about that. I have thought about how we could creatively work with the NJI to ensure that domestic violence, for instance, which is an incredibly important issue around this, is included in the training in a comprehensive way. I would think when any training happens, it would already be included, but there could be pressure applied, whether it’s lobbying or having a dialogue through the consultation to ensure that trauma and violence-informed training is present in the curriculum that the NJI is implementing.
I’m hoping that there are other creative ways that we can do that if we do get to the point where we realize that if we amend the bill, that it could die. So yes, I am concerned. I’m hopeful that we can find another way to do it, if that’s where we’re at.
Senator Gold: Would one of those creative ways, Ms. Ambrose, be some very clear observations that the Senate committee might attach to this bill that would continue the conversation to which you alluded between Parliament and the judiciary as the judiciary continues, we hope, to advance its understanding of how all these issues — family violence, domestic violence, violence against animals — intersect and are connected? Is that something you might think would be helpful to the process of educating the judiciary?
Ms. Ambrose: I absolutely think so, because I know that people are paying attention to what’s happening at this committee, especially people in the judiciary. It has had an impact already. So yes, I do think strong observations would matter.
Senator Gold: Thank you very much.
Senator Pate: Thank you to all our witnesses. In particular, thank you for all the work those of you on the front lines are doing every day to try to address these issues.
My question is first for you, Ms. Ambrose, and then anyone else who would like to comment as well. As you know, your first draft of this bill included the requirement for written reasons to be provided, for the very reasons that Ms. Kerner and others have described. In fact, some have described the bill as basically gutted and transferring the responsibility onto victims and/or their advocates to actually address these issues and obtain what can be very expensive transcripts, sometimes in very difficult ways of even trying to access them, given the rules that apply.
In addition, there are the issues that the other witnesses, including Ms. Montgomery talked about and the fact that women trying to ensure they are treated fairly when they come forth both as victims but also when they have then tried to defend themselves or tried to ensure that the perpetrators are held to account.
Quite frankly, I find it repugnant that we are talking about passing a bill just for the sake of passing it after it has essentially been gutted. If we had strong observations, would an observation that you would support include requiring that written reasons be there, if at all possible, and expecting the government to resurrect the Law Reform Commission? It’s still on the books. It could be resurrected to actually examine these sorts of issues and talk about meaningful change and how we can move forward to address violence against women and others in a meaningful way in this country, as well as other issues that may arise.
First Ms. Ambrose and then the rest of you.
Ms. Ambrose: Thanks, Senator Pate. Ms. Kerner was really eloquent on this issue.
Yes, I’m extremely disappointed that the bill now doesn’t have this clause in it. I understand why it’s been taken out, and I understand that, to a certain extent, a lot of this falls on the provincial courts. I guess I’m going to continue to advocate for this at the provincial level. Written decisions do matter. It’s not just about accountability and transparency for the judiciary. It’s about victims and survivors actually being able to have those written reasons. I’ll let Ms. Kerner speak. She’s already said it, but it costs thousands of dollars. Some people can’t afford it. They have to wait for years just to find out the reasons for a sentencing or a ruling. It’s really unfortunate, but I’ve accepted it and I understand the rationale for it in this particular bill. But I can tell you I will continue to advocate for this to happen at the provincial level.
Senator Pate: Thank you. Anyone else?
Ms. Kerner: I appreciate Senator Pate’s leadership on this and Ms. Ambrose’s full cooperation. If the Senate committee agrees to make clear instructions in their observations to press provinces to cooperate with method, that will be very useful. Hopefully, someone else from the Senate or from the House of Commons will push for another amendment.
Senator Carignan: My question is for Ms. Ambrose. Welcome, it’s good to see you.
I’m going to continue on the issue of providing written judgments, reasons. To me, this is extremely important. I immediately saw the difference between your private member’s bill and the government bill. You say that you understand the change, but I don’t. Has anyone explained this to you or have you discussed it with anyone? Because to me, the possibility for that information to be communicated is a fundamental part of natural justice and fairness.
