When a woman calls us for support and she wants to report her rape to the police, we meet with her and tell her what to expect not only from the police but from our judicial system. We tell her that the police investigation can take anywhere 6 months to 2 years.
She’ll have to repeat her story multiple times to multiple individuals. We let her know that she is a witness in the crown’s trial, she may or may not get updates and the time to the trial can take of years. The defense lawyer for her attacker may attempt to get extremely personal information about her to attack her credibility as a witness to the crime that was committed against her. She may have to testify, sometimes multiple times. Its an excruciating and lengthy process for women.
Around 30% of our callers want to use the CJS but the reality is almost no rapist will be held publicly accountable this way. Particularly if he’s white and rich. Only one in nine (11.5%) cases of sexual assaults reported to police in Canada results with a conviction. Most sexual assaults are tried in provincial court. In 2017 in British Columbia, out of 4,279 sexual assault trials, 81 were tried in Supreme Court and of those, 54 resulted in a guilty verdict.
The women who call our crisis line have no trust in the criminal justice system. We recently consulted with women we work with for the National Action Plan to End Gender Based Violence about their experience trying to hold a man accountable using the criminal justice system.
One woman said: “Based on my experience, I don’t know if I would recommend it [reporting to the police] to the women in my life.
And another woman summarized women’s experience by saying “Rape, effectively, is legal in Canada”
As it stands, most cases will be dropped long before they even make it in front of a judge.
And so for the women whose cases do make it to trial, usually after an excruciating few years, deserve to be heard by a judge who’s able to carefully apply our sexual assault laws and who understands that rape is a result and reinforcement of women’s subordinate position in society.
Canada’s colonial history, women’s poverty, and men’s racism increase poor, Indigenous, and Black women’s vulnerability to rape. We cannot stand for trials being presided over by judges who are operating under racist classist sexist stereotypes, destroying the ability of women to be equally protected under the law. When our courts repeatedly and publicly fail women, we are sending a message that men can rape women with impunity.
Since the bill (if becomes a law) will only apply to federally appointed judges we do hope that the different provinces will follow this concept and institute training to judges in the lower provincial courts as they conduct most of sexual-assault trials.
I will speak to the amendment to the Criminal Code that requires that judges provide reasons for decisions in sexual assault proceedings because providing reasons for decisions in sexual assault proceedings enhance the transparency and accountability of the judiciary
I believe that Ms. Ambrose who initiated the original bill was responding to media reports about trials of sexual-assault cases across the country that exposed judges’ ignorance about sexual assault laws, about Parliament’s intentions behind the laws and the rulings of the Supreme Court of Canada’s regarding the application of the laws.
The current amendment in bill C-3 says “The reasons shall be entered in the record of the proceedings or, if the proceedings are not recorded, shall be provided in writing.”
In British Columbia, both in provincial court and the supreme courts, only written judgments are available to the public. In some provinces, even those are not available.
In many sexual-assault trials judges give their judgments, and the reasons for the judgments, orally. Recording the judgement is crucial but it doesn’t get us the desirable transparency and accountability.
An example to a case we are involved with – we are supporting a woman that the man who attacked her was charged with assault and sexual assault. He was acquitted two weeks ago at a Supreme court of British Columbia. The only reason we know about this case is because the victims called us.
If she or us want to see the judgement to urge crown to appeal or to have an understanding of the judgement, we will have to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to get the transcription form the court registry.
To uphold the principles of transparency and accountability we must have all judgements in sexual assault trials transcribed and posted online so that judges’ decisions in sexual assault cases will be available for public scrutiny.
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