Yesterday, as part of the Government of Canada’s commitment to enhance confidence in the criminal justice system, particularly among survivors of sexual assault, changes to the Judges Act and Criminal Code received Royal Assent and came into force. The changes underscore our Government’s commitment to promoting a justice system in which sexual assault matters are decided fairly, without the influence of myths and stereotypes, and in which survivors are treated with dignity and compassion.
The changes to the Judges Act mean that in order to be eligible for appointment to a provincial superior court, candidates must agree to participate in continuing education on matters related to sexual assault law and social context, which includes systemic racism and systemic discrimination. Social context is influenced by such societal factors as gender, race, ethnicity, religion, culture, sexual orientation, differing mental or physical abilities, age, and socio-economic background and familiarity with issues related to family violence and violence against children.
The amendments to the Criminal Code mean that judges are required to provide written reasons, or enter reasons into the record, when deciding sexual assault matters. This will increase transparency in these cases.
This legislation respects the constitutional principle of judicial independence, which is critical to public confidence in the judiciary. The Canadian Judicial Council establishes the professional development requirements for superior court judges. The Council collaborates closely with the National Judicial Institute, which is responsible for the overall coordination of judicial education in Canada, in addition to being a primary education provider. Judicial independence requires judicial control over the training and education of judges. This is why the National Judicial Institute, which is internationally recognized for its work on judicial education, would provide the judicial training referenced in this legislation to the newly appointed judges.
“We remain committed to addressing issues of violence against women, including sexual violence. Survivors of sexual assault should be able to have full confidence in the judicial system. I want to acknowledge the important work the judiciary continues to do on this important issue. This new law will help ensure that the public has confidence that judges have the awareness, skills and knowledge of sexual assault law to deal with cases in a manner that is respectful to sexual assault survivors and free from myths and stereotypes about sexual assault. It will also help judges understand the social context in which they hear all matters, and the factors that may affect engagement with the justice system.”
The Honourable David Lametti, P.C., Q.C., M.P.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
“This legislation is finally the law of the land and will help promote sexual assault law training for newly appointed provincial superior court judges. Too few survivors feel confident coming forward and of those who do, only a small fraction result in a conviction. Canadians expect better. This legislation will help ensure that our legal and justice systems treat survivors of sexual assault with greater dignity and respect. COVID-19 only adds greater urgency to our efforts. Every step our government has taken to address and prevent sexual violence and gender based violence has been informed by survivors and their families. We thank you for your courage. The Government of Canada will continue to work toward a future where no one has to say ‘me too’.”
The Honourable Maryam Monsef, P.C., M.P.
Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development
These changes began with a Private Member’s Bill introduced by the Honourable Rona Ambrose, former Bill C-337, which was amended to include education for judges on social context in addition to matters relating to sexual assault law. The Bill was adopted unanimously in the House of Commons and then amended by the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, but did not pass into law before the dissolution of the 42nd Parliament.
On September 25, 2020, proposed changes to the Judges Act and the Criminal Code were introduced in the House of Commons and those changes, with amendments made by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, came into force with Royal Assent on May 6, 2021.
The Criminal Code prohibits all non-consensual sexual activity, provides a clear definition of consent, identifies when consent cannot be obtained, and sets out rules for the admissibility of certain types of evidence to deter the introduction of discriminatory myths and stereotypes about how survivors of sexual assault are expected to behave.
The new legislation enhances the transparency of decisions by amending the Criminal Code to require that judges provide written reasons, or enter them into the record, when deciding sexual assault matters.
In Budget 2017, the Government provided the Canadian Judicial Council with $2.7 million over five years, and $0.5 million per year thereafter, to ensure that more judges have access to professional development, with a greater focus on gender and culturally sensitive training.
Social context education is designed to teach awareness and skills for judges to ensure that all people who come into the courtroom are treated respectfully and fairly. Social context includes systemic racism and systemic discrimination.