Ghomeshi accuser supports judge training bill
Linda Redgrave outside Ontario court of justice in Toronto on May 11, 2016. (Colin Perkel / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Monday, May 15, 2017 1:09PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, May 15, 2017 5:16PM EDT
OTTAWA -- A bill to provide sexual assault training for new federally appointed judges is drawing support from one of the women who testified against former radio host Jian Ghomeshi.
Linda Redgrave, who had a publication ban on her name lifted following the trial, was the first witness to testify against Ghomeshi. Ghomeshi was acquitted in March, 2016, of four charges against him related to sexual assault allegations made by Redgrave and two other women.
The high-profile trial was one of a number of cases that drew criticism from victims' advocates for what they described as a lack of understanding of sexual assault trauma, including a complaint against a judge who later resigned over his comments during a sexual assault case.
The bill tabled by interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose would require anyone appointed to the bench by the federal government to have completed courses on sexual assault, including rape myths and how trauma can affect memory.
MPs voted unanimously Monday to skip the last stages of debate in the House, and to send the bill directly to the Senate.
For Redgrave, it's a good move toward fixing a process she says can be inconsistent.
"After the trial, I felt like there's something terribly wrong here. Like, this is not the way it's supposed to go. This should never happen to anyone. When you're coming forward and explaining an assault, you shouldn't in turn be retraumatized and verbally assaulted and humiliated and discredited for doing so," she said in an interview with CTVNews.ca.
Redgrave spoke with Ambrose's staff before Bill C-337, known as the Judicial Accountability through Sexual Assault Law Training (or JUST) act, was tabled, and submitted a brief to the status of women committee that's been studying it.
'Don't have the confidence' in the system
Redgrave and Helgi Maki, a lawyer who co-wrote the submission, say survivors of sexual violence would be able to participate more effectively in a trial if they had "more assurance" participants in the legal system were better informed about trauma. Statistics Canada says fewer than one in 10 survivors of sexual assault report it to police. Among those who do, advocates say few pursue charges, partly due to the stress of going through the court process.
Ambrose says addressing some of the perceived problems in the justice system has to start with those who oversee it.
"I don't think anyone here can deny that there's been a growing movement in Canada to recognize the challenges, and indeed, the trauma often experienced by those who go through sexual assault cases in court," Ambrose said last February when she tabled the bill.
Sexual assault survivors "don't have the confidence that the system will treat them fairly," she said.
Marie Henein, who successfully defended Ghomeshi, declined to comment on Ambrose's bill.
But judges and lawyers share major concerns about the bill.
It's "an issue of constitutional principle that Parliament should not interfere in administration of judicial affairs," said Norman Sabourin, executive director of the Canadian Judicial Council.
"The judiciary believes that there is a constitutional principle at play, which is that it is judges that must decide on judicial education."
Sabourin says the council already does comprehensive training, including social context education to understand how victims of violence respond in court and the challenges faced by vulnerable groups.
But, he cautions, education isn't going to rule out any future errors.
"One judicial error is one too much," he said. But, "you cannot expect that education will cover every situation and that if you educate judges enough, they'll never make errors. Judges are human beings, they make errors," he said.
When that happens, the courts have an appeal process and, in the more egregious cases, a judicial complaints process like the one used against Robin Camp, who eventually resigned following outrage over a case in which he asked a sexual assault complainant why she couldn't have kept her knees together.
Anne London-Weinstein, a criminal defence lawyer and president of the Defence Counsel Association of Ottawa, echoed the concern over parliamentarians instructing judges on training, but said she's also concerned the bill won't achieve its goal because of who it targets: federally appointed judges.
"Most of the sex assault trials which occur, occur in provincial court. So it's not going to have any effect on the majority of judges who do this type of law," London-Weinstein said, though she noted that Ambrose has talked about speaking to the provinces about making their own changes.
But it's also the way Ambrose frames the bill that concerns London-Weinstein, who points to the preamble's focus on survivors needing to have faith in the legal proceedings. She says that presumes the offence has occurred when the Canadian justice system presumes innocence.
"My experience as a criminal lawyer for 20 years is Canadians do not hear about what happens 99 per cent of the time when a trial judge applies the law correctly and the person is either convicted or acquitted," she said
"Judges can't speak freely. They can't give you an interview in which they talk about the ways that they apply the law correctly."
The move to fast-track the bill is a reversal from a few weeks ago, when Ambrose appeared at the status of women committee to discuss the legislation and two Liberal MPs queried her on the previous government's appointment of Camp to the Federal Court. Ambrose was a cabinet minister in that government.
On Monday, it was all hugs between Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef, Ambrose and Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu, who chairs the committee.
Ambrose thanked NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, as well as MPs on the status of women committee.
Sen. Raynell Andreychuk, a former judge, will shepherd the bill through the Senate, Ambrose said.
Andreychuk "speaks from a very personal viewpoint that this would be something very good for judges to do," Ambrose said. "This isn't about meddling with sitting judges... I think it'll get good support in the Senate."
Ambrose says she can't believe it took this long to require sexual assault education.
"Training is available. The problem is people aren't taking it," she said.
Gladu says the committee discussed how it had previously recommended providing money and encouragement for judge training on gender-based violence and sexual assault.
Ambrose hopes the provinces and territories apply the same measures. She says she's spoken to every premier and many of the justice ministers.
"There is a lot of support for this," she said.
On Friday, a committee examining the bill voted to send it back to the House with some minor amendments.
The status of women committee approved Ambrose's proposed legislation after unanimously agreeing to the amendments, which include adjusting the bill to add the term "social context" to take into account the challenges faced by transgender survivors of sexual assault, as well as those with disabilities.
The amendments will also ensure survivors and organizations who work with them are consulted on the training.
The bill would have judges issue written decisions rather than relying on oral decisions in cases of sexual assault, but the committee amended the clause slightly to deal with concerns that it would delay decisions and further clog the court system. It also clarified that no written reasons are required in jury trials.
"There's a lot of roadblocks along the way just going through a trial and trying to get a fair trial [from the point of view of the complainant]. This whole bill is on the table because there is a problem... It's not changing fast enough," Redgrave said.