In support of Bill C-3, to make sexual assault sensitivity education mandatory for judges

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2020-10-02 14:05 [p.505]

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today on the traditional territory of the Algonquin nation. I again say meegwetch for their enormous hospitality and patience.

We are debating today a very important bill that has been before us previously. It was before us with its previous title as a private members’ bill, Bill C-337, in the previous Parliament. Of course, that bill died on the Order Paper, but not for lack of support in this place. It was in the other place that it got bogged down for three years. The author of this private members’ bill, whose name I can say because she is no longer in Parliament, was Rona Ambrose. She played many distinguished roles in the cabinet of the previous Conservative government and, ultimately, when she brought this bill forward, was interim leader of the Conservative Party.

I think it was Rona herself who said that the problem in the other place was a bunch of old white boys. That is kind of the problem with the people on the bench, too. We have a significant problem in that the cultural demographic most likely to sit in judgment in sexual assault cases is exactly the demographic least likely to understand the issues. One must never slur old white men, I sometimes say with tongue in cheek, but I just married one, so I really have nothing against old white men. I love one in particular a tremendous amount. However, he would be the first to say that in his generation, that group has privilege that comes from three things: being male, being white and being presumed to be somebody really special.

Most judges are fantastic human beings. I just mentioned my husband, John Kidder. His grandfather was the chief justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, so he certainly would not have said anything other than wonderful things about his own grandfather. However, I used to practise law, and when taking a case to court, I had to hope I would get a good judge.

I had a really awful judge once. I was not even called to the bar yet when I went to court as both plaintiff and lawyer with a group of Cape Bretoners trying to stop the aerial spraying of Agent Orange on all of us. This was in 1982. The government of the day had approved aerial spraying of Agent Orange over Nova Scotians. We managed to fight it enough that they changed it to spraying from the ground, and then we went to court. It was a class action. My family lost all of its land in a bill of costs to Scott Paper.

It was a very ugly case, a one-year-long trial from beginning to end. For the actual court case, we were before the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia for a full month making the case that Agent Orange had caused damage, birth defects and cancer in Vietnam and had been found in groundwater. It was a long, complicated case. The judge we had, in his first big case, ruled that Agent Orange was safe and that we were actually bad people for bothering the Nova Scotia government with our complaints.

I mention this because the very next big case this judge got was a sexual assault case. Once again his words made headlines. He did find the assailant guilty of sexual assault, but the penalty was basically a slap on the wrist because, as he said from the bench, it was not a particularly violent rape. The assailant, found guilty of rape, was not really punishable because he had not used a lot of violence.

I searched for the name of this case. We know the name of the judge; he has been referenced frequently in debate today. He said to the victim, “Why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?” and suggested the victim’s attempts to fight off her assailant had been feeble. The judge chose not to believe the victim and the assailant was initially acquitted. That case was in 2016. Our ability to find things through search engines is pretty good for recent history, so we know it was Justice Robin Camp. It was a Calgary case. I do not think it is a stretch to say that this led quite directly to the hon. Rona Ambrose bringing forward, as a private members’ bill, that judges needed training.

The case I referenced was not a particularly violent rape. If I could get to a law library I know I would find it, because it is in the Nova Scotia reported cases from around 1984. When I did a search, I discovered that the judge had passed in May of this year, and there were nothing but laudatory obituaries for the sterling character of the judge who found that Agent Orange was safe and that the victim in this matter did not really deserve justice because the rape had not been sufficiently violent. I will not mention his name out of respect for the dead.

There are judges out there who need more than training, and we need this piece of legislation to pass. We know that there is more at stake here to get justice for women who experience sexual violence. We know that critical recommendation after critical recommendation in the Inquiry on Missing and Murderer Indigenous Women and Girls has not yet had any official government response. That report says specifically that when an indigenous woman has been the victim of sexual violence, she must have access to culturally appropriate and sensitive physical help and psychological support. She must have help with retaining evidence, as well as help from a health professional who is indigenous herself, who can assist a victim and get justice and get through the next stage: what do police do.

Moments ago, the Minister for Women and Gender Equality made the case that quite often it is the police who say they do not find sufficient evidence, so there is the notion of a pile of unfounded cases. We know that very few women who are sexually assaulted actually report the assault. Within that group a great number of people are not believed, and the cases pile up in the unfounded category. When a case finally gets to court, we need to know the judge understands enough about sexual assault to not believe something silly like if they had been a victim of rape they would not have been silent about it for so long. Really, what do the judges know about it? They need education.