We see it in provincial legislation, in child protection in particular, where written reasons are required for certain types of decisions. For me, it’s fundamental. I even quoted Minister Lametti, who, with Professor Macdonald, wrote an article on the importance of written reasons. Can you provide us with more information on it? It seems to me that this is a type of amendment that could throw things off balance and could be a stumbling block for the bill.
Ms. Ambrose: No, I don’t think it will be the downfall of the bill. The rationale is the cost to the court system. There’s a lot of pushback around that. There’s other rationale. I’ll let Minister Lametti speak to that. Many of these cases fall within the provincial courts, and I acknowledge that.
As I said, it is important. It’s most important at the provincial level where we see a majority of these cases. So, yes, if there could be a strong observation about the need for provincial courts to consider this, that would be very helpful. I can tell you that, in my discussions with attorneys general and provinces, I will continue to push for that. I know that everyone on the panel will do the same thing.
Senator Carignan: That’s great, thank you.
Senator Tannas: Thanks to everyone for providing us with the information that you have today.
We’re now at about 45% of federal judges being female, so we’re approaching parity. To me, that is really important. I’ve heard a couple of times that some of the witnesses here and in other instances are monitoring judgments that are ongoing. Somebody referenced one that was just a few weeks ago. Has there been any analysis around the gender of judges and how much, if any, that influences things? We’re getting bad judgments or judgments that don’t make sense. Is there a gender issue, or is there a legal issue that’s in play? Does anybody have any comments on that?
Ms. Kerner: Because judgments are not available in general, even in British Columbia — there are other provinces where even written judgments are not being published — it’s very hard to properly monitor. We know, both from the examples that the media picked on for years now and from some cases where we were involved, that there is a much higher level of ignorance when it’s a male judge. We don’t have that ability, and that’s partly why we want all the judgments to be transcribed and available, so we can have informed and thorough research investigating this issue. But all the examples that were in the media, including the one I just gave from two weeks ago in Kitchener and the woman we worked with in the acquittal of a man accused of sexual assaulting his wife, the rulings were given by male judges. So I’m saying it’s definitely a point to check or to pay attention to.
Ms. Ambrose: I would just follow up, Senator Tannas. The only time we really have insight into some of these issues is when a reporter happens to be sitting in the courtroom. As Ms. Kerner said, we don’t have access. There are researchers, like Dr. Elaine Craig and Dr. Sheehy and others, who actually do use the so-called FOIP system to try to get these judgments, pay a lot of money for them, wait a lot of time and do a lot of research.
I don’t know of analysis that has been done around gender, but just in the last two years, I can think of two cases where they were female judges. I don’t know if it’s necessarily a gender issue because I don’t have the analysis.
When you ask if it is a legal issue, I can tell you that this is a very highly complex area of law. The mistakes being made are basic mistakes in law. On that note, anyone would benefit from training, anyone.
Senator Tannas: Ms. Ambrose, you likely participated or opined over potential federal judge appointees. You’re now in the corporate world. You run into people who signal their desire to be great corporate directors by taking the Institute of Corporate Directors courses. Maybe it does happen, but why wouldn’t there be a suite of courses around this, where potential judges could signal their interest? That could then be considered by the appointers. Before they ever get to the bench, they have kind of shown that they are alive to this and they are willing to put in the time to understand it before they ever set foot in a court as a judge.
Ms. Ambrose: Yes, I’m with you all the way. One attorney general, who shall remain nameless, said to me that the legal community has basically told him they don’t want to be outed as wanting to become judges. This issue is so hot that, if they take the training, everyone in their firm will know that they want to be a judge. I said maybe they can just tell everyone at their firm they just want to be a better person. I mean, come on. That’s actually one of the rationales that I got from one attorney general. Of course, he’s still pushing back, but he’s getting that response. Lawyers don’t want to take the training because they’re going to be exposed as wanting to become judges; it’s an invasion of their privacy. I guess we have to consider these things, too, but that’s what we’re up against.
