OTTAWA – Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose has introduced a private member’s bill in the Commons that would require mandatory training for would-be judges on issues surrounding sexual assault.
If passed, the legislation — Bill C-337 — would restrict eligibility for judicial appointments to those who have completed comprehensive sexual assault education.
It would require the Canadian Judicial Council to report on continuing education seminars in matters related to sexual assault law and amend the Criminal Code to require judges to provide written reasons in sexual assault rulings.
The bill says the training courses for lawyers seeking judgeships should include instruction in evidentiary prohibitions, principles of consent and the conduct of sexual assault proceedings.
They would also look at myths and stereotypes associated with sexual assault complainants.
Ambrose says she worked at a rape crisis centre while in university and knows that victims of sexual assault need support.
“Many Canadians would be surprised to learn that a lawyer doesn’t need any experience in the sensitivities of sexual assault cases to become a judge overseeing these types of challenging trials,” she said Thursday in the House of Commons.
“There currently is also no mandatory training for sitting judges. We need to build confidence in our system so more sexual assault survivors feel comfortable coming forward.”
She asked the government to support her bill, but Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould was non-committal.
“I look forward to reviewing the private member’s bill in detail, to see how we can continue with the objective of ensuring that victims of sexual assault are treated with respect and dignity,” she said.
The bill comes in the wake of a protracted legal saga involving Robin Camp, who, as an Alberta provincial court judge, asked a sexual assault complainant in 2014: “Why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?”
Camp acquitted the accused in the case, although that was overturned on appeal and a new trial ordered.
Camp was raised to the Federal Court in 2015, but his conduct was brought before the Canadian Judicial Court after complaints.
Last fall, a disciplinary panel recommended his removal from the bench, saying his conduct was “so manifestly and profoundly destructive of the concept of the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judicial role that public confidence is sufficiently undermined to render the judge incapable of executing the judicial office.”
His ultimate fate lies with Wilson-Raybould and then Parliament.