This bill is urgently needed. There is widespread support. As mentioned, it passed in this place very quickly when it was first brought forward in 2017. Then it got stuck in the other place and died on the Order Paper prorogation. I commend the government for bringing it back as a government bill. Obviously it will be passed much more quickly as a government bill than if we were to wait to see who would bring it forward as a Private Member’s Bill.

I also appreciate the changes that were made to expand the notion of education for judges from questions of sexual assault law to include something which, in Bill C-3, is referred to as the social context. I know that many members of this place would like to see social context further amended to make it clear that we are talking about things like systemic racism, intersectionality, poverty, assumptions that are made about sex trade workers, assumptions that are made about the marginalized, and assumptions that are inherently discriminatory toward women.

In looking at the social context piece, I know there will be some desire to amend the bill to bring it into a fuller understanding so that we could actually use this legislation to deal with issues with which we are now far more seized: questions of, for example, systemic racism in police forces and systemic racism on the benches of our courts. We can maybe deal with more issues with amendments.

To make sure I do not run out of time, Mr. Speaker, I want to turn to a proposed motion that I hope will be acceptable to all members in this place. If you seek it, I hope you will find unanimous consent to speed up this bill to help us get it to committee faster and skip the second reading stage.

It would read: “That notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, at the conclusion of Government Orders today, or when no member rises in debate, whichever is earlier, the Speaker shall forthwith put successfully all questions necessary to dispose of the second reading stage of Bill C-3, an act to amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code, provided that if a recorded division is requested, it shall be deferred until Monday, October 5, 2020, at the expiry of the time provided for oral questions.”

I hope this motion is in its proper form. The clerks have it. I apologize to the other side of the House because normally I would run around and speak to each member personally. I relied on getting it to members electronically.
Mr. Speaker, if you seek it I hope you will find unanimous consent to move Bill C-3 immediately to committee and skip second reading stage, with the possibility for a vote on Monday should other parties require it.

Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan—Malahat—Langford)
2020-10-02 14:16 [p.507]

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Following up on the motion by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, I hope that all parties can find a way to reach agreement on Monday and get this bill to committee. We need to get the committee work started on this bill.

Louise Charbonneau (Trois-Rivières)
2020-10-02 14:16 [p.507]

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for her speech.

Does she think women who were victims of rape are being given enough credibility? According to what the minister said, police officers are the first ones in charge of deciding whether the women’s statements are credible.
Does she believe it is okay to wait until the matter is before a judge?

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2020-10-02 14:17 [p.507]

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Trois-Rivières for her question.

From what I understand, her question had to do with the credibility of women who are raped, and, in particular, sex workers. Sex workers have the same rights as all other women, including the right to protect themselves against violence and sexual assault.

I think it is also a matter of educating and training people. We are talking about police officers, judges, lawyers and, especially, men in our society. Men are also our colleagues. You do not have to be a woman to be a feminist. There are men who believe it is important to defend women’s rights.

It is awful, but it is well known that men do not always believe victims, especially when the victim is a sex worker.

Anju Dhillon (Dorval—Lachine—LaSalle)
2020-10-02 14:19 [p.507]

Mr. Speaker, I always listen with great fascination to my colleague from the Green Party. She always presents her points with compassion and the utmost consideration of all factors involved.

I would like to ask the member two questions. Does she believe that more females need to be in the judiciary, as well as more females with diverse backgrounds? She spoke about indigenous cultures being part of the justice system and that when it comes time to making decisions and listening to these victims, there has to be a cultural sensitivity. Does she agree there is not only an appalling lack of female representation on the bench but also ethno-culturally diverse female representation, and that including more of both would help in some cases? Also, can the member speak more to the urgency of why we should only have first reading of the bill?

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2020-10-02 14:20 [p.507]

Mr. Speaker, if it were not for COVID, I would be sitting closer to my dear colleague. Our assigned seats allowed me to have frequent conversations with the member for Dorval—Lachine—LaSalle.

I would absolutely agree that the demographics of the bench are pale, male and stale. It is just what it is.

I became a lawyer in 1983, and when I started law school, one-third of the class was women, and that was a big change. One of my friends, Anne Derrick, is a trail-blazing activist lawyer. She is now sitting on the bench in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, and she is fantastic. So there are changes happening. However, diversity in ethnicity, diversity in religious and cultural backgrounds, as well as indigenous lawyers and judges, are desperately needed, as are indigenous-led police forces that have the trust of a community because they have the community’s back.

To the second question from my hon. colleague, we need to get this bill through speedily. There have been far too many delays in the last Parliament, and I hope that all parties can find a way to advance the bill without having to repeat all the steps that we did in the last Parliament and have the unanimous support that the bill enjoyed.