Senator Tannas: Thank you.
Senator Dupuis: Thank you all for being here with us today. I have a question for the representatives of each organization. I’d like to know if the organization you represent has ever been consulted on the development of training for judges, and if you have ever been invited to provide training. And if you have not, do you feel that it would be important for you? Then I have a question for Ms. Ambrose.
Ms. Kerner: We were consulted, and we offered to facilitate the training, but there was some internal process that we were not aware of and the institution for training judges came back to us and said that they decided not to take front-line workers but to take victim survivors of sexual assault, which shows, first, ignorance about the experience of front-line workers. No member of my collective has not been a victim of male violence. That’s what it means to be a woman in this world.
Second, there is the burden there is on particular victims who are willing to tell their stories with their face and name, to repeat the story again and again. The benefit of a front-line worker or organization like ours and many others is that we’ve been around for almost 50 years. We’ve responded to thousands and thousands of women. What we have to offer is not one or 10 or 100 women’s accounts but thousands.
I encourage you to go to our website, rapereliefshelter.bc.ca, because we did do a consultation recently, as my friend Ashani mentioned, for the national action plan, and we do have a lot of quotes that reinforce what we on the front line know.
I’m not sure why the judges’ training institution decided not to take the expertise of front-line workers.
Ms. FitzGerald: The BC Society of Transition Houses was not consulted. We would be more than happy to be consulted and be part of the training. We have member programs across the province that are supporting sexual assault victims as well as domestic violence victims. A large part of our portfolio is training. We do a significant amount of training on a variety of topics. I would welcome you to go to our website as well, where our training portfolio is. We welcome being part of that conversation. By way of background, I’m a lawyer from the United States, but I’d be happy to bring that legal perspective as well. Thank you.
Senator Dupuis: Ms. Ambrose, it will soon be 40 years since women’s right to equality was recognized in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In principle, it has been illegal to discriminate against women in Canada for several decades.
Here is my question for you. You clearly pointed out that we need to transform institutions and that people are still showing resistance. What’s very interesting in what you’re saying is that institutions are resisting greater transparency and less impunity. You talk about a step forward and the fact that this was negotiated very, very carefully. Do you really think that this is as far as we have come? Justice is being applied with complete impunity. Isn’t the message we are sending and receiving here in committee that we have come much further than that?
Ms. Ambrose: Thank you for your question, Senator.
Yes, we should be a lot further. I sat on the board of a women’s shelter and worked in a rape crisis centre when I was at university. I look back many decades, and a lot of things haven’t changed at all. It’s shocking. I’m sure the women on the panel would agree with me. It hasn’t even changed on this specific issue. It’s taken so much in the last four years just to get us to a place where we can ask politely of our leaders in the justice system to take basic training on an issue that is highly complex and has been shown to have a huge impact in our court system on women and men. It’s tough. I think so much more should be happening around these issues.
I raise the issue of institutional reform because all you have to do is look south and you see what happens when people lose faith in institutions because the people who lead them aren’t willing to listen and to change and reform on really important issues. I care a lot about our institutions. I care about the Senate, the Parliament, our military, our judiciary, our Governor General, our RCMP, but we’re seeing these issues creep up. I’m really glad that they’re coming to the forefront because we have to deal with them. Interestingly, they’re all around women: how women are treated, the harassment of women, the sexual assault of women.
It’s time. We have to deal with these issues, and the judiciary is part of that. There’s more we can do. I know that. This is a very modest proposal, but it’s something.
The Chair: I have a question for Ms. Kerner and then for Ms. Ambrose.
Ms. Kerner, you and Ms. FitzGerald have firsthand experience of women who have experienced violence in their homes and communities, and only some of these instances result in legal intervention. In your opinion, will this bill’s addition of systemic racism and social context training, as well as sexual violence training, assist survivors in seeking fair and just decisions?
