Rona Ambrose – Morinville News File Photo
by Morinville News Staff
Opposition and Interim Conservative Party Leader Rona Ambrose unveiled her plan to hold the Canadian judiciary more accountable when it comes to presiding over sexual assault trials. Ambrose’s Private Member Bill – the Judicial Accountability through Sexual Assault Law Training Act (JUST Act) was tabled Thursday morning to hold the Canadian judiciary responsible for the ongoing training of its judges on the application of law in sexual assault trials.
“Sexual assault trials are among the most traumatizing and difficult experiences a Canadian can have in the judicial system,” Ambrose said in a statement Thursday. “Sadly, 2016 was the year when Canadians saw first-hand how critical a knowledgeable and well-trained judiciary is to the application of law in sexual assault cases.”
Ambrose went on to say there is not nearly enough accountability on the part of the country’s judiciary in ensuring judges have the updated training Canadians would expect them to have.
“That must be the case if they are to preside over trials that can have such a profound impact on the reputation, emotions and personal lives of all involved. We’re confronting this situation today,” Ambrose said.
The recommended legislation offers three amendments, one to the Criminal Code and two to the Judges Act.
The legislation would amend the Judges Act to require lawyers to receive training in sexual assault law to be eligible eligible for a federally-appointed judicial position. The Canadian Judicial Council would also be required to provide an annual report to Parliament on the details of the types of sexual assault training offered, judicial attendance at training sessions and the number of sexual assault cases heard by a judge before having received adequate sexual assault training.
The proposed Criminal Code amendment would require judges to provide written reasons for decisions related to sexual assault cases.
Ambrose said she believed the changes were common sense. “Through The JUST Act, I believe we can better ensure the Canadian judiciary understands and is reflective of the unique challenges presented by sexual assault law, and reassure those involved in such cases that the outcome is just,” she said.
Ambrose was not alone in viewing the private member’s bill as common sense.
The Right Hon. Kim Campbell said legal and judicial education are important to ensuring the correct application of Canadian laws that address sexual violence. “This proposed legislation will go a long way toward making sure Canada’s judiciary fully understands the legal issues involved in sexual assault trials, and the essential role of the judiciary in ensuring that sexual assault trials are free of bias,” Campbell said.
Megan Walker of the London Abused Women’s Centre also applauded Ambrose’s move.
“When it comes to making Canada’s justice system more approachable and sensitive for survivors of sexual violence, The JUST Act is an important piece of the puzzle,” Walker said. “It goes hand-in-hand with important community efforts to enhance the criminal justice system response to sexual violence, and it’s very encouraging for us to see this leadership in Ottawa.”