Federal Ombudsman Statement on Royal Assent for Bill C-3
I issue this statement to express my support for the passage of Bill C-3, which will provide specialized training in sexual assault law and the social context of systemic racism and discrimination to new federal judges. It also requires that decisions in all sexual assault cases be available for public scrutiny, in order to enhance transparency and accountability.
While I applaud the intent of the legislation, I recognize that there is still much work to do to ensure the fair treatment of sexual assault survivors in Canada’s justice system. Historically, the reporting of sexual assault cases and subsequent prosecutions and convictions have been low, due in part to victims’ lack of confidence and trust in the justice system. Stereotypes about complainants and rape myths can negatively impact the effective investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases and contribute to the potential re-victimization of survivors. It is not uncommon for sexual assault survivors to report not being believed, to be interrogated as if they were offenders, and even to be blamed for their victimization by criminal justice officials.1
Providing judges with training on sexual assault laws and consent, how to avoid negative stereotypes, assumptions, and biases towards complainants will ensure survivors are treated more fairly and will prevent judicial failures to properly apply the law of sexual assault. Social context training is also essential to ensure that judges have a good understanding of the effects of systemic racism and discrimination on victims and survivors, and that their decisions are informed by their understanding.
While Bill C-3 is a first step, I am cognizant that its provisions apply solely to federally-appointed judges and that this education is not mandatory. In order to begin to change the culture of the justice system, increase transparency and provide greater public access to judges’ decisions in sexual assault cases, survivors should also have free access to transcripts of proceedings in all cases. Finally, since most cases of sexual assault are tried in provincial courts, it is my hope that all provinces move to adopt mandated judicial educational initiatives with reporting obligations as a commitment to survivors and to enhancing public confidence in the adjudication of allegations of sexual violence.
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime
1 Clarke, B. (2020). Survivors of sexual violence and the criminal justice system: Reviewing a legacy of harm, the justice gap, and recommendations for advocates and allies. St. John’s Status of Women Council, https://s3.amazonaws.com/tld-documents.llnassets.com/0022000/22716/sjsowc%20report%20nov%2026%202020.pdf