Ms. Kerner: It might get us closer. A few years ago, a retired B.C. judge, when we discussed a judgment, said, “Look, we know nothing about life. Most of us are White, middle upper class. We’ve had a sheltered, protected life. From high school, we usually went to elite universities. We had a very sheltered, successful career in law, and then we were appointed judges.” So I think it still proves that ordinary judges, those who make it, are very unlikely to come from poverty, less likely to come from racialized groups or Indigenous communities, and they really know very little about life and sexual assault, as well as oppression, discrimination and colonialism in general. One can only hope that the training will include all these factors, the implication of sex and the intersection of sex, race and class, and women’s vulnerability to sexual assault in the criminal justice system.
Ms. FitzGerald: I would agree with Hilla’s testimony. It could make a difference because it’s opening up an opportunity to engage in these conversations. The courts are dealing with complex social issues on a daily basis, so this gives us an opportunity to provide them background and training. To have an opportunity to curate that training would go a long way to expanding that horizon. Thank you.
The Chair: I have many questions for you, Ms. Ambrose, but I won’t be able to ask them. I have to have the same discipline as I asked of others.
One of my greatest disappointments was that in Bill C-337 you had a clause saying, “the number of sexual assault cases heard by judges who have never participated in such a seminar.” For me, this was a really important part of the bill that you had, and it’s not in the new bill. I feel those who need the training will not take it, and there’s no way to follow that up. How do you feel about that?
Ms. Ambrose: It’s disappointing. The rationale around that is that we’re putting too much pressure on the judges, and if they haven’t taken the training yet, it could affect how they’re perceived to be able to do their jobs. There’s a lot of rationale around why that was problematic.
What I will say is at least it started a conversation. It’s interesting because I’ve had advocates say, “When I walk into the courtroom, I’m going to ask the judge, ’Have you taken training?’” That’s interesting. Maybe it will put judges on notice that they should actually have to do training. Judicial independence is not a licence to sit back and not remain current on changes to the law, on training around these issues and on social context around these issues. You’re right; I always worry that it’s the bad seeds that will not take the training. They’re the ones that we need to focus on.
We are starting to create some level of accountability here by continuing to raise these issues. Advocates raise them in the courtroom; prosecutors are raising them in the courtroom. It’s very interesting, so there is much more awareness around it.
The Chair: I’m concerned that the judges will learn the language but nothing much will change. That’s another day’s discussion.
You started on Bill 337 with sexual assault alone, and then the Status of Women added social context, which I’m still concerned about what that means, and then systemic discrimination and systemic racism were added to Bill C-3. I’m sure you think these are good improvements, but this is not the bill you started with. How do you feel about those changes?
Ms. Ambrose: On those issues, I think they are good improvements. It was less than a month ago that a judge was highly discriminatory against a gentleman with impeccable medical credentials who happened to be a Nigerian-born Canadian and who happened to have an accent. The judge practically mocked him and made his testimony almost be dismissed. It was an incredible lack of tact and a show of discrimination and racism. So, look, these issues are really important. I think those additions to the bill are very good additions to the bill.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Ms. Ambrose.
I am truly sorry, Ms. Monastesse and Ms. Houde.
I’m really sorry, but we have to have interpretation. I feel really bad, and I can tell you all the members are feeling bad. If you do have a little bit of time, you can send us a written script of what you were going to say, and I can assure you we will all read it.
To all the witnesses who have appeared today, thank you very much. You really made this discussion. You were our last panel on this bill and you have really given us more to think about, and certainly all of us will be giving a lot of thought to this. I want to thank all of you for taking the time and for the great work you do to protect women. Thank you so much to all the panellists.
Senators, we will be meeting tomorrow morning at 10:30 EST, and if you have any amendments or observations, please provide them to the clerk as soon as possible and advise him when he can circulate it to the members. Please have them in both languages. Thank you very much everybody. We’ll see you tomorrow at 10:30, and thank you very much to the witnesses.